Friday, September 21, 2012

Italian Kisses

It was my second trip to Florence. I was visiting a distant cousin who worked for the Foreign Service. She was expecting me at her home – a large palazzo across the Arno. It was raining and had been raining for days. There was so much rain that the Florentines would look at the Arno with worried faces fearing another flood. The weather seemed to suit me. My heart was broken and I needed a change of scene. My cousin was happy to see me and apologized for the weather. I didn’t mind the rain, I told her. She gave me a cozy robe to wear and I ate peanut butter sandwiches and we talked until late.

The next day, she insisted I wear her rain boots when I went out and not the fashionable short suede ones I was wearing. They were knee high and bright red. She also gave me her golf umbrella and off I went. Because this was my second trip I wanted to see what I had missed the first time. My first stop was the Palazzo Vecchio. It was a rainy weekday in October, so there weren’t any tourists, but there were two businessmen standing inside. One turned to me as I looked around and said, “Now here is an intelligent young woman,” pointing to my boots.

I blushed, the boots were hopelessly American and after living in Rome for a year, I had tried to become as romana as I could.

He and his companion smiled at me.

“Is this your first time in Florence?” he asked.

“No, my second, but my first time at the Palazzo Vecchio.”

“Well,” he said, “if you give me 10 minutes, I will show you the Palazzo. I am the direttore.”

I don’t know if I wanted to say no. Maybe I wanted to get out of it, but he had sad eyes and an almost uncanny resemblance to Giancarlo Giannini, so I followed him to his office. After a few calls and a re-arrangement of papers on his desk, he took me on a tour of the Palazzo. The Palazzo no one really sees – cell-like rooms and a tight passageway with only one tiny window looking out onto the grey sky and the Arno. It was in one of these darkened hallways I started to get nervous. Maybe it was a little claustrophobia; maybe it was the New Yorker in me wandering in dungeon-y places that got it started. The direttore sensed it and soon brought me back to the main room of the Palazzo. He beckoned me to follow him again. This time to the Tesoretto, a small jewel-box of a room also known as Lo Studiolo di Cosimo I. He unfastened a velvet rope and led me in. He closed the Tesoretto’s door behind him and walked to me. There were only the two of us in Cosimo I’s most private of rooms where he had once kept his most precious objects as well as personal documents and healing plants. The direttore stood in front of me and smiled.

He bent his face down to mine and kissed me. It was the first time I had kissed a man with a moustache. He kissed me again. Then he walked away and opened the door. And I followed him.

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