Whenever I had thought of the name Salvatore of late, which was surprisingly often due to my Italian heritage, I could only ever conjure the auditory memory of the ultra campy, ultra over the top Lana Del Rey song of the same name. I had taken to re-working the lyrics in my head to apply to food items because of how many times she repeats the words “soft ice cream.”
But I was never expecting to actually meet someone with the name, even in spite of my two-week sojourn in Calabria–home of this highly mafioso moniker the way Vincenzo is to Sicily or Ciro is to Naples. I had decided to get away from the bustle of London for a bout of warm weather and relaxation just as summer was coming to a close, and a friend of mine, Lucrezia, just so happened to be putting on a sort of ferie d’agosto retreat for all of her closest friends. Her annual summer respite in Le Castella was something she had always invited me to be a part of, but my British work ethic never seemed to permit me the loose reins I needed to escape from the City of London. This lust for warmth and open space was propelled by recently running into my ex-boyfriend, Frederick, parading around town with his much younger girlfriend, Véronique (fucking French women, constantly stealing “normal” women’s men), who, in turn was parading around her engagement ring. It was really the final push I needed to book a ticket. And just in time to miss a bombing in the St. Paul’s tube station, too. Well worth the last minute $1,113 price tag it cost me to get a semi-direct flight.
I hadn’t been to Calabria in six years, when I was 31 years old and accompanied my father there to pay his respects to his freshly deceased patriarch, a grandpa I had only met a handful of times. It wasn’t the most auspicious of occasions to experience the coastal region, further compounded by the time of year being November. The most noble deaths frequently occur in November–just look at Harald Kidde. In any case, my enjoyment of the regions only cultural “center,” Cosenza, was marred by the need to maintain an air of grief, regardless of the sad reality that I felt very little attachment of any kind to my grandfather.
So now, with Lucrezia as my guide, and at 37 years old, maybe I would finally be able to understand how to enjoy myself on a vacation of this nature. As I landed at the Lamezia Terme Airport (whose airport code, SUF, I had memorized as a way to remember that one can still SUFfer amid scenic beauty), I deliberately played “Calabria 2008” on my headphones to get into the spirit. It was working until I actually got off the plane and immediately experienced the stereotypes so closely associated with Italian inefficacy. Mercifully, Lucrezia managed to show up right on time and wait with me for my luggage.
I had first met her in 2011, when she was interning at my financial firm’s office (pre-Brexit, mind you, when it was somewhat easy for non-British Europeans to get jobs in our country). She was one of the few Southern Italians I had ever encountered without even the faintest hint of an accent, and it was all due to her England-born father’s insistence on Lucrezia’s annual visits to London. But Lucrezia abhorred the city, often insisting that the only reason I wasn’t a stodgy automaton–her exact term–was only because I had Italian blood running through me. We hit it off right away over our mutual contempt for Britain.
What I admired about her most was that she chose to work even though she was from an extremely wealthy family. “I’m not an artist. What would I do if I didn’t work? Sit at home all day pretending to paint?” she barked when I expressed my jealousy over her option to do nothing: the ultimate Italian art.
Just because she worked, however, didn’t mean she wasn’t prone to showcasing her bank account by throwing lavish parties–like the one she had planned in honor of my arrival that night. Feigning embarrassment, I said, “I don’t even know anyone at the party, how can it be in my honor?”
“You’ll get to know them all in no time. Don’t worry.”
I wasn’t aware of exactly how true that statement was until I walked through her backyard overlooking the sea and, after getting to the other side where the balcony was, realizing my entire face was covered with kiss marks. If one Italian person knew you, you knew them all. It was a country that filled with kindness and affability. Lucrezia urged me to sit down next to a rather unattractive older man name Mauro, who she explained was a mogul in the shipping industry and could speak English–the most important characteristic to me at this moment. Or maybe it was a detriment considering all he talked about was how brave I was for waiting this long to have children. Then, there was a presence, a palpable waft of either cologne or pure, unfiltered pheromones behind me. The waiter.
Salvatore was quintessential Southern Italian in every way: greasy black locks, out of fashion facial hair and utterly sexy. From what I could surmise, he was roughly ten years my junior. I didn’t care. And neither did he, it appeared, as he poured me full glass of red wine after full glass of red wine to get me as quickly inebriated as possible. I obliged. It had probably been a full six months since the last time I had a sexual encounter, and it was one I essentially paid for by finding someone on an app and offering to take him to dinner in exchange for an hour of head afterward. It could be so simultaneously empowering and lonely to be as rich as me. It almost made me want to be a person like Salvatore. He would never question anyone’s motives in wanting to be close to him–except maybe for reasons of wanting to be in the midst of beauty. I questioned every day why those outside of my work environment should ever want to spend time with me. More often than not, they wanted something out of me monetarily, whether a pint from the pub or a cigarillo from the corner shop. It was always always something.
A simple existence like Salvatore’s, on the other hand, was never wrought with constant insecurity in wondering why certain parties were driven to align themselves with you. Lucrezia was really the only other person who could fathom this plight, and therefore the only other person I could trust. About my fifth glass of wine in to the party and the umpteenth empty utterance from Mauro, I decided to get up and head toward the pool area, sequestered from the rest of the revelers.
Salvatore followed me, watching me stumble in my Alexander McQueen heels. Maybe McQueen only killed himself because he knew the kind of pain he was causing women with his shoes. Just a speculation. Knowing full well he was behind me, I pretended to act unaware as I freed my feet from their prison, sat down at the edge and dipped my toes into the water. I acted surprised when I felt Salvatore’s hands on my shoulders.
“Is everytheeng okay miss?” he asked in his thick accent.
“Fine,” I assured, letting him massage my back as though we were already intimate.
“May I offer you…sahmtheeng else?” he questioned suggestively.
And that’s how I find myself on top of him in Lucrezia’s master bedroom, outfitted with vases of red roses and satin sheets for an ultra cheesy romantic sexual experience. After I came, Salvatore abruptly removed himself and went flaccid. “Okay, uh, you pay now.”
Like I said, people only saw my worth in money.