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Last night was part two of our Housewives journey to the old country. No, not the Old Country Buffet. To Italy — Italia, as foreigners call it — where we met the Jewdice family and learned lessons about travel budgeting.
When last we left our brave travelers, they had climbed aboard an enormous ship in Venice and headed out onto the Adriatic, disappearing o'er the horizon like ancient Etruscans sailing toward battle. We knew that they were headed south, down to the Bay of Naples, to that moped-humming den of thieves known as Napoli, where the skin is darker and the accents are thicker and they've elected a pizzapie to the mayor's office three decades running. Naturally Joe and Teresa are from this gnarled place, came slumping out of its alleyways and got on great belching, rusting steamerships, toddler eyes cold black marbles, dreaming of American mansions and garish dresses. Well, OK, they're not from Naples proper. They are from one of the hilltop towns outside of it and, following several lavish pizzameals, that was their destination.
But first they had to get off the boat. Of course there was a clattering of bags and a screeching of Jewdice princesses and a grumbling of Joe and a sad huffing of the old people on the trip who just wanted to see Italy, not stumble around in the wake of these horrible bellowing people and their beloved cameras. But this was how they had to go, this was how the trip was free, so they had to press on. They all piled into a bus and there were low clouds over the bay and Teresa stared with furrowed minibrow out the window. She was scanning the horizon for something, something she'd heard about, something someone had told her to look for. But what was it... She squinted and scratched her head and pressed her face to the glass, a light rain spattering the window, the fog and mist keeping secrets. And then finally she saw it! She remembered what it was! Her arm shot up and she pointed a bejeweled finger at a looming dark mass in the distance. "Vol— Vol— Volcanoooooo!!!!"
She was staring of course at Mt. Vesuvius, that still-rumbling doom machine that Teresa had heard about in picture books. "It erupted hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Or was it sixty?" she wondered. And actually, Teets, you're right on both accounts. The last eruption was in 1944. But, yeah, the big one was in '79. Actually, no apostrophe. Just 79. So for once Teresa was right, twice! Yayyyy Teresa. Everyone stared at the cloud-shrouded, semi-blasted mountain as the bus rattled on by, Teresa's eyes wide with imagination. "That's a big volcano..." she whispered, knowledge of the old elemental world seeping into her. Earthquakes and fires and flash floods. The world is indeed big, and lovely, and looming, and scary. Teresa blinked away a tear. She was really feeling something, looking at that sleeping giant, really learning something from travel. But then Straciatella began screaming and Joe began swearing and the moment was gone. Teresa shook her head. Stupid old mountain. She looked down at her hands, fiddled with her biggest ring. "Pretty..." she said. And the bus rolled on.
In Naples they mostly wandered, down narrow busy streets, through choked piazzas, all of them undoubtedly pick-pocketed several times, the camera crew complicit in this. Caroline had a little conversation with her nice-seeming parents, who were very happy to be in It'ly, seeing the old world, standing on cobblestones and breathing in the sweetly stinking city air. And with Caroline and their son Chris there, it really was very pleasant, it really was very nice, to have a little huggy moment, to look up at the Tyrrhenian sky and feel safe in a new place, still under the same mysterious dome that hangs above them at home. It was quite nice. Too bad, then, that up ahead of them, pushing and jostling, cursing and moaning, were garbage people, whining and barking at each other and drawing as much attention to themselves as possible. Going on vacation with the Jewdice family must be like going on vacation with an eight-year-old's birthday party, only two of the eight-year-olds are overgrown noisemonsters with stretched, oragney skin and the combined vocabulary of a four-year-old. That does not sound like a fun trip to me! Maybe at DisneyWorld it would be OK, whatever, but to go with the Jewdices to a nice cultural place, where you're really just trying to get a feel for your surroundings, it'd probably be better to just stay at home and sit underwater in your swimming pool for a week. You'd probably learn more.
So yeah, Teresa and Joe and their truly dreadful children were being really annoying. At least Joe got to have a nice pizzapie break before things got really bad. They were checking out of their hotel or something, moving on to a new place, and they'd had a series of big dinners full of food and wine and booze. Naturally it came time to settle up, and after paying the bill, Joe was furrrrious on the bus to his family's home. "FUCKIN' WHAT. 850 EUROS. WHAT. FUCK. ASSHOLE. COGNAC? NOBODY DON'T DRINK NO COGNAC. WHISKEY? AIN'T NEVER PERSONS GONNA BE DRINKIN' WHISKEY." He kept yelling and yelling and mangling grammar, meanwhile his daughters were soaking it all in. The camera lingered on them in the front of the bus, kicking and crawling all over each other, like goat kids in dresses, Joe booming stupidly in the background, and you just knew, you just knew, that there's no way these kids are gonna turn out OK. "Fuckin' my father 450 EUROS, fuckin' rip-awwfff. COGNAC. Ain't any hows who was drinkin' cognac!" Careful of what you say, Joe. Children will listen!
It didn't really matter what anyone said to calm him down, Joe just wanted to rage. Clearly they had actually spent $2000 on their enormous, wine-soaked dinners, there were a lot of them and they were probably getting tourist prices. I believe that in a second. And I believe that people drank from minibars. And I most believe that Joe was having a kind of quiet dreadful panic attack about his imploding finances that manifested outwardly as rage. That's the real gist of what was going on. Joe knew that the jig would soon be up when they returned to the real world and then all of this — the cruise ships and buses and rolling faraway hills — would disappear. That is scary! But it is not an excuse for bus rage. The only excuse for bus rage is when you die on a bus and have to spend the rest of your undead ghost life helping Robert Downey Jr. nail Elisabeth Shue. Then and only then is it totally acceptable to rage on a bus. Joe eventually calmed down and said something about how everyone was going to be civilized and Caroline cackled and cackled, and so did we, and so did the Roman gods high up in the caelum, exhausted and old, forgotten and lonely.
Then they all climbed a tall, tall hill and met the Jewdice clan, and it was nice, with lots of kissing and hugging and old nonnas smooshing cheeks and pinching fat. Jacqueline and Caroline broke into a house and ate some curious pasta that was sitting on rocks in an old copper pot and Jacqueline giggled. Joe learned about where he was born, a dilapidated house with a sad brown door perched precariously on the hill. Further down the mount an uncle waved to them from his balcony, slow and faraway. Teresa stared off, her attention still pulled to that dark mountain in the distance, that thrumming geological heart.
Meanwhile, back in Stink Jersey, Danielle was feeling lonely. She was feeling lonely because with all the other woman off in Italy, she had nothing to do. She rattled around her crumbling villa, restless and bored. She decided to pull her daughters into a conversation about her search for her biological mother, a teenage girl who had given up her baby back in the 1940s. That's the sad stuff of actual hard history, and I do believe that Danielle had a genuinely pained upbringing. But to use the whole thing as a cheap ploy for a camera time-earning TV plotline is just gross and annoying and I don't really feel like talking about it. Sorry, Danielle. I'm sorry for everything.
Her daughters weren't really biting, so Danielle called up her trusty friend Scraps. He showed up at the house, all rumpled and flint-eyed, and they decided to get a meal. "Where you wanna go?" he asked, jittery and twitching. "Panoonoo!" Danielle cried. "I want paneenzy!" Scraps nodded. "Panornas?" "Yes, panloomlees!" I think she wanted panini. You know, Italian sangawiches. If Danielle can't go to Italy with the other goils, she'll make Italy come to her, via pafeemees. Scraps agreed. "Pazeemtrees it is." So they piled themselves into an automobile and drove through the drizzle, the sky a dim watercolor gray. Danielle took the car ride as yet another opportunity to talk about how scared she is of the other ladies, how they could be lurking behind shopping carts, hiding in bushes, hanging by rope from the ceiling of Posche, waiting to pounce. All they do all day is plot and scheme ways to attack Danielle, like big-haired Wile E. Coyotes, like Spy vs. Spy comics that never end. Scraps told her that he was going to keep an eye on Bouffant, because her friends had started talking to him, telling him things. He tried to act like this was a bad thing, but you know he was secretly happy, happy to have fleshy young things throwing attention his way, the thrill of youth and girl sparking in his burnt fist of a heart. Danielle shook her head. "Watch out for them." And, oh, Scraps would. He would watch out for them while rolling slowly past the high school. While glumly stirring a french fry in ketchup at the mall food court, alone at his fluorescent-drenched table, a pack of them giggling a few seats away, their hair thick and full like smooth brown rivers. Oh he would keep an eye out for all of them, he would keep and keep and keep.
They arrived at the panreepy place, and it was just a supermarket. Just a supermarket where they press two stale slabs of ciabatta and some withered leaves of arugula on a sandwich grill and mispronounce Asiago and serve salty, rubbery slips of ham called "pro-shoe-toe." Danielle loves these pagmeanies, she loves them so. She might love Scraps too, if she let herself. And he might love her too, in this dreary rain town, here in the stark parking lots of their lives. But for now it's not the pressing of bodies, just that of sandwiches. That's all for now. Danielle is dying. The edges of her world are closing like a book and all is going black. It's too bad she's too proud to hug Scraps close in these final, darkening moments.
Speaking of dark. Nighttime in the hill town. Everyone is snoozing and snoring, the faint wail of an "eeee-ooo eee-ooo" European siren somewhere in the distance. Teresa is wide awake. She cannot sleep. Something soft and deep is talking to her. It's telling her to get up and leave the hotel room. To find a taxi cab, the driver sleeping in the driver's seat. "Take me to where that mountain exploded," she says. The driver knows what she needs, has seen this before. They drive in silence for a long time, the streets wending along the coast. Finally they arrive at a knobbled expanse of stone and quiet grass. "Ecco, ecco" the driver says, pointing to the field, telling Teresa to leave. He will go no further. "Grazie," Teresa says, handing him a sweaty Euro bill. She gets out of the car, walks up a low hill.
This is it. The place. Pompeii. Of course the site is closed for the night, but no one seems to be around, so Teresa steps over the chain barrier and walks on. All these sunken walls and chipped-away columns. All these shards of pottery and buried lives. She takes stock of the scene and feels a cold weight in her lungs. Where do people go? She sees their perfect outlines. Not people, just hollows of hardened ash where organic matter once was — curled into balls, hands on heads, families huddled together before the rage of time and disaster came and burned them away. Teresa's legs give out and she crumples to the ground. She cannot cry, just open her mouth, a wide and worried O, and wonder what will happen. Joe is broke. She knows this. All is already lost. She imagines what it was like when a family in Pompeii — a rich one maybe, people with ease and luxury, people with gaudy tailored dresses and feathered hats for their girls, people like her — looked up and saw the reddening sky and knew that there was nowhere to run, that the old days were over, here was the new oblivion future rushing toward them. She wonders if they knew like she does, there in the soil of Italy that night. That their lives would soon be rubble. That everything they had was already gone.