tagRomancePasseggiata (complete 2016)

Passeggiata (complete 2016)

byAdrian Leverkuhn©

Passegiatta

I have no words -- alas!-- to tell, the loveliness of loving well!

Poe, Tamerlane

[Log entry of the SailingVessel Springer: 31 October, 0920 hrs local time.

COG: at anchor;

SOG: 0.0 kts;

Temp: 41˚ f;

Winds: NE at 12 knots, viz +3 NMI;

Barometer 29.91 steady since 2300 hrs last night;

GPS: 44°18'11.36"N by 9°12'35.24"E.

Just anchored in the main harbor, Portofino. Am tired, have grabbed a mooring buoy and raised the Q flag -- waiting for Customs now. Cold out, feels much colder than what's registering, but forecast says warming next few days. I'll believe it when I feel it.]

+++++

The man lay slumped over the wheel in the cockpit of his boat; he lay utterly exhausted in salt-encrusted pain, and trembled now with cold hunger. He had just completed the 220 mile crossing from Marseilles, France to Portofino, Italy in late October, a decidedly foolish thing to do this time of year, and perhaps all the more so because he was alone. The crossing had amounted to little more than a procession of storms -- as cold fronts backed-up to the arctic circle came barreling down from the north, dumping snow in the Alps -- and gale force winds onto the Mediterranean.

The man's boat, a stout little sailboat of some forty one feet, had been up to the task, but the man had hardly known what he was doing in a boat six months ago, and wasn't as yet what most people would have been tempted to call an accomplished sailor. About eight hours out of Marseilles, when the first gales slammed into the boat, the man had begun to question his sanity; his erstwhile friends, most back in New England, had been asking that question for well over a year.

The boat's deck was now a tangled mass of water-logged lines; the cockpit was in no less a shambles. Hatches and port-lights, long dogged to seal out the weather, remained closed -- and condensation rolled down the glass; the scraps of a sandwich lay smeared in the corner of a cockpit seat, abandoned by the man ages ago. Not long ago, just moments after the sun rose, he sailed into the little harbor and had taken up a mooring ball; when he finished his last log entry, the exhausted man hoisted the yellow quarantine flag, stumbled back into the cockpit and promptly fallen asleep. Now, two hours later, and just as a blue customs launch pulled alongside the sailboat, the man was in exactly the same place -- snoring fitfully in his crusty foul-weather gear.

The uniformed man in the launch held out his hand to stop from hitting the boat as he pulled alongside, then he tied-off to one of the mooring cleats while he looked at the sleeping man. The man was snoring like an old Fiat, rattling away as if in need of a new exhaust. His sharp, metallic screeches, dripping with exhaustion, filled the empty harbor, and the uniformed official could almost feel sorry for the man, for the sea makes brothers of all men -- and he considered himself a seaman.

"Excuse me," the official said.

Nothing...no response at all...

"Sir! Excuse me!"

Again, the sleeping man didn't react at all, except perhaps to snore a bit louder.

The official hated to do it, but now he faced an unwelcome choice: he either had to wake the fellow up, or let him sleep. Letting the man sleep, as uncomfortable as he looked, would also -- technically -- be illegal, and he was the Port Captain and Customs Officer, and the boat had to clear in immediately. He shook his head, reached down and picked up a compressed air horn; he was aware that this device produced a nice, loud, heart-attack generating howl, and he aimed it away from the man and pulled the trigger. The effect was instantaneous, yet somehow not quite what the official had expected.

The sleeping man launched upwards and smacked his head on the awning covering the cockpit, then without skipping a beat, he stumbled backwards and tripped over the aft lifelines and rear-somersaulted into the water. The man hit the water with a loud slap that, to the official's practiced ear, sounded somewhat like a large fish leaping from the sea -- and from a great height falling back to the water's surface on it's side. The man sputtered to the surface and looked around with wild-eyed astonishment while spitting water from his mouth; the official hurried over to lend a hand and lost his balance -- and as quickly fell into the water. He too landed with a less than graceful form, and he too popped to the surface looking somehow both indignant and embarrassed. The two men swam in startled circles and sputtered, while a small crowd gathered on the promenade pointing at the sight and started laughing -- a few even applauded. And then both men started laughing as they swam around the still, morning water.

"Who are Hell are you?" the man asked when he finally caught his breath.

"Customs and Immigration, Captain. May I see your passport, sir!"

Both men started laughing again, and everyone gathered ashore thought the scene was almost comical -- yet somehow quite normal. Another launch from the harbormaster's office puttered out into the harbor and helped the two very wet, and now very cold men back onto the sailboat.

The official leaned over to the man, and spoke in hushed, conspiratorial tones: "Sir, perhaps you would meet me in that building, the yellow one there, in about an hour?" He was pointing at a small building on the waterfront, the official looking office with a small Italian flag flying beside the front door.

"Yeah, I think I can manage that. About an hour, you say?"

"Si. Now, excuse me, please. I must go and find some wet clothes."

The man looked at the official just as he caught his words; they looked at one another and laughed again, then the official hopped across to his launch and took-off.

The man looked around his boat and shook his head: "Ain't life grand!" he said as he pushed the companionway hatch open and disappeared into the cabin below. As he often did when he was in this kind of mood, he started singing a Gershwin tune, and people walking along the quay were treated to an impromptu rendering of Summertime -- the man's strong baritone soon echoing from the little boat's shower compartment. It was considered a cringe-worthy performance...

+++++

Later that last October day, on that All Hallow's Eve, Tom Goodwin left the mooring ball in the middle of the harbor and backed his boat into a small space between two other boats -- his stern soon made fast to the harbor wall. It was a choice spot, open now only because it was no longer 'high season' along the Riviera; all the mega-yachts and their legions of beautiful people had blown away with the change of seasons, north to St Moritz and Gstaad and to the snow, or west, to Tortola and Antigua to play in the sun. Portofino had survived yet another season of Hollywood intrigue, yet was only now reverting to type -- drifting back to her other persona -- just one of many decorously sleepy seaside villages peopled by families who have known each other for generations, families and their villages bound by tradition to the sea, just as music is so often an expression of the soul.

Goodwin tossed two sets of lines across to a couple of kids on the stone quay, and watched as they made them fast -- efficiently, and expertly; Goodwin then walked forward and tied off the bow to a pair of mooring posts set in the water about fifty feet off the wall. He finished, then turned and looked at the village, and the hills that almost completely surrounding the harbor.

He took in a Mediterranean pastiche that held him close, as if in a sudden, deep embrace. Everywhere he looked he bathed in pastel ochres and terra cottas and deep pinks, hotels and shops and market stalls floating along a sea of turquoise awnings and white umbrellas, pools of shaded tables out front of serene sidewalk cafes, trees still tinged with the green fullness of warmth, potent reminders of summer's joyous hold on the land. Chestnut-forested hillsides dotted with swaying palms and sleepy rococo villas, a little scooter puttering down an unseen alley not so far away, cool breezes rippling across still water -- almost like a heartbeat, the scene carrying hints of pine and garlic frying in olive oil and basil.

"I'm in heaven," Goodwin said softly, almost as if in prayer. "I've died, and gone to heaven."

"Maybe, maybe not, but nevertheless, I say enjoy it while you're here."

The voice came from the boat to his right. English accent, wasn't it? He turned towards the voice, saw a little white haired man, he guessed fast approaching seventy years old. Book in hand, he was sitting in the cockpit of the other sailboat, looking his way with wry, twinkling eyes.

"Sounds like a good idea," Goodwin said. The man put his book down, someone below passed up a tray and he began setting out teacups on the cockpit table, and he saw a plate of scones and preserves resting on the cockpit table, ready for afternoon tea.

"That was quite a show you put on this morning. Afraid you might not have been too happy with the reception here."

"I was dead tired, that's for sure." He looked at the smile in the man's eyes again. "You were watching, I take it?"

"Oh yes, but anything new around here this time of year passes for entertainment. Quite a crowd gathered, actually. Where'd you come in from?"

"Marseilles."

"Oh? Kind of stormy out, wasn't it?"

"Yes it was. One right after another."

"And you're alone?"

"That's a fact."

The old man whistled and rolled his eyes. "Bet you had some fun with that!"

"Took the words right out of my mouth."

"So, before Marseilles; where'd you come from?"

"Oh, let's see, Boston, in the States, then Bermuda, Gibraltar, and Barcelona. Left last May."

"And you did that alone? All of it?"

"Yes indeed."

"I see," the old man said, and indeed he did. The trip just described was difficult enough -- he'd sailed the same route himself many times over the years -- but to do so without crew to back you up was almost stupid, almost suicidal. "Well, where will head from here?"

"Going to winter over here, then head east."

"East?"

"No real itinerary yet."

"Indeed. What's the name of your boat about?"

"Springer? Oh, just a dog thing." Goodwin thought the old guy was asking a lot of questions, but maybe he was just curious, or worse still, lonely. He didn't want to ask a question himself and get him started, if that was the case. Then...

"Oh, really? Mary Ann! Come on up here! I've found you another Springer nut, and right next door!"

Goodwin heard a kettle whistling down below, deep inside the other boat, and soon enough a head popped out of the companionway and looked his way. "Hello there," an equally white-haired woman called out. "Be up in a moment. Would you care for some tea?"

Goodwin was starved, hadn't eaten since the aborted sandwich last night. "That's very kind, Ma'am, but I haven't eaten since yesterday. Probably best not to throw hot tea down first thing on an empty stomach."

The woman went wide-eyed, then turned stern and motherly: "You get over here right this minute, young man! Malcolm, help me with the tea!" The white flash of hair disappeared as quickly, back to the galley, he assumed, and Goodwin listened as plates and cups rattled about down below, and he was left with the distinct impression he'd just seen a turtle pull it's head away.

"Best not cross the Admiral," the old man warned surreptitiously. "Not good for your health. Here now, toss me a line so we can get rafted-up a bit closer."

Goodwin tossed a line over and the old man pulled the two boats closer together, then he climbed over the lifelines and stepped into the other boat's cockpit. Waves of cinnamon and fresh-baked bread swirled about in the air, and Goodwin felt himself growing acutely hungry as he scuttled under the low white awning and took a seat -- just out of the sun.

"Something certainly smells wonderful," he said, his head reeling as the unfolding scene settled in his mind. Sitting in an Englishman's boat in an Italian harbor, the sun warming his neck as cool breezes stirred his hair, and all that overwhelming beauty -- everywhere he looked...

The woman passed another tray up the companionway, and a small pitcher of cream followed a moment later, then she too came up into the cockpit. Seconds later Goodwin heard the ticky-tick sound of a dog below, then a brown nose popped into view and took a tentative sniff around. A little Springer Spaniel -- not even a year old, Goodwin thought -- hopped into the cockpit and took an obedient seat between the man and the woman.

"I'll be damned," Goodwin said. He held out his hand and the pup looked at him nervously, gave a little growl.

"Now Elsie, you know better than to do that!" the woman said. She held out her hand to Goodwin. "Mary Ann Doncaster. And I suppose Malcolm has yet to introduce himself?"

The old man glowered, threw poisoned hate bombs her way.

"Just getting around to that, Admiral. No rush, now is there?"

"Tom Goodwin," he said as he took her hand. "Sure appreciate the invitation."

"Well now, Mr Goodwin, you're as white as a ghost and look as if you've not had a thing to eat in at least a week. I suppose you're going to say your simply daft? Or merely simple, perhaps?"

"Close," he said as the grinned. "I recall I held some soup down -- a few days ago."

"Mary Ann, Tom sailed across from Marseilles. Alone."

"Indeed. So you're stupid?"

There was that word again -- 'alone' -- Goodwin thought to himself as he smiled, or tried to, anyway. "It was a rough crossing. I'll say that."

She nodded at his understatement, poured tea in his cup. "It's English Breakfast. Cream and sugar?"

"Be fine, Ma'am." He watched as she fixed the tea, then as she uncovered some freshly baked bread. "I smell cinnamon."

"Cinnamon and walnuts," Mary Ann Doncaster said.

Goodwin took some tea, then a slice of the hot bread. "This is wonderful," he said before he could finish chewing. "Really, really good!"

"The Admiral's as fine a cook as there ever was, that's certain," the old man said with a sidelong glance. "So, Mary Ann, Tom left the States in May, came by way of Gibraltar..."

"Do you have a Springer Spaniel, Mr Goodwin?" interrupted the Admiral.

"I did. She passed about a year ago."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. It's very difficult, I know."

"Yes." Goodwin looked away. He still missed Sarah. "I have a painting of her down below. You'll have to come take a look at her sometime."

"This is our Elsie," she said again as she patted the pups head, "and we'd be delighted to see Miss Sarah."

Malcolm Doncaster rolled his eyes. "Oh, good grief Mary Ann. You carry on about dogs like most people carry on over their children. Give it a rest now, would you?"

Goodwin looked at the two of them, their practiced bickering a time-worn routine they put on like an old sweater. "Where do you walk her? I mean, I know where, but isn't it a problem, you know, when you're out at sea?"

"Oh, goodness me," the old man said as he stood. "The only thing worse than a dog nut is when two of 'em get together! Pass down the dishes when you two finish yakking, right?"

"Sorry about that," Goodwin said. "I'd best be going too. I have to clean up that mess over there," he said, pointing at Springer, "before it starts to stink."

"Oh yes, you must. Certainly before Passeggiata. But do finish your tea before you go."

"Passeggiata?"

Mary Ann Doncaster looked at Tom Goodwin and smiled. "Oh, you'll find out soon enough. Sooner or later we all do. It's the secret of life here, you know."

"Ah, well, I'd better get to it then, and thanks for the tea. And nice to meet you too, Elsie." He looked at the little spaniel again, her stubby tail thumping on the teak; she grinned now at Goodwin with happy brown eyes. He smiled back at the pup and blew her a kiss before hopping onto his boat and getting to work.

+++++

"So, Paulo, I heard a big splash on the way to work this morning. You, perhaps?" Toni Morretti said.

"Not as big as that American's!" his brother Paulo, the customs official, replied tellingly. "But don't get me wrong. He is a nice man, this doctor."

"He is a doctor?"

"Yes. Some big-shot heart doctor, from Boston, I think. He quit recently, however."

"What do you mean, he quit?" Maria Theresa Morretti said. The staid old woman, their mother, had said nothing at all during their late lunch, but suddenly she seemed unnaturally interested in what Paulo was saying.

"I did not ask him why, Mama. The customs form has a place for one to enter his profession, Mama, and that is all. Would you like me to go ask him, Mama? After lunch, perhaps?"

"Don't speak to me like that, Paulo, or I shall find my broom and beat you senseless!"

"Yes, Mama," he said in mock deference. "Anything you say, Mama."

She leaned forward and playfully slapped his face and laughed, and he laughed too. "Oh, I am turning into a silly old woman, aren't I?"

"Silly? Mama?" Toni said. "No, not you, not ever."

"But old, Mama?" Paulo added. "You are as old as Vesuvius, and erupt almost as often!"

"And just as hot-tempered!" Paulo and Toni said together, as they had a million times before.

"Oh, you two!" She laughed with her sons, and as always, she enjoyed the smiles on their faces -- and the love in their hearts. She took a bit of cheese from her plate, and some wine from her glass, then sat back and looked out the window as light midday traffic slipped by on the Via Duca degli Abruzzi. She looked thoughtfully as the world passed by outside her window, yet as always, she appeared lost in thought as cool breezes drifted through the room -- and over fleeting memories of her life. She watched Vico walking down the lane, and drifted back to other days.

The boys cleared the table and walked into the little kitchen, began doing the dishes.

"She seems okay today, eh Paulo?" Toni asked quietly.

"Yes. Her memories have come today. This will be a good day."

"God, I would hate to have my memories taken from me. That is the cruelest thing of all."

"Yes, well, perhaps everything happens for a reason. Perhaps only the good memories remain, those memories that keep the best company."

"That would be nice," Toni Moretti said as he looked at his mother. "When does Margherita get off tonight?"

"Things are slow at the hotel. Perhaps in time to walk with us."

"She would love that. But..."

"I know, I know, I will walk by the hotel on my way back to work and see if she is in. She has been too hard on Mama, and for too long."

"Well, that doesn't seem to matter anymore, Paulo, and perhaps it is as you say. Perhaps everything happened for a reason. Perhaps the good memories will not run away so fast, but I would hate to see her lose this time. I think they need each other more than we know."

Paulo walked back into the living room and sat beside his mother, held her hand while she looked out the window.

"Mama, I'm going back to work now. Don't forget to wear your shawl tonight. It will be cool again." He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead.

She reached up, stroked his face. "And you, Paulo, you try not to pull any more fat Americans from the sea. That man sounded just like a big fish," she said as she clapped her hands together. "When he hit? I heard it from here..."

"You know, Mama, he made an impression."

+++++

Margherita Moretti had seen her little brother fall into the sea that morning, and she had turned dark and withdrawn later that morning as hotel staff dropped by -- only to remind her once again her brothers were still regarded as the town idiots. Yet that was simply a continuation of the attitude they typically expressed to her on good days -- when the snobby bastards felt charitably disposed to her at all. Silence was their usual response to her, but perhaps, she told herself again, one day that might change.

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byAdrian Leverkuhn© 5 comments/ 6627 views/ 12 favorites

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