Guest post: A Kiss at Midnight by Brenda Hoops Rouse

Love like an Italian…

Another New Year’s Eve in Baltimore alone was not an option. It was time for a change, and before I knew it I had booked a trip to Genoa for a week. If all went according to plan I would arrive in time for dinner and fireworks. I had been to Italy before, and both times, I saw it through the eyes of the man I was traveling with. This time, I would see Italy through my eyes.

I had seen Italy (Rome, Florence and Carrara) through the eyes of my artist lover back in the 80’s. I had seen Italy (Bordighera, Italian Riviera, and Alba) through the eyes of my future husband in 1992.

It was during that trip that we spent a short afternoon in Genoa. The city at that time had renewed its harbor for the 1992 World Expo and celebration of Christopher Columbus. Ironically, about the same time Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was completed. Like so many people to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, we never ventured into the heart of the city to get its pulse.

Having done Rome and Florence, and not quite ready for Naples solo, Genoa was the perfect spot for my adventure. I would get lost in the caruggi and leave behind loves lost at every turn.

The delays meant that I would arrive in Genoa much later than anticipated so once I checked into the hotel I needed to find a place to eat. “Tutto il mondo è un bacio a mezzanotte… ma mi piacerebbe anche mangiare!” (All the world is a kiss at midnight, I just want to eat). I finally found Lupo and was welcomed me in while they were setting up for the evening, and thus began my love affair with everything Italian.

Finally, I was seeing Italy through my own eyes. I feel in love with Genoa, and wandering around the caruggi (narrow alleys) each turn revealed a new surprise. Without a plan, I just let it happened and the city unfolded marvelously!

Prior to my trip, I picked up my Italian language by listening to Italian music along with the usual language CD’s and lots of study. The fact that I was traveling alone made it extra important that I at least know enough to get by.

The real test was taking a day trip up to Alba. I managed to secure a round trip train ticket for Tuesday, and off I went in the early morning winter fog. Tuscany has the sun, Piedmont has the fog. The blue haze of the snow was a Monet painting as we chugged through small town after town until Asti. Asti was where I changed from train to bus, which was an adventure in itself. The bus ride to Alba snaked through vineyard after vineyard until we arrived at the Alba station.

I had a list out my choices for lunch. Something, anything with truffles… I scouted out La Libera and alas they didn’t open until 12:30. The owner/chef was nice enough to secure a reservation for me (wait, lunch on a Tuesday? A reservation?) and thus began the serendipitous part of the trip. I wandered around Alba until the appointed time. How the little village had changed — gone are the truffle hunters with their dogs walking through the center of town replaced by high cheeked bone, skinny jeans models from Milan. Il dolce far niente — the sweetness of doing nothing had taken over me.

Returning to La Libera I was seated directly inside the door at a small (three seat) bar/waitress station. I watched as the crowd came in, many being turned away for no “prenotazione.” The menu was all in Italian, and having found it easier to memorize things that I didn’t want to try (horse, brains, etc.) I started with a bottle Dolcetto de Alba, a veal crudo, and a pasta dish followed by a decadent desert. I’d be more specific, but somewhere before the pasta arrived, I found love.

This man came in and started whisper in my ear in Italian. I had no clue as to what he said — perhaps something to do with the crowds in town. He must have been a regular, as he was swiftly found a place sharing a table with another regular. I don’t know what it was — his voice, his manner, his scruffy good looks, but all of a sudden, this heart of mine that had shut down for so long was beating not only to push blood through my veins, but also to feel love. The giddy feeling was escalated when at the end of the meal, the two locals invited me to join them. Conversation in spurts of Italian and English with grappa chasers. I couldn’t have planned the day any better.

When it came time to leave, I decided to leave it to fate. If our paths should cross again, so be it. After all, I had no plans to return to Italy in the [near] future. The bus/train back to Genoa went well, and I smiled at myself with sweet victory. Oh, I never did have any truffles!

Time went fast and before I knew it I was clearing customs at JFK and taking the train into the city and Amtrak back to Baltimore. It was hard to not say “buon giorno” when I got home. It was easy to remember my day in Alba.

—Brenda Hoops Rouse

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