Friday, January 7, 2011

A 20 for your thoughts?

I talk a lot. I am not sure if I always say a lot. But I surely do talk a lot. I talk about the world spinning round. I talk about the leaves falling off the trees. I talk about music to my ears. I talk about how people inspire me—how I inspire them. I talk about calories. I talk about beliefs. I talk about the future—the past—and the present. I talk about sports. I talk about clothes and money…I talk about material things, and I talk about wishes and wants and dreams.

I talk to family. I talk to friends. I talk to my video camera. I talk to myself.

And when a stranger offers me the candy of a conversation about something other than boys and problems in life…I take the candy, and I talk to a stranger—even if my parents once told me never to stop and talk to strangers. Because let’s be honest, if we never stopped and talked to strangers, would we have any friends?

Sitting in front of what I refer to as the Cloverfield Monster of Rome, The Pantheon, which sits tightly as the meat between two apartment buildings, I contemplate which was built first—the apartment buildings or the Pantheon—and how they got the columns there if it was built second. I try and engineer the building of the Pantheon in my head. ‘Well I know how they got the columns…’ My thoughts are interrupted by a middle-aged man dressed down who has just sat next to me. “Is there mass?” He asks me.

Reaching to button my jacket pockets—in case I have placed valuables within, I look at him and say “Non lo so” (I don’t know)

“Oh parli Italiano” (You speak Italian!)

“Un po,” I say. "English is my native language."

He begins speaking to me in English—very good English at that. “What do you do in Rome?”

Now clutching my backpack, half expecting him to have a gypsy attempt to rob me of all my belongings (my trust is still low since having my things stolen just over two months ago), “I teach English…but not for long. I return to the states in a month and go on vacation this coming week.”

“How much do you charge.”

I tell him that I charge 25 Euro for a planned lesson.

“And for conversation?”

“20 Euro.”

“Can I pay you 20 Euro now to talk to me in English for a half hour. It’s not often that I get to speak to a lovely lady in English for a half hour and I need it for my work.”

Still clutching my backpack, and still nervous, I look around to grasp my surroundings.

“What, you don’t want an easy twenty euro?” The man says to me.

‘Hold on,’ I think to myself. ‘Breathe. Take one more look around. Check your pockets one more time. You are in a tourist area. Stay weary.’ I continue my thoughts in my head ‘Stop being so serious. Relax. Breathe. 20 dollars to talk… talk.’

“Okay,” I say. “but one moment.” I quickly call my friend to tell her that I will be a half hour later for our cappuccino date.

And then I say, “But twenty is too much…” “No, twenty is not much, he says.” And then we talk—and talk—and talk—and talk. And we laugh, and we laugh more…and we discuss Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff, and how Johnny Depp is for the young crowd—not his. And how George Clooney is looked down upon in Italy, but for Clint Eastwood—two thumbs up. And we frown upon Berlusconi and we talk about how beautiful Rome is and where else to visit in Italy—and we smile, and we enjoy one another’s company.

Not before long our half hour is up, and he initiates the end of the conversation by thanking me for my time and wishing that we could meet again. Genuinely saddened that I won’t be around Rome any longer, he says that he hopes to meet with me one day again so that he can again pay me to talk.

I feel bad taking his money, but he insists curling it between my fingers. A smile on his face, he says how much our conversation has meant to him, how nice it was to just sit and talk. I’d take that smile for my thoughts over the twenty, and I try to give it back to him—but when an Italian insists, you don’t argue (really—they get mad). And as he trots off with a giant smile on his face. I begin to wonder what his story is—what his family is like—if he still talks to them—if he is hoping to have his own family one day—if he is lonely—and if he was just looking for a friend…if I was a girl who was just a stranger---or if I was that stranger who could become that friend.

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