Alessandro Pietra had decided to spend some time outside of New York City for a while. At least a full twenty-four hours, anyway. He had come to work there in order to pursue something he couldn’t fully take advantage of in Italy: architecture. Of course, it seems ironic when considering how renowned Italia is for its architettura, but that was just the thing: all spaces had been taken up, and there was no room for new ideas, all the Italians wanted and coasted on was ancient, ancient, ancient. Alessandro thought only in future designs. He had no interest in cupolas, friezes or, worst of all, facades (of any kind). He wanted the opportunity to innovate, and New York was the place for him to try it (though, logically, Asia represented the true future in spite of its own “been around the block” nature).
And so it was with a desire to experiment in his field and a miraculously procured work visa (obtained with the help of the firm that had hired him, Mensa) that Alessandro made his way to Manhattan. Unfortunately, he could not have foreseen that New York architecture would present him with all the same roadblocks and bureaucracy. Mostly, he designed a lot of banal hospitals. Four years of making nothing but “clean, straight” lines was almost enough to spur him to yearn for the chaos of Rome again. Almost.
It was accordingly that taking a reprieve from the city was now essential. In this regard, perhaps Alessandro had finally become a true New Yorker in that he needed to be away from it every now and again in order to re-appreciate it upon returning. He had heard about Cold Spring and its beloved Breakneck Mountain from a co-worker, Laura, who enjoyed hiking and the outdoors in that sort of way that inferred perhaps she ate copious amounts of Grape-Nuts. He might have loved her if she wasn’t already married, just like he might have loved so many women until his Italian lothario-ness always got the best of him and he instinctually had to move on to the next pussy. This is how he found himself driving up to Cold Spring with the latest piece in his rotisserie, Caren, a 34-year-old from King of Prussia who was a little older than he usually tended toward, but then, it’s hard to find a quality broad on such short notice–he had only decided to hike the ridge two days prior. With black hair slowly turning a bit gray, olive skin that vaguely prevented an excess of laugh lines from forming and an age soon approaching forty, Alessandro might have been in search of a mystical type of experience to allay his concerns over being deemed middle aged.
Caren provided adequate enough conversation for the journey, though her appearance in the natural light of the day made him question whether he might want to stop picking up women in dark bars. And she talked a bit too much, telling stories that could have been boiled down to far fewer sentences. Somehow, though, this was preferable to enduring the crippling loneliness of sheer silence, he told himself as they arrived at the starting point of the trail.
“…so yeah, that’s how I ended up with two veneers for front teeth when I was six,” she concluded just as they ascended the hill. Perhaps she knew that she would need to save some of her breath for the trek. And although there appeared to be a large concentration of “heavy-set” people embarking on the climb, Caren still bore an expression of apprehension as they began to walk the rocks like stairs.
“I should probably confess that I haven’t worked out in like two years. This might be a little difficult for me,” Caren said sheepishly.
“You’ll be fine,” Alessandro insisted, proceeding to take the lead at a pace he didn’t care either way if Caren could keep up with, though he did turn around every so often to catch a glimpse of her pretending not to be out of breath. He found it rather endearing in a way, feeling that it lent her an air of humanity that few others possessed nowadays. Most of the other girls he went out with didn’t work half as hard to try to impress him. It was a refreshing change.
When they reached one of the peaks of the ridge, he succumbed to showing Caren mercy by suggesting that they take a break to absorb the view and enjoy some of the food they had brought. Caren agreed all too quickly, finding a spot at the edge and immediately removing the sandwich materials from her backpack, which they had purchased from the closest grocery store on the way up, a particularly quaint Foodtown next to a pizza joint called Angelina’s with a psychedelic sign that had probably been there since the time psychedelia first became popular.
Caren resumed her usual chattiness now that she was presented with another non-movement opportunity. Gradually, Alessandro began to tune her out, contemplating whether or not he could live in a place like Cold Spring. Maybe he could come here on weekends and commute to the city on Monday; it could provide the much needed mental recharge he found himself needing more and more often of late.
“Don’t you think?” Caren interjected his thoughts.
“I said don’t you think it’s strange that Edgar Allan Poe went to West Point?”
He assumed she was bringing this up because the famed military academy was right within their view. But as an Italian, Alessandro wasn’t much of a reader, and couldn’t really corroborate anything Caren might have said about Poe. So he decided to confirm whatever her thoughts were by saying, “Yes, very bizarre.”
Their conversation went on like that for about thirty minutes, with Caren interrupting his space out moments with a prompting question that he would automatically agree with. He wondered if she could possibly think he was truly interested in her.
He wondered this again after they resumed their mounting of Breakneck and the terrain continued to become less predictable, the only constant being the change in levels of cragginess and residual snow from a recent storm.
Though everyone they encountered gave them different directions, the one consistent piece of advice was that it would take less time to get back to their car by going back down the way they came instead of going down the other side, which was far less complicated, but far more time consuming as they would have to lap around the ridge. Nonetheless, Caren was insistent on not descending via the same path as she might “literally die.”
It made no difference to Alessandro, who wasn’t in any rush to retreat from the non-confines of a natural setting. About two hours later, when they were finally reaching the home stretch of the exit that would take them back to civilization, Caren demanded, “I’m going to need red wine and a steak after this.” Alessandro, taking pity upon the extent with which she had left her comfort zone, consented to her request, returning, “Beacon is nearby. We can go to a restaurant there.”
After Caren did the research on which restaurants might provide her with the specific meal she had in mind, they settled on Fratello’s Trattoria on Main Street. Alessandro knew in the back of his mind that, with a name like that, there was bound to be some disappointment in authenticity involved, in spite of the exterior and interior looking legitimate enough in “niceness,” even showcasing a Zagat rating. The presence of a mother dining with her young son–somewhere in the six year old range–as though he was her husband added to the illusion that maybe this place really was genuine Italian.
This optimism on Alessandro’s part was ultimately negated when Caren opted for a veal parmesan that also came with a side of penne. Conversely, Alessandro only ordered a salad, which came extremely heavy with croutons and “Italian vinaigrette” dressing. He pecked at it grudgingly while trying not to look at Caren’s plates across from him, which appeared to be mere pools of Prego sauce arranged like diarrhea atop a diaper.
Watching Caren eat with gusto and persist in talking of nothing, he knew his place was no longer in New York, amid this kind of ilk that could 1) have the gall to dump foul red sauce over pasta and meat and not even bother to at least mix it together and 2) have the further bravado to actually consume said meal as though it was completely viable. Retreat from the city or not, nothing was going to change the type of people Alessandro would have to continue consorting with if he remained in any part of New York. In this sense, Breakneck Ridge gave him just the sort of spiritual apparition he had been searching for at the outset of going.