Worst Date #4 – B and B
#4 – B & B
La dolce vita – The sweet life is sweetest when lived on the stiletto peninsula. Though I’ve never moved all my worldly possessions and attempted an Italian existence, I have spent weeks upon weeks strolling her beaches, learning her language, and believing the lies in her men’s eyes. To say I love Italy is to say I love being home. Indians and Italians share so many virtues and vices that it’s a wonder we haven’t made more babies together.
So, a man who leaves Italy for Washington, DC during the Bush years and is happy about it is a man worthy of suspicion. But those suspicions came later. On the surface, a blind date arranged by a mutual friend seemed perfect for my recently battered heart. He worked at the World Bank, my former employer. He had the typical balding that so many Italian men get in their 30s or 40s, and a slightly protruding pancia. Even so, Italians are not adored for six-packs, but for the wild movements of their gesticulated words and their love of all things beautiful.
We met at Indique in Cleveland Park. We started out in a trinity of loveliness – Indian cuisine, Sicilian wine and Italian conversation. I needed practice, and he was patient and charmed by my ability to dine in his mother tongue. He explained his choice of wine while I drank in the sun through the nectar of primitivo grapes. He was taking a course in regional wines at the Italian Embassy and thought my Italian good enough to attempt the course myself. Flattery plus love of libations equaled a promising first course.
We were an hour into a perfect meal of palak paneer and chana masala when the spices started to affect his nervous system. I made a passing joke about how similar our current leaders were at reflecting the worst of our respective societies – the ignorant, inarticulate Bush and his war-mongering sidekick Cheney. Berlusconi’s penchant for women and buffoonery coupled with his Mafioso-style ownership of not one, but three of Italy’s main television channels. I presumed my Italian opposite number in love of all things dolce vita would be boiling over in fevered agreement.
No. What ensued was a surreal defense of Bush and Berlusconi. Let me remind you, dear reader, that this defense came post-Katrina, post-Iraq, post-Abu Ghraib and, as far as most of the 94% of liberal voters of DC and I were concerned, post-apocalypse. I had never thought to question the politics of my dates, blind, bald, or otherwise since during the DC Bush years, there was only one song being sung. The opening lines of ‘We were robbed’ lead into a chorus of ‘Dubya so dumb’ and ‘Cheney so Darth Vader’. Surely there was a similar song in the Neapolitan style for Berlusconi? Surely a man of such refined tastes working at an institution in love with coffee breaks and dreams of a ‘World Free of Poverty’ must agree?
Again, no. My date sang of persecution and delusion. He railed against the socialist elites at the World Bank (did I mention he worked there tax-free?) and the witch-hunting of the charismatic Berlusconi. How the world needed strong leaders and B squared proved they were worthy. How Katrina was an ‘unfortunate’ mistake, but that terror must be fought and Abu Ghraib was probably a combination of a set-up and misunderstanding. The New York Times was never to be trusted, and Berlusconi was in no fear of bias just because he owned most news aired in Italy. We had switched over to English since my Italian didn’t include the words required to shriek out my shock.
Would there had been more wine, I would have spilled some on him, but he had cut us off at one glass each. I feared he was going to sing the Forza Italia theme, written by Silvio himself. Instead he went from defense of war to a personal account of his woes, filled with shadowy suggestions that he couldn’t return to Italy. He had been followed, or kicked out, or misunderstood, or rejected, or something. Unclear, start to finish, but his assurances that he was a hunted man were passionate. What appeared at first as a middle-aged, balding bureaucratic, was now a man on the run, unable to embrace his country for fear of further persecution.
My head now hurting, it was time to end our meal before indigestion followed, but he kept arguing, and I kept taking the bait. Two hours later, I found myself consoling him for his troubles, though I still didn’t understand what exactly they were. He was gracious with the bill, and gracious with his thanks.
Naïve ‘til the end, I felt a pang of pity for his misguided paranoia and wondered what woman would be patient enough to handle him. Why do I bother? A month later my friend called, informing me of his reunion with his ex-girlfriend, who was now his fiancée.