For those of you who may have heard this story before at dinner parties or after my third glass of sparkling wine, you might not need to read any more. On the other hand… who doesn’t want to read more about an attractive Italian man attempting a seduction??
A long, long time ago, living for a few months out of a suitcase, spending time with Jeff when I could, enjoying a bit of a honeymoon, a bit of an European adventure, and all of it far away from ‘real’ life, I had one of those moments that will help me believe forever that I am still young and blonde and unwrinkled.
I was in Naples, Italy, waiting for Jeff to be able to take leave from the ship, so we could do a little travelling. We were able to have dinner together most (very early) evenings, but as the junior pilot in the squadron, he was the one who got stuck with the duty most nights. So it came that I was sitting in the television lounge of the Santa Lucia hotel (most European hotels back then – as opposed to the American chains – did not have televisions in each room) watching “Bad Day at Black Rock”, with Spencer Tracy speaking Italian.
Although my spoken Italian was poor to non-existent (I found being able to read French enabled me to read Italian at a school-girl level), I hoped that somehow listening to a movie I already knew and enjoyed dubbed into a language I really wanted to know better might help me with that goal. I know, it’s not very realistic to think that one two-hour movie can make that happen, but it was only 8:30 pm and I would have otherwise been bored in my tiny bedroom upstairs. So I settled in to one of the very comfortable wing back chairs arranged in thoughtful rows around the television, each chair with a small butler’s table, complete with tiny lamp and ashtray.
A few minutes into the movie, a rather well-dressed man came into the room, murmured an order to the waiter, and sat down in the chair beside me. I gave him a passing glance, as one does of course, but turned my attention rather quickly back to the movie, which surprisingly did seem to be helping me a very little bit with my vocabulary, if not how to string all those new words into coherent sentences. And then this attractive dark blond head leaned over from behind his wing to mine and asked me a question, about the movie, in Italian. I answered “I’m sorry. No parlo Italiano.” He cocked his eyebrow and asked me in perfect English, “Then why are you watching this movie!?” I started to answer but we were shushed by the woman sitting in front of us, so he asked me if I would like to join him in the other lounge where we could talk.
It was Europe. I said yes.
We went out to the lounge, where he sat in a cushy looking armchair and I took the settee off-set to his left arm. There was a small table between us, where the waiter delivered the coffee, and then asked me if I was interested in anything. So I asked for coffee too. My new friend introduced himself; his name was Paolo and he was a chemical engineer from Milano, in Napoli to help the city fight vermin (rats are a problem in any seaport!). I told him I was in Naples for a few days, mostly on my own, waiting for my husband to be free from duty on the US Navy ship out in the harbour, so that we could take about ten days and just, go, somewhere. We chatted a little bit like this, exchanging minor personal information, waiting for my coffee, and when it was delivered, Paolo asked me if I would like something to go with it. I said I would like a cognac and again, that eyebrow cocked. Women don’t drink cognac, I was told, they prefer sweeter liqueurs. Well, I retorted, this woman does like cognac, much more than sweet liqueurs. Paolo and the waiter exchanged glances but two cognacs were ordered and delivered.
I took the snifter, held the bowl in my hands for a moment, swirled it around a bit, took in a waft of the warm, pungent aroma and sipped just a little, pulling a bit of air into my mouth at the same time. I was being watched… and I was impressing. So I swallowed, looked at Paolo and the waiter and said, “I like Remy Martin. It’s a very nice cognac. Nothing surprising, just a rich almost nutty taste. This is VSOP?” That last was directed to the waiter, who agreed that it was, and went off with a big, if somewhat bemused, smile on his face.
Now, here’s the truth. At dinner, which Jeff & I had enjoyed what seemed like 12 hours earlier, I had had the chance to take a good look at the bar offerings, and the only cognac they had on offer was Remy Martin VSOP. It’s possible that there was more and better cognac under the counter, but I didn’t hear Paolo order anything by name so I assumed that we were brought the ‘bar’ brand. I could have told Paolo the truth but first of all women don’t all prefer sweet liqueurs and this was a little lesson in that direction and secondly… he was gorgeous and I wanted to make an impression.
Five points in my good feminist column, promptly followed by 7 demerits.
Anyway, we drank coffee and cognac and we talked, about politics and geography (trying to explain my entire Canadian/US comparative history thesis in 8 minutes), about language (Paolo was fluent in four languages, and kept encouraging me to speak French and Italian while we talked) and books, about music pop and classical. And at some point in all this, Paolo leaned over towards me and said, “You are so unlike any woman I have ever met in Europe. I would like to sleep with you.”
Just in case you are as flummoxed at this moment in the story as I was in real life and have lost the thread, let me re-cap: We’re in Naples, my husband of less than two years is on a US Navy ship – a very large ship with many well-armed aircraft – and we’re about to embark on the second half of our honeymoon. I’m sitting in a well-appointed lounge in a comfortable hotel with a very attractive married chemical engineer from Milan, wearing a drop-dead gorgeous suit, who has just asked me to go to bed with him.
I was totally flattered. Paolo really was a very good looking man and, yes, I admit I was almost seduced just by the cut and quality of his suit and tie (there must be something about being from Milan), but I have never been very good at one night stands, and of course, there was that whole being married thing, on the part of both of us. I suggested that being married and also having lovers, sleeping with someone else, might be very Italian but it really wasn’t very Canadian, so I was going to have to turn him down. He shrugged his shoulders and we went back to our wide-ranging discussion.
And then, a few minutes later, out of nowhere, he asked me again! This time, when he leaned in, he put his hand – his beautifully, but unobtrusively, manicured hand – very lightly on mine.
Okay, I like being touched, lightly, subtly. Touch is encouraging and warming and can be just this little bit past friendly but without going into the threatening area when done in the right way. Paolo’s hand was soft and warm, and his smile was so…. I’m going to have to use the word sexy here. Married. I’m married. I cleared my throat, withdrew my hand from under his and asked him why he was asking me. I have my naive moments, but this one not one of them. Paolo had obviously had a tonne of experience asking women this same question, and I was genuinely curious to know why me. Plus I needed to catch my breath.
I said I was not naive; I didn’t say I was made of stone!
It seems that I in no way matched what he thought he knew or believed about American or Canadian women. He said I was intelligent (big points for that), and thoughtful (ditto on the points), and wasn’t loud or annoying (well, I understood what he meant although felt a little pissed off on behalf of my fellow North Americans – much smaller point count), and I had a lovely, lovely complexion (again, big points). And wasn’t I just a tiny bit curious about what Italian men were like in bed?
Of course I was curious, and more than a tiny bit! And honestly, if I hadn’t had a husband – disregarding Paolo’s wife completely, which again means more feminist demerit points – I would have said yes the first time he asked and would have looked forward to him asking all night long! Paolo really was the perfect would-be lover – handsome, well-dressed, well-off, intelligent, attentive, all the things that fairy tales and Harlequin romances say are requisites for a happy life. The fact that I already had all that in my life didn’t make me not want more of it, in a different flavour so to speak. But it did make me stop from taking what was on offer.
I shook my head and stood up, which brought Paolo to his feet (stop buckling, knees! good manners aren’t everything). I told him I was incredibly flattered, more than a little tempted, but I loved my husband and just felt it was better to say no, and to say good night. I offered him my hand, which he took and held for a moment. I think I will retire as well, he said. So we walked together up the grand staircase and paused on the landing before we would veer off down two different hallways. Paolo took my hand again, and then kissed each of my cheeks before wishing me good night. I turned and walked down the carpeted hall. As I got to the end, I looked back, and saw Paolo still standing there. I smiled, he raised his shoulders, I laughed and blew him a kiss and walked away.
Do I regret walking away? Well, I have often said that I try very hard not to regret the things I’ve done, only the things I’ve left undone. But this one… I think it’s better to have a wonderful sweet story I can share without guilt and concern with a husband I adore, and leave the rest of it for someone else to think about.
But Paolo from Milan, if you read this, know that I will always remember you and thank you for making me for so special, so attractive, for an hour or so one quiet evening in Naples.