In my teens, I had daily complained about Angelo's father Italian dishes. Not that I could say it loud how I loathed Edoardo's food, not without starting a verbal strife with him that would greatly hurt my mother and strain Angelo. I simply left the table after rummaging through the awfully plain pasta Edoardo would serve, to get myself some bread, cheese and tomatoes. With herbs and olive oil, that would be my very French pièce de résistance, and the origins of my 'survival food', while being the worst insult to Edoardo, who was a cuoco, a chef. He wanted to open a trattoria in France -- though not from it, he died trying.
But I never complained about Fabrizio's dishes, despite it being a bit awkward to eat Italian only, for a whole week -- in Iceland. Fabrizio was traveled, cultured, broad-minded, cool, international, and in his businesses he was bold -- but not when it came to food. Then, to my standards he was conservative, traditional, small-minded. He did add more sauce and spices to the pasta he cooked, to please me. I was in a vegetarian period, having been influenced by my visits to Armand and Carlo, and I certainly wasn't offering Fabrizio a wide scope for creativity. No matter what, I loved his food like I loved him -- exact like I hated Edoardo's food because I had loathed my boyfriend's father.
After our last lunch at the rental home, Fabrizio was feeling a bit bored, and he had remarked that, while he had not enjoyed going out with Andara and her group of friends, in my company he liked to go anywhere and everywhere.
"Even to the hospital, babe!", he had commented, when we left Vice City's General Hospital, where we had been visiting my friend Brazen, who had just undergone a surgery.
I was happy with his invitation to leave the house. First, I had understood Fabrizio's insistence to stay at home as a way of honoring his family's tradition of spending every holiday at the villa by Lake Como, and not traveling around the world. Then I realized it was a habit acquired while still dating Andara, when he had tried to depart from their group. But secretly, I feared he was ashamed to be seen in my company -- it was not a new hairstyle, which made me look younger and perhaps foolish, that would put an end to my insecurity.
Only Fabrizio's renewed love, over the years -- and sometimes I thought that only after eight years in his company, for that had been the amount of time of my relationship with Angelo -- could completely heal my wounds.
Fabrizio said he wanted to return to that restaurant in Reykjavík we had found closed, to try puffin meat, reputed to be exceptionally tender. And if they were still closed, he wanted to eat whale meat again, and give a new chance to putrefied shark meat -- one of the national delicacies that he had already tasted in Iceland and not quite liked, despite enjoying the strong herbal spirit that was supposed to accompany it.
In addition to his gastronomic tour, I proposed going to the Blue Lagoon Spa -- before we'd eat dinner, of course.
"With the weather that we have today, babe?" Fabrizio seemed discouraged by the cloudy, windy day. "Wouldn't you rather go shopping? Or sit in a café?" When I ignored his suggestions, he still tried "Isn't it outdoor pools?"
"Volcanic pools. Steaming hot. And this is our only day left in Iceland. This is it, gorgeous." I said, daringly. "The Icelandic End. This is the only day that we still have to enjoy this country."
"You're right. Let's go then!" Fabrizio said and had jumped from the couch surprisingly cheerful.
Luckily, the weather changed on our way to the spa, and the clouds parted to give way to the sun while we were driving on a beautiful scenic road -- scenic being rather a common place in Iceland, for the whole country was beautiful, the various landscapes ranging from more dramatic or less dramatic -- but never less than breathtaking.
I was happy, and enjoying a good-natured disposition. I hadn't come to Iceland to stay locked in a house, even if it were in the company of l'homme de ma vie, and I wanted to see as much of the country as possible.
When at the spa I again saw Fabrizio in his outrageously skimpy swim trunks a la Italiana that would make me blush, realizing he was not only the less dressed but the best looking man at the pools, I must have felt rather insecure to come up with a silly joke. "I thought you were hiding me at home..." I mouthed, quite unskillfully. Smirking, I added "In a country so full of handsome men--"
He interrupted me at once. "All of them will be making moves on you, is that it? Do I need to worry about this, Laurent?" Fabrizio was visibly hurt. His jealousy was not something I could easily get used to.
"No, that's not what I meant!" We were a good match, in almost everything. It was really surprising that the harmony that existed between us would prove to be so lasting. But the kind of comical humors we had were quite distinct, and our jokes were often misinterpreted by the other. "I meant that..." I often complained about his jealousy, but my lifelong insecurity would often get in our way, too, "...you were ashamed to be seen by my side in a country with so many handsome men, much more than I am... I mean..."
"That's ridiculous, Laurent! Why do you have to keep bringing that up?" He snorted.
Maybe because that girl has eyed you from head to feet? Or maybe because your pubic hair is showing? But I did not say anything, because he was right. My bad. Men did eye me, as Fabrizio constantly noticed, and some women too -- more than I noticed it myself. In the first months, while in Vice City or Samsara Heights, he had wanted to know if the guy looking at me had been my lover in the past. His jealousy had escalated at each positive answer, once I agreed to tell him only the truth. "It's all in the past, babe. There is only you, now." I had assured him. "That period of my life is over. If we can't erase it, let's at least try to forget it, shall we?"
But it seemed like Fabrizio expected some sort of relapse from me. "It's over for you, Laurent, not for the other men." Sometimes, he would even say he felt he wasn't "gay enough", meaning he might not be competent enough to keep my interest in him.
On the other hand, I realized how women still looked at Fabrizio, more than men did. And I had felt I wasn't simply -- beautiful, sexy, charming, seductive, wealthy, cool, young, be what it may -- enough to keep Fabrizio at my side, expecting that he would have his own relapse. Unlike his jealousy, my security did not escalate -- only because it constantly held at its top mark.
He continued, as we entered the pools, in a ranting fashion. "It's not just beauty to me. Or for you it comes down to that? Are you with me because I'm handsome? As you said it alright, this is a country full of beautiful men. And many of them prettier than me, even. As that one attendant from the chocolate shop..."
That had been one of the few stressful passages in our journey around Iceland. Unfortunately, I had commented on the extreme beauty of this store's attendant, dark-haired and blue-eyed just like Fabrizio, but with very white skin, rosy cheeks, slanted eyes and a dimpled smile. And though I had checked, I hadn't said a word about his very fit body. That specific day, I had been a little elated with our share of grand landscapes on the East coast, and in that chocolate store in Akureyri I had also commented on the nice aspect of the pastries and the chairs -- and the handsome young man, too, of course. But just like one who comments a work of art or a piece of design, without necessarily wanting to acquire it.
Unfortunately, Fabrizio had been hurt. While before me he had dated only Helmut -- though they had never dated -- and Andara, plus a few girls in his teens, I could never calculate how many men I had slept with, and I had just dismissed the subject. "Not even an approximate estimation?" Fabrizo had asked, trying to sound businesslike.
Once, at my home in Samsara Heights, I had found him on my computer, glancing through my archives of paintings, one male portrait after the other. Only faces, all very chaste, but still... "Did you really do it with them all?" Fabrizio had inquired. I could see he was in shock, and I blushed. I was no longer proud. The number of guys I had painted did not equal the number I had taken to bed. Though few had actually agreed to become my models, it was enough to make Fabrizio suffer. He kept hitting the button, forwarding one screen after the other, face after face. Even to me it seemed like a prodigy, and through my boyfriend's eyes, a shameful one.
"Laurent!" Fabrizio had moaned, more sad than angry. He was fast in doing mental calculations, while I never even cared to count to ten, and certainly not past a hundred. "This is more than--"
"Please, babe..." I had turned his face away from the screen, and while I looked him in the eye, I hit the shut down button. "This is just art, now!" I tried to kiss him, but he did not respond at first, and I feared he would dump me then and there.
And though we had talked and clarified the whole thing about my obscene past, even in Iceland it would surface and stand between us, as Fabrizio had again to mention the guy in the chocolate shop.
"Forgive me, Fabrizio. Your beauty is only one aspect of the love I feel for you." I had said, thoughtfully. Beauty, especially male beauty, always left me elated, working like a drug on me. But nothing was greater than love. "Because it's a beauty who reads poetry and shows true passion for the things he does, because it is a beauty with ethics combined with kindness, it's an honest and generous beauty... Intelligent, educated, kind, helpful. That's your beauty as I'm in love with...Your beauty is only the outer shine of an unique spirit, Fabrizio."
That conversation about beauty, at the volcanic pools, would be remembered for a long time.
In the warm, soothing waters, Fabrizio's mood improved and he again relaxed -- despite the sulfurous smell that bothered him greatly, much more than me, and that in our opinion was the only 'don't' in a perfectly wonderful country -- the sulfurous smell that sprang when one opened any Icelandic faucet, while brushing the teeth or bathing or trying to get drinking water.
And Fabrizio was happy and joyful again when he could finally try the puffin meat, even if I did not have the courage to eat it.
Not because I was disgusted by its mortified aspect and the color of dried blood, but because I was no longer able to eat meat thinking that an animal had died due to my desire to eat his or her meat. I'd rather kill my own desire, so that the animal could go on living.
With the passing of time, his meditative practice had led Carlo, just like like Armand -- as if they had been living their lives in parallel, separated but never disconnected --, to become a vegetarian. But not quite radically. My father was unable to refuse any food that was offered to him, even if it was a steak, because his practice of equanimity was as strong as that of compassion, which included both his host as much as the food that was offered to him, even if it was a slaughtered animal. Since he hardly ever left the Apennines, he was not often confronted with that dilemma.
My days spent with Carlo in the Apennines had influenced me to the point that, although I did not consider myself a vegetarian, that's what I had become.
The night before to our last in Iceland, Fabrizio and I had called Carlo at the farm in the Apennines, at Fabrizio's own suggestion. I was speaking more often to my father than before, stimulated by Fabrizio, who loved him dearly.
We then learned that he was leaving for Sweden, to meet Armand. I was elated. Those were great news, and the not so surprising outcome of a conversation full of silences that I had had with Carlo, after Fabrizio had left the farm and we returned to our father and son idyll.
That afternoon started with Carlo wanting to know if I had been talking to my mother lately.
Just like Carlo and I had rescued our relationship through our conversation at the Nirvana Lounge, it had occasionally had the side effect of Catherine and Carlo resuming some kind of a telephonic relationship, too. During those more than twenty years that they hadn't seen each other, my parents had kept the ritual of talking on the phone once a year -- though I had never been aware of it. And during all the time, I was the only topic of their annual conversation. 'Update on Laurent', Catherine had called it, according to my father. Once she picked the phone to discover it was him, she would announce "Update on Laurent", simply tell the facts, wait for any questions, and if Carlo silenced for too long, she would then hang up on him. That had been their strange agreement for so long.
But after the Nirvana Lounge, Carlo and Catherine had started conversing about themselves again. There was not a single possibility of revival for them -- Catherine currently flipped through a row of young Russian lovers like the pages of a book, while Carlo lived his chastity and isolation peaceful and contentedly.
"I think Catherine is not doing well in St Petersburg." My father made a long silence and I thought that was all, but he had been reflecting before adding, "I don't know exactly what it is. She seems to be losing touch with herself... Do you know what I mean, Laurent? I'm not sure it is because she is now expressing herself in a different language... That could be it." Carlo cogitated, and made a long pause before continuing, "With all the love and commitment that she has to words, it seems that Catherine's soul changed with speaking Russian... or was it her dedication of so many years to those Russian mystics that made her a little bit crazy... Do you feel the same, Laurent? Why didn't you visit her yet?"
"And nor shall I, Carlo. I went once to Russia, during an art fair in which my work was being shown. I was so often and so repeatedly treated with rudeness, at the hotel, in restaurants, shops, and twice they tried to rob me on the streets, that I decided to never return to Russia! It's such a homophobic country, too." I sighed. What were the gay friendly nations, in fact? "I don't know, I don't have the same impression as you do. She has been creative, working on a novel, about my grandmother Celeste, it seems. She sounded very normal the last time I spoke to her..." And by that I meant selfishly immersed, lost in her obsession with family matters. I didn't want to concern Carlo with what actually had been my last and final quarrel with my mother, and how we hadn't had any contact since that call in Sweden. "Except for the fact that Catherine is in her third or fourth boyfriend in that country... Almost one each year! But you told me that it was just like that in France too, wasn't it?" Since I had never heard my father talk openly about Catherine's affairs, I teased him.
But there was only silence, again. Carlo was unable to comment on Catherine's privacy, even if it was about her devious infidelity that had harmed him directly. My mother had always been consumptive, especially in terms of clothes and culture, and for years, also of men... I did not judge nor condemn her -- I realized it was my own legacy, a transmission which in turn Catherine had received from Celeste. A dynasty of only children, Celeste, Catherine and I, and of man-eaters. It was as if the legacy of my grandmother and of my mother had made me gay, since I hadn't been born a girl in a thread of women, and also as if my promiscuity during a certain period of my life had been determined even before I was born.
"You might be doing to your mother just what you did to me. Isolating her. Keeping her out of your life might not be the best, Laurent." Carlo pondered.
"I might be." I had replied, simply dismissing the subject. Catherine had never been to our farm in the Apennines, and I thought she should remain left out, even from our conversations. I made silence, knowing Carlo wouldn't break it.
"I never knew love like this before, Carlo." I said, when our silence had lasted long enough, denoting Catherine was a closed subject. We were lying on the lawn behind the house, looking into the sky, where clouds sailed and a single golden eagle flew by, her feathers shimmering with the sun that slowly made its way down to the mountains and towards sunset. Soon it would be too chilly to hang outside, and we enjoyed the last warmth of the afternoon, like we savored each other's presence. Since we were not facing each other, we took greater care in carefully listening and slowly talking, in order not to interrupt our sharing.
"Not even..." Carlo paused, and when he almost whispered, I knew he was about to bring some sensitive issue, "...for Angelo? You mention that boy very often. He seems to have affected you deeply. I'm afraid not in a good way, Laurent... I remember you crying when I shared how I had left Armand on the Île du Blanchomme. You recalled being dumped by Angelo... for a girl, didn't you?" My father and I hadn't talked much about my ex-boyfriend. Though he knew a lot about my relationship with Gabriel, that had been a fiasco, and that's probably why he hadn't even mentioned him. But Angelo... funny, my father never had even seen a photo of him. Expect, perhaps, on some gossip magazine.
"No, not even for Angelo!" My love for him had been angst ridden, more like a sickness, as if I had had a high fever and hallucinated for eight years. "Yes, I cried because how we parted was similar. But I don't think the love I felt for Angelo was like the love you felt for Armand... I think it is more like this love that I feel now for Fabrizio."
Talking to Carlo in the Apennines was a mind opening experience. His silence was peaceful, as if compassionately encompassing my words, and giving a generous space, without any pressure on time, where my confessions could gently be born and slowly unfold and mature into insights.
"And we still haven't had sex, Fabrizio and I..." It was a neat confession to make, and I glanced sideways at Carlo, to see if he was smiling. But his expression was so relaxed, as if he was meditating, and feeling serene too, I sighed, "It's really love. In a way, a bit like what I felt for Fabio, when I was a boy. Pure, just like that."
Silence. And the sounds of nature -- birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, the distant roar of the waterfall down the valley, a dog barking and being echoed by the mountains -- again filled my ears and my heart.
"Don't you want to see him again?" I asked. The silence between us had been long enough to indicate Fabrizio was a closed subject, too.
"I've seen him." Carlo had replied after a while. "Once. A few years ago. We were part of a juri in a prize for young artists. He was to chose an archictec. I was to chose a painter, though of course we were all voting for all categories. Pina Bausch was to chose a coreographer. Wong Kar-wai, Marina Abramovic, Nadine Gordimer, Egberto Gismonti, each one in his own field shared considerations about the young artists that had been nominated... The Transmission, that prize was called. We were many at that juri, all staying at the same hotel in Berlin. There was a tight schedule, since not all of us had the same amount of free time. Armand and I never had the chance to speak in private. Just once did we meet in an empty corridor, as our routes brought us close."
Carlo was silent, and I simply waited, watching a yellow butterfly play around the pots of herbs my father had placed at the kitchen's window. I knew he would add details of their encounter only if he wanted to.
"I hope life has treated you well, Carlo." Armand said to me, quietly. His eyes were peaceful and full of love, though not the same romantic love I remembered. Where romance had clouded his vision, wisdom seemed to lend his eyes a sharp clarity. There was an immense tenderness to his presence, of the same kind that someone would experience in looking at a flower with mindfulness.
"We have survived, haven't we?" It was all I could say to him. After all those years, I still felt guilty.
"You are a prestigious painter, now!" Armand had smiled his most sweet, nurturing smile. Aging had only increased his natural gentleness and nobility. " I'm glad about that. I always knew it."
"You're so kind. You have always been kind to me.You--"
"Gentlemen! Please! We have been looking for you!" An agitated young man from the organization had interrupted the friends. "We have yet another round of considerations starting in less than five minutes!" And so, Carlo and Armand's only conversation in decades had ended abruptly.
"Don't you want to see him again?" I had repeated my question, but Carlo never answered me. After having met Armand in Sweden, I believed they should try it again. Not to be lovers, not anymore at sixty, when both had rather monastic habits. But they were so much alike in their best qualities that I dared seeing them living together again. Roommates, friends, partners -- whatever it was, I was certain they would be at it again. Anyway, before leaving the Apennines I had left Armand's private number with my father.
And the answer to my cogitation had come just when Fabrizio and I had called my father from Iceland. Fabrizio and I had celebrated the news that he was going to Sweden to meet Armand.
"How is the farm's situation, Carlo?" I had asked him next, after another prolonged silence at the lawn in the back of our house. Subject Armand closed, too. The sun was rapidly going down, and soon we would be closing the conversation as a whole.
"Dear son, you don't have to ask about that. I remember having told you, when you were a child, how Tarso expected you to love these lands, so that you'd want to take care of the farm when you inherited it. That was very unskilfull. You have no obligation whatsoever, Laurent!" Carlo paused, pensive. "I was born here, I am one with these mountains. I have always known and understood your preference for the islands." Carlo smiled, "You can sell these lands if you want, when they reach your hands.", my father said, serenely.
"Oh no, I wouldn't do that, Carlo! I feel connected, now. I really do! And grateful, too"
And I asked Carlo to take me to visit my great-grandfather's tomb up in the mountains.
I had so much to thank Tarso -- even if, had I had the actual chance to thank him, he would have rejected me, and probably punched me again.
I was always a bit sad to think that the love I felt for men was to be considered dirty, sinful, and to be despised and battled against. The sincere love I felt for Fabrizio was the purest thing in my life at that moment -- full of respect, admiration, sincerity. So many straight people were not capable of devoting themselves to their partners as deeply. So many of them engaged in cheating their beloved ones -- but just because they were straight, their wicked love was justified, while mine, no matter how pure, was condemned and vilified.
Tarso would have condemned me, I was sure -- and I wouldn't have condemned him for behaving the only way he knew.
Which made Carlo's acceptance of my sexuality the more remarkable. There was a part of him that remained the simple peasant, born under a very narrow moral code. But another part of him had grown to unsuspected heights -- or depths. He was still the simpleton who had just wished that someone take a look at his sketches -- the same sketches, unfortunately lost, that had catapulted him to Paris and into another life. Ultimately, to the pinnacle of the contemporary Art world, where he dwell on a mountain all of his own, like 'The Hermit of the Brushes".
In 1987, after we had returned from our holidays in the Apennines, following Fabio's suggestion, Carlo had taken me to the nearest country club, where I had happily joined the swim team.
The rest of my summer vacations I had already spent at that swimming pool. I was really talented, a natural, but I was also a wild beast in the waters, with little technique. I was faster than the other boys, and I had a prodigious breath, but it took a wonderful coach to teach me how to be a true juvenile champion.
Of course, I fell in love with the coach, a handsome young man who, like me, was sometimes considered an outsider -- he had been born in Algeria. And of course he openly and widely and wisely ignored my clumsy advances on him.
In that pool and around it, there was an overall horniness, coming from us boys and our nasty jokes -- and I include myself among them, for even though being very shy and mostly silent, for the first time I felt I belonged to a group in France --, that were tolerated but not stimulated by the coach.
He allowed no bullying, and was very strict about our coexistence inside the pool and around it.
I wasn't the only boy in the team who had a crush on the coach. I had never exchanged confidences with Luc, another twelve years old boy like me -- but I knew he knew it about me, just like I knew it about him, too. We were competing for the attention of the same impossible hunk -- and as a better swimmer, I deserved more dedication from the coach, but I wasn't any luckier in my nasty intentions about him.
One day, I stayed late in the pool, trying to correct a stroke that seemed to disappoint the coach. Luc had stayed behind, too, and as if changing his target, he pressed me against a wall on our way to the showers -- and I remember the cold tiles against my back as much as I remember my first stolen kiss -- a wet and clumsy confusion of tongues, arms and legs, and how it had aroused our bodies, and how breathless we had been, even for swimmers, upon fearfully parting, having heard someone approaching.
But since I never reciprocated his courage -- for I was too shy and hadn't actually been interested in him, just horny, possibly very horny, but still afraid and feeling guilty about my own lust --, Luc felt rejected and never approached me again.
My talents at the pool gave me an unprecedented confidence. Backed by my memories of Tarso and Fabio, and Carlo's caring presence at home, I felt different at school, also.
So much different that one of the cutest guys in my class --I don't remember his name at all -- whom I would have vowed was totally straight, had noticed me. He invited me to the back of the school, and there he kissed me, rubbing his erection against mine. He actually wanted me to go down him, but again I was not interested, not even in letting him go down on me, which he had proposed next -- I still felt my heart and my body belonged to Fabio, and by kissing those two boys I felt I was cheating on my pure recollections of him.
I then sensed I was a boy really different from the rest of them, and in a way, more feminine -- but I did not perceive that as bad any longer. I just realized how my feelings were more important to me than my body calls, my physical sensations. Even having been kissed twice in a short period of time, I felt my real connection was not to the boys that had aroused my body, but to Fabio, who had also and in first place given rise to my heart.
But that was only the softest, amusing part of the changes in my school life the holidays in the Apennines had brought. Carlo's commitment in making me join the swim team, actually believing that I was a good swimmer, had stimulated my self-confidence to a new level of empowerment.
I finally confronted the gang who bullied me.
Even though it was one against three. I couldn't tolerate them dragging me around anymore. When they tried it, I did not run away -- because that could have been another possible reaction. I resisted them. Not just once, but until they actually left me at peace, I fought them back. "You're gonna die!" they had shouted their threatens at me. But I had never felt more alive, once I believed I could react against the bullying. They ambushed me, and beat the crap out of me a couple of times, but even if I was always losing, I was so proud to fight back. Our fights ended with me on the floor, panting but not crying. And they hadn't been able to move me one inch from where I wanted to stay. At those moments, calling for strength, I thought of Fabio -- and of Tarso, too.
And even though both being dead, that last night in Iceland I still felt their presence, and I thanked them for preparing my way to such a great love -- the love I felt for Fabrizio.
It was a magnificent starry night, as we drove back to our rented home in Iceland. I was glancing at Fabrizio and thinking of the love making session that awaited us -- our farewell to the house. The night was dark, but Fabrizio's eyes were gleaming as he looked back at me.
"You still haven't told me why your father left home. Will you share it with me?" Fabrizio had asked. His genuine interest in my story was another very touching declaration of love.
"Of course..." I was going to answer him.
"Oh my God! No! Laurent!" I heard Fabrizio screaming and I saw terror in his eyes, as he turned the steering wheel madly. I was looking at his beautiful face, thinking how lucky I was to have met him, and I didn't see it coming.
Sliding towards my side of the car, an enormous rock came tumbling down the mountain.
It had the shape of an immense tongue, edgy like a knife. It hit underneath the vehicle and almost split it in two.
We were lifted into the air. I recall the strange sensation of flying upside down, and I remember trying to glance towards Fabrizio from behind the airbag that squeezed me against my seat. Is this it? I thought, and I actually wanted to ask Fabrizio Is this how it ends, my love? But... he wasn't in the car... anymore?
With a deafening sound of retorted metal and shattered glasses, muting the crushing of bones and flesh being ripped, we hit the ground really hard, and I blacked out.
END of INTERLUDE ONE
Author's note (1): having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.