Tales of a wandering lesbian

Cultural exchange

The Amalfi coast is definitely known as a place to see in Southern Italy.  In the months running up to the trip, every time I mentioned that I would be in the south, I got the question, “will you see Amalfi?” or the command, “make sure you go to the Amalfi coast.”

Like the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast is known for its jewel-like villages clinging to the coastline.  We decided that the best way for us to experience the towns would be by boat.  The boats that serve the cities up and down the coast are great.  Varying in size and fanciness, they take travelers the direct route, on the water, from one city to the other.

This was a new form of transportation for us, requiring us to locate the ticket office, dock and slip.  A stop by the information office insured we were headed in the right direction.

Once on board, we scoped out the best seats:  ground floor, starboard side, toward the front – just opposite the helm.  This gave us a good view of the coastline, and the captain, who was very friendly.

I think he liked the Ant.  In the way only an Italian captain can look, this guy was both weather beaten and stylish.  His face was worn, under his designer sunglasses, and metallic trainers distracted from the flesh-toned medical sock running the length of one leg.  He kept leaning out of the cockpit, pointing to the coastline and throwing out the names of the towns.

“Cetara.  Positano.  Atrani.”


Along with the towns, their majolica-tiled cathedral domes blending together, we were treated to views of ancient lighthouses, and caves.

Finally, our captain friend leaned out and said, “Amalfi!”

Amalfi.  That was our destination for the day.  First on the list:  cappuccino.

We hadn’t had much in the way of breakfast, opting instead to catch the early boat.  Now we needed to find a pastry shop that we liked the looks of.  We walked through the town square, past the cathedral, and into a shop with pizza and baba in the front window.

“Due cappuccino, per favore.”  I walked over to the pastry case to see what I could find.  “E una di queste”  I pointed to the bready things that looked like popovers.

“Normale?” asked the proprietor, a round man with shaggy white hair.

“Si.”  I had no idea what the alternative was, but the cream-covered plates in the case looked a bit over-the-top.  Even for me.

He pulled one of the pastries out and put it on a plate.  Then he drenched it in some kind of liquid from a stainless steel bottle, and handed it to me.

“Grazie.”  I took my prize over to the Ant who was waiting at the bar for the cappu.

“Look at this.”  We both stared at it in awe.  We didn’t know what we had, but we were appropriately excited.

Baba is a regional pastry that is drenched in rum.  Not so much my bag, but it was tasty, nonetheless. With our cappuccino in front of us, we settled in for the caffeination we so desperately needed.

“Buon giorno.”  The young man behind the counter was smiling at us, looking up from cleaning the marble slab.  He looked curious.  “Where are you from?”

The familiar question was slightly amusing.  He’d guessed the language, surely he could guess the country.

“The United States.  America.”

“Si, si.  But where?”  Ah, he’d already figured it out.

“Idaho, Oregon.  The west.”  Sometimes people have heard of Oregon, but almost nobody knows Idaho.  Even in the US, Idaho, Iowa and Ohio are interchangeable for the vast number of Americans.

“Ah, but you are Italian?  You look Italian.  I think, you look Italian, but something is not right.”

“Yes!  Our family is Italian.”  We’re more than happy to share this information with anyone who shows an interest.  It gives a little cred.  (I’m sure the “not right” was our shoes.)

“You stay in Amalfi?”

“No, Salerno.”

He shook his head.  “Next time you stay in Amalfi.  This is my town.  I show you.  You will be here tonight?  You come back, I will be your tour guide.  I will show you everything.  Right now I have to work, but tonight, you come back.  What are your names?”

He was animated, looking intently from one of us to the other, sincere in his interest to show us his town.

“Kristin.”

“Leslie.”

He repeated the names.  “Lezley.”  He worked it out, the name an unfamiliar one.  “Kreesteen.”  My name, so close to the Italian equivalent, is almost always converted to Christian.  I went by “Kris” a lot the last time I was here.  It’s not something I accept very often in the states, but in Italy, it seems to fit.

“I am Nicola.”

We both repeated.  “Neecola.”

“Kreesteen, you will return tonight?”  He was grinning, awkwardly, but determinedly.

“Forse, Nicola.  Forse no.”  It was possible, though unlikely.  I didn’t want this sweet boy to get his hopes up.  They were definitely on the rise.  Flattering, but hard to have to manage his expectations while we stood there drinking cappuccino.  “Torniamo a Salerno.”  We would be going back to Salerno.

Done with our coffees, we pushed the cups toward Nicola and smiled.

“Kreesteen, I hope you will return tonight.  I will hope to see you.”  Apparently his expectations weren’t going to be managed.

“Ciao Nicola.  Grazie.”

We stepped out of the shop into the sunlight and walked back to the cathedral.

“Wow, he liked you,” crooned the Ant.

“Yes, he was very sweet.  I hope he’s not too sad when we don’t come back tonight.”  I really don’t like making sweet boys sad.  It’s usually the sweet ones that unwittingly fall for me, developing puppy-dog crushes and making me squish their hearts a little.

The cathedral was on our list of things to see, so we walked up the zillion stairs to the entrance, noticing the colorful rice bits strewn everywhere, and a hunky guy with a messenger bag.

“Did you see him?”  I asked the Ant.  “Go back and look.  He’s hot.”  The Ant is single, and Italian men are fun eye candy.  Even for a big-ole lesbian like me.  In the states, 90% guys looking like this would be gay.  And I love my gays.  So, even though I usually make a point of not giving false hope to my family by talking about cute men (I’d once gotten a call from my sister, chastising me for telling my mother that I was going to have my “gay husband’s” baby.  “What, exactly ,did you tell Mom?!”)  it had been fun to point out the extra-yummy ones to the Ant and see if she agreed.  She doubled back and took a peek, pretending to take in the building.   This one was a little to smooth for her.  So we headed inside.

The art and architecture inside was fine.  We saw beautiful, delicate columns, and an over-the-top tomb decorated in marble and gold.  Most of it we passed by without much consideration, as our stomachs began to churn.  Cappuccino and rum-soaked baba wasn’t really enough to sustain us through much sight-seeing.

Back in the street we considered where to go for lunch.  We’d seen pizza, but nothing had really grabbed us.

“We could always go to Nicola’s place.”  The Ant was smiling and looking at me out of the corner of her eye.

“Yeah, we could.”  I wasn’t up for too much in the way of game-playing.  “But let’s not.”

Amalfi isn’t that big of a town.  We walked up the main street, away from the water until it became distinctly un-touristy.  Good for a peaceful walk, but not good for food.  Back into town we jogged, the hilly street propelling us downward.  We dismissed take-out places, in favor of somewhere we could sit, rejected the feel and price of several, and climbed a set of stairs to an interesting prospect, only to find it closed.

“Nicola would like to see you.”  I didn’t respond to the statement from the Ant.  “You know you’re not going to live that down for a while, right?  But it’s only because I love you.”  She was nudging me affectionately with her shoulder.

“You love me, so you taunt me?”  I answered sharply.  The lack of food had pushed me over the edge.  “It’s not so fun for me.  Here, this place looks good.”

Finally, we’d found a pizza place that passed muster.  We sat in the courtyard, and I breathed a little.

“I’m sorry I snapped.  It’s just difficult.”  I felt like I owed her an explanation.  Like I wanted to give one.  “Think what it’s like to have beautiful, kind, sweet boys take an interest in you.  To have them flatter you.  And then to have to embarrass them, or to break their hearts just a little.  Over and over.  It’s not so fun.”

She was looking at me with big eyes, nodding faintly.

“And then imagine what it’s like to be me, knowing that, every time a guy hits on me, whether it’s Nicola, or a gas station attendant, that my family wishes I’d accept.  That they wish I would say yes.”

Both of us were tearing up now.

“It’s hard.  And it makes me unwilling to do things like point out hot guys.”

We paused to order lunch, both of us breathing deeply, knowing the conversation was a good one.  A hard one.

We talked about the day, years ago, when I had come out to the Ant, the concerns she’d had, and the great journey of acceptance she’d traveled (she loves the gay men almost as much as I do).

Our pizza arrived, and we were more than a little happy.

The food was beautiful and really good.  We were so hungry that we even ordered dessert.  A gorgeous pine nut torta with strawberry sauce.

The rest of our day was filled with a tour of the paper factory, given by another sweet boy named , Rafael, and a hike to the nearby town of Atrani.

The Ant and I were gentle with each other.  I didn’t snap again, and she didn’t mention Nicola.  We simply walked together through the sweltering day, shared a giant bottle of water, and went home to make dinner.

We didn’t talk about boys again until the next day, when we were walking to the bus station.

“So, I’m thinking,” the Ant started, a look of determination on her face, “that in this journey of acceptance I’m taking,”  I looked at her, interested to hear the rest, “that it would be good for you to tell me when you see someone who is cute.”   Okay, I could do that.  “Like you could say, ‘she’s really attractive’ so that I could get an idea of what type you like.”

Oh!  She wanted to know what type of women I liked!  Wow.

“I mean, maybe don’t go on and on about it, but…” she was a little flustered, her brow furrowed and her hands extended.

“No, I won’t talk about how I want to slap her ass or anything, but sure.  That would be fun.  Kind of like a cultural exchange.”

We looked at each other and laughed.  It wasn’t enough that we were traveling through Italy.  This would be our cultural experience:  eyebrows lifted toward hot women, and fingers covertly pointed at yummy guys.  And not another mention of Nicola.

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3 comments

1 Heather { 06.22.10 at 7:50 pm }

Mad props to you and your aunt for being gentle, open and honest with one another. You’ve given each other a tremendous gift 🙂

2 Heather Johnston { 06.30.10 at 3:35 pm }

And now, I’m tearing up. Your perspective is always so new to me. Loved this post….

3 KFlick { 07.01.10 at 6:25 am }

Thanks, Heathers. Remember, sharing is caring. Please feel to strongarm your friends into reading. 🙂

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