Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Vulgar Tongue, ix


             The next morning Servi went down to the kitchen, but only the cook was there to greet him.
            “The Senore is out with his grapes,” she said.  “But Beatrice asked you to wait here for her.”
            Servi sat at the table and drank coffee.  Sun slanted in through the tinted window.  The air conditioner hummed mildly.  In a few moments, Beatrice was in front of him.   
            She wore loose tan trousers and a white short sleeve top open at the collar and plunging between her two breasts, where a silver cross lay jealously against her pale skin.  She had wrapped her head with a blue silk scarf.  She looked like a wealthy European woman about to take a drive in a pricy convertible.   
            She was fresh and clean and only her eyes were hazy, as if she had not slept well last night.  As if noticing Servi’s glance, she put on round, dark sunglasses .
            “Have you eaten yet?” she asked Servi.
            “No,” he answered.  “I thought I’d wait for you.”
            “Good,” she said, reaching out for his hand. “We’ll have breakfast in Cavernascura, and I will show you some Etruscan catacombs.”

            She drove her convertible up the steep slope to Cavernascura and parked in front of a sign which conspicuously warned that there was no parking.   
            Beatrice and Servi sat outside at a nearby café.  Everyone greeted Beatrice warmly and courteously and inquired after her father’s welfare.  She answered in kind, beaming radiance and charm, playing the role of the Padrino’s daughter, accepting the expected goodwill of his people with magnanimity.  
            Everyone in the town acted as if her father was a demi-god, his fingers attached to invisible strings which stretched to the chambers of power, both overt and hidden, in Rome and New York and not Noah drunk near his wine press.  They ate eggs and cured ham and Beatrice told him some of the history of the town.
            “The caverna in Cavernascura are the caves beneath our feet,” she explained.  “They are chambers carved from the tufa, either man made or natural, no one knows. 
            “They were used in Etruscan times.  The area was the heartland of the Etruscans.  D.H. Lawrence stayed in this very town once, did you know that?
            “In the sixteenth century the town had a population of Jews.  Rumor is that they converted to Catholicism in Sicily after the expulsion order in 1493, and then didn’t like it, so fled up here.  They still had to keep up the pretense of Christianity, and used the caves to practice their religion.   There is a stove down there that was supposedly used for baking matza.”
            Beatrice drove speedily down to the base of the town, down a long, slowly winding road.  At the bottom, a wall of tufa rose above them, and perched on top of the stone sat the houses of Cavernascura.  There was little transition between foundations and stone wall. Servi could not discern where natural stone ended and where man made foundations began.  In front of them was a cut in the tufa.  Beatrice grasped Servi’s hand and led him into the darkness.
            “It’s like we are little again,” she said in her Brooklyn English, but now merely as play, as gentle self-mockery.  In the darkness, she pressed herself against him
            “You feel grown up to me,” Servi answered, and then felt her lips.

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