This little tale is inspired by a story you told me about…xx
He still remembers the moment he saw her. Although Franco had previously been devoted to his studies of economics, he had never been so distracted as the moment he laid his eyes on Claire.
While thousands of tourists flocked the plazas and took photographs of every ornate edifice, Claire sat watching a pair of Italian sparrows perched a few feet above her. There was something about her that caused Franco to forget his appointment with his tailor. What would he say to the young woman sitting on the wall, looking as if she was more impressed by those two tiny birds than all of the fine craftsmanship the city that had once been the centre of the world could impose upon her?
“Buongiorno dolce angelo. I tuoi occhi si alzano verso il cielo. Il paradiso è sopra la tua casa?”
Claire looked a little startled. Her eyebrows knotted as she tried to work out a response. Franco smiled as Claire swung a little bag around and pulled out a tiny Italian-English dictionary. It was rare to see a tourist who was not relying on a language app to help them attempt the local language. Eventually, Claire’s response came in with a distinctive US accent and terrible use of grammar. Franco was more than happy to overlook her mispronunciation and use of the past tense. In his mind, he knew that what she wanted to say was, “Per favore, perdona il mio italiano. Gli uccelli sono così carini.”
To make things easier for Claire, Franco responded in English. The two walked around for the next hour in the sunshine, Franco telling Claire about the blue rock-thrush she spotted and the black redstart. Claire listened avidly, until she realized the time and hurriedly made her excuses to Franco, thanking him for his tour that afternoon.
“Incantatrice, per favore dimmi il tuo nome.”
The following day, Franco was waiting at reception at The Hassler with a grin as he saw Claire emerge from a stairwell. She had read the note he had asked to be delivered to her room, and she had returned her response to the hotel reception desk. Franco already knew she was happy to spend more time exploring Italy’s native birds and creatures.
Together, they descended the Spanish steps and Franco told Claire his hope to take her to his favourite castle around twenty miles outside of Rome. The Castello Orsini-Ordescalchi.
On reaching the location Franco had been so enthusiastic about, Claire was clearly more drawn to spending the day outside in the sunshine, and her gaze continued to hover over the Lago di Bracciano, long enough for Franco to volunteer a change of plan. An animated conversation about birds and flowers, trees and glistening blue hues of the lake became intoxicating to Franco. All that came out of Claire’s mouth was pacifying and exquisite to Franco. How she adored all the natural beauty that passed before her eyes.
The little boy who used to run through meadow and forest, ford streams, rescue grouse who were caught in fences, watch hawks flying overhead in cornflower blue skies – that little boy’s heart was stirring with a rekindled love. All the tourists who had come to his home land to admire the work of man – the architecture, the paintings, the music, the history and yet it was Claire – who was on her summer break from her English Major at UVA – who had reawakened his appreciation for Italy’s natural treasures.
Claire would leave, and perhaps forget Franco. But the revolution within that Claire had sparked meant he would not forget her. He pulled out of the economics Post-Graduate course he had formerly been immersed in and returned to his home of Chianale. His home once again had the power to bewitch Franco, and his new pursuit was to study every inch of the wildlife that surrounded the place of his birth.
Italy would never be the same again.
Meanwhile, it was five whole years until Claire set foot on the shores of Italy again. So much had happened since her vacation. Several months after her graduation, the world had plunged into the darkness of the Pandemic. Claire had watched media broadcasts of the dreadful situation in Italy at the start of the Pandemic, anxious to know if Franco and his family were safe. But she had no way of contacting him. She felt certain that he was happy. In her bones, she knew that he was someone had an inner glow of joy that would protect him during turbulent times. Those five years of keeping her nose buried in books and her fingers flying over keyboards had not stifled the flame within. Her ardour for the natural beauty of the country she had fallen in love with was as strong as ever.
The reason for her return was that she was sure that somehow, she would find him again. When two hearts beat to the same tune, when they are inspired by the same beauty, they find each other. Even in a world of eight billion people. Claire just knew that she would find Franco again. But of course…the obvious place to start was always going to be Italy.