My Escape from Genoa, the City of Sin

I filed the train statement away and after the show that night—at four-thirty in the morning—loaded my suitcases into the van with everyone else’s and then nodded off as we sped toward this alleged city of sin. We arrived just as the sun was coming up over the hills; and in my quasi-sleep, I could make out buildings tucked into the hillsides that even in the flattering slate blue light were a far cry from the stone villas of Tuscany: these were modern, industrial. To my left, I could see giant cranes hoisting containers onto dry land. Yes, Genoa was a port-uh town-uh after all-uh.

The van drove down a steep leafy drive and pulled into a parking lot. A slender mustached gentleman in his fifties who introduced himself as Freddie led us towards a Beaux Arts-styled structure with a turned-off neon sign proclaiming it the “Lido Club.”

As we lugged our suitcases into the building, it hit me: the club and the pensione were one. They were in the same building. Details and impressions jumped out at me like a weird European seventies movie come to life: the red carpeting on the stairs matched the red velvet drapes. The welcoming committee: a young, out-of-it woman in a sheer nightgown standing frozen in the hallway.

The other dancers rushed to the windows to ogle the Mediterranean in the distance. After four breakups and three purse-snatching incidents, they were overjoyed to be out of Florence and to smell sea air, even if it was mixed with diesel fumes. Kathy, my roomie, my friend, my personal comedy show was unpacking excitedly, hanging her sundresses up in the armoire. I couldn’t even open my suitcase. I went down to the front desk and asked the woman with a stern, Germanic air if I could use the phone. She acted like she’d seen thousands of me’s—women who, upon getting a load of the bordello-like digs used the phone to call that long-lost aunt in Paris to ask if they could come sleep on her divan for a week.

In less than two hours, Giovanni and his friend Massimo walked up the crimson stairs toward that very desk.

“Let’s go to eat-uh.”

We went to a restaurant with an enclosed glass patio that jutted out into the water, and the two Italians proceeded to devour massive quantities of no less than five different varieties of sea life.

“Theez place-uh,” Giovanni said, referring to the restaurant, “Eet eez very well known-uh in theez region.”

“Si,” said Massimo. “Eet is known for the special fish soup.”

I couldn’t take part in this culinary orgy and was shocked at how easily diverted they were—but then I had yet to fully understand the Italians’ relationship to food. The realization that this experience was coming to an end formed a knot in the pit of my stomach and nothing, not even Italian food, could share space with it. All this expectation and it was over—and I was willfully choosing it to be. It seemed like a mental and emotional responsibility that was too much to bear. In between bites and gulps—theirs, not mine—we figured out a plan to get me out of there. It was a done deal; there was no choice, and we knew there could be no discussion about the plan with anyone—not with my friend Kathy, not with the other dancers and certainly not with Loretta.

If there had been any doubt in my mind about executing such a plan, Loretta immediately put it to rest when I got back later that afternoon. “Do you realize what you did?” she asked, after calling an emergency company meeting.

No, I did not. I mean, not specifically.

“Your boyfriend walked into the club right under Freddie’s nose. Do you know how that looks?”

I’m guessing not good.

“Are you laughing at me?”

I was laughing – inside. How could I not? By openly changing the rules and turning this experience into something that was so much more than just dancing in a g-string for some bored husbands, she was making it extremely easy for me to jump ship, no nautical pun intended.

We rehearsed in the club, then did the show. I twirled my gold lamé towel in the cheerful aerobics number with as much American zeal as I could manage and later sat with a jovial man that I knew wore a captain’s hat while he fucked; but in my mind I knew I was turning the page on sweaty rehearsal studios and bonding with fellow dancers as we bumped body parts in dressing rooms the size of walk-in closets.

I knew I was saying goodbye to eating one-fifth of what a normal person eats and to talking about it, at great length. I also knew that a shiny opportunity had fallen out of the bright blue Tuscan sky. It included a man named Giovanni and an apartment in Florence. I didn’t know what this new adventure held, but God, did I like how it sounded.

After the show, Giovanni, Massimo and I drove around the deserted streets of Genoa for a couple of hours. At about five in the morning, I snuck back for my suitcases. Kathy was sound asleep as planned. I felt no desire to wake her; I had a mission to accomplish. I handed off my bags to my two male cohorts as we squeezed into Giovanni’s Lancia and drove off.

Unlike the autostrada, straight, wide, empty and endless, my story took a quick turn here onto a much narrower road. And I don’t mean the story as told in these pages; I mean the story of my life, the one I was writing as I watched the sun come up over the terra cotta rooftops and felt the hand of my new boyfriend on my thigh.

My new boyfriend. My boyfriend Giovanni. MY boyfriend. My BOYFRIEND.

This was a time when I saw life in phases. These phases allowed me to chop up my life like a sushi chef divides a California roll, to be chewed and digested as I saw fit, giving me the mistaken sense that life, like food, was to be controlled. Parsed out. This was long before I became open to the possibility that some other entity greater than the force of my own will might have a hand in controlling my life. I couldn’t see this; it would destroy my sense of my own power, such that it was.

Back then I didn’t know this consciously; I didn’t think of my life as anything other than a blank page in what, from the outside, resembled a storybook. On the inside, the pages were pure white, on which I, and I alone, wrote with a well-inked fountain pen. My days of being a dancer were over. I had entered my boyfriend chapter.

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