Obviously, I never got love right or I’d live in a bigger house with another person in it instead of a little house with two big dogs and a tiny, elusive mouse.
One winter, after a love misadventure in Italy, I ran away and went to stay with my friends who lived near Zürich. I had a brokenish heart. It wasn’t decimated, but it wasn’t happy, either.** My friend’s parents had emigrated to Zürich from Italy right after WW II.
Pietro started to sing before we left the house. He had a terrible singing voice, awful, but not quite as bad as mine. “Non esiste l’amore. E soltanto una fragola,” he sang as he put on his boots.
“Ma, Pietro, no,” said Laura, my friend’s mom. “Marta, Non ascoltarlo. L’amore esiste. E non é FRAGOLA. É FAVOLA, sai? Story. L’amore e buono, bello. Pietro, non essere così cinico.”*
Pietro winked, put his coat on, and we went out for a walk in the forest. He explained it was a joke. Fragola — strawberry sounds like favola — fable. He wanted to console me. Just being there was a big consolation.
The trip to Italy had been a disaster from the get-go. Late connections. Storms in Cincinnati. A missed plane in New York. Routed through Paris. Lost luggage. No record of my being on the plane from Paris to Milan. No boarding pass. Trapped in the luggage area of Malpensa for an hour while Alitalia sorted it out. The traveling companion I’d picked up on the way to New York was a story in herself, an elderly Italian woman from Las Vegas traveling with two neatly wrapped mink coats disguised as boxes filled with jars of homemade jelly. Finally, in Genoa, I had to borrow my would-be-lover’s mother’s underwear!
When I arrived in Zürich, my luggage was there (thanks to the would-be love in Italy who organized it). Each day was Swiss December sunshine. I felt I’d been meant to be in Zürich in the first place. I loved my friend’s family, Zürich, the forest, their dog. It was really and truly ALL GOOD. It was also the last time I saw Pietro alive. He died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma the next winter.
Looking back, I see this is a pretty romantic story and a grand adventure. Still, that fragile easily-smashed and rotted heart-shaped fruit is a pretty good metaphor for love.
*Martha, don’t listen to him. Love exists. And it’s not strawberry, it’s story, you see? Love is good, beautiful. Pietro, don’t be so cyncial.”
**And, the man in Italy and I are still connected in our own way. I ran away, other stories followed in following years, but some threads are made of tough stuff.