Do you labor under the impression that expat life is a vacation? You are so wrong. It can be a struggle, it can be boring, it can be stressful. Truly, don’t envy us our servants, our exotic food, our stunning scenery. Like other mortals, we expats need a vacation now and then, so we hop on a plane to, say, Italy. My man and I did. More than once, actually. To find a bit of fun in the land of love and romance. Here’s the tale of an evening out one starry summer night in Naples:
A NIGHT OF ROMANCE, OR NOT
From our modest B&B hidden in an ancient building, we walk to the waterfront in search of an Italian repast. We pass a number of large luxury hotels – the 5-star variety – with rooms that offer a view of the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius looming on the horizon. (You pay dearly for this view, trust me.) Several outdoor restaurants live along this stretch as well, to cater to the tourists. We settle ourselves at an alluring terrace bathed in soft candle light and resplendent with white table cloths, sparkling glasses and shimmery silverware. Straight out of the movies, I tell you.
We order wine and a plate of seafood antipasti and do a little people-watching. I love people-watching, don’t you? In front by the road several teenagers are hanging out as only teenagers hang out. They come and go, on motorcycles and Vespas, or on foot. We watch the girls and boys playing out the ancient mating rituals. They hug and kiss, they grope and fondle. Ah, all those hormones running rampant! Such exquisite torture!
At a nearby table sits an American couple in their sixties with bad body language and no hormones running rampant. They look disenchanted, and make crabby comments as they discuss the menu. She’s a dumpy woman with bleached hair, he’s a paunchy guy with a bald head and a flabby face. I’m not trying to be mean here, but unfortunately the truth is not always flattering. There’s nothing charming about these two, and they spew fumes of discontent into the balmy Italian night.
I can’t hear what they are saying, which is just as well because it isn’t love talk, and I don’t want my happy mood spoiled. I’m enjoying myself, sitting here with my man, sipping wine, and munching on a plate of mixed seafood antipasti. It features a lot of octopus, which is very popular in these parts.
The crabby couple apparently does not like what‘s offered on the menu. They don’t look like the octopus sort and everything else is also weird (I just know that’s what they’re thinking.) I’m guessing they’re staying at one of the nearby posh hotels; they are well dressed, and the lady sports a huge diamond rock on her finger and an impressive string of pearls around her neck.
As I sip my wine I watch her take her purse and leave the table – to go to the ladies room, I presume. Her two-piece dress does not look cheap, but it somehow manages to look hopelessly frumpy on her. Sadly, menopause has not been kind to her, and too many calories are showing up in uncharming ways. None of this is alleviated by a sparkle in her eyes, a smile on her face, or even a whiff of Joy perfume. I think I’m smelling Poison.
Crabby husband stays behind and drinks his beer, staring into space, the picture of grouchiness. He does not see the Bay of Naples. He does not see the charm of his surroundings. He sees something else. Inside his mind. And it’s not pretty.
And then I do what I often do: I try to imagine what their story is. Maybe they’ve had a fight. Maybe he said this was a waste of money, coming here, even though he’d promised her the trip for 20 years. Or maybe earlier in their luxurious hotel room he wanted sex and she didn’t. Or the other way around. I wonder if grouchy people like these two still have sex. They don’t look like they enjoy each other. They don’t look like they enjoy much of anything. My heart aches for them. How can you be unhappy on a balmy Italian summer night sitting in this outdoor restaurant with a view of the Bay of Naples? The moon is ripe, the hills sparkle with lights and the yachts are ablaze with kilowatts. The wine is intoxicating and the octopus is yummy. How romantic can it be? What does it take?
I drink my wine. For me it doesn’t take that much, but then I’m easy. I may have traveled the world but having dinner with my man in a romantic restaurant on the Bay of Naples still does it for me. I glance over at the horny teenagers who clearly don’t care about the Bay of Naples because it’s always there and has always been there and what’s the big deal? What they care about is sex and finding a place to have it. It’s a problem, you know.
The morose matron returns to her seat. Between the grouchy couple and the young lovers in the street we have a contrast of serious sexual magnitude.
I’m thinking of the hormonal issue of menopause. Granted, this is not the most romantic subject to consider while on an idyllic outing with the love of your life, but there it is, sprung up mischievously in my mind. (Must be my age). I’m wondering why many women after menopause still feel the desire for sex while Mother Nature has taking away the ability to conceive.
I look at my mate. “What is the purpose of sex?” I ask, chewing octopus.
“Fun,” says he.
“No, I mean-“
He raises his brows. ”You don’t like my answer?” His tone is dry.
“That’s not it. I am very happy you think the purpose of sex is fun. Let me rephrase my question: What is the biological purpose of sex?”
“Fun.” He sips his wine and gives me a seductive look.
”You don’t like the answer? What answer would you like?” He pours me some more wine.
“What I mean is, the biological purpose of sex is the continuation of the species. Procreation.”
“So if you know, why ask me?”
Well, yes, why. “I was going somewhere with this. I have another question I was setting this up for.”
“All right, “he says agreeably, “sex is for the continuation of the species, for procreation. And for fun.”
“Fun so you’d want to do it.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m on my second glass of wine. I’m trying to think clearly and pose the question rationally. “Now, why do so many women still want sex after their childbearing years are over?”
“Because it’s fun.” He breaks off a piece of bread.
“But why would it still feel like fun?”
“Because it is.”
“Okay, true.” I stab a chunk of octopus with my fork. “But the hormones necessary for procreation aren’t functioning anymore after menopause. They’ve dried up and gone.”
“Of course. Look at those kids over there.”
“But after menopause they’ve dried up,” he reminds me.
“But it’s still fun, anyway.”
“Yes, and you’re my witness.”
He nods sagely. “Well, if it isn’t the hormones, then it must be mass hysteria of the post-menopausal brigade.”
Mass hysteria of the post-menopausal brigade. Of course, what was I thinking!
I glance at the woman at the next table. She stares dully at her food, then glances up and looks at her husband, boredom radiating from her. She doesn’t look like she’s into mass hysteria.
Too bad for her.
* * *
So, dear reader, do you have a people-watching story? Or a tale about love and romance — the mysteries, the joys, the creepiness? And of course, an Italian adventure of any sort is good.