Italy: The Spell of the Anemone (cont.)
Inevitably, we are drawn to return.
After a whirlwind tour of Rome and Capri, the eight
strangers-turned-confidantes take a train to the ancient
city of Lecce, dazed by the travel, and awed by the
baroque architecture. Carlo and Georgio arrive an
hour later, and profuse ciaos! and bellissimas!
It is well after midnight when we
arrive in Castro, but the town square is packed with
beautiful tanned teenaged girls in bikinis and boys
in Speedos on Vespas. It is 90 degrees, and the air
is close but not stifling. The peach gelato is soothingly
chilly, and each lick is a memory of last summer,
of lounging on our rock “beach” and diving into the
ocean. However, our bar boys have plans for us this
“I have a special treat,” Georgio
announces between drags from a perpetually lit cigarette,
and he hands us a printed invitation.
“Athena McAlpine is happy to announce
the opening of Il Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli,
a very special bed & breakfast in the southernmost
tip of Italy.”
We study the invitation, printed
on impressively hefty cardstock, and eye Carlo and
Georgio with suspicion. Who are these work-averse,
night-loving boys who have such hip connections?
We had been warned about Il Convento,
or the Abbey, as the locals call it. That month’s
Travel and Leisure feature story hollered that Puglia
was the new Tuscany, and we cringe at the thought
of European jetsetters and New York fashion models
raining from the sky in their private jets, destroying
our fantasy that this remote slice of the world was
only ours for the loving.
We knock on the heavy medieval door
to the Abbey, and we are ushered into a candlelit
courtyard echoing with piped-in opera. “I was bohrne
in the Dorchester Hotel,” announces our crusty host,
Lord McAlpine, his excruciating diction adding to
the surreal ambience. Lady McAlpine, or just Athena,
is a sensual Greek thirty-something in a posh caftan.
Athena pours wine brought up from
their private cellar and ushers us into a gilded pillow-filled
lounge for dessert. Later, giddy with drink and conversation,
I sneak upstairs with Jen to see how the decadently
rich Europeans live. We creep through rooms teeming
with dusty volumes and native treasures from Africa.
The ghost of a young nun, or possibly the wind, sends
us scurrying back to our hosts.
Their friends think the Lord and
Lady are crazy to leave England for southern Puglia,
but I suspect the aristocrats have sampled the ricci
too. It is gratifying to see that the spell cast on
a struggling writer can just as easily captivate one
of Great Britain’s wealthiest collectors.
Back at the villa, we are
singing our best opera and dancing along the edge
of the Adriatic, claiming it as our own. Carlo and
Georgio shrug off the notion of more ricci. “To the
bar!” they announce, dragging our last bottles of
Pinot Grigio out of the refrigerator. It is a speedier,
more efficient aphrodisiac, one that does not require
diving to the bottom of the sea.
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