To Italy and back by Andrew Klein
In 1985, while traveling with my friend Geno, we chanced upon a small, but lovely, place along the French Riviera, called Menton. This was the last French villa on the coast and just two stops from Italy on the train line. Geno's family had immigrated from Italy, and he was somewhat anxious to set foot into the 'old country'. Just a few miles east of Menton, across the border, sat the small city of Ventimiglia. We did not think to stop at this coastal town, as we would be going on to Genoa, but its significance to our trip remains somewhat of a sore spot.
Geno and I had been friends for twelve years, and we were completely aware of the idea that one of us might need some 'private' time in life. I mean, after all, we grew up together. We shared a dorm room at San Diego State, and later a beach house nearby. We were comfortable with each other and respected each other's needs. We had recently met two young Norwegian girls who were traveling around Europe together, and quickly became friends. We had meals with them, went to the beach together, and shared evening drinks as well. On one such evening, we were out on the town, it was quite lovely, and, I must admit, somewhat romantic. Geno's 'date' became a bit amorous, and the two of them decided that while the night certainly wasn't over, it was time to return to our hotel. He whispered in my ear, ‘Give me a few hours before coming back'. My girl and I were not so attracted by pheromones, but we were still quite friendly and enjoyed each other's company. We smiled at the others as they walked off in the direction of the hotel Parisian. Now, what were we going to do for the next 3 hours? As previously mentioned, Helena and I were not lovers, but we were not cold either. I took her hand and we walked to a shop where we purchased a couple of Kronenborgs . We talked about our travel plans. We were leaving the next day, and they were on to visit France. As we walked on, we crossed the street to the beach side. Menton is sometimes called the prettiest town in France, and there are several reasons for this. One is its gardens, which we had already visited, another is it's string of romantic eateries along the coast, which we had only just enjoyed, and another is its proximity to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, which we were about to get intimate with.
For days, we had enjoyed the sun and sands of this part of the Riviera. The weather had been wonderful, and the sights, well, I'm sure the reader can picture what lovely sights were availed to the wandering eyes, as we lay on that beach. The water was so blue, and its temperature very inviting. We took daily swims as did most every visitor. However, on this fine evening, we decided to walk on the same beach which was crowded with tourists in the day but, had not a one at that moment. We held each other and took in the beauty of the occasion.
There was a guy who rented beach items in the day. One thing he rented was paddle boats, and while most of his inventory was safely locked away in his cabana, these were too large to put up. Helena and I had already indulged in a few libations and we were feeling rather sprightly. We devised a plan to 'borrow' one of the boats, go out to sea a bit, turn around, finish our beers, and return it as briskly as possible. We pulled the heavy craft to the shoreline, took off our shoes, and pushed it into the water. We jumped in and after some difficulty, figured out how to steer it and off we went. After about ten minutes we were out far enough, and we turned to see a most charming sight. The lights of Menton were stunning. If we would have been lovers, I'm not sure this would be the end of this story. It was beautiful, and we both commented on its loveliness, and how romantic it was. The stars, the moon, the scene was from a film. I noticed another similar sight but a few kilometers down the coast. Helena said, ‘that’s Ventimiglia, Italy'. That was all I needed. If Geno was going to keep me from getting a good night's rest, I was going to go to Italy before him.
We agreed to go and began a 45-minute paddle to the shores of Italia. We were excited. We hit land, jumped out, and pulled the craft up the beach. We went across the street and into a local pub. We ordered Italian beers and marveled at the difference in taste from the French ones. We talked with some folks and before long it was late. Like a couple of 'Cinderellas' we ran out, crossed the street, hopped into our 'carriage' and paddled back to France arriving just short of 3am. We carefully replaced the boat and laughed our way to the hotel. The old Lady cursed us as she let us in, and I walked Helena to her room and said goodnight. We would all take breakfast together in the morning.
When I got back Geno was alone. He rolled over and asked, 'where were you?' I simply said, ‘I left the country, but I came back for you!'. He figured it out and expressed his agitation. I told him to go to sleep. He realized it was his fault, and stopped yipping, but the rest of the trip I think he held it against me that I had gone to Italy without him. I fell asleep that night, thinking of Norwegian company, stars, lights and water, and in the morning woke up wondering why my legs hurt so!!!!