Francesca is a gem of a girl, my best friend in Italy, whose father was the Head of the Centre for Nuclear Research in Rome and she is a geologist and nuclear physicist with degrees from Rome and Berkeley, California. They lived in an ancient, beautiful, rambling villa with large manicured gardens. We were introduced shortly after I arrived in Rome and after I left my job I worked with her at a nuclear conference in 1974 on the Isle of Capri which her father had organised. He had booked the entire best hotel and I welcomed delegates from all over the world, allotting their rooms.
The second day I started getting requests like “I have left my flip-flops on the beach, will you please go and get them” or “Will you please buy me some aspirins”. Francesca overheard and was furious that I was being treated as a general factotum and defended me fiercely, saying I should ignore them. Thus we set out to explore Capri and Naples together, Pozzuoli, shopping, basking in the sun and by night serenaded with classical Neapolitan songs in the nightclub. My best well-paid job ever.
I guided the delegation around Pompei, another day to Vesuvius walking inside the steaming crater and a pizza night. There was confusion when the Americans insisted on a US concoction which we had never heard of, pepperoni which in Italian means peppers, which is exactly what they got. The obliging restaurant duly replaced them with ones from their vast menu. Contrary to many Americans’ belief that pizza was created in America in fact it was invented in Naples for Queen Margherita of Savoy. I quickly became fluent in the local accent which is another language. When there is another eruption it may come with a few days’ warning from the observatory, or more likely not. There is no definitive warning of eruptions and the prediction is that telling the public will result in mass panic resulting in many deaths and blocking the roads out of Naples.
I was in much demand for work. Hostess of another conference, working for a film director on Via Veneto and referred by an English girlfriend for a job which she was leaving after two years. She failed to tell me that he was an arms dealer and when I realised I left within the month. Ministers came for meetings in his sprawling villa. He treated me abominably. I loved working for the Head of the European Space Agency, replacing someone on extended leave of six months, after which I was offered a permanent position training in software design. I could not accept as I fell ill. Then the job with my partner in Beverly Hills turned up in 1976.
Holiday in Venice
Fast forward to 2011 on holiday in Venice. At my hotel I overheard unsavoury characters discussing their mafia business over breakfast at the next table. I withdrew to an out of the way cafe where a lady with an unfriendly, vaguely familiar face came and sat at the next table. My memory went into overdrive, I had briefly met her once. She stood and leaning over my table placed her order, then chillingly I realised she was the wife of the arms dealer for whom I had worked. Wandering through the shimmering beauty of my beloved Venice as the week progressed, the atmosphere was more 1930s Vienna.
Later my innocent sister treated me to a few days in Milan. I was devastated when she was attacked in front of me in a metro station. The next day was National Liberation Day (from the nazis) so I visited the spot where Mussolini’s body had been hung by the partisans in 1945. The only way for me to talk in Italy.
It confirmed the danger my ex partner and his family had put me in, blaming me for his politics and absolving him. It had broken my heart seeing their cruelty to animals. I tried and failed to stop it. Why should they treat me any different? I had been fiercely independent when I arrived in Rome, my father having instilled in me that I am equal to men and capable of anything. Coercive control is a new term which I now recognise as the way I was treated. It is a form of bullying, difficult to see while it is happening. My ex often told me the horrific, untrue things his mother was saying about me. I just knew that I was unhappy for many years. When I debated whether to stay in Rome while my ex returned to the USA, he made me produce receipts for every cent I spent on groceries. A dear friend saw me suffering and I would have starved had it not been for her feeding me lunch every day for four months. My friend Francesca found me a good job but I was bullied out of my home by his sister who wanted it for herself.
It is a myth about great Italian lovers. My ex was a lousy and selfish lover which I learnt from better experience later. I left him but even then he wanted to control my future, telling me to “go to the top of the British” with his information. I was so subjugated I made this my mission but never found someone I could trust sufficiently without putting me or them in danger.
In 1977 he told me the future plans of the mafia:
Exploitation of the Amazon
Planting in Indonesia for palm oil
Oil exploration in the Arctic by Russia
Selling people from Eastern Europe
A society of aspiration to be popstars or footballers
All of these have happened as foretold.