Dolce Amaro

dolce amaro

The early afternoon sun cast the hills of Tuscany in a light of gold. On a steep road walked a woman, her heavy frame casting shadows across the dust below. The backbone of her silhouette stood straight, proud. Etruscan style bracelets burned against her heavy wrists.

She wore a silver blouse, wet with perspiration underneath her arms, and black and purple flowered pants, heavy with coins and a tin of hard candy, hitting against each other with each step up the hill. Her right hand kept raising to her forehead to wipe away drops of sweat, her left clutched an Italian phrase book/dictionary. In her haste leaving the villa she had not bothered fastening the strap of her
Italian leather sandals, and she suddenly tripped and fell smacking to the ground in front of her, falling on her wrists.

She slowly lifted up her heavy frame, brushing off dust from her pants, and began walking again, muttering, "Damn the Italian bus service." She struggled up the hill but her weight pulled her back. A white plaster statue sitting in the window of a cream colored house glared down at her slow approach. To the left rows of grape vines stretched to hills of green. To her right a villa shadowed by
cypress trees. As she climbed the hill she became level with salmon pink and gray tiles of the roofs of houses. When she finally reached the top she turned to look at the villa where she was staying; it stood proud and pink. She turned around again and entered the village of San Gimignano, stepping into a slant of sunlight cutting through the gray tiled street of Via San Mateo. Her pace quickened as she
reached level ground. Walking quickly under bright green flags hanging from medieval brickwork she passed a small cafe, smelling the aroma of cappuccino escaping into the street. She felt the cool air conditioning from the inside of a shop selling marble and alabaster and was tempted to go inside but kept on, brushing against a tour guide explaining in English how The Black Plague had raged through the village in 1348. A man in the tour group stared after her as she pushed her way through the crowd towards two towers soaring into the Tuscany sky, wondering where an overweight American tourist could be walking so quickly in a medieval Italian village on a lazy summer afternoon.

In her haste again she tripped on the sandal strap. She bent down and tried to do the strap, stretching it too hard and it snapped into two. Her bare foot hit the hot street. "Damn these Italian shoes!" She stood up and opened her phrase book. "Shoes, shoes…here we go." She stopped a tall man carrying a tiny poodle. "Excuse me, where is the shoe repair?" She pointed to her sandal strap.

He nodded. "You follow me, I take you." He walked ahead of her, the tiny poodle growling back over his shoulder. He turned down a side street and pointed to a sign sticking out of brickwork with the words, "Leather and shoes shop." She stepped inside. A man standing next to a rack of leather coats smiled at her from underneath a toupee and glasses with black frames.

She pointed to her sandal and took out her phrase book . "How long will it take to fix this strap. I'm in a hurry."

He stared down. "Maybe 20 minutes."

"I don't have that much time!! Can't you make it sooner?!"

He excused himself and went into the back room, then came out a few minutes later with a short bald man wiping his hands on a napkin and a trace of tomato sauce at the corner of his mouth. He looked at the strap then up at her, holding up ten fingers. "Ten minutes."

She nodded.

"You sit down and watch TV, I put it on English mode." He picked up the remote control and pushed a button. He picked up her sandal, retreating into the back room.

She sat down, setting down her phrase book. The Italian news was talking about an actress who had lost a huge amount of money in acustody battle for her five year old son. The actress came on, tan, blonde and buxom, then images of her with the son and ex-husband jet setting along the Amalfi coast in happier days.

I didn't lose that much money but it still hurt…there goes my dream of the gourmet ice cream shop..

Next to the rack of long leather coats was a full length mirror. She stared at her image. After the divorce she had gone through a period of depression and a lot of gourmet ice cream, her most sinful indulgence; What used to be 110 pounds on a 5' 4" frame had ballooned to 170. "Ice cream is making you too soft," her friends had said. She stood up straight, breathing in.

The toupeed clerk came back. "We are finished."

She paid him and left the shop, stepping into the bustle of tourists. She continued to walk down the gray tiled street until she reached the Piazza della Cisterna. Pigeons scattered about in the open square of clean light and sun. She stopped and opened her
map, tracing a street with her finger, looking up and around the square. She folded it again and began walking quickly towards an arched
doorway with ivy trailing down the sides. Next to the doorway was a poster of a skeleton inside a wooden cage, hanging from a brick ceiling, with the words "Museo della Tortura,"* written on top. She stared at the expression of the skelaton for a moment, its
mouth gaping in agony, and continued walking, wondering who the victim had been. She had almost reached the doorway when a woman suddenly stepped out in front of the poster.

Hollowed eyes stared out from a face with skin stretched tight over high cheekbones. Collar bones jutted out from her peasant blue check dress and stained white apron tightly tied around her waist. She slowly brought her thin hand up, fingers long and thin, and spoke in lilting tones…"Signora…"
The American woman stepped back, repulsed by the beggar's rancid odor of the homeless it was obvious she had not bathed for weeks. She turned and began walking away.

The beggar woman followed her, taking something out of the pocket of her apron. "Signora please…" She quickly stepped out in front of the American woman. "My son is so hungry…"She held up a photo in a dirty plastic holder, her eyes pleading.

The American woman stared at the photo. A small boy about the same age as her son peered out with huge eyes in a tiny face. He clutched a dirty stuffed lion in his left hand.

The beggar woman began coughing, phlegm hitting the gray tiled street.

The American woman turned away in disgust and walked away, staring straight ahead. She felt the eyes of the woman on her back.
Suddenly she stopped in her tracks. Directly head of her was a woman sitting at a table in a cafe, eating gelato. Streams of dark chocolate ran down the inside of the Venetian glass like marble in a Tuscany quarry. The American woman recognized it as dolce
amaro, her very favorite… She watched, hypnotized as the young woman dipped her spoon into the ice cream and slowly raise it to her mouth. It was soft, dripping in the hot sun. She parted her lips and swallowed….

The American woman could almost feel the smooth cream flowing down her throat and it brought her back five years ago to the nightin the ice cream shop with her ex-husband. He was so cool and collected, smoking a Gitane, speaking in soft tones with the trace of an Italian accent, even though he had lived in the US for years. They had never spoken Italian. Now he was bringing out the divorce papers with all the finesse of Valentino and laying them down on the marbled table, asking for custody of their son. That moment the gelato in her mouth had tasted like poison and she had hardened her herself as an antidote to pain. It was pride that kept her strong.

It was torture watching the woman. She was so tempted to sit down and have some ice cream but there was no time. She walked to the arched doorway and stepped inside, the cool air conditioning so good against her skin.

A man with a twirled up mustache stood behind the counter. Behind him were several prescription drugs and medications. There was also a small display of ceramic and glass containers containing medieval powders. He was closing up the shop for afternoon siesta.

She walked up to the counter and asked in English. "I'd like some medicine for a fever."

He shrugged his shoulders and brought his hands up, muttering something in Italian.

She looked down and suddenly realized she didn't have her phrase book. She had forgotten it at the leather shop.She repeated again. "I need medicine for a fever!!"

He stared at her, his eyes blank.

"You know, a fever!"

He rolled his eyes. "No speak English."

She smacked her hand to her sweating forehead. "A fever!"

Three people had came into the shop and were waiting behind her. He gestured to them and to the clock, indicating his desire to close
the shop.

"I need medicine!!" She frantically dug into her pocket and brought out a photo, pointing to it. "This is my son. He has a fever and is
waiting back at the inn, I must give him the medicine right away. He has influenza!"

"Ah, influenza." He nodded and turned around. He picked up a small box from the shelf and placed it on the glass counter.

The woman read the lettering on the box. Natural Flu medicina, trattamento del sintomi del raffreddore e dell'influenza. "How

"9800 lira."

She took out nine 1000 lira bills, one 500 lira coin and some other coins. She needed three hundred lira. She looked at the coins; two 100 lira coins. She was short 100 lira. Her heart sank as she realized she didn't have enough money. She placed the entire
amount on the glass counter, flattening the crumpled bills on the glass.

The pharmacist stared at the money, then up at her.

"I don't have enough money. Please take this and I will pay you tomorrow."

He rolled his eyes and shook his head, gesturing her to move aside for the customer behind her, an old man impatiently tapping his cane on the tiled floor.

"Signor, please!!" She held the picture up in front of the pharmacist's face.

The little boy stared at him, sitting in a bedroom of blue with clouds and stars on the wall behind him.
"I will pay you later…Please…. I…I beg you."

He stared at the picture, then at her. He sighed, put the medicine in a small paper bag and waved her off.

Oh thank you, grazie! I will come back to pay you later!"

She turned around to leave, avoiding the glare of the old man. When stepped into the sunlight the she saw the beggar woman sitting outside the cafe, watching the people eating ice cream. She paused for a moment, then walked over to her. As she got closer the odor reached her nostrils; she struggled to overcome her repulsion.. she saw the tormented look in the beggar woman's eyes…she felt
the softening, like dolce amaro…..

"Signora. Please give to your son," she said, placing some hard candies in her hand.

The woman stared up at the American woman in wonder, watching as she turned around and disappeared into the village.

*Museum of Torture

Copyright 2002 Avia Belle Moon

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