"This is so beautiful, James," Vittoria said. "I love it."
"I knew you would say something like that."
"So tell me about when your father locked you up in a monastery, after he found out about me."
"First give me a kiss."
"All right, we've got that out of the way," he said. "Now how did you get there? Where did you start?"
"Well, we took a boat from Ischia to Porto Beverello in Naples. Then a cab to the train station. It was a long, long train ride up to Camogli."
"Tell me about it. Details. God is in the details."
Through the train window Vittoria saw white buildings with arched windows, red tile roofs. Villas painted red ochre, the color of Etruscan tomb paintings. Rolls of hay in a pasture. Orchards of olive, lemon, orange. Hazy blue mountains in the distance. Flat farmland. Greenhouses made of slender wood arches covered with smoky plastic. Palms. Umbrella pines. More orchards.
She looked at balconies of apartments with clothes hanging on lines, flapping in the breeze. Trees, grass, weeds, shrubs. Wildflowers providing myraid dots of color. Red, yellow, purple.
The train entered tunnels, rumbled through pitch blackness, then into the bright sunlight. Meadows, pastures of new grass. Pens containing herds of black, shiny water buffalo with silver horns. Irrigation machines sending white water in feathery arches, sprinkling on the dark cultivated soil.
An elegant young woman on a balcony, lifting a small white cup to her lips. Her hair was fastened back with a clip. Who was that woman? What was she like?
The train rumbled on past church campaniles, domes, cruficixes. Madonna on a pedestal, blessing the farmers working their fields. Blocks of buildings stacked up in a pile. Pink. Peach. Yellow. White. Backyards full of toys, exotic potted plants, small boats covered with blue plastic. White parabolas, with crescent shadows, attached to balcony railings or on brackets bolted to the walls. They all pointed upward, in the same direction. Abandoned buildings, roofs caved in, ragged-edged doors with bricks loose and falling, mysterious and ancient.
Vittoria and her father got off at the station in Camogli. He took her to the waterfront, and made arrangements. The two of them sat at a café's table, waiting for the hired boat, and watched tourists stroll by. Tourists. Everywhere you look in this country there are tourists.
The boat chugged near the base of a rocky vertical cliff. They moved slowly into a protected harbor. Near the shore was a monastery. Santa Frutuosso. It would be a sort of vacation, she thought. She and her father, lying on the smooth rocks on the beach in the sun.
But instead a sour, silent monk led Vittoria to a small room that contained a table, a chair, and a cot. A nun's cell. On the wall was a white ceramic bas relief of the Madonna, mother of mercy.
This is where Vittoria would stay, to contemplate the disgrace she might have brought to her family, had her father not stepped in.
"How long will I be here?" she asked.
Her father would not say.
"A week?" she asked, eyes wide. "Two weeks?"
He left, saying nothing.