Act 2, Scene 15
The Olympics, as seen from Cortona

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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Here's the pinnacle of Larrydom thus far. Many people in the dorm were complaining of bug bites. No one in Italia apparently believes in screens over windows and the sparrows left town for their seasonal migration so it was initially thought to be mosquitoes. Things worsened over the course of a week until one girl looked as if she had the measles. The worst victim, a friend of ours, had bought mosquito netting to cover her window but things only got worse. Heather was getting bitten too.
I mentioned it to Rick. Rick said they'd experienced problems with some kind of mite in years past and we should ask to have the place sprayed.
Heather went to Larry and Attila, "I and a bunch of the girls are getting covered in bug bites” she complained.
"Wear bug spray."
"I tried that."
"Spray your bed."
"I tried that too."
"Are your windows open?"
"Close your windows."
It's the middle of summer in Italia and the suggestion of closing the windows is so moronic that my jaw dropped open.
"Stephanie put screen on her window and it's gotten worse."
"There are bugs outside..." notes Attila.
She had us there. Yes, there are bugs outside, it is their nature. But Heather countered, "I go to bed and wake up with new bites!"
It became obvious that Larry and Attila were deliberately making our efforts futile.
We gave up and hunted down their student assistant, Brandy. She’d been through the program a couple of times before. She's a fine girl, what a good wife she would be, but she's too damned nice for a degenerate slacker like me. Brandy wrote a note in Italiano to give to The Doorman - "Please spray the rooms for bugs."
<Poof> problem solved.
From then on we stopped asking Larry and Attila for anything at all and went straight to Brandy, despite that damned song popping into my head every time.
Also on the helpful end of the spectrum is Rick. Heather had some ideas for a project for paper-making class but needed some wood to build a doll/puppet. Rick suggested asking Umberto, the friendly local who’d helped us locate bikes. We tromped down the hill and found him at his shop, busily not working on furniture, as he always was not doing.
Heather told him what she wanted and he made suggestions as to the type of wood and bleaching agent she’d need and offered to sell everything to her at a very reasonable price. A few days later he had it all together and she thanked him profusely. I passed Umberto almost daily on the way to class and chatted with him, or at least waved. He turned out to be the nicest man in town, as well as the least popular with the locals. Apparently he’d run off to the States as a young man and hadn’t intended on returning. But when his father got ill Umberto’s brother didn’t want to take over the successful family business making (beautiful) handmade wooden furniture so Umberto had to return home to life in small town Cortona. There, he met a student on the same study abroad program I'm on and they hooked up. Eventually they wed and have a couple of beautiful kids. I don’t know if it's his leaving town, or settling down with a foreigner, or his exuberance for living that raise the hackles of the quiet, conservative locals. He’s just too loud for their quiet little town, so naturally I have an affinity for him.

Umberto carves these small wooden horses with a very Etruscan style.

Our newest friend is Beth, a Chicago Jew who came from UGA. Where Bec's language was foul, Beth is explicit. "Brazen Beth" we named her but it does little to describe the phenomenon that is Beth. Whenever you make an innuendo in her presence she pulls the precise meaning out into the spotlight to examine in minute detail.
Frank, a professor that had taught Beth back in the States, plopped down at our table one night, "I'm moving over here. The conversation at my table was too dull."
"Welcome to the other end of the spectrum," I replied.
"Well since Beth is here I know it must involve bowels or something."
The conversation immediately went to shit, literally.
Another night Heather and I were making subtle innuendo about various sex acts we might enjoy. Beth insisted on detailed questions, culminating in the words that I will always remember her for: "So do you like rim jobs?"
I'll not let anyone out-offend me so I usually attempted to up the ante, answering her questions and comments in an even more explicit manner. But soon we got more detailed than I cared to with someone I don’t plan on screwing. So I tried to switch gears but Beth steered us right back in the gutter and we ended up on the topic of oral sex and her boyfriend Robbie.
“I’m too old to have a big, fat dick in my mouth,” she said, complaining about giving blowjobs.
“Poor Beth,” said Heather.
“Poor Robbie!!” I said.
“Oh, I get guilted into it now and then. And sometimes I’m nice, like when his father got sick and died I said ‘Come here,’” she said in a sympathetic tone, then starting making hand-to-mouth stroking motions to illustrate her point precisely.
Another of Beth's insanities (they are too numerous to inventory) is her obsession with dogs. I don't mean enthusiasm, it goes far beyond that. She can't complete a sentence should she spot a dog halfway through. She constantly interrupts herself with "Oh, such a beauuuuutiful dog!!" in the most lilting, eye-lash-batting fashion. She pursues dogs everywhere and gets deeply upset should you imply that even the mangiest, flea-bitten, blind, three-legged mutt is not the most divine creature on the planet.

We finally had our horrific art history test. People had been in a panic all week, culminating in a day of skipping other classes to cram like mad. All over town students were pouring over the text and notes, no doubt giving George Bent On Making This Trip Miserable a raging… uh… ego boost. The hour came and it was a nasty test but somehow I had all the minutia in my head and did pretty well.
The next day George Bent On Making This Trip Miserable was mysteriously humbled, downright friendly. He quietly went through a brief lecture with his tail between his legs and ended class 10 minutes early. Afterward I learned he'd had an earful from students and faculty alike about what a pain in the ass he was. I was in bliss but he bounced back quickly and was an utter ass again the next day. So I plunged into my art history paper with vigor, entitled "Art History is Hell", a comparison of depictions of hell throughout the Italian Renaissance. I'm determined to make it informative enough for a decent grade, yet make my feelings about him perfectly clear.
When I got my test back there were a few points knocked off for absolutely no reason, but he had been forced to give me an A. I stopped speaking to George Bent On Making This Trip Miserable socially at all. Heather aced the test too, of course. She was determined to do well.

I finally found the perfect souvenir to take home with me. I’d been painting, sketching, taking photos and shopping endlessly but this tops all I could find. An old friend from home sent me a plastic Izzy, the Olympic mascot for the games I was missing back in Atlanta. It's the equestrian Izzy and an aberration against all that is sane and good. Incredibly horrid, blue sperm Izzy astride an equally horrifying blue horse with bulging eyes. Izzy clenches the reigns in one hand while using a riding crop with the other. Terrifying.

But a little creative work with a sharp knife a glow-in-the-dark plastic baby Jesus I stole from my roomate and I now have the perfect souvenir, the pinnacle of abomination against nature - Izzy astride the back of glow in the dark plastic baby Jesus, grasping the fake gold halo and spanking his butt with the riding crop!
It's an anti-capitalism statement with so many interpretations and messages that it's truly profound - the Izzy-Christ!

Speaking of Olympic disasters, I couldn't avoid the news of the bombing back home. Humans are truly a sick species.
I also got a very funny letter from one of the degenerate writers back home regarding the opening ceremonies of the Olympics:

Dear Frederick
Greetings from the Olympdicks city. There are so many blimps overhead that the city looks like a World War I battlefield, only the squads of helicopters mix the metaphor and make the place look like Viet Nam. MARTA has busses with New York City plates blocking traffic everywhere, and Japanese video crews are fascinated by the animatronic gorilla outside Three Minit Car Wash.
What a joke the opening ceremonies were. Didja see the flaming McDonald's French fry box – that's exactly what I called the torch platform at the time. And Cassius Clay looked like he was auditioning for a video of "Shakin'All Over."(At least I won the house bet that Evander Holyfield would carry the flicking Bic into the joint...)
What churned me especially was all that neomystical hoo-ha with those cheesy Power Rangers villains appearing on the edges of the stadium, juxtaposed with all that lousy cornpone "How Y'all Doin! [sic]" shtick; and in particular the grotesque jump-down-an'-pick-a-bale-o'-cotton minstrel show puppetry pageant. But the single biggest mis-step was having the choir sing the national anthem. This week we've got Lou Rawls, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Gladys Knight, Rita Coolidge, and who-knows how many other world-class vocalists in town. Couldn't ONE of them have been tapped for this honor? Our national anthem SUCKS anyway, in comparison with every other country’s anthems (except maybe England's). When I was a kid watching the Olympics I always used to root for the USSR, just because I loved hearing their way cool anthem during the presentation of medals. How much more awful could our nation's song be? Well, try having a lame choir sing it so you can't even make out the halfway decent lyrics which accompany the stale music. The only worthwhile thing the whole night long was seeing Bill Clinton get misty-eyed while the tape of the Martin Luther King's speech played. But the closing narration, which took an Edgar Allan Poe quotation (about opium addicts) out of context and turned it into a celebration of "daring to dream" topped everything for bubba-matic absurdity.
Please let it all be over soon.
Yer man in the City Below the Blimps,

Funny stuff, but I'd rather have remained blissfully ignorant. Over dinner, the anti-news war continued. Someone brought a Time magazine to the table, complete with bloody pictures of the bombing at home. I asked them not to show them to me but the conversation began.
"Did you hear about the suspect in the bomb thing?"
"I don't want to hear about it, thank you," I reply.
"No, what?" someone else interrupts.
"The guy that was a hero one day..."
"I'm not kidding, I came 5000 miles to avoid that crap," I said, trying to stop them.
"... and now he's a prime suspect." they continued, insistently.
"Really? Well I heard..."
"I'd really appreciate NOT hearing about this!" I said fervently.
"that the one guy who died actually..."
I took my pasta to another table and left them with their bloody tales of home. Why anyone would want to discuss this over dinner anywhere is beyond me.

Like the showers, breakfast is a running gag. "Bread and water" someone aptly described the daily ritual. A few boxes of stale, tasteless cereal. A box of thick, lukewarm milk. Leftover bread. Occasionally a variety of flavors of jelly would appear at this breakfast extravaganza, but lately they don't even vary that. It’s been apricot for a week, about the only flavor of jelly on earth I don't like. Italians just don’t eat breakfast so the hotel staff was confused when some students got motivated and took over the kitchen to scramble eggs and fry potatoes one weekend.

Heather and I took another sunset ride up the mountain. It was marvelous but due to the strong headwind it took quite a while to reach the top, by which time it was pitch dark. The ride back was quite scary until the moon came up over the hill and illuminated everything in an odd yellow through the clouds. I almost wrecked several times as I attempted to steal an occasional glance at the view.

The next day we took the ride again and decided to eat at the pizzeria that sits atop the neighboring mountain. We’d been passing the place and meaning to stop for weeks but just never got around to it. But our time in Cortona is winding down so we made the effort. Expensive but delicious. A bottle of wine made the bike ride home considerably faster than normal.

"Walkin's hard, drivin's eeeasy!"
Shawn "Brud" Littleton

Still no busted head, amazingly enough. We headed straight for our favorite pastry shop. We'd had a tough time getting the grumpy pastry lady to like us but we'd drowned her with smiles and friendliness and after a couple of weeks she'd finally started warming up to us. Tonight was her first night back in town after a week's vacation so we'd been in pastry withdrawal. Heather memorized "How was your trip?" in Italiano and we went in.
Heather sprang the phrase on her and the pastry lady looked surprised and began to tell us about her trip, apparently in great detail, as if we were fluent. Heather nodded as if she were understanding and giggled a lot. I nodded along, understanding maybe two words out of her entire 10-minute tale.
We walked out the door with the usual sweet delights. Heather asked, "Did you understand any of that?"
"I think she said lake in there somewhere but other than that..."
We decided it's probably a bad idea to look understandingly and nod as someone goes on and on in a language you can't comprehend. It might make for some awkward expectations as you unknowingly answer "yes" to whatever they may be asking.


Well it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I'm trying to please to the calling
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
You know the night's magic
Seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight
Seems to shine in your blush...
Can I just have one a' more moondance with you, my love?
Can I just make some more romance with a' you, my love?
Well I wanna make love to you tonight
I can't wait till the morning has come
And I know now the time is just right
And straight into my arms you will run
And when you come my heart will be waiting
To make sure that you're never alone
There and then all my dreams will come true dear
There and then I will make you my own
And every time I touch you, you just tremble inside
And I know how much you want me that, you can't hide...
Can I just have one a' more moondance with you, my love?
Can I just make some more romance with a' you, my love?
Well it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I'm trying to please to the calling
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
You know the night's magic
Seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight
Seems to shine in your blush...
One more moondance with you
In the moonlight
On a magic night
la, la, la, la, there's a moonlight
On a magic night
Can't I just have one more dance
With you my love?
Moondance, by Van Morrison

So here’s a quick lesson about Italiano. With the English/Italiano dictionary, lots of pointing and charades, and a good dose of patience you won't feel too alien with your lack of fluency. I recommend a pocket-sized one so that you take it everywhere instead of leaving the bulky one behind when you don't think you'll need it.
Looking through the English/Itialiano dictionary in my endless efforts to use the local tongue, I frequently stumbled across many words that I hoped I would NEVER need. Here’s the best of the worst:

  • Naufragio - Shipwreck
  • Prigione - Prison
  • Cadavere - Corpse
  • Narcotico - Narcotic
  • Esecuzione - Execution
  • Tumulto - Riot
  • Cattiva Nutrizione - Malnutrition
  • Pidochi - Lice
  • Intestino - Intestines
  • Incesto - Incest
  • Feto - Foetus
  • Anestetico - Anesthetic
  • Estorcere - Extort
  • Impotente - Impotent
  • Terremoto - Earthquake
  • Criceto - Gerbil

But there is one word of Italiano you will absolutely need: prego. If you look it up in your handy English/Italiano dictionary it will say prego means merely "please." However, Italians use prego for everything. Here is a very small sampling:

  • Please
  • Thank you
  • You're welcome
  • You're very welcome
  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Yes
  • No
  • Excuse me
  • Walk this way
  • Damn you're a dumb foreigner, aren't you?

The list continued to grow with every conversation but the point is that if you don't know the word in Italiano just use prego - it's in there.

Many of the female students have been wandering around bemoaning their separation from their significant others. As the weeks stretch on, the moaning gets louder and more frequent. Despite being completely uninterested, I now know all the boyfriends’ names. But at least they’re not talking about news from home.
On the other end of the spectrum are the girls having flings with the locals. One of the lucky locals turned out to be one of the performers from the opera company in town. Later investigations revealed he had a wife and child, which rather upset the student with which he was involved. To compete with this juicy gossip, Heather and I are picking out students to flirt with, just to rattle their nerves. Both of us have a little evil streak in us.
Here’s a poem I wrote about being almost run down by a German tourist:
You step out into the sun onto the sidewalk
And what should come barreling down on you
But this shiny woman,
Her high beam headlight eyes burning your retina,
Her hips grinding back and forth
Like a truck on a wet ice road.
Step aside, she takes no hitchhikers,
Cough in the cloud of exhaust, spit out the dust,
And stick your thumb out for the next one.
I've been looking into the options for my travels after the program and Paris is probably out of my budget. Looks like it's on to Amsterdam and maybe Copenhagen to see Lena afterward.
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