The office is where I am these days; that is, the 113 year-old bar in the Centro with my laptop and my cell phone and my glass of vibrant orange Crodino. I’ve officially become a great big ball of novel-writing momentum, which is why I’m there and not here with ye would be-pigeon eaters but honestly? A month and only one of you said “ahem.” Also? I blogged almost every day in April and, again, none of you came. Also still? I’m averaging a chapter a week and am so, so, so incredibly happy about it that I think y’all can sit down and just eat your grits already. For the first time in years, talking about my novel doesn’t make my throat close up with panic. I’ll tell anyone about it, in any language I speak. This is confidence. This is full steam ahead. This is a straight tunnel instead of a forked road. My friend Piero says: Will you publish it in Italy? And I say: No, because it’s in English. And I feel comfortable saying that – a strict yes or no – instead of, Let’s see if I even finish it, or If anyone even wants it. Pigeon got her groove and, anyway, this is where I am these days. At what has become my haunt.
Every day, from 5-8. It’s like this now. I write and pitch travel articles in the morning, teach a class or two, go to the gym, and make my way into town. By now, I have a “usual” table. By now, the owners and clientele know me. Weh, E. Ciao, cara. And it’s not coffee and donuts; it’s a crodino/aranciata/acqua frizzante and bowl of peanuts. Or mini pizza. Or cheese puffs – whatever the staff are serving for aperitivo that day; it’s junk food; must stop the snacking at the office.
my coworkers the regulars come in. Esmerelda, a lifelong friend of the owner. Cinzia, the pregnant wife of the owner’s brother. Giovanni, the chief of police of a nearby town. Old Man Ambrogio, a bearded pensioner who comes into the caffe, rain or shine; sometimes with his little grandson in tow but more often than not, alone, and ready to get up in my grill.
What are you doing?
I’m writing my novel, Ambrogio.
You should write a novel about me. I’ve lived a life that would make your hair curl.
Well, let me finish mine first.
I have a recipe for you.
Oh, yeah? What’s that?
It’s for spaghetti alle vongole. Do you know what that is?
You take spaghetti and you take your vongole… and you add olives and Prosecco and vodka to the vongole…
Giovanni: Are you crazy? Olives in spaghetti alle vongole? It’ll be much too flavorful. Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Old Man Ambrogio: Stop. Let me finish.
Giovanni: But you’re wrong.
And then from the bar, Domenico – the owner:
The two of you! Stop it! Leave E alone! She’s working!
Old Man Ambrogio: What do you mean she’s working? She’s American. She’s on vacation.
Domenico: She’s a journalist from America and she’s writing her travel articles and she’s writing a novel! So you just leave her alone and let her get some work done!
Old Man Ambrogio: E.
Me: Yes, Ambrogio.
Old Man Ambrogio: You should write a book about me.
Or children who come in with their parents; fat and wide-eyed and I want my afternoon snack! And No, because in an hour we’re going to grandma’s house and big tears, heartbroken, until they catch sight of me with my computer.
What are you doing?
I’m writing a book.
What’s your name?
What are you drinking?
I’m a bunny rabbit.
I know you are.
I have big ears.
I can see them!
My mom says I can’t have a cornetto. And the adults don’t let us play.
It’s just not fair!
And then they all leave me alone and I type.
Or sometimes I don’t type. Sometimes I get lost in space, and stare at my cubicle walls:
But then I get back to it. Press my feet against the legs of the chair; feel the beat of my typing vibrating all the way up my toes and knees and arms and neck. It wasn’t like this before; I stonily ignored my novel for eight months after a professor at Trinity told me that it read like something from the Romance shelf. Horrified; utterly horrified. Focused, instead, on short stories and travel writing, anxiously watching the word doc grow dust. But in those eight months I re-envisioned, recalculated, reshaped and now it’s on; one chapter a week, after months of licking my wounds. One chapter a week, and it’s like I can finally see the smooth, perfectly-formed fists busting out of the rough marble slab. This is it. This is the one. The third draft is the charm.
And I have my aranciata. I have my crodino. And today, I have a glass of Prosecco because the water on our street was brown all day and I forgot and brushed my teeth with it and when I saw the brown water dribbling out of my mouth said What the fuck! and spit it out but didn’t have any Listerine in the house so when I got to the office, I ordered alcohol to wash out the germs.
At the counter, Massimo grins at me: A little midday Prosecco, eh?
And Old Man Ambrogio shouts across the caffe at me: What’s this. You’re having Prosecco now?
In broad daylight?
What’s the occasion?
If I told you, you’d laugh at me.
Tell us. We have to know.
But I don’t tell them. I sit down at my regular table with my laptop and my novel and my alcohol and feel more like a writer than ever.