As much as I was enjoying Naples, I didn’t really lavish the idea of spending my birthday completely alone. August is not the absolute worst time to have a birthday, it pales in comparison to late December, when Baby Jesus and New Year’s Eve perpetually steal the limelight. August birthday babies are blessed with nice weather on our birthday, however, we are cursed with never being able to gather all our friends together on our actual anniversaire. When we’re kids, our friends are at camp, at their grandparents or holidaying with their families. Now, as an adult living in France, the situation is even more dismal as virtually everyone goes away in August.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, my birthday also close to August 15th, an important public holiday in France, which happened to fall on a Friday this year. It was a long weekend, Paris would certainly be a ghost town! I doubted I’d be able to scrape together a mere friend or two to celebrate with, which is why I decided to flee to Italy instead, despite August 15th also being a long weekend there. But I digress, you’re probably much more interested in the actual goal of my post… and you will be “rewarded” in due time. Let’s go back to Italy … and its surprises!
As luck would have it, my friend Jessica Stewart, a talented photographer and the foremost expert on Italian street art who runs the site Rome Photo Blog, hadn’t gone away for long weekend and she graciously offered to share her evening with me. Since I’d be coming back to Rome a day earlier, I needed to find a place to stay. It was my birthday after all, maybe I could find a great last minute deal? After pouring through the offers on a few booking sites, I managed to find a posh looking four star albergo at a great rate and a complimentary bottle of wine was also included. Perfetto!
Fast forwarding to Sunday, my birthday good fortune started with my Italian train arriving perfectly on time, which can be a rarity in Italy. That would mean I had a little extra time to freshen up at the hotel before meeting Jessica. My birthday abode was a short walk from the station, I glanced approvingly up at its chic facade, sitting next door to the French Embassy to the Saint See (aka the Vatican, I hoped bedtime prayer wasn’t not required of the hotel guests).
A pretty face, but looks can be deceiving. In this case, I got what I’d paid for: my room was tiny, the internet wouldn’t load and the A/C appeared to be out of order. The only solace seemed to be on the table: the “With Compliments” bottle of wine. Although, upon closer investigation, it looked like it was from the neighborhood convenience store, not a classy Roman enoteca. Never mind, I was in Rome on my birthday! I poured a quick glass of my “With Compliments” wine, touched up my makeup and fly out to door.
I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday dinner. Jessica took me to some of her favorite haunts in Pigneto, a former working-class neighborhood which was on the rise, similar to Paris’s Belleville district. We caught up over Spritz on a terrace among Roman hipsters, before moving on to a nearby restaurant. Our lovely evening was whizzing with each twirl of my spaghetti fork. I got through the huge bowl of pasta but man, or rather mamma mia, I was ever full.
“But you have to have dessert, it’s your birthday!” cheered Jessica. I’d been starting to regret those four pizzas I’d gorged on in Naples… and all that pasta I’d eaten the previous week… and tonight’s indulgence. Over-eating never appears right away, then wham! Your belly becomes rounder than those gigantic pizza pies. Is one tiramisu really going to make that much of a difference?
In the cab ride back to my hotel after dinner, I pushed those unpleasant thoughts out of my mind, I’d deal with them when I returned to diet-fanatical Paris. Instead I rode the rest of the route on the happy birthday and wine vibes. Arriving at my “Papal” hotel, I tipped my cute cabbie generously and hopped out of the car with a gleeful step up to the entrance glass doors. Only they weren’t sliding open. Hmmm… the hotel was supposed to be open 24 hours. I tilted my head over and gave a friendly wave to the night porter. He beckoned me forward, which is when I realized, through my current wine-glazed vision, I was still a few feet away from the doors. They magically opened as I stepped, trying to mask my embarrassment, inside the foyer.
“Buonasera! Do you want a glass of wine?!”Well, well, well! I hadn’t really been expecting that warm of a welcome back to the hotel.
“Why not! It’s my birthday!” I accepted enthusiastically as he glided out from behind the desk and ushered me to the bar next door. Now, let’s get this straight. After the state of my room, I’d become dubious about Roman hotel classification. So I wasn’t really expecting a grand lounge with shimmering chandeliers, plush armchairs and a long zinc bar with glamorous patrons lingering on tall bar stools. The “bar” was actually a tiny sitting area with a corner bar, without a barman, and poorly stocked with a random selection of a few bottles.
Since I’d said it was my birthday, I thought I might be in store for a complimentary glass of celebratory Prosecco. As the night porter reached for the fridge door my excitement grew with visions of golden bubbles tickling the roof of my mouth. Instead, he pulled out… an Evian bottle?? Hold on a second! That was definitely not Prosecco and it didn’t look like water either! The water bottle appeared to be filled with some homemade-looking red wine, which was soon filled to the brim of a large water tumbler, for me. He poured himself a small champagne flute sized glass of the mysterious beverage.
“Come, come, I have to go back to the desk,” he summoned. Um okay. I puppy dogged after him in my half-baffled, half-already-tipsy state. “Here we can sit in the office. In case clients come in, I shouldn’t really be seen having a drink with guests.”
My preconceived notion of what this little birthday drink would entail were rapidly flying into the wind like the Pope’s graceful wave from his balcony at the Vatican. Oh well, I could enjoy a little friendly conversation with the Night Porter and then head off to bed. It turns out my drinking companion had entirely different other ideas in mind!
“As soon as I saw you at the door, I fell for you! Some guys like skinny girls, but I love curvy ones…”
Mamma Mia again! What have I gotten myself into! His praised carried on while I was trying to assess the situation. Abandon the wine and escape to my room while I still could? Was this whole incident meant to prove that eating all those pizzas wasn’t a disastrous idea after all? That a few extra kilos made no difference or was even an asset?
Distracted in thought, Mr Passionate Porter gave my bare leg a little caress. Yikes! I had to stop daydreaming and focus at the issue at hand. I took a large gulp of the wine and stammered out something like “Can’t we just talk and get to know each other?” He acquiesced by telling me his age (34), about some of his interests (motorcycles) and that he’d already been married (I wonder if his flirting with clients had anything to do with his divorce!). Then the moves came back out.
When I tried to protest, he declared; “But I’m Sicilian! I can’t help it, we’re passionate and you look passionate too!” and leant in closer. Ahh! I guess I shouldn’t have called into question my indulgent eating. I take it back! I’m fine with myself just as I am, I’m okay with the extra kilos I’d gained from all the pizza and pasta! Maybe I hadn’t read the fine print of the hotel booking confirmation: complimentary wine and complimentary lover included!
“I have to call my mom!” I blurted out between my nervous giggles. The most ludicrous excuse, but I really did. She’d been trying to call me all day to wish me happy birthday and I told her I’d call her from the hotel. Being Sicilian he respected family and we dialed her up, I gave her the number of the hotel and she rang it back. He answered all politely and pretending to put her through to my “room” as he passed me the phone.
I tried to make progress on my glass of wine while receiving my sweet motherly birthday greetings, but it became impossible to keep a straight face when he began kissing my free arm!
“Are you alone?” questioned my mom.
“Yesssss…” was about all I could seethe out, incapable of retaining my giggles. Just then some clients arrived at the hotel and my Passionate Porter slipped out of the office and I finished up the call to suspicious mom.
The little office had security camera screens so I could see Passionate Porter chatting away with a friendly set of guests, a small group of middle aged women. I did my best to down a little more of my wine while he was out, making enough gains to make my escape when he returned, if my wine wasn’t finished, or close to it, he’d use that as leverage to keep me captive. When he returned, perhaps sensing that I was on the verge of vanishing as fast as the wine in my glass, he upped game.
“But didn’t you see that lady? She totally wanted me!” He scoffed when I said I was calling it a night, alone. So why didn’t he deliver her some room service after I left? I tried to tame him a little by suggesting getting together when I was back in Rome to which he replied that if I didn’t want it now, I surely didn’t really like him. Not the most convincing approach, but he was probably right. Other than the fact that I wouldn’t just sleep with some random hotel porter, his pick up tactics were way off the mark, I suppose I wasn’t all that into him (or his bad wine). It also could be that I’d never fantasized being seduced by hotel staffer?
I doubt Harlequin would even hire me to write their “romances” my stories start the way they’d be happy with, then come the peculiar twists and turns! What I do know is that I’ll certainly be wary of “complimentary” offers by hotels, you just never know what, or who, you’ll get!
PS: the photos, besides the “with compliments” card from the hotel, are of an exhibit on Naughtiness in Roman times which I’d happened across at the Naples Archaeology museum early that same day… a very strange foreshadowing indeed… of my evening and the passion which still flows in Italians veins!
PSS: I think I’ll go make myself a big bowl of pasta!