I must have walked past him a few times at least before I realized it was him. Tall, check. Blonde, check. In a Nautica sweatshirt. Check. Yes, it was crowded, this Italian square at 8pm on a weekend night, full of young couples and small families, talking excitedly in that way Italians do, people pushing strollers and bikes, eating gelato and gesticulating. But still: not many tall blondes in Nautica t-shirts to compete for one's attention.
He's handsome but in a way that makes it clear that he used to be a stunner, a tall blonde Nordic-type although he's Italian by blood. He's a full head taller than I am and he smiles widely, very white teeth, probably bleached. We shake hands.
We wander down the lane and he acts as tour guide, explaining the importance of the aristocracy in the development of this town as a major centre for Italian art and scholarship. It's two steps above a backwater now, though, this is not uncommon in European cities. It's easy to forget that cities, like humans, are frail, temporal, go up, down, fade away, die. Many have spent their careers unburying those stones which once seemed a permanent fixture of life. No, cities, towns, villages are not permanent but they operate on such a different time scale to human life that we can't quite comprehend their loss.
The square is buzzing with all kinds of people, but this side street is emptied out and we take up positions at a small table across from a bar/cafe. He goes in to order our drinks and I watch him walk away, slightly self-consciously as he knows my eyes are on him. Facing me at the bar, he smiles widely and then returns, placing the beers on the table with a little flourish, "Voila."
He says this for my benefit, knowing that I live in a Francophone city though I am not a Francophone. And so the evening begins.
I leave his apartment at 4am, after having fallen asleep in his warm bed at 1:30. I wander down the cobblestone street, faint music wafting up out of an apartment down the alleyway. There is no moon but the amber street light bathes everything in a glum sterile hue.