Act 2, Scene 3
Life In Cortona

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

Contents Donations Feedback
Back   Next

Stick with me here, I’ve got to describe what day-to-day living is like in Cortona for us so you’ll get a feel for the rhythm of life in the guts of the story.

Classes began two days after our arrival in Cortona. Painting looks like it'll be OK, the teacher being as big a smartass as myself, but Art History sounds like a royal pain in the neck. There is a field trip every weekend for the first four weeks, followed by a test, then a paper and a test a couple of weeks after that. And that's all in addition to our studio work for our other classes and preparing for the student art exhibit. I’d rather be out exploring and learning in a less structured environment but I didn’t know any better when I signed up for the trip. I felt sorry for the suckers who’d opted for the full load of three classes. I’ll have a hard time keeping my attention on just two.
Heather has Book Arts in the afternoon with Rick, the friendly professor who has all the girls swooning with his Paul Newman eyes and quiet, confident demeanor.
In the evenings Heather and I usually meet and head to Art History together. We stop on the way to class and pick up a snack of some sort. Swiss chocolate bars and fresh raspberries are a favorite. We eat them in class and pass flirty notes, make faces at each other, make fun of our classmates, like a couple of goofy kids at summer camp.

The laundry situation in the dorm was also something like summer camp. There are 3 concrete sinks on the courtyard for hand-washing your clothes and the first weekend the clotheslines were full. I had developed a habit of washing a set of clothes along with my body each time I showered but I doubted the other 100 guys who share my bathroom would appreciate the extra time and water required. A slacker like me would normally complain about hand-washing clothes but the setting was far too pretty to mind, much. Occasionally I get to watch one of the pretty girls washing beside me, skin glistening with sweat and water, shirt sticking to her chest, grunting and moaning as she bends over again and again washing her underwear, then taking the little garments of satin and silk to hang them up to dry while I'm forced to imagine what the underwear looks like stretched across the body I've been eyeing for half an hour.
I tried, and failed, not to stare.
Then there were times members of the Fashion Patrol would be out there bitching and moaning about having to wash their own clothes and how there was no way to get them really, truly clean.
I tried, and failed, not to laugh.
The Fashion Patrol, or “The FP,” as Heather and I call them, are a herd of bitchy sorority girls who, when they aren’t discussing each other’s hair, complain constantly. There are several older and/or heavier women who also complained about every hill or variation in temperature from their widely varied preferences, but they can’t hold a candle to the FP’s ability to annoy. The FP's conversations range from the inane:
"Have you ever worn, like, a white bra under a black shirt and, like, gone to one of those clubs that, like, use blacklights and, like, your bra glows through your shirt?"
"One time I wore a beige shirt with, like, a white bra underneath and the bra totally glowed but, like, the shirt didn't! I was so embarrassed!!!"
To the vacuous:
"How do you cut your toenails?"
"I cut mine curved."
"I cut mine straight across."
"I tried that once and..."
You get the idea. The Art History professor used the term "dead from the neck up" to describe those unmoved by the art we'd been seeing.
I immediately pictured the FP
 Oddly enough, the dumbest of the troop is actually the most tolerable, as she is also the nicest, but even her niceness can’t save me from making me want to scream sometimes. Hal, our painting instructor, scheduled a trip to Bologna. In preparation for the trip he told us we were going to Bologna, what we should see in Bologna, why we should go to Bologna, then sat down and read for 20 minutes from an article about Bologna, the artists of Bologna, the architecture of Bologna, and the lifestyle in Bologna. At the end of the tirade a member of the FP looked up and asked "Where are we going again?"
Hal and I exchanged silent, sardonic smiles.
Fortunately most of the FP had been put in the other dorm, ironically a nunnery. Rumor has it the nuns didn’t take too kindly to their late night antics. In fact, rumor has it the nuns lock the door as early as 10 PM. But then rumor had it that Albergo Athens locked the door around midnight and Heather and I had no problems wandering in at all hours.

There was no water in the shower today. No, not “no hot water,” just no water. Several of the hardier women washed their hair in the laundry sinks (I don’t know why the laundry sinks get water but the showers don’t) but I'd had enough cold showers and I planned to skip this evening's formal inauguration ceremony anyway, so I waited it out. Two hours later there's water, but none of it hot. Italy is not the third-world country you might believe from my descriptions, but our hotel ain’t exactly the Ritz either.

Over Cortona during the day a flock of swallows race about. These amazingly agile and fast birds catch flying insects in the air for their diet, an incredible feat for which they are greatly appreciated, as there is hardly a mosquito or fly in the whole town except the one that's buzzing about my room as I write, of course. At night there are bats that do the same thing with sonar, a feat that astounds me every time I see them. Yet I could thrash around this tiny room with a sandal for a full hour, breaking lamps and scaring the neighbors, in a vain attempt to kill this fly, one as big as a quarter, and it is likely to escape unscathed.

Cats of Cortona
One of the many cats of Cortona.
The gang returned from the formal inauguration, yet again despondent. Heather and I are, yet again, smiling ear to ear since we skipped out to have pizza, gelato and wine at the pizzeria in the park with yet another breathtaking view. (I'm trying hard not to spread the secrets of how to enjoy this trip to the other students but with each dull tour, pointless speech or painful ceremony the administration scares off a few more in search of something more rewarding.)
Heather ate an entire pizza, sucked down 1/2 a bottle of red wine, ate a 3 scoop gelato and then, for some reason, had difficulty climbing the hill back to the dorm, then had a stomach ache upon arrival. Further educational insight for you viewers at home - always consider the return trip when you go out in hilly Tuscany!

Which reminds me, I’m sure I’ve failed to describe the buns-of-steel-program that is the daily commute to and from classes. The hillside of Cortona is a good thirty-degree incline and there’s just no avoiding it. Of course the dorm is almost at the top of the hill and both my classes are at the bottom.
Some days I enjoy the hike, like a fun workout. Other days I absolutely dread it. Usually it was the nights of one-too-many glasses of wine that ended up in the “dread” category. But to hear the rest of the people on the trip talk about it you’d think they were on a forced march of the north face of Everest. They bitch and moan the entire way, and each trip starts off with the same conversation, “Geez, I hate this hill…” Eventually I just couldn’t walk up with anyone else around or I’d have to kick them off the hill where they’d have to start their whining all over again.

My classes are in the yellow building on the right. The dorm is one of the buildings you can't quite see in the distance near the top of the hill.

The local bike rental place charges 90,000 lire a week for bikes. Heather and I opted to find ones to buy with the hope of selling them at the end of the quarter so we ask Rick. Rick introduced us to Umberto Rossi, a local woodworker of some importance. Umberto introduced us to Margio (I think that's his name), a local bicyclist, who offered to take us into the large town in the valley to shop the two places for bikes. The catch - he speaks about as much English as I speak Italiano, which is to say none at all. We figured he's either really a nice guy or his brother owns the bike shop but I was in a brave and trusting mood so Heather put on her adventuress persona and we agreed to meet him that afternoon.
Margio pulled up in the largest car we'd seen in town, a 4 door Alpha Romeo. He ushered his family inside before returning to wave us into the car. We'd gotten directions to the closest bike shop the day before but he drove right past and headed down a long empty stretch of road. Since we couldn’t communicate well, the conversation was broken and strained, but we tried. Eventually he stopped at an abandoned gas station and got out. It was a creepy looking place and looked absolutely nothing like a bike shop. He got out and we followed. A station attendant appeared from nowhere, and we listened to Margio babble Italiano at a zillion miles per hour to the guy. The attendant walked off, motioning us to follow as he lead us around the back to a run-down 2 story block building that looked more like an apartment than a bike shop.
"This is getting weirder and weirder." I noted.
"Yep." respondeds an equally-concerned Heather.
It was starting to look like the Italian version of Deliverance. (I couldn’t find “squeal” in the English/Italiano dictionary, but “pig” is “porco.”)
It turned out to be the back door of a bike shop run a by a friend of Margio. The place was small but well-stocked in the mountain bike category. After a lot of gesturing and digging through the English/Italiano dictionary we settled on not-quite-bottom-of-the-line bikes for 300,000 lire total, around $200. The proprietor put on the water bottles and other finishing touches and we pedaled out. Margio was surprised that we were willing to bike the whole way back, 8 kilometers he guessed, but we were flying high from the new toys and opted to pedal our way home.
Well, almost.
I've mentioned that Cortona sits atop a hill but 6 kilometers later realize just how big those charming little hills actually are.
We ended up pushing the bikes the last kilometer into town. The next day we discovered that, on our way down some of these hills, Heather's brakes didn’t brake worth a damn. Back to the shop we go for an adjustment and back up the hill we come. I decided Margio is really just a nice guy. We owe him a beer or two and I hope we could track him down again.

It’s not tough to ride and ride and ride when you have a nice ass pedaling in front of you, and Heather’s does the job perfectly. Her hips wiggle, her hair blows in the breeze, I could smell her sweat from time to time, the adrenalin pumped through my veins and I could outride any marathon biker alive as long as that carrot dangled in front of my nose.
I said “I wish we’d bought helmets” to Heather.
“Why? I don’t think it’s a law here.”
“It’s not the law I’m worried about, it’s my head!”
After a pause I replied “But I guess that’s what the insurance is for.”
I couldn’t really afford the extra money for the helmet anyway so I decided just to be careful.

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like
You say black I say white
You say bark I say bite
You say shark I say hey man
Jaws was never my scene
And I don't like Star Wars
You say Rolls I say Royce
You say God give me a choice
You say Lord I say Christ
I don't believe in Peter Pan
Frankenstein or Superman
All I wanna do is
Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my -
Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah
Fat bottomed girls
They'll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah
On your marks, get set, go!
Bicycle race bicycle race bicycle race
Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
Bicycle bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want a bicycle race
You say coke I say caine
You say John I say Wayne
Hot dog I say cool it man
I don't wanna be the President of America
You say smile I say cheese
Cartier I say please
Income tax I say Jesus
I don't want to be a candidate for
Vietnam or Watergate
'Cos all I wanna do is
Bicycle (yeah) bicycle (eh) bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle (c'mon) bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like
Bicycle Race, by Freddie Mercury of Queen

Contents Donations Feedback
Back   Next

Degenerate Press
Degenerate Press

Contact Degenerate Press

All original content on this site is owned by Degenerate Press and cannot be used without our permission. We have lawyers for friends with nothing better to do than cause trouble (no kidding), so play nice. Copyright © 2002, All Rights Reserved