In this country, bird droppings are considered good luck. I say to her,
Honey, in this country, bird droppings are considered good luck.
She scoops the waste off her shoulder with a city map. She says, Good
luck or not, I don't appreciate being shit on.
We walk to a gelateria near the hotel. I order vanilla. She orders
hazelnut. We sit outside the little shop, under the bloom of umbrellas,
and count the stone cherubs in the square, each spouting water from a
After another thwarted pregnancy, her fourth in as many years, our
counselor encouraged us to take a vacation.
What? Like to Branson, Missouri? I asked.
Yes, like to Branson, Missouri, the counselor said.
We decided on Italy instead.
Our tour guide introduces himself as Goubie. We ask him to repeat
himself. It is not a name we have ever heard: not in Italy, not
We recite the name silently to ourselves on the journey to Rome. Soon
we are using it as a stand-in for other words. There's quite a Goubie
going on outside. Look at that Goubie over there. This Goubie is just
to die for.
The piazza is crowded with tourists. We purchase a sandwich from a
nearby market, seat ourselves on the edge of the reservoir.
This is the fountain from La Dolce Vita.
The one they wade through, she says.
I've never seen it.
You've never seen La Dolce Vita?
She looks genuinely horrified.
On the tour bus we meet a couple from Oslo. Newlyweds on their
There's very little light in the winters, the woman says. It can
be—what is the word?—depressing. Often we don't
leave the house for days.
How do you get through it? I ask.
The husband bares the cross around his neck. We pray, he says.
I realize the Renaissance is maybe the most important moment in our
cultural history, yet I never feel anything when I look at paintings
from this era, she says. They feel all wrong to me. Empty.
Leaving, she buys a plastic keychain from the gift shop.
In our respective twin beds, we watch an episode of Star Trek,
dubbed in Italian. The guests in the room adjacent are shouting so
loudly the coins on the nightstand tremble. I reach across the valley
between our beds, offer her my hand. She passes me the remote control.
The tour bus breaks down along a country road. She says she needs to
pee; she takes a packet of tissues and disappears over the hill. After
ten or fifteen minutes I leave the bus to look for her. She is sitting
outside a small villa with an elderly man, drinking wine.
We should get back to the bus, I tell her.
Stay awhile, she says. So I do.
The old man, in his labored English, tells us the history of his villa,
how it dates back to the fall of the Roman Republic. He talks about his
late wife, a beautiful opera singer, and their children, who are
acrobats in the circus. He tells us about his cat, the first domestic
animal to swim across the Atlantic. We don't know what is fact and what
is fiction, but we listen to his every word. Between stories he refills
our wine glasses. The late afternoon sun throws shadows across the
fields. A horn sounds in the distance but we pretend not to hear it.