The OGs In African American Female Group Travel Experiences
Encouraging black women since 2006
#2: The Hound. The hound and I met on the first night of the Bella Italia tour. My dear friend Marc and “Baby Food” (see blog/file “Baby Food) had helped me plan a special first night in Rome party for the Bellas atop of the La Griffe, a luxury 5-star hotel on via Nazzionale.
The weather could not have been more perfect for an evening under the stars. The hotel is located in the center of ancient Rome. From the Roof, there is a breathtaking 360 degree laminated view of Rome in all her glory. As the Bellas arrive, we are taken to our tiny (the only) reserved area in the venue. Space was chosen due to being directly in front of the band. The crowd is a good mix of Italians and ex-pats from around the world, many speaking English. The ladies start to fan out into the room partaking in cuisine and conversation.
The band was on point, thanks to Francesco (aka my Baby Food) delivering on everything promised, which started with his simply offer to just play guitar at the event as a gift to me. Before it was over, he had agreed to put together a band, rent sound equipment, find an Italian female singer that could sing in English and help with a special surprise. There is only three weeks between his first offer and our arrival in Rome, it is a lot to accomplish but, I am a dreamer that believes all things are possible. With each doubtful SMS message sent Francesco, my reply is always along with the tone of “you can do this” “I believe in you”. His last reply to me “no more ideas”. LOL
The band played magnificently as if they had been together for years. Unknown to the Bellas, a special rehearsal had taken place earlier that evening. About an hour into the band’s performance there was a break in the music I took the microphone and welcomed the ladies to Rome and turned to the real star of the evening. I welcomed to the stage our own Bella Keisha McLeggon, that joined the tour from Ontario, Canada. Keisha brought the house down with her rendition of Rihanna's Umbrella and Sunday Morning by Maroon 5. Later in the evening, Francesco’s friend Felicia surprised the Bellas with Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” in English and Italian. It is the theme song for our tours and the spirit behind all our tours. It did not take long before the Bellas joined in and closed out the concert. What a way to start the tour!
After the party, I tried to personally thank Francesco for all his efforts but he seemed a bit distant. I learned later that it was because he had never seen me in work mode and the power image was a bit intimidating for him. My poor Baby Food! But, alas this is not his story, so on to the hound.
There is an order to an Italian night on the town. The evening normally starts with an aperitivo for 7-9 pm. A pre-dinner drink, meant to “open” the palate and it gives you a chance to socialize, relax, and nibble as dinner approaches. Dinner normally starts around 9pm. Dinners are not meant to rush, everything is cooked to order (no microwaves) and served in courses to ensure that the flavor of each dish can be savored and enjoyed on its own. A dinner from antipasto (per meal nibbles) to after-meal espresso can take two hours or more. After dinner, around midnight nightclubs opened for dancing and merriment.
It has been a long day for the Bellas, they have been going non-stop since their early morning arrival in Rome. This is not your grandmother’s tour! By the time the disco at La Griffe opened, most of the ladies have taken taxis back to the hotel with the exception of 5 or 6 die-hard party girls. I joined them on the upper party floor. My feet are throbbing from wearing heels all night, so I take refuge near the side of the dance floor and become the keeper of the purses while the ladies mixed, mingled and danced. Standing next to me are four men, three casually dressed and one in a suit. The three casual dressed men take turns motioning for me to dance with them. It seemed like a contest to see which would break me. One grabbed my hand and tried to twirl me but only to end up twirling himself. Another dance his way in front of me only to have me turn my back to him. I am not trying to be mean but dang, MY FEET HURT.
As I turn away, my eyes catch a glimpse of the suited one smiling at me in amusement. I first take notice of his white teeth, a sign that he is probably not a cigarette smoker or heavy coffee drinker as many Italians are. I feel the need to mention that in Italy, yellow or crooked teeth are not necessarily considered 'bad' teeth. The Italian National Health Care system deals with teeth from a purely medical and not cosmetic perspective. People here also seem less obsessed with perfection as Americans. The general attitude is if it’s not broke (all the time), don’t fix it. This also explains the amazing landscape where building dating back to 200 BC still stands unaltered.
Mr. Suit looks about 45, which means his actual age is more around 40 in Italian years. He is tall and very distinguished looking. His skin is deeply tanned and wavy hair immaculately cut. To me, there is nothing like a well-dressed man, lord help me if he also smells good. I return his smile as the “dance of the fools” is also somewhat amusing to me. I always give Italians a little more cultural slack, for what is downright dorky in the states is… well…just “being Italian” when in Italy.
The “dance of the fools” continues for another song, only it is more intense since my smile exchange with the “suited one”. Now, the three are trying to impress the alpha male. The alpha male is always easy to identify, for he will be the coolest and most collected one in the group. He is also normally the most arrogant. Mr. Suit is no different.
Based on the thread count on his suit ( yes, I can do a thread count from 50 yards away), this is a man of means. This “Abitato Italiano (see Pantaloni Verdi)” will be a bit different… on the surface. Mr. Suit is the Alpha male and cannot risk being rejected in front of his underlings ESPECIALLY after they too have been vying for my attention. His approach will be much smoother and ambiguous with plausible deniability in cased the desired response is not received. I stand and wait.
With my back turned to Mr. Suit, he cannot see that I am flirting with others across the room. I deliberately choose men that Mr. Suit will see as his equal/competitors. It is not long before one responds to my flirtation and starts walking in my direction. He is very stylish, with tight Italian jeans, a crisp white shirt and a long scarf tossed effortlessly around his neck. As he moves closer, I smile and tilt my head giving him the once over, from toe to head with my eyes. The head tilt, is also to let Mr. Suit (standing behind me) know that his competitor has gotten my attention.
By the time the LONG scarf reaches me, I am sincerely interested in its owner and Mr. Suit has fallen into 2nd place for the evening. You are one of the Americans, he asked. Yes, how did you know, I replied. There were many here tonight with your type of skin, this is not something we see often here in Italy, he said with a smile. Well, I am trying to change that, I say with a coy smile. This is good, he nods. We both smile! “My name is Marco.” “My name is Fleace.” We chat briefly and start to dance; Mr. Suit is now a distant memory. Everything about Marco drips of sex appeal. I know instinctively to keep distance between our bodies. There will be no slow dancing for us or I will lose the high ground. He is very playful, occasionally testing the waters by being suggestive about his desires. Beware of playful men with the boyish charm, for they can laugh you right out of your underwear. Knowing this, I spin around in dance and add a little more space between us. Without missing a beat, Marco closes the gap and I am once again in trouble. I giggle nervously while gently yet seriously pushing him away.
Mr. Suit seems to appear from nowhere, he walks close to me in passing and says “be careful of this one”. I laugh and nodded in agreement. Marco looks at me perplexed. You know Mr. Moretti, he asked.
Damn, they know each other, I think to myself. Not only do they know each other but, the fact the Marco referred to the “suited one” as “Mr.” means he respects him as a person of authority, Italian social etiquette 101. Double damn! Marco’s demeanor changes and now we are dancing like sister and brother. The song ends and so does our interaction. What just happen, did I miss the ”do not touch signal” between Marco and Mr. Moretti? How could those 5 spoken words be so powerful that I am now standing alone?
From behind me, I hear, “what happen to your friend”? As I turned around, I knew it would be the Suited One aka Mr. Moretti. I was right! You scared him away, I replied with a smile. He seemed surprised, but not really, for he knew exactly what he had done. My name is Massimo as he extends his well-manicured hand. I reply to him giving my name. In his broken English, he asked how long I will be Italy. I give my customary answer “three months” only this time adding "to study Italian".
I always say three months even if it is only two days for the number of days there can have a direct correlation with the method of pursuit. If the time is too short, those sincerely interested may not move forward as the time is too short for anything to develop. If he is a hound, the short time frame means he must act fast before you get away neither scenario serves me, so I simply say “three months” to see what can happen, even in two days.
Massimo suggests that he can help with my desire to master the Italian language. He has many friends and some of them teach Italian. He hands me his business card and ask that I call him. I take the card and place it into my pocket and as quickly as he had appeared, Massimo was gone. As I looked over my shoulder, I could see people swarming around him. Who is this man, I wondered. His card gave no clue, as it only had his name and telephone number.
The following night was the night of the Bellas Vespa tour of Rome. The bikers arrive a block from the hotel to prevent the ladies in their excitement from interfering with the staging (preparation). I get the call that most of the bikes have arrived. Dressed in a thigh pink 50s inspired dress, I walk the long block like a runway model, I am working it as all the drivers watch me approach. All eyes are focused on me. I thank them all for coming and asked are they ready to show my girls Rome. They yell back, YES with such energy that it could be heard for blocks.
While turning around to walk back to the hotel, I hear someone call out "Felicia" (more about that later), my eyes dart around the group looking for the source. There sitting on a silver BMW K 1300 S motorcycle is Massimo (yes, I also know my bikes). I am confused! How can this be! Rome is small but it can’t be THIS dang small. I walk (no slink) toward him fully aware that everyone is watching. I keep a respectable distance between us and ask if he is with the group. He replies, no. He was doing business in the area and had parked his bike there only to return and find it surrounded by 70 scooters. He had been told by the drivers that they were waiting for a large group of Black American women and somehow he knew I was involved, so he waited. Why haven’t you called me, he asked. I turn and look in the direction of all the bikes and say “as you can see, I have been busy but, I promise to call you soon”. As I move to walk away, he starts his bike. The mire power of the powerful BMW motor excites me. I walk away to the beat of the idling motor fully aware that he and everyone else is watching me. The bike speeds off, and I make a mental note not to call him too soon.
It is 12 days before I call Massimo. Our Bella Italia tour has ended and I am in Barcelona on MY own vacation. We speak briefly and agree on a day for dinner once I return to Rome. He asked that I call him on Monday to confirm my return.
The night of our date Massimo meets me at my door and we take a short walk to his car, a Black Mercedes Benz S-class Sedan, something you don’t see often on the streets of Rome due to the price of the car and gas being almost $10 a gallon. He walks to the driver's side door and gets in; I stand outside the passenger door waiting for him to get the hint. He looks through the car window and I wave at him. He immediately steps out of the car to walk around to open my door. “Mi dispiace (I’m sorry)! I forgot you are American” he says while closing the door. As we are driving down the street, Massimo asked very matter of factually, will I be coming home with him after dinner. I say “NO, what type of question is that to ask!” He responses unapologetically “Italian girls normally go home with me”. I reply, “I am NOT Italian” in a way that clearly says END OF TOPIC. It seems that Mr. Suit/Mr. Moretti/ Massimo is actually Mr. Hound. Let the game begin!
We arrive in Trastevere, on the west bank of the Tiber River. Trastevere which translates literally to "across the Tiber," is one of the most charming areas in Rome with amazing restaurants, shops and churches along its maze-like medieval lanes. Parking can be a challenge in Rome and even more so along the tiny streets of Trastevere. This problem is compounded by driving a large sedan. The closest parking is about 5 blocks from the restaurant. Did I mention that most streets in Rome are cobblestone and I am wearing 5 inch heels? As I am wobbling down the street, Massimo/the Hound offers to hold me around my waist for support. How nice and convenient! As his hand rests on my hip, I take note of the size of his hands, large for an Italian. Hey, I’m human, don’t judge me. lol
We arrive at the restaurant on a hidden little street. The owners welcome us (him) as old friends. We are given special seating outside under the stars. Something is in the air and I know this will be another one of those wonderful Italian nights even with the hound factor.
The waiter asked for our wine selection. I asked Massimo for his preference. “I do not drink, so order what you like” he replies. He shared that his drinking of alcohol stopped 8 years ago. I explain that am still new to Italian wines and need assistance with the selections. The hound offers to help. He ordered una bottiglia (a bottle) of white wine... just for ME. “Do I really look that easy?” “OMG… this wine is amazing!”
While we are waiting on our meals, romantic music starts playing in the distance. I pause to listen with my eyes closed. This is one of many reasons that Italy can be so magical, music is everywhere. I comment on the music and Massimo agrees that it part of the magic of his country.
The hound speaks English but is not fluently which is hampering his game. He struggles to flirt with me and mention how much easier things would be if I spoke Italian. I laugh and say “yes, you would be a lot smoother and I would probably be undressed by now.” We both laugh.
The dinner is divine, one of the best I have had in Italy. Too bad this place is owned by Massimo’s friends because it would be a good date restaurant for me. Oh well, there are others in Rome. During the meal “the hound” makes many awkward attempts at seduction with his broken English. I playfully laugh at him in order not to bruise his male ego. Despite being a hound, I find him quite charming. I don’t blame him for trying to bed me, for in the end, ALL MEN are trying to do the same. As my father would say, it is the man’s job to try to bed you and your job to stop him. I never take it personally unless I am disrespected. The hound has not crossed that line.
During dessert, I notice a short older man standing in a doorway of a building with a musical symbol. It is l'Arciliuto. The L’Arciliuto theatre is situated inside Palazzo Chiovenda, an old residence in Piazza di Montevecchio, dating from the fifteenth century. The building rests on the ancient walls of a Roman villa from the II century BC whose remains are still visible underground.
Wanting to learn more about l'Arciliuto first hand, I asked Massimo if he minded us stopping by after dinner. It was a courtesy ask as I knew that he would not mind… after all he is still trying to get into my pants. The man in the doorway, Enzo Samaritani is warm and kind. He tells us that the venue will not reopen until the following Saturday. Sensing my disappointment, he invites us in for a visit. The interior is like most things in Rome, old. Walking through the rooms was like stepping back in time. In the first room was a tiny bar with a couple of bar stools which lead to a larger music room. The music room had tattered chairs and 3 or 4 sofas. In the middle of the floor was an old piano. Enzo motioned for us to be seated in front of the piano. He picked up a guitar and started playing a song. The song had a familiar melody which made me happy. By the time it ended, I was on the edge of my seat lost in the moment.
Enzo started talking to us about life, about love and loss then he started playing the song again, this time while telling its history. The song is "Aura Lee" written in 1861. It was a song of love. The lyrics are not that moving by today’s standards but, I connected to them and the passion in which it is being sung started to cry. This is yet another one of those moments in Rome, the type we hear in fairytales. Only this is no fairytale, it is truly happening and I allow myself to be swept away and lost in time. Later Enzo explains that the melody of the song was commercialized in 1956 and became Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”. Ahhh…my soul knew!
Enzo seemed moved by my tears of joy and mentioned that only those who truly live will allow themselves to cry. I took his statement as a confirmation that despite the disappointments in my life, I am still ALIVE and hopeful, for it is when hope is lost that we begin to die.
Enzo starts speaking to Massimo in Italian. I found myself wondering why, but obviously this is a private conversation, not meant for my ears. Massimo listened intensely to every word with the fingers of his hands interlace and touching his face as if in prayer, a sign that he is in deep thought about what is being said. Then Enzo turns his attention again to me and asked what do I know about eyes. I reply, “They are the window to the soul”. Okay, I know it is a bit cliché but it is also true. Enzo asked my name and I tell him Fleace. Ahhh… Fleace, happy in Italian this is an appropriate name for you, he says smiling. He slowly tells me what he sees in my eyes and once again I brought to tears. How can this man know so much about me? By now, tears are streaming down my face and Enzo ask Massimo for permission to sing a song about me. Yes, another song about me (see my “Baby Food” post) Oh God, I am going to lose it if he … and before my though was complete the permission had been granted and the song began.
Every mention of my name was followed by small details that only my closes friends know. How can he know all of this??? Is he a telepath, is this a joke, am I that easy to read, all these thoughts are running through my head. Then Enzo gave me a knowing smile and I surrender, allowing the moment to just be without questioning. Massimo grab my hand and kissed it gently and I know in that moment my life would never be the same. We thanked Enzo for an incredible experience and I give him a long heartfelt hug goodbye while promising to return with friends. He walked us to the door and I gave him a kiss on the cheek and said thank you again. My heart is full!
Massimo and I walk back to his car, he mentions something about how everyone notices me as we walked by. I do not reply, as my thoughts are still back at l'Arciliuto. Within minutes we are back in his car and I waiting to get in. Yep, you guessed it; I am standing outside the car again. He will learn in time! He is laughing while walking around an open the door, I am not sure if it is at me or himself. During the ride home, he asked, “will there be a 2nd date”. I think about it and give a coy “maybe…I will tell you when you call me again”. Hey! Remember, he’s a hound!
The car stops in front of my door. The tiny street is dark and with the moonlight glistening on his shiny car. I thank him for a wonderful evening. Then like a bear, he grabs my arm and tries to pull me closer. I pull my arm away with force and say firmly say DO NOT EVER touch me like that again. He apologizes and asks gently for a kiss. Okay, that’s better, I’m thinking. I lean in to kiss him on the cheek and out pops his tongue like a Jack in a Box. Yuck! I push his face away and say NO! He retreats and apologizes again. It is the end of the night, and obviously he is on auto-pilot but, there will be no landing on this strip. I am not Italian; I am a SMART Black Girl in Italy. I thank him again for the evening and get out of the car. As I am walking away, I noticed that his car engine has not started. Awww… he is waiting for me to enter the building safely, how sweet. When I reach my door, I turn to wave good-bye. To my surprise he is not waiting for me to enter safely but checking his phone, I suspect for confirmations on other possible opened landing strips for the evening. I smile and walk into the house.
He has since called twice for a 2nd date. As he is a hound and I can seem overly eager, I will wait for the 3rd call. It will come, they always do.
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