For many kids, spending a month in southern Italy-without their parents-is a summer they’ll never forget. Well, it’s also a summer this auntie won’t forget soon. So far, we’ve talked about falling in love on the lungomare and about meeting a real-life beach bum in Pizzo but today, in our final installment of Auntie Adventures, I have to tell you about the real deal.
Yes, loyal readers, you will notice that is not me in that thumbnail shot above. The lovely lady you see with my nephew’s heart in her teeth works at “The Panino Place,” in Catanzaro Lido and is named Andreea (pronounced “An dray a”-like in Italian, not the American “Ann dree a”).
It was a typical Catanzaresi night like any other-the air was fresh, the lungomare was full of people and Triolo, or “The Panino Place” was as bustling as ever. The smiling Andreea stopped by our table to take our order. Cole plopped his eyes back in his face-a goofy grin taking over the bottom half-and whispered … “e bella.”
We kinda laughed and since my camera was sitting on the table, I said, “Do you want to take a picture with her?”
Excitement, then fear-and I think a little nausea.
“We’ll ask her for you.” We promised.
When Andreea returned, we told her Cole wanted to take a picture with her.
“You’re joking,” she said. “I don’t believe you.”
“It’s true,” I insisted. “Tell her Cole.”
He nodded his little head in rapid-make that, rabid, movements. “Si,” he said. “Si, si.”
And then, something happened that forever changed the way my baby would see Calabria.
She kissed him.
Yes, it was a generous, friendly kiss on the cheek, but to his nine year old heart-and undoubtedly to the ears of his eager friends back home-it was the real deal.
We snapped the photo, she ruffled his hair and went on with her night.
“That was more than I could have ever imagined,” he muttered, as his panino, once fresh and hot, remained untouched on the table, appetite forgotten.
A few days later, we were in the car-me, thinking about the next stop or what to cook for dinner or some other insignificant detail such as that, him, dreaming of Andreea.
“I know what I’m gonna tell my friends when I get home,” he said.
“Oh yea,” I said, pulling myself away from my mental list. “What’s that?”
“I kissed a girl and I liked it.
The taste of her cherry chap stick.
I kissed a girl just to try it.
And she was 20 years old.
It felt so right-it felt so wrong
I think I’m in love tonight.”
I laughed, “Good one!” I said, as I looked back at him.
He was grinning. Wistful. Gazing out the window.
Being the devoted aunt and uncle we are, we visited “The Panino Place” three or four more times over the next 12 days. Each time Andreea greeted him with a big smile, a happy hug and a big ‘ole smack on the cheek. She even wrote him a love letter, in broken English, and presented it to him in front of her colleagues.
He wrote her a song-although she never heard word of it-with a catchy 20s feel, about her name and her eyes.
A week before his departure, we made one more visit and although he held up well during that final goodbye, he fell into Uncle Peppe’s arms just moments away from the pub.
“But I’ll miss her,” he cried to Peppe. “I love her.”
Peppe looked at me, I looked at Cole.
“I know, Cole. But don’t worry. There will be others.” I told him.
“But not like her,” he insisted. “She loved me and I loved her and it will never be like that with anyone else.”
And then, Peppe panicked.
“Don’t cry, baby. It is ok. We’ll come back again before you leave.”
And whaddya know. It worked.
The crying stopped, but he still needed Uncle Peppe to carry him to the gelateria down the street.
“You can walk now, Cole,” Peppe told him. “We’ll come back.”
“I can’t walk,” he said. “I’ve dehydrated myself with my tears.”
And so it was, the unlikely love story of a starry-eyed Texano and a young panino server named Andreea. And I think it’ll last. I now have one new friend on Facebook and Cole is back home, knocking on doors in his gated community in Wildwood, Texas, asking friends and neighbors for odd-jobs and extra work to save up for his big return to bella Calabria.
Traveling south? Click here to see how I can help you plan your trip to Calabria or southern Italy.