Manuel – who is my neighbor, who runs the hotel across the street – has built a cinema in his home up in the mountains. There are speakers in the walls and a great big projector up in the ceiling, and then the movie screen, that rolls up into the ceiling like a murphy bed. It took Manuel years to save up for the project, and then some more time to actually enact it. A labor of love; for months, his Facebook wall showed pictures of construction and then, finally, triumph. And now, thanks to Manuel’s hard work, we all have a personal movie theater for our movie nights.
Pizza and wine; Swiss chocolate and Manuel: I don’t want to suggest a movie because I know that if I do, right away Katarina is going to shoot it down. And Katarina: That’s not true; I’ll watch anything. But the only movies in Manuel’s DVD library involve men avenging the death of their wives; blood and guts; so we watch those, dubbed in Italian. All foreign movies get dubbed here, and the few times I’ve suggested to my friends that we watch the films in English with Italian subtitled they’ve reacted in horror. Manuel says: Denzel Washington! Denzel is the maximum! Big Denzel! and I can’t help myself from asking: But how do you know?
Katarina is sick; fighting an attack of allergies. She never had allergies back home in Hungary and she hasn’t had them for all of the years she’s lived in Italy, except recently. Manuel says: Maybe you’re allergic to Flora. Or maybe you’re allergic to Americans. And Katarina says: That can’t be it; I’ve known Flora since before I had allergies and I had allergies before I met E. There’s pollen in the air – almond flowers and peach blossoms cropping up on winter-dark branches all over town and when we go out into the mountains, to the tract of land that has belonged to Flora’s family since the First World War, Flora shows us how to eat the things that grow in the ground. Asparagus, snapped right off from tender stalks in the dirt. The brown chewy pods with a name in dialect I can’t pronounce but that Katarina dubs “bleh.” Almonds we could smash open if they were ready, and we can’t eat the olives either because they haven’t been cured, and they’re all smashed in the dirt road anyway – black, like spent blueberries. But now Katarina sneezes; drips onto her sweater.
I have an idea, I tell her. My mother’s great-aunt used to put cloves of garlic in each nostril. You could try that.
Katarina looks at me for a split second, blinking, before she turns to Manuel: Do you have any garlic?
Doubles as birth control! I offer helpfully.
Just watch the movie, says Manuel. Cock! Just. Watch. The. Movie. Big Denzel!
One night, Houdini – the newest member of our group, so nicknamed by his coworkers many years ago for his ability to escape the office undetected – comes to Cinema Paradiso. He’s grinning like a child at the projector in the ceiling; he and Manuel discussing megahertz and megadicks and whatever it is that men talk about when women are debating the virtues of one kind of Swiss chocolate versus the other. Houdini, being new to the movie nights, is allowed to throw in his suggestion for the movie first. He picks the one where it’s Marky Mark avenging his wife’s death. We watch it and it’s impossibly bad, punctuated by Katarina’s sneezes and sniffs. But Manuel likes the movie and, after, asks me: American! What did you think? as he always does when the credits finish rolling. What do I think? I think it’s a turd fest but I got to watch it on a big movie screen and joke around with my friends so, really, what is there to say but: It was cool?
Next day, Katarina calls me.
I tried the garlic cure, she says. I put one clove of garlic up each nostril.
Did it work? I ask.
For a few minutes, she says. But then it stopped.