“Lover Be My Captain’©2019 By Dee-Dee Diamond
The dainty, woman in the floral cotton dress, sat next to me. I did not pay her much attention as I was half-asleep after a long, exhausting train trip from Rome to Naples. Me and my 3 single girlfriends were now on the Hydrofoil, to Capri. This followed a night of festive drinking, dining, and disco-hopping, (straight off the plane), from New York, to Rome. We were on a 2 -week European vacation as divorcees in our early 30’s.
She heard my New York accent and nostalgia overtook her. Shyly, she touched my arm, ignored my drooping eye lids…she had to talk to me.
“I lived Central Park West”, She said confidentially like we were comrades- in -arms, not strangers on a moving water vessel. Not wanting to be rude, I smiled, in an indulgent, groggy way hoping to again… close my eyes.
Meantime, my travel companions, were fast asleep, getting much needed z’s, positioned on the far side of me.
“Oh no not anymore”, She further clarified, “but me boys and grand- bambinos, lives New York. They Americano”. (It was important for her to make me understand her spanning of both cultures), as she chatted gaily away.
It became obvious, she took my smile, as license to proceed with her bottled-up story, that she wished to share. I sighed, then resigned myself to no catnap. Being an amateur writer, I relished a good story as she spilled her tale, in her charming, accented English.
She pointed to the captain steering our ride to The Isle of Capri Port from Naples,” That is my first and only…love”.
Then she called to him, “Giovanni, mi amore”, wave -a to my friend from New York-a”. The still handsome, mustached Captain saluted us playfully, tipping his cap.
Now I got interested since I adore real love stories, (romantic that I am). I was hearing one on my first trip to the isle known for lovers.
“Tis The Isle of Capri that I found her” …Dean Martin burst into song in my brain.
“Their Story” …Part Two…
Animated the fine-lined matron’s face took on a girlish blush relishing their joy of a long-lost, then found again, love.
“The Captain and I, Luisa were born, as so many generations before us, in Magliano, outside Naples. Our families lived there so long, farmed the same ancient soil, that even the old stones beneath our feet knew us”.
Luisa & Giovanni always knew even as children, that they would marry. All in their closely-knit village accepted that as fact. Always when one saw Luisa, you knew Giovanni was close by.
World War 2 broke- out in Europe, their pastoral youth, was suddenly disrupted. Italy is now aligned with Nazi Germany and Japan. Giovanni was unceremoniously hauled off with other fresh-faced teenage boys & middle-aged men to fight in Mussolini’s army. They were terrified. This raggedy army of ill-prepared farmers were deployed to the front to fight the Allies.
Soon after, Luisa lost her bearings. Family & many friends died. She ended up displaced in Naples, lucky to be alive. She found a job clearing tables, swabbing floors, and washing dishes in a family-owned restaurant that fed her, scraps in payment. Meantime many of her fellow Europeans starved.
In some far- off battle, Giovanni was captured wounded and placed in an Allied Prisoner of War Camp.
Unfortunately, nobody knew what had happened to him. He was just 1 of the many missing or killed men of Magliano.
It was after a time, an Italian American G.I., Frankie Aquilla, (stationed in Naples), was intrigued with the pretty, sad faced 16-year-old, Luisa.
He had been watching her as she silently walked to her job in Mario’s Ristorante on the Port.
One early evening the lanky, boyish soldier got the courage to approach her. He politely asked, “May I walk with you”? This went on for a while until when finally, they did speak, he was desperate to remember the Italian spoken by his immigrant grandparents, in his family’s New York deli. They had spoken to him in their native language, he had answered them in English. Somehow, they understood one another. Frankie’s labored Italian made the shy Luisa, giggle… something she had not done for a long time.
They developed a sweet friendship. Consequently, few months later, Frank was to be shipped home. He found he could not return to The States without her. She’d be left alone…lost.
This GI was comforting and asked to take her to America as his bride. They married quickly and he brought her home, with him to the USA.
The young- marrieds lived with his parents on Manhattan’s Westside. His large family accepted his “war bride” but promptly put her to work in their deli/restaurant, located in Hell’s kitchen, on 10th Avenue. The Arquillas used her as free labor, a captive while constantly reminding her how lucky she was. For her it was “Hell’s Kitchen” …truly!
This abuse continued even after their 2 sons were born. Frank, her selfish husband was treated like their favorite child. His laziness and running around with other women, was excused. “Boys will be boys’ they say to a suffering, powerless Luisa. It’s no wonder that their” Frankie-boy” never grew up to be a man.
Luisa was devasted secretly when news arrived, from an old, lost letter that read, “Giovanni returned home to Magliano, alive and released from the war camp hospital. He searched for you, his beloved. We, neighbors, worried when he discovered you were married in America and a mother- to- be. His fragile spirit was broken even though his body was repaired.
A young war widow, from the adjoining town, was left with a small, fatherless boy”. The letter continued, “We the elders introduced Giovanni & Maria. It was after some chaperoned “dates”, we encouraged them to marry…to re-build their still young lives, together. And so, Giovanni has a wife, a ready -made son and a home. But Luisa, you will always own his heart”, it concluded.
“Captain, my Captain.”
Giovanni’s father-in-law had been captain of the Capri Hydrofoil since its launching. When he retired Giovanni was promoted to his job. He loved his position on the turquoise sea, transporting “Townies” & tourists to & from Naples Port, to the splendid Isle of Capri.
He could never work in the confines of an office. Many days as he steers the hydrofoil his mind would wonder dreamily, how was his beloved and did she ever think of him?
Now 20 years past, Luisa’s sons were grown men. She had enough of Frank’s philandering together with his abusive family. Religiously frugal, she had managed to squirrel away some money, quietly.
Luisa left New York. To her sons she explained that she was going back home to Magliano because she was… compelled to. They felt her silent unhappiness with their father.
The little house left to her by her parents, would always be open to them to visit. Frank Jr. & Thomas saw how she had slaved in the Aquilla business and what a good mama she always was. Tearfully, they bid her “ciao”!
Home again in Italia
Once more on her own piece of Earth, she took her time fixing-up the old, neglected homestead. Her neighbors’ grandchildren helped paint the peeling stone house a pale peach with creamy-white shutters. The terra-cotta roof tiles replaced & the now filled window boxes, completed her tiny, secluded home. Her garden was budding. It was then the villa seemed ready for awaiting lovers. Now she was ready to meet her destiny.
Luisa was scared to contact Giovanni, but more frightened…not to.
She learnt that he was working on the hydrofoil, she comprised her plan.
Luisa had her hair colored to its original shade of brown with a mahogany glaze. Her hazel eyes were radiant in anticipation even she noted it in her vanity mirror. Hopefully he would not be disappointed, she prayed.
Finally, the fateful day was here. She would go for it!
She wore huge tortoise shell sunglasses and a silk ecru headscarf. The olive, printed sheath with the tan belt, she sewed for this occasion, suited her still slim figure. It played up her coloring just right.
Luisa’s heart pounded, her head she held down all while making herself as invisible as possible as she boarded the crowded vessel. The Summer crowd was noisily excited and chatting away. Soon they would be on one of the most beautiful spots on this planet, Capri.
Its blue grottos, the ancient cobbled, squares, the rocky beaches and the marvelous food beckoned. All set on the clear, simmering aqua Mediterranean Sea.
She waited anxiously until passengers were seated, their baggage securely stored and trip underway, then Luisa rose. Then she removed her sunglasses & scarf. From behind she lightly tapped the Captain’s shoulder. “Giovanni, mi amore”, She whispered in his ear.
Their souls heard each other…her whisper shouted in his being.
That was the moment that re-sparked their lives.
Luisa would meet him at the Naples dock, she would ride with him on this voyage, daily. They lived 2 days a week in her cozy villa, their love nest. Then he’d travel home to his family home in Nola, where they lived, no one knew about this arrangement except a few close friends, that wished them their happiness.
The lifetime lovers were grateful to the gods…his wife & children were cared for, her sons prosperous in the business they inherited.
My eyes filled with tears.
They would live happily ever after…
What a lovely story for me to take with me as we sped to The Isle of Capri.
Perhaps there was love awaiting me, too, after my painful divorce and this trip abroad. I believe it was fate that seated me next to Luisa to hear her beautiful love story. She had a lesson for me…