The rain. The train. The young man from Naples.
Flirting is an artful game in Italy, where they’ve taken it to an art form. But beware. In the south of Italy, the men become bolder. Let me explain with the story of the young man from Naples.
After a day of picture-perfect sun, my friend Teri and I awoke the day of our departure from Florence to a gloomy, overcast sky with every promise of a downpour.
After six hours of sleep, we showered, rushed to the breakfast room, gulped our cereal, downed two cappuccinos, and walked quickly – well, as quickly as we could, lugging our heavy suitcases – to the train station.
The station exuded chaos. The departure board flipped through times and destinations with rapidity. At that moment, with 20 minutes to spare, we realized we didn’t know the train to Perugia’s final destination – a huge mistake I seldom made but one often made by tourists in Europe.
I asked anyone who would listen to help us. Finally, an elderly man mumbled something in heavy dialect about binario venti (20). Rushing, our suitcases flying behind us, we arrived at the bin only to have the conductor say we had the wrong train. OK. He wasn’t exactly friendly and forthcoming.
I asked, “Perugia?”
He said, “No.”
I asked, “Dov’e?”
He answered with a shoulder shrug, indicating he had no idea which bin, nor did he care.
Bin 20, the farthest from our point of entry into the station, was in the open. The rain began. I ran, once again asking anyone who would listen.
A young man stopped me. Actually, he more than stopped me. He was a young, buff, handsome, dark-eyed, dark-haired (with curls) Italian Adonis, dressed in designer jeans and a muscle-revealing T-shirt. He approached me, and in a thick dialect asked if I needed help. I think that’s what he asked. Who knows? He extended his hand. I shook it. He didn’t let go. I tugged it away.
“Scusa, bisogni di aiutare?”
“Si, yes I need help.”
I asked in my finest Italian where I could find the train to Perugia.
The young man smiled broadly and pointed to the number above him. It was binario 16. I grinned, grateful to stop my marathon run, and whipped out my umbrella. My hair had gone flat, and the mist drizzled down my face, obliterating my makeup.
“Mi chiamo Vincenzo.” He put his hand out again. I shook it again. Now, I speak Italian well. But Vincenzo’s accent was difficult.
I felt hands on my shoulder. Soon the happy Italian was touching me and saying over and over, “Bella, bellissima.” Flattered but nervous, I told him in no uncertain terms, “Non mi tocca.” But he continued to touch me. My new friend announced he was Napoletano. It explained a lot. The men of that region feel quite free to admire, touch, and stroke.
The train approached the bin with a groan, and before I could object, he’d whisked my luggage onto the train and stacked it over my seat. I smiled. He smiled. Big mistake to smile at men from Naples, by the way.
“Gianettaaaaaaaa?” I heard this wail from outside the train. There stood my friend, Teri, in the rain, glaring at me, yet looking slightly bemused.
I hated to be further obligated to this hunk, but asked him if he’d help my friend, which he did. He proceeded to nudge my friend out of her seat and eased himself down next to me. Teri angrily pointed out that was her seat. She stood her ground until he moved.
Plopping down, Teri turned to me and said, “It’s always drama with you in Italy, isn’t it?”
The Napolitano continued to stare. He leaned across the aisle and touched my arm. Was “non mi tocca” the correct Italian to stop his touching? I tell him again, “Io sono vecchia. Ho figli piu giovanne da te,” a rather butchered version of “I am old and have kids younger than you.” Mannagia. He wandered across the aisle from time to time to tell me I was beautiful. I’d repeat my mantra and he’d respond, “Non c’e problema.”
Might not be a problem for him, but it was for me. I pretended to sleep, needed to use the facilities, didn’t want to be stalked. My bladder won in the end. I sauntered casually to the infinitesimally tiny bathroom, the train rocking and rolling. But guess who was waiting outside? Waiting, with his soulful brown eyes, fringed with long, dark, sooty lashes?
I smiled, said nothing, and returned to my seat. He continued to stare. By that time, Teri was a bit nervous about getting our luggage off the rack, and about being stalked. She begged me to pretend to make a phone call to my husband. I did so. Made kissing sounds, saying over and over, “Ti amo, ti amo.” Telling my husband how much I loved him did not deter my new admirer.
As we approached Perugia, I sucked in a breath and asked Mr. Big Brown Eyes if he would help us with our luggage. He immediately retrieved the two bags like they weighed two ounces and waited by the door with us until the train came to a stop. Hopping off, he hefted our bags and extended his hand to assist us. We gingerly made it down the awkward steps and thanked him.
I let him touch me one more time as he gazed into my eyes. (Honestly, if this had happened in the good old US of A, I would’ve assumed he’d just been released from an institution for the insane. And maybe he had. No, I didn’t want to go there.)
He answered me with a soft “Ciao, bellissima lady.” I hate when they say lady.
I turned and walked away.
My girlfriend walked at Mach speed, concerned he’d follow.
I tried to reassure her. “Not to worry. This is normal Southern Italian hospitality. I had my ego stroked, we didn’t have to heft our bags for this leg of the trip, and we’re in Perugia.”
For two hours, instead of feeling like a senior citizen … and with the thought tucked into the back of my mind that this 25-year-old Italiano ragazzo was probably, despite his gorgeous face and build, a bit nuts, I basked in the thought that my new hot Italian pants, and perhaps my face, were thought young enough to be pursued on that one day.
Janet Simcic lives in Orange. Reader Report is a feature of the Orange County Register is which readers contribute their travel stories. Readers are not paid for the stories. Editing for content is minimal. The story and opinions are solely those of the reader and do not necessarily reflect the Register’s policies or positions.