Italy was beginning to get on Lily’s nerves.  In Florence, where she’d lived for the past three months, no one seemed to have a job.  They walked around downtown in their gorgeous plain clothing all day and half the night, but never seemed to be headed anywhere; they reminded her of the boutique models in ladies-who-lunch restaurants, moving from table to table to pose in their Pappagallo dresses.  Lily suspected the Florentines, all of them, of supporting themselves by posing for Vogue in a warehouse on the outskirts of the city.  Even the police force seemed more like a scout troop; they rode four to a tiny car, and Lily once saw a cop reading poetry to his three colleagues.  On her good days, she was bedazzled by these signs of faith in a benign universe.  On her bad days, which were increasing in number, she thought she was living in a city, a world, of ineffectual flakes.  On the worst days she thought about calling Alan, who’d caused her to run away to Italy in the first place.   Alan was a known quantity. 

When she could, she made her own known quantities.  It seemed to her that if she did not keep a grip on herself, her meals, her showers, she might become unrecognizable to the few shopkeepers or bartenders who knew her by name or face.  So she rose at the same time each day and did stretches on her cold stone floor.  She ate spinach pie for lunch and spaghetti for dinner and lost six pounds.  Each Saturday she attended a Bach organ recital in a small overdecorated valentine of a church, then stayed for the Mass, though she’d never had a religion.  There were several American churches in Florence, but Lily liked the anonymity of this one, the unlikelihood of having to explain herself.  She sat in the back pew, so the young priest wouldn’t get to know her face and peg her as someone who needed comfort.  She spoke grocery Italian and no more. 
One Saturday she came home late, having stopped for a while near the Duomo to watch a Muslim anti-American demonstration.  Though she knew President Bush was threatening to blow Iraq to kingdom come, it bemused Lily to think of herself as the enemy.  When she entered the lobby of her hotel, Johnny, the Somali concierge, looked up from his heroin-induced stupor and said “Phone call for you.” 
“Who from?” Lily asked.  She and Johnny had gradually become friends of a sort, ever since she’d taken to watching Laverne and Shirley reruns with him in the evenings.  They were broadcast in French, the language she and Johnny used to communicate. 
“She said she was your mother.” 
“She tells everyone that,” Lily said.  She was grateful for Johnny’s company, though he was a horrible concierge.  For one thing, he often just stared at the phone when it rang.  Sometimes men would come to the hotel looking for him, and he would run to his room and pretend he wasn’t home.  Since she was the only tenant who ever seemed to be around, Lily sometimes got on the intercom and tried to deal with the men herself, just so they would stop buzzing.  They seemed to her rather more polite than American drug dealers.  Although she and Johnny never discussed who the men were or what wasn’t being paid for, she’d been getting extra towels and more phone messages since she’d begun running interference. 
“Can I watch Kojak with you later?” she asked him.  Shows she made fun of at home she couldn’t get enough of here. 
He shrugged.  “Sure.” 
In the lobby phone booth, she got through on the first try.  “Mom,” she said.  “Is something the matter?”  She’d had nightmares about an unloved aunt or cousin dying while she was overseas and the moral dilemma that would present. 
“Nothing’s the matter,” her mother said.  “You’re such a pessimist.  I just wanted to see how you are.  Wait.”  A pause.  “Your father wants to know how the weather is.” 
“It’s fine,” Lily said. 
“Anyway,” her mother went on, “I was thinking of you because it’s Sound of Music night and I wish you were here to watch it with me.  Especially since certain people”—this would be Lily’s father and sixteen-year-old brother—“find it such a source of humor.” 
“I’m sorry, Mom.  I wish I could be there too.” 
Her father was on the line now.  “How’s the money situation?” 
“It’s okay.  Things are expensive here.  A banana costs two dollars.”  She’d had nearly four thousand dollars in savings when she arrived, part of it from her job and the rest an inheritance from her grandmother.  In the back of her mind, she’d always known she might need money fast some day. 
“Well, we’re sending you a little more,” her mother said.  “I don’t want you going without fruit.” 
“Thanks, Mom,” Lily said.  “Dad.”  She paused.  “Enjoy the movie.  Maybe Rolf will see the error of his ways this time and ditch the Nazis.” 
“Hope springs eternal,” her mother said.  Later, lying in bed, Lily thought, well, there’s a stupid saying. 


Sound of Music night shifted form over the years.  At first it was the one night she could stay up until eleven.  In high school it was something to be kept secret; for a couple of years Lily watched on the TV in her room, headphones plugged into the set so her mother wouldn’t know they had anything in common.  In college and after, they watched over the phone together, which Alan could not stand.  “What possible reason could you have for liking this movie?” he asked.  “You like it because when you were three you were told to like it.  You’re just trying to please your mother.” 
“So what if I am?” Lily said, settling in on the sofa.  “Is that so pathological?”  Alan had rediscovered Ayn Rand and had also, perhaps coincidentally, decided that doing things one didn’t want to do was a sign of sickness.  “If I’m going to be faithful,” he’d say, “it has to be because I want to be.  Don’t you see how meaningless it is if I do it just because you want me to?”  When Lily had the energy, she would argue the point.  Usually, she kept her mouth shut.  A cool voice in the back of her head said, over and over for two or three years, I really ought to get out of this. 


Lily was unhappy in Florence, but she was unhappy all by herself, and that made her proud.  After the first few months she stopped doing Florentine things—museums, markets—and took up reading.  She found an English language book store and spent a small fortune on Edith Wharton and Rebecca West and all the books she used to eye in the grocery checkout lines, the ones where a beautiful young woman inherits a cobwebbed mansion and eventually runs screaming from it in her nightgown.  The heroine always had two men to choose from:  a sandy-haired nice one, who turned out to be a psychopath, and a dark snide one, who was widely thought to be a psychopath but in actuality just needed to meet the right woman.  Lily collected these books and displayed them in her room, where she could look at the covers and imagine what Alan would have said if they’d popped up next to his Barthes and his beloved Stanley Fish. 

She went to movies almost every day:  Fellini, the Antonioni films that put her right to sleep.  She saw The Terminator in Italian five times.  A downtown theater was running a Martin Scorcese series and she bought a pass for the week, feeling at home, almost cozy with his assassins and obsessives.  Travis Bickle, she thought, wasn’t afraid to show a woman how he really felt. 

Then there were days she couldn’t seem to leave her room; she’d stay under the green striped comforter all day, listening to the bells, eating stale rolls she’d snuck from the breakfast room.  Her mind raced way ahead of her.  Johnny would die in some unpleasant way, and no one would know what to do with him.  She would be mugged, she would lose her passport, she would be raped and get pregnant and have to get an illegal abortion.  She would die of a blood infection after the abortion and no one would tell her family.  One night she called Alan every hour on the hour from midnight to seven a.m.  He wasn’t home.  She decided he’d moved across the country and she’d never find him again.  Or he had died, and no one was going to tell her.  Maybe her father had hunted him down and killed him, and now he would have to go underground and she’d never see either one of them ever again. 
In late January, the United States finally attacked Iraq.  The next day, someone threw a small bomb into the courtyard of Harvard’s Florence campus.  Overhearing news of this in the English bookstore, Lily thought that at least now she had something tangible to worry about.  No one had been hurt in the bombing, but it was enough to shut down half the American schools in the city.  Junior-year-abroad kids skittered everywhere, drinking and buying last-minute souvenirs, enjoying the drama of being a Voyager in Dangerous Times. 
Lily spent the evening in bed, wondering what she should do.  She felt perfectly safe.  She didn’t belong to a school, and never went to American bars; if some nut wanted to make a point, surely he’d want to knock off a large group of U.S. pigs and not one lone one.  Daily life in Florence sailed on, as cool as ever.  In fact, the only really stupid thing she could think of doing would be to get on a plane in Rome. 
Johnny knocked.  “Telephone.” 
“Go to Switzerland,” her mother said.  “Honey, go to Switzerland.  It’s neutral.” 
“Hi, Mom.  How’s it going?” 
Her father picked up the extension.  “Lily, how are the conditions over there?” 
“They’re fine, Dad,” she said.  “Italy’s not at war, you know.” 
“Well, I don’t like this bombing business,” he said.  “I think it’s very bad news.” 
“I have to agree with you there,” Lily said.  “But I’m perfectly okay, and I’m not coming home yet.”  The fact was, she had very little to come home to.  She missed her family, but it had been years since she’d lived within four hundred miles of them anyway, and she wasn’t about to humiliate herself by moving back in with her parents.  I can humiliate myself right here, she thought. 
“Can you at least get out of Florence for a bit?” her mother asked.  “Go on vacation?” 


Lily liked the sound of the word Innsbruck, so that was where she went.  She checked into a cheap hotel with piped-in yodeling in the hallways and stenciled dancing children on the walls.  That night, she decided to buy herself an expensive Teutonic dinner involving slabs of meat and black-red wine.  As she lacked even the most rudimentary understanding of German, however, the menus posted outside restaurants proved indecipherable.  After an hour of helpless wandering, she gave up and started looking for a grocery store.  Instead, she ran smack into a McDonald’s boasting “no cover charge.” 
“What the hell,” she said to herself.  “It’s Teutonic enough.” 
Lily’s favorite thing about McDonald’s in Europe was that it sold booze.  She bought a Quarter Pounder and fries and a half-liter of red wine and ate in the courtyard.  Halfway through her meal, a drunk man came over and demanded in English that she go to a disco with him.  She looked him over and gestured toward her nearly empty bottle.  “I could break this over your head, you know.” 
He didn’t seem to understand.  “You come home with me to Milano.” 
“I should have known you were a fucking Italian,” Lily said, getting up and sweeping past him.  In her experience Italian men spent most of their time asking American women to go to discos, a euphemism if there ever was one.  Mercifully, this guy didn’t follow her.  She never knew what to do when they followed. 
She bought another bottle of wine on the way back to the hotel and drank it in her cramped room, wondering melodramatically just how homely a girl would have to be to have a simple drink in public sans stares, comments, and marriage proposals.  When she’d gotten sufficiently worked up, she picked up the phone and called Alan.  It was three a.m. on the East Coast, but he sounded awake.  “So,” she said without preamble, “we’re at war.  What’s the draft cut-off age these days?” 
“Jesus.  Where are you?” 
“None of your business,” she said.  “Far.”  She cleared her throat.  “Listen.  I need to ask you something.  I need to know what you gained by being a philanderer.” 
“That’s such an old-fashioned word,” Alan said.  “Philanderer.” 
“Just answer me,” Lily said.  “This is expensive.” 
“I don’t know, Lily,” he said.  “I just like women, I guess.”  Lily remembered something her college roommate had once said:  “Alan doesn’t like women.  He likes women’s bodies.”  She thought of using that line now, but chances were he’d heard it before. 
“I just am who I am,” Alan was saying, “and I’m not going to change anytime soon.  I’ve been telling you for three years that I’ll probably never be faithful to you.” 
“I thought you were lying.” 
“Obviously, I was telling the truth.” 
“Yes,” she said, “that much is obvious.”  She stared at the boys in lederhosen on her wall.  Their cheeks were unnaturally red. 
“I like myself, Lily,” Alan went on.  “I don’t feel the need to let you mold me into your warped idea of what a boyfriend should be.”  He paused.  “I still love you, you know.” 
Lily closed her eyes.  “Well, stop it,” she said, and hung up. 
She left the hotel at dawn the next morning and rushed through freezing rain to the train station.  She thought she’d go to Vienna, where she could get a Hungarian visa.  She wanted to get away from what she thought of as Honeymoon Europe.  I could stay for years and never see Paris, or Venice, or Bruges, Lily thought.  She’d stay in Vienna until her visa was approved, then move on to Budapest, Prague.  Then, who knew?  Finland loomed large in her mind.  If she hadn’t browsed at the tourist desk in the Innsbruck station, and hadn’t seen a pamphlet reading “EXPERIENCE THE MAJESTY AND WONDER OF THE WORLD’S MOST BELOVED MOVIE!,” she might have made it all the way to the Faroes. 


Salzburg was half under water when she arrived.  From the station lobby she saw people moving as fast as they could through the rain, hats facing forward; the little gold lights which lined the shops were like candles in a blackout.  It was the kind of weather which is so bad it becomes romantic; it begged to be discussed over tea on the safe side of a picture window:  the dramas of weak ceilings, of making the dog go out to pee, of just getting home.  It brought out Lily’s self-pity in grand style.  What a delightful way to spend an afternoon, she reflected, if one were not alone in the world, if one’s company were sought by anyone at all for reasons other than access to a vagina, if one had the most rudimentary knowledge of the German language. 
She dragged herself to the tourist desk.  “I would like the cheapest room you have,” she told the clerk. 
“The cheapest room I have is forty-five a night,” he said. 
Fat chance, but she signed the reservation slip anyway.  “Also,” she said, lowering her voice, “can I make a tour reservation here?” 
“But certainly.  What tour do you wish to attend?” 
“Um, the Sound of Music one?” 
Sound of Music,” he said.  “Sound of Music, Sound of Music.  Here we are.”  He pushed a ticket at her.  “That will be twenty-five.”  Lily gave him some more money, thinking, this had better be worth three dinners and a pack of cigarettes.  But as she left the station and trudged through puddles to her hotel, she had a flash of lightness.  I’m going on the Sound of Music tour, she mused.  I’m a simpler creature than I thought. 


The bus picked her up at her hotel.  She climbed on and faced a very tall blond man with a Prince Valiant haircut.  “Welcome to the Sound of Music tour,” he beamed.  “I am Fritz.  You may sit wherever you might like.”  He swept a big hand toward the seats, then peered out the door. 

“Your husband, he is coming?” 
“No,” Lily said, flushing.  “Just me.” 

 “An adventuress!” Fritz exclaimed.  “We have a young lady adventuress,” he explained to the other passengers, “much like Maria Von Trapp when she crept out of the convent to dance in the mountains.”  The other passengers, most of them Japanese, smiled at Lily.  She smiled back and slunk to a seat in the middle of the bus. 
As the bus headed out of town, Fritz, speaking into a small unnecessary microphone, outlined the tour.  First they would drive around the lake country, visiting some of the castles and manors that were used in the movie; they would also see the mountains where Maria frolicked.  “Maria, she had strong legs,” Fritz said, “because the mountains are ten miles from the abbey you see in the film!”  Everyone laughed.  Finally, he explained, they would visit the church where Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married.  This, he said, was generally the most touching and moving part of the tour.  “Have we any newlyweds?”  Two couples raised their hands.  “Ah!” Fritz boomed.  “Then the wedding chapel will have very special meaning for you.”  Lily tried to wish herself invisible, but it was too late.  “And our young adventuress will perhaps think of the man she may someday marry.”  He came up the aisle toward her.  “Yes?” 
“Okay,” Lily said meekly. 
Fritz returned to the front of the bus.  “And now,” he said, “as we leave Salzburg, we will enjoy the beautiful voice of Julie Andrews.”  The overture flooded the bus, and Fritz sat down. 
They drove around for a couple of hours and looked at castles that had appeared in the film for a second or two.  They were from the grown-up part of the movie, when it looked like the Baroness might steal the Captain from Maria.  Even at six, Lily had known there wasn’t a chance in hell of that happening.  Now she stared through the rain-plastered window at the massive stone houses while Fritz talked earnestly of their histories, the details of their windows and doors.  At one point, someone asked him about the gazebo where Liesl and Rolf had their first kiss.  “Ah,” he crowed, “that has long since been torn away!” 
Finally the bus stopped in the little village that contained the wedding chapel and many, many restaurants and souvenir shops.  “Please we will meet back here in one hour,” Fritz said.  “In the meantime, may I suggest you partake of some crisp apple strudel with vanilla sauce.  If you have careful ears, you will know it is one of Maria’s favorite things!”  Lily ran the song through her head as she got off the bus.  Snowballs, sleighbells, schnitzel with noodles.  When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad.  She headed for the nearest restaurant and ordered a gin and tonic.  Gin and tonics were fun to order in Europe because each ingredient came in its own little silver pitcher.  Just as her drink arrived, she saw Fritz coming at her, grinning.  He was so tall she feared for the chandeliers. 
“If you do not object,” he said, “might I sit with you?  The others, they are off mooning in the wedding chapel in pairs.”  He slid in across from her.  “You have visited the chapel already?” 
“No,” Lily said.  “I’m not sure I want to.” 
“Ah,” Fritz nodded.  “If I may ask, you have been jilted at the altar?”  The waitress set a beer down in front of him.  She ruffled his hair and winked at Lily. 
“Oh, no.”  Lily had to laugh.  “I got jilted long before the altar.  Well, I jilted him.  Well, it’s complicated.” 

 “If I may say something wrong for a tour guide.” 
“Go for it,” Lily said. 

 “A man who would jilt you is stupid.”  Lily felt the blood rush to her face and thought that she was doing an extraordinary amount of blushing today.  “I have made you embarrassed,” Fritz said.  “I am sorry.” 
Lily laughed again and turned even pinker.  “No.  That was—that was a really nice thing to say.  It’s just funny how—well, it’s easy for men to say things like that to women they don’t know.”  Fritz looked puzzled.  “If you knew me,” she explained, “you would find a thousand things to hate about me, and I could be Venus incarnate and it wouldn’t make any difference.” 
“But I do not know you,” he said, “and you are a pretty girl, and it’s simple.” 
Lily considered that.  When she and her girlfriends talked about men it was always he’s smart, he’s mature, he makes me laugh, as if the men had no bodies at all, and that seemed a little screwy.  And then while the women were bragging about the men’s brains, the men she knew were running around clutching at pretty girls, who were supposed to say Who, me? as if they had no clue how pretty they were, or as if they were sorry about it, or as if they were angry at the men for seeing something shiny and wanting it.  There was enough tail-chasing on both sides to cause a meltdown. 
Lily peered at Fritz.  “I don’t know if pretty or not pretty is so simple.  Frankly, I think it’s fraught with weirdness and guilt.  But I like what you said.  Thank you.”  She smiled at him and tried to think of something less insane-sounding to say.  The Sound of Music seemed like a safe topic.  “You seem so passionate about the movie and the music.  I would think you’d be sick of them by now.” 
Fritz shook his head.  “I am crazy about them.  For two years I have had this job and still I love it.  I love to see all the people so excited about this little story.  That is simple, no?” 
Lily thought about that.  “I guess it is,” she said. 
“And it is simple that you should have dinner with me tonight.” 
She laughed.  “Oh, you are slick.” 
“At a restaurant if you fear for your safety, of course.  But I am a chef hobbyist.” 
Though she had no real reason not to, Lily didn’t fear for her safety.  “Okay,” she told him.  “You can cook for me.” 


Fritz lived in the suburbs of Salzburg, in an apartment complex that could have been plunked down in the middle of Cleveland.  His apartment was neat and ordinary, with blue upholstered furniture, but the kitchen gleamed with spotless copper pots.  Fritz handed Lily a glass of wine.  “You will forgive me if I am chopping garlic for a little while,” he said. 
“Can I help?” she asked him. 
“I would not hear of it.  You are on holiday.”  I guess I am, Lily thought.  She took her glass of wine and wandered around the apartment, automatically checking for bookshelves.  There was only one small one, and she found herself filing this fact in the Con column.  It was a bit of a revelation.  Do you like men, or do you like men’s books? she asked herself.  Deliberately avoiding the bookshelf, she poked her head into a door off the foyer.  It was a bathroom, a white-tiled bathroom with a tub.  Lily had nearly forgotten that bathtubs existed.  She wondered if Fritz took baths; it was hard to imagine him all scrunched up, his knees bent to his chin.  Thinking of that, she felt light again, dizzy and bold, and went back to the kitchen. 
“Here’s the thing,” she said, watching Fritz gut a chicken.  “I like you.  You seem really nice.  And I’m drinking this wine, which is going to make me less defensive and standoffish than I ordinarily try to be, and that could lead to all sorts of things which might have already occurred to you.  But maybe they haven’t occurred to you at all, so I just thought I should warn you.”  She paused for breath.  “That I like you.” 
Fritz nodded.  Then he kissed her.  It was a nice kiss, and then it turned into a real kiss, and it went on just long enough for Lily to surmise that all sorts of things had occurred to him too.  “I would like to kiss you more,” he said, pulling away, “but I have chicken insides on my hands.” 

“That’s okay,” Lily said, picking a bit of chicken off her shoulder.  “I wanted to ask you something else, and this is totally separate from all the other stuff I just said.  I haven’t been in an actual bathtub in almost four months, and I couldn’t help noticing that you have one.  Would you mind if I took a garden-variety, completely non-sexual bath, all by myself?”  He’s going to think you kissed him for a bath, she thought. 
Fritz laughed.  “Be my guest,” he said.  If he thought she was some kind of bath-whore, it didn’t show, and as she headed for the tub it occurred to her that something like that might never cross his mind.  He might believe her to be good and hopeful and in need of a hot bath, exactly as she was. 


Upon her return to Florence, Lily found Johnny in his usual position on the lobby couch, watching Maude.  He tilted his head in acknowledgement.  “Mail,” he said.  Lily went behind the desk and found two envelopes from her mother and one from Alan. 
“Thanks,” she told Johnny.  She went up to her room and left the letters unopened on her bed, then walked down the block to get something to eat.  What a relief, she thought, to be back in a country where she knew how to order a plate of spaghetti. 
As she waited for the light to change, thinking of Fritz’s bright face and his blue flannel sheets, she saw a hansom-cab horse break loose in the Piazza del Duomo.  She stood frozen and watched the whole thing:  the buggy driver shouting after the horse, the horse jogging nervously in widening concentric circles.  She thought she knew exactly what would happen and it made her cringe.  But she was wrong.  What happened was this:  the hollow-cheeked, glamorous people of Florence put down their briefcases and their Prada bags and went after the horse, forming a circle around it.  Some of them stroked its neck, its flanks.  And when the driver approached and Lily steeled herself, she was wrong again.  She never expected the apple he produced, the scattered applause all around the piazza.  The light changed, but she didn’t move.  She stood still and watched the driver, his face bent close to the horse’s, talking quietly to it, rubbing its mane.  Amazing, she though, exactly how mistaken she could be.  


Write "Ellavon" at  
Editor: Robert Basil. Publisher:  the Raylock Design Group. 
Copyright retained by the author.  Released: Sept. 9, 1998