Part 9- Asolo, Italy
My friend, Carmen Jones, is Betty Boop reincarnated. From the adorable round face to the pixie haircut, Carmen is the epitome of cute. She has flown from her new home in London to Venice in order to escape the rain and spend four days with me. We have taken the $10 train ride an hour northwest of Venice to the town of Castelfranco Veneto. Along the way we pass through industrial towns and family-owned cornfields that line the train tracks. From Castelfranco we are supposed to take an inexpensive taxi ride to the picturesque town of Asolo where Villa Vega, “our villa” is waiting. Unfortunately, I have do not have an exact address to our villa. I do have directions, but only in English. In my mind, the handsome taxi driver would know exactly where our very special villa is in this land far faraway and in addition he would speak English. Our driver knows neither, but is indeed handsome and smiles at us in the rearview mirror while driving us around and around and up and up to the base of the Dolomites. $90 later we arrive at our villa.
Our villa sprawls alluringly across the hillside like a lover observing the vineyards and valley below. She stands a proud three stories tall and claims her place in the countryside like a prima donna, entitled and indulged. From the silver-plated antique hand-mirror that beckons from the entry table to the jasmine that climbs up her garden walls. Our Villa is the perfect Venician courtesan. Quiet, worldly, detached. Her backyard, a blanket of lush clover, a carpet for the hammock strung between two grand pine trees. Love me if you must, she says. And we do love her.
Since our Villa is just outside the village of Asolo, which crowns the hilltop, Carmen and I walk ten minutes uphill along the narrow country road. We scurry off to the edge when the occasional car passes. There are no sidewalks to save us from Italian drivers here. Something that sounds like cicadas buzz. We round a corner to find a spring and spigot with free flowing mountain water in front of the small church. Inside the church walls are covered with the remains of frescos. A candle and the low light of afternoon bring out the dulled pinks and apricots in the paint. We walk past doorknobs that remind me of a man accessorizing. The way some men chose a good pair of shoes or a watch to show glimmers of their personality, whereas a woman can don a red dress or wear fishnet stocking. The doorknobs may go unnoticed unless you look for their magnificence. Solid and strong, unique to each doorway along the walk. This one shaped in a horseshoe, this one a cross. The more we look the more we see. All those stylized knobs on very similar looking doors and houses. It’s as if each was trying to shake your hand and invite you in before the neighbor gets to you first.
We walk past the small shop windows where wide flat wheels of aged parmesan jockey for your attention with low hanging air-dried salami. When we enter the doors the smell is so strong we can nearly taste the red pepper, salts and spices. The Parmesan wheels are so valuable that banks sometimes hold them as collateral on debt here. We climb to the old castle and up around the back gates where we find a café with outdoor tables and no customers. Perfect. We order a glass, then change it to a bottle, of the best Prosecco we’ve ever tasted. It’s so nice to see one another here in Italy. Using lovely long English words and talking fast. No translation required.
We sit together, drinking our wine and looking out at the valley below. The green and red shuttered windows of the village houses are mostly closed against the directness of the setting sun. The church bell high in the tower rings and rings. There’s no telling time by the bell, it simply rings for the sake of hearing it’s own tone. Hundreds of pigeons roost in the abandoned house just below. Their cooing and purring melds together into a low hum. Like the foundation of paint that washed over my blank canvas, their sound settles everything around it and allows the other sounds to be brighter. Layer upon layer – the pigeons, the echoed ring of the church bell, the tizzied twitter of the swallow feasting on mosquitoes. The voices of Carmen and I as we talk in a carefree way of flirty girl things. We sound like we are reading aloud from the same trashy magazines we took to Mexico four years ago for poolside sun. Later in the evening the pigeon sounds also support our voices through more weighty issues and events. We are the kind of friends that do not need to be in constant contact. We pick up where we left off regardless of the time or space between. Carmen was there at my wedding and is here now. How did we get here, I suddenly wonder. To her I am the same, before and after. To me I am not. Carmen says, “I wish could fast forward your life four months.” I’ve been saying I wish I could rewind my life four months. I think about this long into the night. Fast forward.