by Irene Sardanis
My husband and I arrived exhausted in Rome after a 12-hour flight from San Francisco. The van driver, a chubby Italian guy, spoke not a word of English. He looked at our hotel address and scratched his head. He drove like a maniac, speeding down a one-way street, making illegal u-turns, ignoring red lights.
My wonderful guy, an engineering type, had researched places to stay in Italy. His standards were a double bed in a non-smoking room.
Secretly, I dreamed of a spacious room with a king sized bed, a balcony with a view. I hoped for a room that invited some romance. My husband reassured me. “I found some good places,” he said.
Surprisingly, we arrived in one piece at our three-star Hotel Roma. The building looked old with a miserable shade of grey on the front door. The halls smelled of cigarette smoke. There was no elevator. I crawled up the stairs, awaiting the comfort of my husband’s carefully selected room.
I opened the door. The place was the size of a closet and is was totally consumed by a double bed. The pink paint on the walls was peeling. The only light came from a broken lamp in the corner of the room. I hated it.
“Gee,” my husband said, “This doesn’t match the photo of the place I booked on the internet.”
We spent the next day walking around the Colosseum. We stopped for pasta at cafés whenever we were hungry and wandered in and out of shops and churches.
But my attention was diverted everywhere we went by couples joined in ardent embrace. They kissed in front of buildings both sacred and secular. They kissed on every street, park bench, and bus stop. These were not a peck-on-the-cheek kisses. These were lips locked, welded, and melded in a passionate embrace. Fervent kisses were on every corner. I wasn’t used to seeing this kind of behavior is at home. But boy, I felt envy. I’d like a few of those kind of kisses too, I thought.
My husband’s a great guy, but I wouldn’t describe him as romantic. Still, I hoped he’d noticed the couples too. I wanted what they had: Passion.
I poked my husband and pointed to the lovers. “Take notes,” I said. He just laughed. In truth, I wanted him to grab and embrace me just like the couples we saw.
It wasn't just romance that I craved. Foreplay doesn’t start in the bedroom. It activates at dinner with lit candles on the table, wine, and warm conversation. My hair is grey and there are wrinkles on my face. Yet I hoped my husband would still find me captivating. I hoped for a level of intimacy we didn’t have time for at home.
Sadly, the rooms at the next few towns were similar – variations on drab, dark, dismal. Walls were so thin at one of them, I could hear someone snoring in the next room. My husband reassured me the next spot would be better.
“This next place,” my husband said, “is the real deal,” he promised.
The next hotel looked old, paint chipping off the sides of the building. The owner, a man in his 70’s let us in. My husband walked briskly up the four flights of stairs carrying two suitcases. I followed him slowly as I stepped on the broken tile steps. I examined the cracks on the walls. I held myself back from shouting, “Three Stars? Are you kidding me?”
My husband unlocked the door to Room 409.
“See?” he said with his arm outstretched. “I told you – a clean non-smoking room with a double-bed.”
I smelled mold in the room. Now I could hardly stifle a scream. Cautiously I walked to the bathroom. My legs weakened when I saw the worn cracked porcelain sink and yellowed claw foot bathtub.
There was a familiar feeling to the room – a kind of 1940’s look to it with doilies covering the night stands. The room bore a stark resemblance to my parent’s bedroom.
“This place is a complete turn-off,” I said to my husband, trying not to hiss.
I looked around. On the wall in front of the bed was a huge icon of Christ on the cross. This was not a hotel. This was a small church. Only a priest was missing to take our confession.
“At the next town, I’ll find our hotel room,” I said firmly.
At the seaside town on our next stop, I told my husband to wait at the bus stop. I approached a worker sweeping the front of a café.
“Scuzi,” I said. “Hotel?” He pointed to the next street. “Gratzie.”
The lobby was inviting. There were fresh flowers on the counter, accompanying soaring music from an opera.
“Do you have a room for two?” I asked the receptionist.
“Si, yes”, he replied.
“Does it have a balcony with a view of the ocean?” I asked.
“No,” he shook his head sadly. He looked at his registration journal, his finger scouting the pages for something to offer me.
“Too bad.” I turned to leave. No. I wasn’t going to settle for less than what I wanted – a romantic room with a balcony and view.
“Wait, please,” he urged. “There is a room I can give you.” He checked his registration book. “Ah yes,” he said. “Come with me.”
He unlocked the door to Room 625. And there it was. A large room with a king sized bed. A vermillion velvet quilt covered the bed. The bathroom was spacious. I touched the thick white towels on the rack. The best part appeared outside. I opened the door to the balcony with a table and two chairs facing the sea. Here, at last, the room I longed for.
“Molto Bene,” I said to him. I wanted to hug him.
I flew to the bus stop.
“Well?” my husband said. “Find something interesting?”
“Wait until you see it,” I grinned.
“Honey,” I said. “The room is huge. It even has a balcony with a view of the ocean.” He leaned over and put his arms around my waist and kissed me. Wow, I thought. Had he been taking notes? I hoped so.
Irene Sardanis lives in Oakland, California, has been published in The Sun Magazine, several anthologies, including Something that Matters, Invisible Memoirs, and The Magic of Memoir , and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.