My dream. He would beckon me forward one night after dinner, taking my hand. “A qui…” Looking into my eyes, he would profess his great desire, and I would smile and kiss his wrinkled face.
Many nights in my Florentine bedroom I thought of him, alone in the stiff white sheets and grinning ear to ear. The thought of my Prince was one of those rare daydreams we develop during our lives – one of the select few we harbor in the back of our mind, travel to whenever we feel the need to escape or elevate our hopes. All-encompassing reveries that seemingly pluck us out of our desultory, every-day pattern of task bending. My Prince promised me a world I couldn’t have believed in before, and yet here he was, so close, describing with surmounting passion the beauty of these…
…truffles, bright white and bulbous, collected from D’Alba Piemonte. Only in season during the fall, he explained with his thick Italian accent. They must be “ovoli,” like an egg, white outside and slightly yellow inside. I scribbled notes with a glittered pencil in my “Space Hunter” child’s notebook from the 99 cent store.
Scuola: The Moon
My Prince owned one of the most famous restaurants in Florence, and I was researching the locale for my Italian class during the course of a dinner with friends. The assignment was to interview the candidate in Italian but I, blushing with young love at the aging white-haired man, could scarcely muster a word even in English.
His dream. The restaurant was a dream all his life, he said.
One day, the legend goes, while seated at the Hapsburg family table for dinner, the Prince and his sons (also princes) decided that it was time to open a restaurant. They were princes who could never become kings; men with arbitrary titles and pedigrees that amounted to nothing in modern Europe. But a purpose: sharing the Hapsburg dining experience, to divulge their family’s greatest culinary secrets. Over 245 recipes collected over hundreds of years “from all the people who worked in my home,” the Prince described – the cooks, the guests, the helping hands, from garden to kitchen to stable. All kept alive and burning with the Asburgo-Lorena tradition.
Thank god, I thought, savoring the marrow from my osso bucco. Thank god they opened this restaurant. It was the best food I had ever tasted.
During our first meal at La Giostra, my girlfriend had eyed one of the waiters. He appeared out of place in this ancient city; his punk rock t-shirt and arm-fulls of metal bracelets looked almost American. But oh, he was Italian. He did not flirt openly and we knew he didn’t have to – he was beautiful, skin tawny and hair long and wavy, meeting his chin in pretty-boy fashion.
Meanwhile I spied my Prince, popping to and fro in his bright white chef coat and hat, such that his white clothing and white hair created a blur. He addressed us in the mild voice of an aged man before our dinner and we were in awe of this sincerity. The Europeans do it best, we agreed. They certainly do… my eyes followed him, blurring in and out, bemused.
I love him, I confessed.
Everyone laughed. He was so old.
I don’t care, he’s perfect…
. . .
I had to see him again. Luckily, my birthday arrived shortly and it was no question where to dine. The reservation was set, I donned something black and sexy, and in a cab with three friends I rolled down the narrow, cobbled Via Borgo Pinti.
From the backseat of the cab I spotted his white attire ahead. “There he is!” I declared.
And I sighed.
We announced ourselves and waited in the front room. Seated in mahogany antique chairs, my friends studied the multitude of photos cluttered on the stucco walls. They depicted guests and numerous celebrities posing with the famed princes.
“I think that cute waiter is the chef’s son,” my girlfriend observed. The possibility hadn’t struck immediately because of their great age difference. But there, in the eyes – soft and perpetually smiling with wisdom – I saw my Prince in the young, bracelet-clad waiter.
After waiting some time, I proposed that I stand in the middle of the room so as to draw attention to our party. To my delight, my Prince walked in and beheld my petite, solitary self. He marveled at me and I shivered. So close. He truly was old and wrinkled. And yet he moved with the lightest step.
“Molto belle!” he complimented. But with great concern, inquired if we were being helped.
As I tried to explain that we were waiting to be seated, a friend chimed in, “It’s her birthday!”
“Ahhh.” The prince motioned for our momentary patience, returning quickly with a bottle of champagne and glasses. There in the tiny room of mahogany and famous faces he popped open the bubbly liquid and proposed a toast.
“Ahhh,” he repeated, looking at me and holding up his flared fluke. “Belle… siete… come un sogno…” He motioned with his arms, in the Italian fashion, to my body before him.
I blushed. He had stated that I looked like a dream.
“Et i capelli… come una poesia…”
My hair, he said, was like a poem. I smiled with great pleasure, sipping my birthday champagne.
This is a dream…
During lessons at the University’s villa or sitting at the table in my cucina, my thoughts were filled with my Prince. I fantasized about sharing family dinners at the Hapsburg estate, charming the legendary European family with literary quips and fervent views on art, history, even love. Our age difference and my American background would not bother them in the slightest; he would only be fulfilling the European male tradition of marrying young.
But I must improve my Italian.
Whenever I wanted to see him, I only had to take a stroll down Via Borgo Pinti. Tucked a few blocks shy of Il Duomo, accessible but only to those informed. A few favorite shops of mine were not far and it was easy to take a turn here, a side street there, only to stride by his restaurant at a purposefully slow pace. That the restaurant resided in two separate buildings with unique entrances was my ticket to Prince-spotting; he inevitably appeared – walking out of one door, entering another.
Round and round, just like una giostra. A carousel? I asked, to better grasp the restaurant name. He invited me to come and look at something in the back of the dining room and pointed to a dark, distressed chunk of wood extending from the wall. A remnant of the old carousel, I presumed, but didn’t quite understand.
It was never easy to follow his logic. In broken English and in scattered Italian, he drew pictures in the air with star-studded words, always with gleaming eyes and the wondrous tone of an inventor. A dreamer.
Like a dream, he described his restaurant. I gazed around at the cream-clothed tables and whimsical blue and white lights, strung amongst the plethora of photos and wine bottles. Very nice, he continued, with a beautiful woman, and a very nice man, and they talk.
I could see them at the candlelit table before me.
Their dream. Our dream. Might our dreams unite…
. . .
Days passed, the daydreams continued, ushered into my bedroom each night through the open windows like a nostalgic wind. Although in my imagination the Prince and I were together in my future, I wondered if perhaps we already had a past. And if my fantasy had already played out in a past life, then it was time for me to resume my current one.
And so the daydreams tapered; soon it was time for me to leave the Renaissance city, my European ideal. Back to America, the City, hard work and the reality of life.
He was just a dream. A vision surrounding a real person.
But whenever I want to escape…