In a gift shop stationed at the peak of Mt. Vesuvius, Kay purchased a curvy bottle of limoncello, a neon-yellow lemon liqueur produced primarily in Southern Italy. This was a gift for Ben, her sister’s boyfriend, whom we would be meeting in Milan the following day. Ben is the bassist for Olly Murs, a British rock/pop singer, and he would be getting us into a massive Olly Murs/Robbie Williams concert for free later, so a funky bottle of scurvy-fighting alcohol was a token of appreciation.
The four-hour train ride from Naples to Milan was a break I very much embraced. I stretched out in the air conditioned train car and wrote as much as I could remember about Naples into my notebook (with the intention of blogging about a few weeks later, instead of six months later, like I wound up doing). My spine may be more aged than the rest of me, as I’ve had fairly regular back pain for several years. By the time the train ride ended my back was pretty sore, and after agreeing that we should take a day off from sizzling city hiking, I went to stretch out my back on my hostel bed, and I promptly fell into a slumber I certainly didn’t earn.
That night Kay and I went to meet Ben for dinner. As usual, we got a little lost and showed up to the restaurant a few minutes late. Ben seemingly had not arrived yet. We waited longer and Kay began to worry that we were in the wrong place, or that Ben had arrived earlier and already left in response our our tardiness. Neither of our phones worked, so we just had to keep waiting. I figured Ben was just a little behind schedule. He is a musician after all. I started studying music when I was nine years old and I haven’t left the house on time since.
Then Ben walked towards us. Kay ran to hug him. I shook his hand and he invited us to grab a drink at the pub he had been sitting at, it was just around the corner and down the street. Ben was without his girlfriend, Kay’s sister, because both of their jobs require them to travel quite a lot. Ben is a touring musician, and Kay’s sister is an international model (some families have all the good genes, ya know?). Waiting for us was Ben’s friend and bandmate, Rupert, the guitarist for Olly Murs. I feel like I can best describe Rupert as “quite British,” and I mean that as a compliment, of course. While Kay caught up with Ben at our table, I got to know Rupert. We talked about comedy, music (he and Ben also used to play for One Direction, which means I’ve met the two most talented parts of One Direction!) the States, England, and pizza (because remember: plain pizza sucks).
Our conversations continued at a nearby restaurant, where we ordered some wine, and Kay gifted the limoncello. Kay had just come from Spain and was talking about her travels there.
“I just read a book about bullfighting in Spain…” said Ben, sort of offhandedly.
I couldn’t resist: I asked, “What book was it?”
“Hemingway?” he said recalling.
A man after my own heart. I too had recently finished reading The Sun Also Rises, so Ben and I talked about the book for a while. With the novel fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but connect the story to my current situation. A group of artsy expatriates (well, temporary expats) traveling and chatting, experiencing Italy’s seedy pubs and classy cafes alike (in this restaurant I ordered another pasta at random, as that had become my way of avoiding the ordinary, and it was really, really great. Pici, I think it was called?). The four of us were not unlike some of Hemingway’s characters, except that none of us had a broken penis (I’m pretty sure).
One of my favorite lines in any book comes from The Sun Also Rises, and is delivered by the hilarious Bill Gorton, a good friend who is visiting the Hemingwayequse protagonist, Jake Barnes. After some drinking, and after getting a little tight (see: drunk), Bill insists that Jake buy a stuffed dog. Jake has no intention of doing this and so Bill says, “Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs.” This could be interpreted to mean that while the assigned values of material things are arbitrary or subjective, it is those strange experiences we have and those chances that we take that make our lives interesting, worth-having, and non-hellish. In other words, it’s the Lost Generation way of saying “Treat yo self!”
And because the road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs Kay and I (joined by Ben and Rupert) followed our large plates of pasta with what might as well have been our 50th helping of local gelato in only a handful of days (the road to hell is paved with uneaten gelato). I ordered the funniest flavor: “Peanut Butter and The City!” More drinks. Kay and I declare we’re going to walk back to our hostel, but Ben makes us take a taxi home, because he’s smarter than us. We sneaked back into our dark hostel room at around 1:00am, to find everyone else asleep. This was the first hostel with air conditioning, and I had an incredible sleep.
My goal with this Italy Stories project is to retell the events of each city in a way that is engaging, funny, or, at the very least, well-written. This particular story doesn’t really have a conflict…or many of the elements of plot (rising action, climax, etc). It’s more of a simple slice of our lives on July 30th, 2013. I tried to make it kind of funny, still, or interesting. Maybe, like in several scenes of The Sun Also Rises, there are observable themes, which reflect the adventurer’s lifestyle or the generation we’re in–whether we’re lost or not. I wont think any less of you if you don’t think so, if you wont think less of me for suggesting the idea. It’s pretty possible that this story is only interesting to me (though I hope not) because of the Hemingway connections I drew in my own head. It was fun feeling that we were a lot like those fictionalized expats, even though none of us seduced a bullfighter, we were hardly affected by war, and there was a lot less antisemitism.