Anne-Marie was perhaps a fool for thinking that just because you are of a certain descent, you ought to get in touch with your roots in order to better understand “who you are” as a person. Because of this strange congenital obligation we all seem to have to our “heritage” (when, in truth, the only real heritage we collectively share is damage), Anne-Marie possibly told herself she liked Italian food more than she really did. Talked herself into believing it was the end all, be all of cuisines. But had she given maybe, say, French or Thai or Japanese or Mexican (the American version of it, of course) more of a heavy rotation in her diet, she might have found that a love of Italian food was, as her father called her mood disorder, all in her head. As it stood, however, Anne-Marie, in all her thirty-one years, had seemed to have an innate predilection for cibo italiano (she maintained it was a fondness that had lasted the whole of her life as her mother, Mariangela, was feeding her spaghetti in small doses since she came out of the womb–tomato sauce, not pureed carrots or squash–was her baby food).
So when she moved to the Upper East Side after finally landing that alleged “dream job” that eventually comes to a New Yorker if she remains in the trenches of the city’s many thankless professions long enough, she was sure to situate herself near the part of the park that offered what she called “Italian Row.” It was a slew of high-end Italian restaurants (using very overtly low-end products) with names like Portofino or Siciliani. But the one she was most fond of was a place called Bello. And it was not necessarily because it was the most expensive therefore supposedly best-tasting, but because she had a certain sentimental attachment to it. Sure, it might have been of an erotomaniac bent, yet, even so, to her, it was real.
The partiality toward dining at Bello began some three years ago, when Anne-Marie had started to see a cilchely emotionally unavailable married man named Alberto. He was a bona fide Italian from Bovisa, therefore had that unshakeable air of superiority that so many Milanese do. Anne-Marie probably loved that most about him, for it was refreshing to encounter someone so unabashed in their narcissism as opposed to the many masses that pretended to hide it–you know, by posting images and updates about themselves under some “selfless” guise. But no, Alberto was truly in love with himself, and it made Anne-Marie want to get some of that self-directed love all the more. And though he only gave her kernels of affection during their once a month meetings together in a darkened corner of Bello, she took these small pieces of positive reinforcement as a sign to grow increasingly obsessive–calling him at work when he specifically told her not to, showing up outside of his Prospect Park West brownstone to demand that he answer her calls at work. It got to the point where, finally, Alberto simply up and moved with his wife and kids (filing a restraining order would have been too public, after all). The abrupt action drove Anne-Marie to take action even more abrupt as she suddenly went on a “dating” (read: fucking) blitzkrieg à la Madonna’s Louise Oriole character in the David Fincher-directed “Bad Girl” video.
Most of the men were do-nothings and layabouts she had to cajole into her boudoir with the promise of a free dinner at Bello. Though it saddened her to realize that no amount of beauty or wealth could unchange men (especially younger ones) from being tasteless pieces of shit, she had to do whatever was required to get Alberto out of her mind, however briefly.
And then, one day, came the moment when Anne-Marie suddenly discovered she had no one to accompany her to the restaurant. She had exhausted all resources, driven them away with her psychosis. Her “towering personality,” as it were. Even so, she still dressed in her finest silk black dress with diamond-encrusted straps and adorned her wrist, neck and fingers with according jewelry. She stood in front of the mirror, glass of champagne in hand, debating on whether or not she really ought to go to Bello all by herself. If the shame of it would be too great a burden to bear. But was it any more shameful than showing up with a different uomo every week? She would soon find that the answer was, indeed, a unanimous si.
Arriving at the usual hour, nine o’ clock, Anne-Marie told the maître d’ (what is the Italian word for that, anyway?) that she would like her usual table. Maurizio, longstandingly terse and short with Anne-Marie despite her best efforts to seduce him with her large tits and large tips, nodded silently as a means of placation. Twenty minutes later, Anne-Marie was still standing in the drafty doorway waiting. She approached Maurizio again.
“Any news on my table?”
Maurizio looked up at her as though she was a sad, stray dog. “Ah yes. Your table…is not available. I can seat you at the bar.”
In all of the years Anne-Marie had been coming here, she had never been offered “the bar” as a viable seating option. It was appalling and insulting that she, one of their most loyal customers, should be treated in this manner. It was as though they had no recollection of who she was at all without a man by her side. So she reminded Maurizio, “But I always get that table.”
He glared at her. “Will anyone be joining you? Or have you…expended all of your…clients?”
Suddenly, Anne-Marie was picking up on just, exactly, what he was insinuating about her. “Excuse me?” she demanded.
“What I mean to say, madam, is that it’s not fair to our other customers with more than one person in their party to give that table to you. So, if you don’t mind, would you please take a seat at the bar and stop causing a ridiculous scene?”
Anne-Marie wanted to scream, “Oh? You think this is a scene? Clearly, you’ve never seen a fucking Fellini movie then!” But she refrained. She apparently did not have enough self-respect to cash out all the valueless chips she had put on the table at Bello. She somehow still felt a maudlin fondness for it. If she managed to embarrass herself here too much, she might never be able to one day return to her usual table with Alberto.
So she obeyed. Sat at the bar like a common prostitute waiting for her john to arrive. The john who would never come. And as she ordered Prosecco after Prosecco, it was as though the whispering of the word puttana only seemed to get louder instead of being drowned out as she had hoped the alcohol would aid with.
On Madison Avenue between 62nd and 63rd Streets, for the cost of a small fortune, you, too, can feel like you’re living in Italy. Like you’re truly soaking up the culture…of condemnation, that is, toward the most scandalous being of all: the solo female diner.