At 1300 Monday my four new friends arrived at the front gate in a mini taxi. They emerged with shopping bags full of utensils and plates, as well as sliced ham, cheese, fruit, bread, and even a strawberry cream cake. After we unloaded everything I took them on a tour of the vineyard, then to the nearby ruins of an ancient green-tuffa villa, and even along the narrow path to where the steep stone steps lead down to the Citera road.
Then we came back to my villa’s courtyard, where I’d set up a table.
We’d gotten to the strawberry cream cake when Warwick asked me if I ever let my hair down. I said I rarely did. “So why don’t you now?” he said. I pulled off the rubber band, and my tresses fell down to my shoulders.
Warwick had to have a photo, so I handed him my camera. Click, click, click. My hair flew wildly in the breeze, and strands of it caught in my mouth as I ate.
“You are the resurrected Christ. No. Rasputin!,” Warwick said.
I gave him a hard, evil stare and a sign of the cross in church Latin.
Was there a sexual undercurrent in Warwick’s request? Or in my compliance? I don't know. My experience interacting with gays is quite limited, so I haven’t yet achieved a level of total comfort. I imagined that Warwick and the others were just naturally curious to see how straight I really was. Asking me to let my hair down might well have been flirtatious. But I thought if I refused they might see me as having just a hint of homophobia. After a while I got annoyed by my hair flying around so I said, “This was a bad idea,” and gathered my hair back up again.
Andy and I found ourselves alone at the table. When his friends and family first met his partner Jeremy they all said more or less the same thing. “Oh, what a posh chap!” Or, “A bit out of your league, eh lad?” Andy related the story in what I presume was a Liverpool accent, whereas Jeremy carefully ennunciates phrases like the Cambridge-educated aristocrat that he is.
“Used to be whenever I heard a bloke talk like that I’d tell ‘m to bugger off,” Andy said, “or I’d give him a head butt. Thwock!” But Andy said he quickly learned that Jeremy is not stuck up at all, he absolutely never looks down his nose at him or anyone else.
Indeed, the night I first met the two couples at the pizza-fest at La Tinaia, Jeremy made it clear he can’t abide the notion held by many that education or intelligence makes one better or more worthy than another.
“We all are human beings, fully deserving of respect and consideration,” he said. Jeremy launched into this theme shortly after Andy displayed a rather childish anger at the waiter for not bringing him his pizza quickly enough, and being ignored when he tried to get the man’s attention. Warwick didn’t chide Andy for his hissy-fit, rather was sympathetic, reassuring.
“I’ve learned so much from him,” Andy said. “He’s changed me for the better.” Of course I can’t recreate his exact words, or his interesting accent, but this was the gist of it.
Now as for Gary, he is a piece of work. At the party he several times launched into dramatic recitations of long poems. At one point he rapidly rattled off the names of the 20 separate dialects spoken in Cumbria, in northern England’s Lake Disrict, where he grew up. I asked him who was the poet he’d quoted, and he told me. I couldn’t make it out because of his thick, sometimes incomprehensible accent. In any event I didn’t recognize the name, and now I can’t recall it.
Both Andy and Gary are from a working class background, and are about 10 or 15 years younger than Warwick and Jeremy. I didn’t think of that when, in discussing Thekla Clark’s book about W. H. Auden and Chester Kallan living here, I casually said that Auden used to gather rough, ignorant Forian vineyard laborers to satisfy his prodigious sexual appetite. I wouldn’t have said that if either Andy or Gary had been present.
I shared with Warwick my being disappointed in a recent re-reading of my novel’s first chapter. What I thought was smooth and readable now seemed hesitant and halting. But then because I’ve been so immersed in this for the past months I wasn't exactly sure, either way.
“They say that once a novelist clears his throat, he writes more naturally,” I said. “Which seems to be the case with Chapter 2.”
“Perhaps you should start the book with it, then,” Warwick said.
“Probably, but I’d really appreciate your looking the two over and letting me know your thoughts.”
“I trust you to tell me exactly what’s wrong with it.”
Warwick nodded. “Of course.”