Lake Como to glistened as the sun began to set on our day. Voices throughout the town started to die down and there was a slight breeze wafting through. The city was beginning to go rest as our stomachs grumbled. My stomach started to shrink and ache with pain as though I had been without food for days. I was sick of wandering around in my life and just needed something to fill me up and I’m not just talking about food. I was desperate. Beads of sweat started to trickled down my armpits onto my tank top as the heat rippled up from the hot ground. This was truly an Italian summer. I had experienced hot summers in New England, but nothing like this. It reminded me of the third week in August, when I participated in band camp every year. We would begin our day at 9:00 a.m. with the burning sun beating down on us. Sweat began to pour over my whole body just by standing there. It probably wasn’t a smart idea that I decided to wear a black tank top either. Then the sound of a whistle blew and we marched forward, each step contingent with the beat of the mallet being hit. With each sound of the mallet came my foot stepping on the ground. I knew what was expected and with each step I knew what was going to come next. My last band camp was 5 years before and now I was roaming the streets of Italy. Lately, I was becoming accustomed to wandering, it had become my state of mind after graduating college. What would happen next? Where would I end up? Would I have a job?
Holly and I walked down a bright alleyway on our trek for food, with uneven cobblestones that felt like a massage on my feet. I had met Holly over the course of this trip and we realized we were one in the same. We were two petite blonde girls wandering the streets of Italy, not having a clue where we were going and what was next. Our passions lied in teaching and traveling. As we continued walking down the path, we started to realize alleyways were quite common as we roamed the streets of Italy, so this was no different from the norm. We finally landed on a restaurant, that was located deep in the crevices of a brick building. I looked up at the white oval sign that was swinging in the breeze. Black cursive writing was carved into it that read: La Divina Commedia: Un Risveglio Spirtuale, in other words, The Divine Comedy: A Spiritual Awakening. We peered inside and noticed that it was completely deserted, with no trace of anyone to be found, not even a waiter or waitress could be seen. Our stomachs began to gurgle again as if to say “you have no other choice” and we stepped inside. We walked down the steps where Holly called,
“Hello?” No response. Only an echo of Holly’s voice reverberated off of the stark white brick walls of the restaurant. It was deserted but the bright white walls made up for its emptiness. A few moments passed and we both called again.
“Hello?” Finally, a woman emerged from behind the bar.
“Good afternoon, do you need a table?” She asked with a warm smile and faint Italian accent. This woman was in her late 20s, and petite. She had brown curly hair tied up into a bun with a few loose pieces falling out, creating a border around her round face. She was wearing a yellowing white uniform with an apron that cinched around her waist. She seemed relentlessly eager and didn’t even seem to notice that the restaurant was empty. The bright walls didn’t seem to bother her either. We both nodded and she led us to a table. As I clutched my stomach, we began to peruse the menu, my mouth nearly watering with delight. I didn’t care what I ate, as long as it filled my stomach to the brim, I would survive.
We had finally decided on two plates of pasta and two glasses of red wine. Once the waitress took our menus, we began to look at our surroundings. The restaurant was covered with harsh white leather seats that had red seams which held them together. As my eyes began to wander the walls more, I noticed an erotic painting hanging on the wall. I could not help but look away in disgust and wonder Is that appropriate for a restaurant?
“Here is your wine.” The waitress placed our glasses gently on our table, seeming cool, calm and collected. Holly furrowed her brow and I shrugged, we picked up our glasses and we clinked them together.
“Cheers,” we said and drank. As a I sipped my wine my eyes could not help but wander back to the painting of a curvy peach-colored half of a woman’s body. I quickly looked away and drank more of my wine that went down smoothly and left a bitter taste in my mouth. I started to smell the sweet aroma of pasta come from the kitchen and heard the sizzling of the oven. I could hear the pot of water bubbling to a boil and then the dry pasta being poured into it. My mouth started to water at the very thought of the warm, sweet, plate of pasta that was about to reach my table.
“That’s nice that they covered the pole with tulle” Holly stated, interrupting my thoughts.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Look” Holly pointed to the long, silver, pole that was cascading from the ceiling behind me. It seemed to wink at me with a sense of humor, I could not stop staring at it. Finally, I turned around to look back at Holly and at the same time, both our eyes widened. This, we had discovered, was not your average restaurant; this my friends, was in fact a strip club with two American girls plopped right in the middle of it.
I turned back around to look at the pole. It was surrounded by plump bachelor-like leather seating. How could we have been so stupid? I thought to myself, glaring at the pole. I turned back around to Holly, where we burst at the seams with laughter.
“It’s 4 p.m. and we are in…a strip club,” Holly said in between bursts of laughter. More laughing transpired. We laughed so hard that it turned silent and tears began to stream down my face. My stomach began to ache once more as abs were beginning to form. I was at a loss for words at the situation we were in. Finally, the waitress appeared from behind the bar and brought our food over.
“Buon appetite,” she stated as she placed our dishes on our table. The pasta came on a white oval plate with the words La Divina Commedia: Un Risveglio Spirtuale in blue cursive. The pasta was intertwined with a thin layer of red sauce that covered it and the sweet aroma drifted up into my nose making my mouth water once more. We managed to pull ourselves together before she had arrived, but we could not wipe our smug smiles off of our faces.
“Can I get you anything else?”, she asked with delight, oblivious to our cause of hysteria. Was she not aware of where she was working? How could she not question our smug smiles on our faces? I thought to myself. Holly and I exchanged side glances with one another, holding back our chuckles.
“No, we’re good,” we both stated in unison. The waitress just gave us a wide smile and said “I’m glad you enjoyed it, not too many people come into this restaurant, let alone at this time of day,” she stated. We paused and looked at her for a moment, Does she know what she just said? I thought. “Anyway, enjoy your meal,” she stated, and walked away from the table. With that, we began to eat, and I started to realize that this was just the beginning of Italy awakening my lost soul. I was surprised that there was nothing wrong with wandering into the unknown, not knowing what was coming next. And what surprised me the most about this was: I enjoyed it.
As we finished our plates, the waitress took them away with a smile and left the bill on our table. We rummaged through our bags and pulled out a few euros, paid our bill with the tip already included, waved goodbye to the waitress with a smile and a nod and walked out the door. Walking out of the restaurant I realized I always had to have everything planned but there was something about not having a plan at all that seemed to calm me down. Throughout my college years, everything was planned down to a T and now I was free. Free to choose what path I would take. Free to choose what direction I would head and it didn’t matter how I would get there. All that mattered was the journey and the stories I would collect in order to arrive at my final destination.
BIO: Corrinne wrote, “I currently live outside of Boston, Massachusetts and work at North Shore Christian School as a fifth-grade teacher located in Lynn, Massachusetts. I also work at Gordon College as an assistant cross-country and track coach. I am working on my Master’s at Gordon College in English as a Second Language, Middle School English, and I am seeking the Reading Specialist Licensure. Lastly, I am an intern for Cambridge Writer’s Workshop where I am responsible for editing and social media.”
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Beautiful! The essay takes me back to when I roamed those streets in 2014. I’d love to hear more!