When the universe decides you need a helping hand and lines things up without explanation. Beautiful coincidence, beginners luck or maybe irrational faith in what’s meant to be will be, no matter what.
He’d left her with a kiss and put a note in her back pocket. She’d walked home on a cloud. In awe of the chivalry and the suspense. She didn’t look at the note until home. Just three words.
Tomorrow. Ferrovia. Midday.
Actually, she’d never been on a date. She’d been asked a bunch of times and even liked some of the guys who asked. The thought of an arranged meeting terrified her. What were the expectations? Was there a handbook? Food, drinks, entertainment. What if she ate in a weird way, drank too much or too little, cackled like a hyena at some comedy show or danced too rigidly to a band?
No, no, the thought of a date was horrifying. What if it goes well for one party but not for the other? Having to reject someone or be rejected? A pity kiss and fake offer of a follow-up. A sorry I’m not sorry coffee a week later and the text messages in between?! What a giant bout of miscommunication to be had.
Nope, she found loneliness much safer and of course, she was fine on her own. She convinced herself of that each day.
So here goes. Her first date.
She had a quick coffee with Rose and told her about her day. The house felt warm and cosy as if she’d lived there for decades. Rose was impressed by her tales and offered more of her sage advice.
“Be coy, these Italian boys like a challenge, but not too cold as they can find a Prima Donna on any corner.” She held her cup in two hands and stared to the right as if recalling a past love story of her own.
“Also. Be you. It’s good to be different from the others. It’ll keep him interested.”
The words helped but she was still nervous as hell and had no idea what was going on. The train station was ten minutes away so she gave herself half an hour. She was on her own now with nobody to blindly follow. Bridge, left, right, maybe? The signs for Ferrovia had arrows pointing in both directions. She walked for fifteen minutes and realized she’d gone full circle. One more left instead of right this time. She walked up to a canal and saw a dog barking down at a boat. Marco was arguing with his motor again and Lara arguing with Suzu, again. She greeted them and explained the Michele meeting. Marco’s ears pricked up.
“He owes me the money” He quipped with a lightbulb above his head.
“Jump in” She hopped in and the motor clicked as they waved goodbye to Lara.
Marco muttered to himself, clearly annoyed that he’d forgotten about the debt. He obnoxiously moored his boat to the train station vaporetto stop. The equivalent of parking your car wherever as long as you have hazard lights on. They marched in between the bewildered tourists and up the stairs to the station.
Michele stood there awkwardly, arranging his T-shirt and checking his trainers weren’t scuffed. He turned and was happy to see her, then his face fell to confusion when he saw Marco. The boys hugged and did some weird handshake that looked unnatural. She stood there fidgeting with her jacket over her arms. The boys gave two manly kisses on the cheek and Marco left with a “Good Luck!”
“Ciao” He uttered as he hugged her slowly and softly.
“You ready? We’re going to my happy place” He took her hand and they blended into the bustle of the train station. He already had tickets and he picked them up two coffees and brioche. Don’t eat funny. Crumbs fell down her top as she tried to stop concentrating on chewing. You’ve been doing it for years, why is chewing all of a sudden a problem?
He talked and he talked. It was easy. His accent was cute and every now and then he would get stuck on a word and curse at himself in Italian. They boarded the train and found a four-seater. Face to face. The first part of the interview.
“So, this is, how do you say, awkward? Let’s make it more awkward” He grinned. He started belting questions at her. The first dog, worst moment, a first memory, brothers, sisters, first tears, dreams, fears, if you were an animal which would you be, most influential people, pet peeves and what do you need most in life. It felt like he was building a matrix to her heart, efficiently adding each Lego block.
The train pulled up and they jumped off.
Bassano Del Grappa.
“This is where I grew up” He smiled as his home feeling shone through.
Well, that shocked her. She liked adventures but wasn’t sure if she was ready for this on day two.
“Don’t be freaked out. It’s just a pretty town that gets overlooked. A secret gem”
They walked down the cobbled streets and under a majestic archway into the historic centre. Lots of the architecture reminded her of Venice. Michele explained how Bassano had been back and forth between Venetian and Milanese rulers, how Napolean and Hemingway had also spent a lot of time there and then there were the Alpini. Who were the Alpini?
Hemingway-Ernest Hemingway during his days as an ambulance driver in the war spent many days in Bassano and eventually settled there as part of A Farewell to Arms. Also other American writers spent some days in Bassano during World War I such as Scott Fitzgerald and Dos Passos.
At that moment they passed a wooden bar with a cask outside. Four elderly gents huddled around the cask. One had Lederhosen on, another was cutting salami with a penknife and they all had felt trilby hats with feathers poking out. Michele stopped in his tracks.
Napoleon-During the French Revolutionary Wars the city was the site of the Battle of Bassano. In 1815 it was included in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, and became part of the unified Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Napoleon Bonaparte remained in Bassano del Grappa for many months.
“I forgot what day it was” He gasped wide-eyed. “Well, you are in for a surprise”
The Alpini meet once a year to celebrate their service as Alpine soldiers. Thousands meet in one place, each with their salami, grappa, wine and spirits to remember old memories and enjoy new ones. That was this weekend and in Bassano.
She started to notice old men coming from every corner. The wine was being poured, hugs were being had and army songs were being chanted.
Michele shrugged “Guess it was meant to be”