The spring I turned twenty-two, I was desperately trying to recover from a ravaging love affair that had changed me from a girl who was somewhat confident for her age and mostly happy, to one who was completely demoralized. It was not only the relationship itself, but the reactions to the demise of the relationship by friends and family who I thought I knew that made me lose all trust in my perceptions of people.
And so, I stopped caring about anything at all. I was walking, eating, breathing, but I wasn’t really living. On I went like that for a while, truly believing that was how I was going to exist for the rest of my days. Until that one day, when I opened my dresser drawer and noticed the engagement ring I’d taken off blinking out at me. I looked at it for a moment, then picked it up, put in it my handbag, left the house, took the subway to Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue Diamond Exchange, and sold that ring to a jeweler for two thousand dollars. Then I promptly spent the entire two grand to buy a tour of continental Europe, the “If-it’s-Tuesday-this-must-be Belgium” kind.
My first holiday abroad, and I was going alone.
It was in Rome, the third city on the tour, that it happened, just as we’ve all seen it happen in the vintage black and white films starring Audrey Hepburn. I was already recovering myself, brave enough to book the trip, brave enough to travel by myself, braver still to venture out of my hotel room sans tour guide and group to see the sights. I’d only walked a block when a young man drove by in a convertible and looked over at me. He had everything ─ the good looks, the fancy car, and the sense of romantic adventure that sanctioned his cutting off a taxi and driving up onto the sidewalk next to me with the finesse and casualness I now know is an inherent trait passed down only to Italian motorists. But as this was my first visit to Italy, I watched dumbfounded as he got out of his car, leaving the door wide open, and strode over. Then he just stood in front of me and stared.
After a few moments of that, he said, “Signorina, my name is ‘Paolo.’ You are so beautiful. Will you please, please, please go out with me tonight?”
I should have said no. That would have been wisest, but he was looking at me with such enchantment and hope that I heard myself agree to spend an evening in an unfamiliar city with a stranger who, depending on how you viewed it, was either a very bad or a very good driver.
When he picked me up at my hotel later as promised, he’d brought his car, and sitting in it was another young man who introduced himself as “Giorgio, Paolo’s friend”. Apparently, Paolo, who didn’t speak English, had noticed my poor Italian and recognized that there would be a language impediment. So he’d brought along a translator. Giorgio did speak English very well, and seemed quite happy to serve as liaison for his friend and his friend’s foreign date.
It never occurred to me for one moment that I was at risk. Despite my recent disillusionments, I was still ridiculously naïve, and they seemed like perfectly nice young men with nothing more on their minds than spending an evening with a girl who, for some reason I couldn’t fathom, they both found intriguing.
Here’s the point: I was exactly correct. After we left the hotel, the first thing we did was zig zag through narrow, stone-paved streets to get to an out-of the way trattoria where we shared a pizza that tasted as though it has been made for the gods. After which, they took me to the Tivoli Gardens, where Paolo bubbled explanations for what we were seeing, and Giorgio translated whatever I couldn’t catch. Our last stop for the evening was the Fontana di Trevi, the famous fountain in which one throws a coin in wish and promise to return to Rome. Typically tourist, I held up my camera and asked if I could take a photo of them in front of it, but Giorgio insisted that the photo be of Paolo and me. Just as the flash went off, Paolo leaned over and kissed me, just one simple, boyish kiss on my cheek, caught in that photo, for me to remember forever.
“So, nothing happened?” is what I was asked dubiously by my seat mates the next morning, as our coach sped off to Venice, the next city on our route.
‘Yes, something happened,’ is what I wanted to say, ‘my faith in human nature and in men has been restored.’ All in one evening, and at the glorious fountain I will always believe is as magic as it’s purported to be.
I recount this factual but somewhat sappy ‘woman’s magazine story’ if you will, for one reason only, and that reason is: Joran van der Sloot
Joran van der Sloot, with the gleeful assistance of every major newspaper and television station has horrified young women and their mothers into believing that every stranger ─ indeed, every foreigner ─ who has a penis can and will use it as a weapon against females. As the mother of five sons, and as the (formerly) young girl whose disillusioned spirit was cared for so tenderly that time in Rome so long ago, I resent that depiction so much I want to spit.
Just once, I’d like to see Larry King or Nancy Grace interview a ‘Paolo’ and ask him about his dealings with women, like this, “Tell us, Paolo ─ you had a vulnerable girl who stupidly put herself at your mercy ─ why didn’t you take advantage of that by drugging her, raping her, beating her to death, and then throwing her in the Tiber? No one would have known – you could have gotten away with it – so why didn’t you do it? Why don’t you share the foreign man’s purported image of American women as ‘sluts’? What were the ideals and morals you were raised with by your parents that have made you like and respect females so much? Tell us. And most significantly, tell us about your relationship with your mother. She must be quite an extraordinary woman.”
The mother. Yes. The mother in this sordid tale who’s being most blogged about, most talked about, is Beth Holloway ─ in vague, but insinuating enough terms that she was feckless in allowing her daughter Natalee to go on a high school graduation trip to Aruba.
Parents of teens, please help me out here ─ can you not just picture how that conversation went?
Beth: Jug, honey, do you think we should let Natalee go on that trip?
Twitty: Yes. No. I don’t know. Whatever you think, hon.
Beth: She’s such a good girl, graduated with honors, member of the National Honor Society, and now going to attend the University of Alabama on a full scholarship. I hate to be the only parent to say ‘no.’ She’d never forgive me.
And she’d be right about that, wouldn’t she, parents who have teens and young adult children? Our sons are all in their early to late 20’s by now, yet they still gripe about stuff we didn’t allow them to do in high school that other kids got to do. And you know what? – They’ll keep right on griping…until they have kids of their own.
So Beth Holloway bet on the very good odds that Natalee would run into a Paolo and Giorgio instead of a Joran, Deepak, and Satish. She lost that bet. And being blonde, white, rich, attractive, intelligent, and ramrod persistent, television, magazines, radio stations and newspapers will make her pay for losing by subtly painting her as unsympathetically as possible ─ her divorce from Natalee’s father, her plastic surgeries, her rumored affair with John Ramsey ─ because, let’s face it, television, magazines, radio stations and newspapers only like to ‘buddy up’ to blondes when said blondes are Anna Nicole Smith, or on the other end of that spectrum, Ann Coulter.
Yet from my perspective, the mom who seems to have gotten a ‘free pass’ from the media regarding even a consideration of maternal incompetence is Anita van der Sloot, who insisted in an email to her son’s ex-girlfriend that he “was being set up.” Then again, also from my perspective, the only way she could not be deemed incompetent at this point is if she took a gun and shot the creature that sprang from her womb. And while she’s at it, I’d love to see her blow away every single sensationalist news outlet that has paid and keeps paying her monster of a son for interviews; interviews in which he lies over and over again, interviews that have been so lucrative for him that he has lived off of them for the past five years, since Natalee Holloway’s murder, enough to go gambling in Peru where he was able to murder yet again.
I am sickened by all of this, but most of all I am sickened by a media that we have allowed to morph into our ‘dysfunctional parent’ ─ a xenophobic, ethnocentric, small-minded parent with a self-serving agenda, to whom we have given our full consent to emotionally blackmail us into believing that all foreigners are terrorists, all American women are despised by said foreigners and therefore in danger whenever they travel abroad, (so best to stay home, provincial and pregnant); psychopaths ‘deserve’ to be heard, and a bright, promising 18-year-old girl, with the assistance of a mother who loves her, somehow colluded in her own brutalization by accepting a date with a handsome stranger.
Last 5 posts by Patricia Volonakis Davis
- Podcast Interview with James Redford: “I Ask Myself ─ Even if Nothing Comes of It, Will it Enrich My Life by My Having Spent Time on It?’” - June 24th, 2010
- Podcast Interview with author Scott James: “People Don’t Want the Government in their Bedrooms” - March 4th, 2010
- Catching Up with Some of Our Previous Podcast Interviewees - March 3rd, 2010
- Podcast Interview with Michael Larsen & Elizabeth Pomada - February 3rd, 2010
- Menopause and Melanin - November 30th, 2009