A good chorus can be happy, tragic, annoying but catchy.
Like the one that goes: And I don’t want the world to see me / ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.
But I know that you will, you will understand. So I’ll show you, I’ll show you what happened in Sicily.
Long story short, I acted a creep.
On a rock by the water, seagulls cawed overhead. The days were chill. The nights were warm. The four friends who were together the previous week had disbanded. Now, in Sicilia, Axel and I would amble in and out of museums and cafes for beers. Brendan would write or rewrite the script for his feature film starring nuns and a choir singing professor, all set in the historic neighborhood of Ortigia, an island attached to Syracuse. Melanie, his girl, the musician-writer-lover-of-life, would play her banjo and sing swampy southern dirges from the balcony window every afternoon, sing songs about how the good men are gone, except us, who to her seemed to have come from an older more gentlemen-like generation. Boy, were we sad to lose her confidence.
Around mid-afternoon we would all run in for a dip in the salty green Mediterranean.
Once, there with my travel camera, at my joking insinuation, Axel took a couple of no-no photos of a woman chest up and sleeping next to us. Melanie got pissed and took the camera. She stormed off, with the house keys no less, and left us boys to contemplate our poor behavior.
So far, the summer trip had been pretty square, with no unfortunate incident: with Toups we had done some damage to St Petersburg, with Zoe we had dented Croatia, with Axel we had broken some hearts in Portugal, but all together we had lived our best lives drama-less. In Sicilia, however, we would have chilled fucks free at our friends’ BnB, had we not ruined it that second to last day at the beach. For a week we had been gentlemen, done the dishes, offered to cook, brought gifts, insisted on hanging out together, made friends with the locals, been pretty good.
But, there lived a one-eyed monster in Ortigia. It got into everybody.
Like that day, on the seafront, on a rock by the water, seagulls cawing overhead, where children played close to their mommies and daddies, where the babes sat where all babes sit: to be seen, on the edge of the cliff — where dorky locals jumped headfirst into the reflection of their souls, the timeless Mediterranean.
Brendan of course dove headfirst into the salty green waves crashing between jagged rocks, coming out hair in dreads, praising the atmosphere, the Roman gods, as well as the Greek ones, with his poet’s tongue; all this after a day of scouting for his feature film.
The mistake, right. Can’t say this was the first time I acted a creep. I try and don’t try to behave as a decent human being. But I’m only a common mortal, especially when it comes to photography. I’m not good, by which I mean I take a lot of stupid photos.
Even the cleanest surface gets dirty. I’m talking about something I’ve never shared before, a nasty habit, something minor that got blown out of proportion.
I used to sneak shots of glamorous women at their most candid. If ever a woman looked good in a blouse or in her walk then I zoomed in with my digital travel camera and snapped a pic. Admitting this I’m reminded of a news channel exposé about a new regulation on Japanese cell phones that forced the flash and noise of a shutter to click, because of the all too common abuse of unsuspecting young women getting their skirts upped by freaky manga geeks in heat. Fools, I say, although I guess that what I’m trying to relate by telling this story is that I feel for them, for everyone. “Used to,” I write at the start of this paragraph. Can’t say I will ever do it again.
On the rock by the sea, seagulls overhead cawing, snacks in backpacks, families behind us, and with vivid showmen doing somersaults over the women on the edge of this rock cliff, we were.
Axel said, “Cheese.” He took good pictures, actually. I had asked to see them. I also asked him, by way of a wink, to cop a pic of the generously breasted vacationer in a blue polka-dotted two-piece, frowning next to us. As the camera lens extended and my brother snapped the photo, I wondered about the woman. She had fought with two men sitting with her the day before.
But now she was alone in the sun, napping.
Melanie turned pulp-red and took it upon herself to speak her mind.
“Give me the camera,” she said, gritting her teeth.
“No,” I replied. “They are my photos.”
Melanie did little to explain herself. Instead she doubled her decibels.
“Give me the camera!”
The birds for sure cawed overhead. Do I even have to write that folks turned to stare at our pale asses; confused by our English, but certainly guessing what was the matter.
Melanie stormed off.
Brendan had never seen this side of her. It only took a couple of days with two testosterone-twisted Argentinos to unearth what rage she was capable of. Just the night before, funny enough, she was praising our masculinity, calling it a volcano whose force could draw the lava out of a woman — guess we did that — but she envisioned it as a good thing. Now? Now, until I could calm down from the agitation which resulted from her blast of anger, I swore she had only made a public scene because we had made it about a different girl, not her. What was the other option, that she was defending a stranger? Either way, the truth deep down is that she expected better of us.
But we didn’t know it at the time. We were all upset. Guess who had the keys to the house. With pleasure she locked us out. The young lady was cooking us dinner, needed to be alone, we found out later, but it took the rest of the day to find out.
“I’ve smoked worse,” said Axel, realizing she wasn’t going to open the door for us just yet. So we left.
As in, meanwhile, we went to buy some flowers to ask for her forgiveness. We rendezvoused at the locked door a few hours later, underneath the windowed balcony of the apartment kitchen, where Melanie would strum her banjo for the locals. It was evening, and there were tourists everywhere with their phones buzzing for something exciting to happen. And that’s when one after the other, we boys started to sing different romance songs, in random order, when we figured we might as well sing one together, only, what song did we have in common between a chef/entrepreneur, a poet/director, and me/me, except: “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls.
You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be / and I don’t want to go home right now.
Melanie stepped out onto the balcony and yelled back, “Louder!”
So we screamed for all the island to hear.
And I don’t want the world to see me / ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand / when everything’s meant to be broken / I just want you to know who I am!
“Y’all don’t have to be creeps,” she called, from her banjo balcony, “you each have great qualities, any woman would be lucky to have you, but when you act like creeps you are fucking creeps!”
“Melanie, dear,” Brendan besought, “open the door!”
“Finish the song!”
So we did, screaming for all the tourists to hear, repeating the chorus again, until she let us in. The couple asked the brothers for some alone time.
Two gin and tonics later, we returned and ate olives and cheeses. That night we four played nice — meaning we pretended nothing had happened, ignoring the tension and doing our best to sit in guilt. Axel and I bought tickets to Catania the next day.
Mount Etna never cared about anything. Literature sparkles and diamonds shimmer. Remember the Ferrante post? She was the writer whose book inspired the next node of the trip, ’cause I saw Melanie had the book with her and I asked her to borrow it. I hope she accepted my apology. If only she knew that the book she lent me pushed me to visit Naples, where I met the woman of my dreams. Truth. Upcoming post to explain.
Yup. Moral of the Sicily story? Don’t be a creep; in general, never; as a rule, not before a woman.
You’ll get rightfully mothered, lectured, shut outside like a dog with a bouquet of flowers in your mouth and a song.