Hello, It’s been a few days since I last posted…I know I know…tisk tisk. I’d like to write more often so no worries–a more consecutive writing rhythm will come. In the meantime, here is a little treat. A story I wrote for class, a Fiction Workshop, last April. Wow, it’s already been almost a year! Looking back at it now makes me feel good and I hope it makes you feel good too. Without further ado, here’s a story:
The sky was pink and violet, and the boats were moving away from me on Lake Como into the distance, where buildings of all colors are lined up one after the other. She appeared then—her arms waving at me from the turquoise water. The tip of my brush had just dipped into the red paint on the pallet beside me when her face and honey colored arms caught my gaze.
Was she in danger? No. She was only distracting me from my work: smiling at me, showing off an impeccable freestyle stroke, showing me—in short—that one can have a lovely time in the lake. I am painting the nature of this Italian landscape—the bright lake getting darker as the sun fades, the trees with too many branches, the fragile yellow flowers. But this girl is in the middle and causing a scene. She is the heroine of this story.
The birds fly away. The sky is turning into a mélange of pink, violet, and orange. She swims towards me. I pretend I don’t notice and continue to mix colors, to make long deliberate strokes with my brushes.
“Hello,” she says. I’m now close enough to see the finer details. The tattoo of a small bird on her arm, the tanned skin, the lips red and plump, the brown eyes, the red and white stripes on her bikini. “Hello,” I say, like the busy man I am. She wraps a towel around her and sits down on the cold sand.
I sit beside her and start smoking a cigarette, before putting the pack away I offer her one but she gently shakes her head. For the moment I am pleasantly distracted from my task, allowing her to wrap me into her overwhelming presence.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” I say. “My name is Filipo.”
She smiles and excitedly says, “Pleased to meet you. My name is Emel. It means “diamond.” I’m from Istanbul and am finishing a year of studying at the local culinary school.”
“Wonderful, wonderful!” I exclaim and then blow smoke to the side up into the darkening sky, away from her radiant face.
“Yes, it’s been a joy exploring Lake Como and learning in such a beautiful setting. I’d like to be a chef and open a restaurant,” she says eagerly.
“Magnificent!” I say. “I love creating things too as you can see with my colors over there.” I point off to the array of brushes and palettes sitting beside the wet canvas.
We chat until it gets too chilly and I can’t help but say, “Would you like to join me for dinner in my villa? It’s a couple minutes walk from here.”
She looks up at the dark blue sky then at her hand, which is playing with the ends of her red towel and then sweetly says, “Yes. I’d like that very much.”
She is staying nearby and goes home to bathe and I hope she will dazzle me with a chic outfit.
The doorbell rings at precisely eight o’clock.
“Buona Sera! Good Evening!” I exclaim with as much Italian warmth and gusto as I can while taking in her sumptuous presence.
Her heels touch the stone and she says, “Buona Sera! I love your purple shirt, that suit is great, and those Fred Perry loafers are divine!”
“Grazie, grazie, you are so kind, let’s get comfortable shall we?,” I conjecture.
I lead her into the living room; we walk by the marble staircase, vintage mirrors, an endless amount of paintings—some Monet, some Rothko, among others, until finally we arrive at the pinot noir colored leather couch with an array of reading material sitting at its edge. A GQ is opened to a page on suit ties made of hemp. A new-looking copy of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past sits next to a stack of Italian literary journals and today’s daily newspaper.
“Would you like a glass of wine perhaps?” I ask her.
“Um, yes, that would be nice thank you.”
After returning with two glasses, I sit beside her on the couch and learn more about her “story.”
“Do you swim often?” I ask.
“I enjoy it immensely. In Istanbul in certain areas wearing a bikini is not allowed. People give you looks or tell you off for not being ‘modest.’ As a Muslim it’s been hard dealing with the rules and a culture constantly changing in mores and traditions. I find it much easier to be free here on the lake and in the village among a community that has been so embracing towards me.”
“Indeed,” I remark. “I could do with more swimming in my life. There’s something about being submerged fully in water and nearly naked that excites me. It’s a whole other world. And like you said it is freeing—rather therapeutic and calming. Thankfully, this lake is quite clean. We have strict rules about pollution here. It’s a pity that many areas are so filthy!”
I notice her agreeing with what I’m saying and smell food from the kitchen. I also notice how late it has gotten and beckon her to join me for dinner on the patio.
Outside, the air is pleasant with a slight breeze and an-all too comfortable summer night warmth. Candles are lit and have been positioned neatly along the dining table. Above, the sky is clear, showing a full moon and a plethora of stars. The night couldn’t get better. The food that awaits us would make things even more interesting.
“Bon appétit!” I say to her with a childish looking silly sort of smile.
We start with bruschetta. We laugh at each other, for being so messy. The chopped tomatoes fall onto our plates with each bite.
“Ah, there,” I say, as I manage to eat the next few bites in a neater and more familiar Italian manner. “Why am I so nervous?” I think to myself.
Her joie de vivre takes me back to the present and as we relish each bite we equally enjoy conversing and laughing together.
When the cook brings the salad—arugula exploding with vibrant seasonal vegetables—I notice her face get brighter as she says how much she loves salad. “Yessss,” I think to myself.
We dig in and she starts telling me about her cooking classes.
“Some people are astonishingly rude in class!” she says. “I prefer walking around the village and interacting with locals like you who are far more exciting. People are competitive in class and there’s an overall sense of individualism. Why can’t they come together and learn to collaborate? In the end it will surely be more satisfying.”
“I know what you mean, Emel,” I say. “Egos tear people apart and you can only go so far with that. I noticed you looking at the paper on the couch. Did you see the article on the organic farming law? All Lake Como farmers must use soil that is free of chemicals and pesticides. Such a difference it makes when eating something that is completely natural don’t you think?”
“Of course, she says excitedly. “In our kitchen at the school, part of our mantra is ‘Real Food Daily,’ we can only use natural and fresh ingredients and I totally support that,” she says matter-of-factly, and then forks the last dark green piece of arugula, getting a walnut, tomato, cucumber, and dressing all in her wide mouth.
Subsequently, the main course arrives: a plate of a small portion of veal next to a bit of capellini pomodoro, and a mix of asparagus and artichoke hearts drizzled in extra-virgin olive oil. The plates are colorful and of course lead us into another realm of excitement and flavor.
She asks me about my paintings—how I started out as a painter and if I always knew I wanted to paint.
“Well you see, I was never introduced to it. My parents had high hopes of me becoming a doctor and getting myself into a prestigious network of society. Instead, I fell in-love with Proust’s eloquent sentences and the collection of modern paintings at the local Muaritzio museum just down the road. It’s an airy space filled with refreshing and unique paintings that conjure an abstraction and yet a language I can connect to—if that makes sense.”
I cut a piece of veal and swirl some pasta onto my fork. She simply says, “Wow. That’s so interesting.” I finish chewing and tell her about the first painting I ever did.
“It was five years ago. I was twenty-two and on vacation with friends in Capri. The Mediterranean Sea was under our warm feet and giant rocks were looming in the distance. I painted the lonely rocks but added onto them by creating a world—making an epic scene. None of us knew what if anything happened on those rocks. But I’m a dreamer and in the end, it was worth it. It sits in the living room above the piano just over there,” I say, and point vaguely towards a window beyond sight.
The night gets both darker and quieter. We hear a cat meow and the leaves of the trees rustle. We’ve been sitting outside for three hours!
We finish eating and I suggest going back inside where it’s warmer. I get some homemade chocolate gelato and two cappuccinos from the kitchen and we enjoy the final part of our meal, dessert, back inside near the couch.
As we share gelato from the same yellow colored bowl she tells me about her big family and her decision to get some peace and space from them while in Italy. I love her smile and the way she takes time tasting each bite. I am observing her meticulously and loving everything about her.
She is going to go home soon. I know this and dread the thought of seeing her leave when I am growing so fond of her.
Sitting there like children without any more gelato, but with the sweet taste of chocolate on our tongues, we look at each other in silence. I lean in, closer to her neck where her straight hair falls; the smell of her scent is rich and beckoning. I kiss her gently on the cheek. My hand grazes her soft face. Her fingers run along my neatly trimmed beard. My mouth makes its way to her mouth and we’re in harmony, kissing for several minutes.
What will I do when she returns home to Istanbul? I already worry.
She says, “Let’s do this. Let’s be in the moment and see where this takes us.”
I smile. Colors explode in my mind. I have an idea for my next piece. My blue eyes gaze into her chocolate eyes. The gold-brown of my skin is warm, hungering to feel her touch and be close.