During my time in Italy I read, An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser. It was the perfect romantic tale to visualize and set the mood while exploring and hilariously, the main character also chose to read books set in the places she traveled to.
Here are a few of my favorite passages:
And it pleased Him that this love of mine,
whose warmth exceeded all others, and which had stood firm
and unyielding against all the pressures of good intention,
helpful advice, and the risk of danger and open scandal,
should in the course of time diminish of its own accord.
So that now, all that is left of it in my mind is the delectable
feeling which Love habitually reserves for those who
refrain from venturing too far upon its deepest waters.
And thus what was once a source of pain has now become,
having shed all discomfort, an abiding sensation of pleasure.
—GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, THE DECAMERON
You board your boat, the boat to Ischia, and climb to the top deck, where the air is fresh and cool, the sun sinking behind the silhouetted island in the distance. Traveling by boat is romantic, pulling you away from shore, leaving a vast emptiness of water between your old life and an entirely new place.
The problem with Americans, he says, is they think a little affair will destroy a marriage. How can they be so claustrophobic? It puts far too much pressure on the marriage. That’s what will ruin a marriage.
“After thirty-six years you decide to take up smoking now?” he asks. You smile and tell him it’s all his fault. “When I get back,” you say, “I’m going to have to find a lover like you.” “Inutile,” he says, and laughs. Your only hope is to teach someone, he says. Then he becomes more serious, avuncular. “You’ll find someone,” he says. “All you need is a man who is older than you and younger than me. A professor of literature who speaks Italian. There must be some of them in San Francisco.” “They’re everywhere,” you say, “like German tourists.”
He says that he himself is not complicated at all. “I’m a simple person,” he says. “I like art, I like women, I like the sea, good food, cigars.” He unwraps the cellophane on a cigar and lights it. “I like pleasure,” he says. He smokes quietly for a moment. “Sometimes,” he says, “my wife thinks I’m too simple.”
You tell the professor you’ve never met an intellectual like him who is so uncomplicated, who seems to have no hidden dark corners in his psyche, though you suspect there are a few he isn’t talking about. He’s so comfortable with himself, seemingly so content with his life. Unlike many of the talented, intelligent men you’ve run into, he isn’t arrogant on the surface with deep insecurities lurking just beneath. He doesn’t seem like he’d ever be threatened by strong, smart women, just amused. He’s easily delighted, and relaxing to be around. You’re glad at least to have a glimpse of that type of man.
“The Decameron tales describe the endless varieties of love—adulterous passion, courtly love, enduring marriages, homosexual love, forbidden love, infatuation. The moral—if you can call it that, and why not—is that finding pleasure is more important than any of the constraints society might put on people’s inclinations to “forgather” together. As one storyteller comments after a tale of adultery, “And by proceeding with the greatest of discretion, they enjoyed their love together on many a later occasion. May God grant that you enjoy yours likewise.”
This, you think, is what Italians read in school instead of The Scarlet Letter. No wonder they’re better at flirting.”
It’s a shame. American men must be superficial. They want youth and beauty right up front in their faces. That isn’t interesting. European men like to discover what’s beautiful about a woman. Every woman is a mystery, and you have to find what makes her most beautiful and gives her the most pleasure.
“Richard Meier,” he says. “Everyone should know that name. Forget about the paintings here, they are mostly second-rate paintings by first-rate artists, or first-rate paintings by second-rate artists. But the architecture is amazing, the building is an extraordinary work of art. This building will last for centuries.”
“You know,” he says, “in order for me to truly relax, I have to be outside my country, and even outside of my language. I can’t relax in French.” “Why?” you ask. He shrugs, and tries to explain. “If I speak French, I might as well be in France. There is an inherent nervousness. I have to get outside of it all.”
“You know, my dear,” he says, stroking your hair. “It isn’t a bad thing to always know that someone on the other side of the world cares about you, that someone is always thinking about you with pleasure.”
“When you go to a place and have an extraordinary experience,” he says, “you can never return.”
“I could never return to Ischia,” he says.
“No,” you agree. “Never.”
The professor begins to list his defects. He is a little vain, he says. He doesn’t do well at dinner parties, doesn’t like to make chatty conversation. He dresses too hippie for his wife’s taste. He doesn’t know how to fix anything around the house. He isn’t all that ambitious; if he were really rich, all he would do is travel the world and stay at great hotels.