Hoping to entice you with installments -- hey, it worked for Dickens! -- I present the second half of Chapter Two of my novel The Renaissance Club. In this section we meet some of the travelers as they wrestle with jetlag and various personal problems while trying to get to sleep on their first night in Italy. And downstairs in the hotel, a backroom deal is being made.
Chapter Two. Rome. Day One.
the hall from the Perls, Art and Eva Manookian were in an even tinier room, and
also suffering from jet lag, but in two different ways. Art had fallen into
what appeared to be a coma and was snoring so loudly Eva thought it might be
heard through the walls.
was ferociously pacing figure-eights around the room and into the bathroom and
back, her uncombed gray-blonde hair frizzed around her like an electric halo.
With such magnificent energy, she could have painted all night, especially with
Art asleep, leaving her in no danger of his wanting sex, the old satyr. But
instead of being at her easel, she was trapped in this dark hotel room with no
supplies and a brain full of images.
ride from the airport into Rome had been stunning, unforgettable, and (Norman
had been right here) indispensable to an understanding of the Renaissance and
Italy with its new humanism. Ancient city walls jamming up next to medieval
palazzos with rough-piled stone bases, an Egyptian obelisk rising in a Baroque
fountain. Italy was a monstrous mess of beautiful art, you could never have
guessed from the stately films. She loved this hodgepodge and wanted to take it
all in, without a guide, thank you very fucking much. Frothing over with
pictures, she felt the curse of the artist: to be unable to forget what you had
snoring was driving her crazy. If he didn’t shut up, she was going to smother
him with a pillow and make it look like a heart attack. She worked this
scenario out while pacing. She often liked to fantasize ways to kill Art. For
what? For his cheery calm, for his lack of internal torture. Sometimes for his
shaved head and that little silver earring. He could annoyingly hip, especially
when he was playing guitar with his jazz buddies. She could kill him cheerfully
for that and for his fidelity and for her occasional lack of it. And for his
being such an all-around good guy when she was a hot-tempered stinker. Yes, all
good reasons. The judge would understand.
was she kidding, she would never paint again. If she had all the light of a
midsummer day and a thousand canvases and art supplies that never ran out or
dried up in the tubes, she’d never paint, hadn’t painted decently since Rebecca
died. How do you make paintings after losing a child? Useless to paint mere
things. Damn Art for being able to sleep. She knew what he would say if he saw
her pacing like this, he’d know what she was thinking. She had stopped saying
these things years ago, after he ordered her into therapy and she had come out
of it exactly the same. When the painting stopped, that was the second end of
her life. The only reason she had agreed to this cockamamey idea of Norman’s
was hoping that maybe Italy could restore her imagination.
she had the thought, the small crystal wall sconce seemed to smile at her like
a Renaissance cherub, with all the lush sweetness of the period, and a kind of
malevolence underneath that she liked. She glared at it until it again resolved
itself into a crooked wall sconce.
went to her suitcase on the stand and pulled out of an interior compartment a small
plastic bag containing a small dollop of ashes. Art would be alarmed if he knew
she had brought this bag with a pinch of Rebecca’s ashes to Italy. He would be
alarmed because he could not understand that she was never going to stop what
he called obsessively grieving. A mother just does not. It would make her feel
Rebecca was still close if some tiny bit of her came with them on this trip.
was time to rest, if she could not sleep, and without cherubs and madonnas,
thank you. She needed a good, muscular Michelangelo to counteract all the sappy
stuff. Or a martini, but it was too late now for that.
the hall from the Manookians, Sandra was in a different kind of hell. As one of
only three single women, she had been forced for economy’s sake to share a room
with Becca, the drama instructor, and her elderly, deaf sister Daphne. Beccas
had brought her sister along because she felt she could not leave Daphne alone
for three weeks. Becca spent the entire time they were getting undressed and
into bed complaining about her departmental budget and the lavish expense of
this trip. She had undressed quickly and then lay on her bed staring up at the
ceiling, intoning her list of complaints while Sandra got into the bathroom
when she could and then got into her bed.
blissful in deafness, said nothing in reply to her sister.
lay on her bed listening and staring up as if she, too, were deaf. The
complaints were probably intended for her to report to her father, but they
bounced off the plate armor of her disinterest.
she got up, startling both the muttering Becca and the nearly asleep Daphne.
She stalked over to Daphne’s bed, pulled her suitcase out from under it and
opened it on the floor next to the bed. Opening it, she began pawing through
the contents, which had to be kept in the suitcase because there wasn’t enough
room for her clothes in the one drawer allotted to her by the other two. She
pulled out tee shirts and sweaters and skirts and bras until she came to a
black thong and a demi-bra that matched it, the bra trimmed in tiny fuchsia
ribbons. She laid these things out on the top of the bureau, on the jeans and
sweater she had set out for tomorrow. Then she stomped back to her cot, turned
her back to the room and putting the pillow over her head, fell asleep.
the floor above Sandra, Marianna Waller had been long asleep in the very center
of their small double bed when Rick found the farthest edge of wakefulness.
Marianna’s dark wavy hair was spread like strands of cloud in a moonlit sky
across the pillow and one arm flung above her head, her legs sprawled.
stood up from where he had been huddled, still half dressed in his tee shirt
and shorts, on the edge of the bed. . Marianna had rolled to the center and
then stretched out. He hadn’t undressed all the way and still wore his heavy
went over to the window and pulled back the heavy curtain to look out. Their
window faced onto a small service courtyard and a wall of windows on the other
side. Several were lit; travelers perhaps suffering jet lag. He looked down at
his watch, which he had efficiently set for Rome time as soon as they had
boarded the plane in San Francisco. Two forty-six a.m.
no reason to feel like this,” he heard himself say aloud.
didn’t matter, because Marianna wore earplugs. The slightest noise could keep
her awake and now that she was pregnant, her health was even more delicate and
she needed her rest, the doctor told her, and she kept repeating.
had a great job, a gorgeous wife, a fantastic house her parents had helped them
build. He had just put Norman in his place. He stood at the window combing his
long fingers through his thick brown hair that stood up spikey in the front of his head, thanks to the mousse, giving
him the look of a man whose thoughts electrified the air.
he gave a sharp kick to Marianna’s pink suede tote bag in the corner next to
him, then he grabbed his toes and hopped with pain for a few satisfied moments.
He had succeeded in damaging it not in the least. He stalked over to his cell
phone and furiously typed out a long text, then got back onto the bed and fell
In a room on the same floor as the Wallers, Norman
and Kathleen weren’t sleeping either. Norman was working on his laptop while
Kathleen paced in her pink nightgown and tossed out ideas.
Scacciapensieri!” Kathleen said. “That’s even better than the hotel I booked
for Siena. I can’t imagine we can get into it, but if we could, there would be
no complaints. It’s got killer views of the walled city across the valley.”
Norman asked. “Because you researched so many hotels in Siena, and I remember
you saying there were no good alternatives.”
“I wanted us to be in the city, but we
can’t and save money.”
I’m looking online . . . Spell it.”
kidding, Norman. You know I can’t spell in English. I certainly don’t spell in
say it again, slowly.”
That doesn’t sound the way you said it the first time.”
turned and faced him, putting her hands on her narrow hips.
just look it up. You’re the researcher. The internetist.”
say it again. Slowly.”
For God’s sake can’t you find it? We could email and then call in the morning.
This one might save us a lot. And it has bathrooms in every room, so Marianna
and Rick can’t complain. Plus it has a nice dining room with tables on a
I found it,” Norman said. “If we can book this, maybe we can save a third of
what we would have paid the other hotel in Siena.”
sighed. “Let’s hope they can take us. I must have talked to dozens of hotels.
More than you have zeroes in your ledger books.”
don’t use accounting books anymore, we use software.”
Everyone’s computer-crazy these days.”
relax while you think, walk if you need to. Do you want anything? I can ring
the desk if you’d like a glass of wine.”
will make me sleepy, and if I’m sleepy I can’t pace, and if I can’t pace I
look at Assisi. Maybe we can save money there,” Norman offered. “No,
forget that one,” Kathleen said. “it’s cheaper than dirt. Next.”
Villa Cora, Florence.”
couldn’t be a more expensive place in all of Italy! Florence is always packed,
so this won’t be easy, but maybe we can find something in Settignano, outside
How do we find something good but cheaper near Florence?”
million phone calls!” Kathleen sank into the chair. “I’m too tired!”
said we needed to do it fast. You’re tired because you feel guilty.”
elected you psychiatrist?”
put his laptop aside, got up from the bed, and came over to her. He put his
fingers on her temples and rubbed gently.
need a neck rub. You’re all tense in the face, which means your neck is tense.”
gave in and let him rub her temples. They had often started out making love
this way, with his gentle touch on her head, but that was years before, when
Norman had been handsome in his North Dakota way: lean, with a full,
well-groomed head of hair. Now she leaned into his fingers, but then suddenly
we’re going to get more ideas out of my brain tonight, I can’t relax.”
sighed, went back to the bed and picked up his laptop. “Why don’t we look up
all the hotels around Firenze tomorrow and get some help to make calls?”
you crazy? Do you have any idea how many inns, hotels, and villas there are
but I’m sure Rick and Sandra can help us tomorrow. And maybe we can get one or
two others to skip touring and make some calls.”
you would make a hopeless travel agent.”
least I know how to use a computer.” He said it with his head down, staring
into the screen.
if you had taken your laptop out and the gypsies had nabbed it? Don’t act like
it’s all my fault!”
voice rose to a pitch that distressed him with its potential to disturb people
even through the walls.
he said, “Honey, let’s sleep and pick it up in the morning. Let the group go
out and we’ll work. I have to talk to Jacob about finding a guide.”
came over to the bed and got in. Within minutes she was snoring. Norman
continued to stare into his laptop, wishing that she had at least thanked him
for helping. He knew she felt the responsibility, whatever she said, and didn’t
handle criticism well. Rick had been rough on her.
last he powered down, put away the computer, turned off the light, and lay
back. Tomorrow they would begin a life-changing adventure. Forming The
Renaissance Club was probably the most daring thing he had ever done, after
standing up to the school bully Roger Stark. Rome was out there, and his
Renaissance. Wide-eyed in the dark, he wondered if Jacob’s friend could guide
them. If he couldn’t, this would be a very short adventure.
got out of bed and went to the phone, called the desk and got Jacob’s room
number, and phoned Jacob. After a few minutes, Norman hung up, put his clothes
and headed down to the bar. Jacob had news.