Storytime Wednesday: Three Sicilian Men of Increasing Creepiness - Part 2

I did a third lap around the streets of Siracusa, since trying to find a place open for dinner on a Sunday was proving to be difficult. All the places listed in my trusty guidebook were closed, at at this point I was just stalling the inevitable of having to eat at an unknown and therefore terrifying place. On my final trip through the same streets, a restaurant proprietor called out to me, "Hey, I've seen you walk by three times. Do you like mussels?" I didn't, but he offered me bread, wine, and mussels for 10 euro (in Milan, where I was living, this was the price for approximately two pieces of lettuce), and, not wanting to think about dinner anymore, I acquiesced. We exchanged the usual pleasantries as he seated me on the patio outside, and when he brought over the bread, he pointed to the man two tables over from me, "You know, he speaks English."

I ended up talking to this older stranger (given his gray hair, I'd put him around 45), speaking loudly across the two tables until he moved his seat over to me. He spoke English pretty well, had the owner bring over some good wine, and as far as I was concerned he was my new best friend for the evening, which had taken a significant turn for the better. During the conversation, he mentioned how I should come live with him and teach him English in exchange for rent, but I was used to Italians saying a bunch of shit they don't mean, so I brushed it off. He said he was meeting with some friends for pizza the next day, and we exchanged numbers to meet up. The part that I did find creepy though was when, as we were walking out of the restaurant, he asked me what my sign was, and then said, "Ah, a Gemini! Your sign is trouble... my exgirlfriend was a Gemini - she was about your age (22), too." Yeah, OK, weird that you had a girlfriend who was so much younger, but whatever.

The next day, I went to Noto for the SOLE REASON that I heard there was a gelateria there that was, "a taste of Sicily in your mouth," but more on Noto in the next chapter of this tale. Suffice to say, I came back from my journey a little shaken, and was glad to not be on my own for dinner this night.

My new friend had texted me the pizza location, and mentioned that he would be with people who spoke English. I arrive at the pizza place and find: 1) The Italian man I met the night before 2) His Italian friend, who spoke no English 3&4) Two women from the Czech Republic, who speak great English. I thought it was pretty crazy that there were Czech women living in Sicily, but whatever. There was a very odd group dynamic here, but I couldn't quite figure out what was going on - my "friend" is shamelessly hitting on the women, who are married - suggesting a romantic walk around the Old City after dinner. I find myself mostly talking to his friend in Italian, who seems a bit moody since he can't join in the conversation. After we finish our pizzas, the two men go outside to smoke, and I ask the women how they met the guy who invited me. "Oh, we just met him today, walking around the city." I'm very innocent and a little incredulous as I realize that he's creeping on married women, but they say they know what he's trying and they're playing the game to get free food but they are, y'know, married, and have no desire to let anything further unfold. 

So now I'm wondering how I came to befriend and agree to dinner with the town's skeezy foreign-woman Casanova, and I'm trying to think of how to get myself out of this extremely awkward situation, when the guy comes back and says - in Italian so the women can't understand - "Erin, we're going to take a walk around the city now...but just the adults, ok?" 

"FINE BY ME!" I say, and get the hell out of there, chuckling to myself at how these dudes are about to strike out big time. 

I leave very early the next morning, and shortly after my train pulls out of the city, my phone starts blowing up. It's my "friend," saying that I am so beautiful and he never should have let me leave Siracusa and how I should come back because he was serious about me living with him and that he would take me on a motorcycle ride through the countryside of Sicily and blah blah blah. He kept calling and probably sent me 20 texts to this effect, as if he had not dismissed me to hit on some married women less than 12 hours earlier. I politely declined the first text, and then deleted the shit out of everything else. 

Storytime Wednesday: Saying Yes and No in Athens

My natural state does not have the "say yes to everything" mentality that seems to be so popular these days. Some of my more extreme type-A friends (and my mother) may argue this point - Erin, didn't you go full-time freelance and figure everything would work out? Don't you go on vacations by yourself and figure everything will work out? Didn't you move to another continent assuming everything would work out? 

Well, yes. But there is someone who taught me to be like that: My best friend from college. 

KT is someone for whom it does all work out. Don't get me wrong - she works hard for her success, but she also has this crazy, positive, say-yes-to-adventure attitude that I've always admired. In fact, she moved to another continent first, studying abroad Australia and regularly calling me drunk before my 9am summer school math class in the States. I think her secret is that even if things don't go the way she has planned, she shrugs it off and parties on, and this zeal for life makes her the kind of person everyone wants to be around - leading to even more escapades for KT. She lives her life out loud, and is the embodiment of this idea that saying yes amplifies your life. 

I'm naturally more of a cynic. I'm in my own head a lot (hey, it's an interesting place), and I'm overly responsible. I'm the one who never gets so drunk she loses control, never forgets obligations, never forgets people watch when she dances. I do put myself out there on occasion, especially now that I'm older and give fewer fucks, but when I was younger, letting go required a lot of effort. And I think people could see that, so as much as I wanted to be like KT, I never quite shone light like she does.

***

It was time to leave Italy. My boyfriend had cheated on me, my parents missed me, and I was tired of the constant dreariness in Milan. It was a period of my life where I was forced to say yes out of loneliness and necessity - you can't exactly move to a new place and build a life from hermiting yourself away. But it was wearing on me. I planned one final (solo) exploration of Europe in my last months as a resident, and I wanted the exact opposite of Milan - so I chose Santorini, an island in Greece. The only flights available on my shoestring budget were atrocious - arriving in Athens around 9:30pm and flying to Santorini at 5am. Getting a hotel for those precious few hours seemed silly, and online research promised that lots of people spend the night at the airport. Though this sounded horrid to me, I tried to embrace the KT spirit on this trip. I was still brokenhearted and trying to generate any positivity I could.

As people gradually stopped filing onto the plane from Milan to Athens, I had the blissful optimism that I would have a row to myself. Then, minutes before we pulled away from the gate, two men in disheveled suits came blustering aboard, speaking rapid-fire to each other in a strange language and, of course, squeezing in next to my window seat. The man next to me was the burlier of the two, a bit older than me, with short curls falling around his face. After arranging himself in his seat, he asked me in English about the book I was reading, which I soon put away because this was clearly the kind of seat mate who was going to give me his life story.

He explained that he and his friend, who clearly did not speak English, had just come from doing business in Germany. They were from Athens originally, and he expounded upon all the virtues of his city, like visiting the Acropolis at night, with only stars overhead. When I shared that I was sad to be spending the night in the airport, he seemed actually offended. "No, that will not do," he said, and after a short burst of words with his friend, "You will come with us. We will make it a night to remember!" Thinking of KT, I said yes. I wanted that kind of night.

We continued talking for the rest of the flight, with him excitedly describing the things we could do for my one night in Athens - where we could go drink wine, what streets to explore, and how no one would sleep until he dropped me safely, and punctually, at the airport. I found out he had a daughter with an exgirlfriend, and he told me bits and pieces of their relationship while I conveniently glossed over the transgressions and impending doom of mine, to demonstrate that I was a taken woman. I started becoming a little uneasy at the degree of intimacy this conversation had garnered, and the number of times he called his exgirlfriend crazy. Shortly before the plane landed, he turned to me and said, "You know, with your curly hair, you remind me of my exgirlfriend." And that was what ended the magic for me.

I realized I didn't know this man, and I had just agreed to spend an entire night under the shroud of darkness with him, in a city I did not know and he knew very well. They waited for me as we disembarked, his silent friend who had seemed leering before now felt like more of an ally than this man who thought I looked like his crazy ex. I started to sweat. I was worried about being impolite - He was so nice! He had offered to show me his city! - and missing out on an adventure with locals. I wanted to say yes. I made it out to the parking lot, with the man's constant chatter telling me how his friend would go home, and we would go to his house to shower, and then he would show me the city, but when we arrived at their car and they started loading their suitcases, my sense of self-preservation kicked in. I was not getting in the car with strange men. I was going to say no.

I said it many times, in fact, as I was backing away from them and apologizing. "Erin!" he called after me, "Are you sure?" 

Despite the fact that I did not get one wink of sleep while uncomfortably positioned on a coffee shop booth, one hand locked protectively around my suitcase in case the group of Danish girls that I should have been making friends with were more sinister than they seemed, despite the fact that I am fairly sure KT would have gone with them, and despite the fact that I might have missed out on those rare, magical nights making an innocent connection with someone in a beautiful city, I have zero regrets. I am absolutely sure I made the right decision to stay alive, and sometimes, it's okay to say no to protect that.

Storytime Wednesday: A Boy Would Like To Offer You A Drink

I realize that, despite my best efforts, I might as well change the name of "Storytime Wednesday" to "Erin's Hilarious Encounters with the Opposite Sex, Usually Involving a Language Barrier." But delving into why these stories are the ones I remember is a topic for another day. This is about Málaga.

Having absolutely loved visiting Barcelona, I wanted to explore another part of Spain, despite the elaborate pantomimes necessary as I clearly do not speak the language*. I was advised to see Málaga, and I highly recommend for those who haven't gone: there's fascinating architecture (it's one of the oldest cities in the world!), a lovely beach, and vibrant colors everywhere. It was the last night of my trip, and I decided to make it a "treat yo' self" evening. 

One of the things the Spanish and I do not necessarily agree on is food. I don't really understand why dinner happens SO LATE and many of the more prominent flavors - sea insects, garlic, olives - are not my cup of tea**. I usually end up just getting tapas and calling it a night, and, to bring things full circle, I decided to revisit a cafe I'd been to on my first night in the city.

I was initially paired with a waiter who, upon realizing I didn't speak Spanish, ran away terrified and was replaced by a waitress who spoke halting, but good, English. I sat on the patio by myself, ordered some tapas and cava, and then dessert and, what the hell, some more cava. It might be worth noting that I am a ridiculous lightweight, particularly when it comes to sparkling wine, so with two glasses of cava I was having myself a little party. As I relaxed, stuffed from the meal and pretty tipsy, the frightened-rabbit waiter came out and started speaking to me in Spanish, which I obviously didn't understand, so he enlisted the aid of the waitress once more. 

"A boy," she said, "would like to offer you a drink."

This remains the only time in my life this has happened to me, so I was actually pretty intrigued. "What boy?" I asked. 

Obviously indicating that she was supposed to keep it a secret, she replied, "I don't know! A boy!" 

I really did not want anything else to drink, but temptation of free booze was too great, so I got another glass of cava. Having already finished my entire meal and dessert, I just sat there, sipping awkwardly and looking around wondering who the culprit could be, until a several minutes later "the boy" sat down across from me and started speaking to me in Spanish.

This man was WAY too old to be talking to me. I was 25, and based on the white and grey in his beard, I would guess he was at least 20 years older, and not in the sexy George Clooney kind of way. He had apparently missed the award-winning charades display I had put on earlier in order to understand the menu, so when my response to his rapid-fire speaking was a completely blank, gape-mouthed fish-face, he managed to eke out some English. I would put his vocabulary at a maximum of 10 words, creating the rare situation of him speaking less English than I speak Spanish. We proceeded to stumble through the most awkward, stilted conversation of my life. The only part I clearly remember is him saying he thought I was Nordic, which still wouldn't explain why he thought we would be able to understand each other.

After what seemed like an eternity, he clapped his hands together and said that he had paid for my dinner, and that he would like me to join him and his friends at a bar across the street, something I would rather be lobotomized than do. I don't know what part of our - and I am using this word VERY loosely - "conversation" indicated to him that spending more time together was a good idea.*** I bought some time by saying I had to go to the bathroom, and was literally pacing inside, trying to figure out if the window was too small to escape through. 

Finally I emerged and ran into frightened-rabbit waiter. "Did he really pay for my dinner?" I asked. 

"Yes," he said, "And the back door is that way." Thank you, rabbit waiter. 

I don't know if sober Erin would have been so bold as to do this, because I still have that terrible girl complex that I "owe" someone if they buy me things, but treat-yo-self, three-cavas-deep Erin literally sprinted the fuck back to the hotel, where I spent my last night in Málaga holed up, blissfully alone.

 

*For those of you who say Italian and Spanish are basically the same: Yes, but also, NO.
**That being said, I will eat the shit out of some jamón.
***We couldn't even communicate basic thoughts like, "Why are you doing this, you creepy old man," or "Why do you stupid Americans come to other countries without speaking the language."

Storytime Wednesday: The Strangest Thing Anyone's Ever Said To Me

This is going to be a short one, because I'm crazy busy at the moment, but I have a stock of stories for later.

Once while I was walking down the street in Milan, a vaguely creepy (not Italian) man was walking in the other direction was staring at me. Normal, for Italy, used to it. But then, when our paths crossed, he said, "Ma mangi solo la crema?" (But do you only eat cream?)

I still have no idea what that means. 

Storytime Wednesday: Worst Drink Ever

The worst drink I've ever had in my life is when my Rice friends came to visit me in Florence and, not understanding the Italian labels, made cocktails of pineapple juice mixed with what they thought was vodka, but was actually anise (licorice flavor + pineapple = "GET IT OFF MY TONGUE!"). But this next story is a close second.

When I should have been old enough to know better, I met two of my friends near Sixth Street for dinner and afterwards we opted to hit the bars. If you are not familiar, Sixth Street in Austin is where 21-year-olds go to drink carefully crafted cranberry vodkas, and generally is a place where bad decisions are made. We made our way inside Barcelona, a basement locale with sticky floors and pulsating EDM music. I texted another friend to come share the joy of this experience with us, and for some reason he agreed and said he would be over soon.

Satisfied with this development, my friends and I headed to the bar and ordered drinks, when one girl realized her parking meter was about the expire. My other friend agreed to accompany her to her car, leaving me alone at the club, holding all the drinks we just ordered, in case the person I invited showed up. So here I am, awkwardly standing alone at the bar, with three drinks, in a club full of people too young to know what hangovers even are, and the bartender comes over and says, "You need a shot." Who am I to disagree?

So he puts a bunch of stuff in a shaker, does bartender stuff, and pours a shot for me and one for himself. We say cheers, and then I throw down what I immediately identify as the most horrible shot I've ever had in my life. It tasted like purple cough syrup gone horribly, horribly wrong. Like a grape Jolly Rancher had been mixed with Windex and been left to marinate in the sun for a while. DJ Screw would have spit out this shot. Unable to even try to conceal my displeasure, I turned to the bartender with, "What the hell is this?"

"Statutory Grape," was his response.

Can we all agree that:

1) That is a horribly inappropriate name for a shot, in general

2) It is definitely an inappropriate shot to give a girl BY HERSELF AT A BAR

3) Why are you giving rancid Dimetapp ("grape")-flavored shots to someone who is 30

4) Seriously, why are we making jokes, much less drinks, out of statutory rape

I took my armful of drinks and escaped far, far away from that bartender.