It was five-thirty in the afternoon on a Thursday, and Zelda was seated at a café in Florence that overlooked the picturesque Piazza Duomo. The Café Florian had become a norm in her everyday existence during the last year she had lived in Florence. Upon finishing work for the day, she would always stop by the small café to enjoy the beauty of the piazza where she could unwind and watch the diversity of people as she indulged in a rich caffè latte. She had come to cherish the time at the café, but she also looked forward to seeing Mateo each day. Seeing Mateo seemed to make the day complete for reasons she had yet to fully understand.
“Ciao signorina!” Mateo greeted her this sunny afternoon as he paused at the table to take her order, although she was aware that he already knew what she wanted since she ordered the same thing each day. Mateo was the owner of the small café, and he made it a point to personally welcome Zelda and take her order on each of her visits. It was evident to all who sat nearby that he did so to flirt with the beautiful, blonde American. He was a bit older, or so Zelda thought, although not old enough to make any substantial difference in their relationship. His English, though good, was still a bit lacking at times. Regardless, it was easy to discern that the two had much in common.
“Ciao Mateo,” she smiled. “How are you?"
“I am very well,” he said with a flirtatious wink. “At least now that you are here, Zelda. And how are you today, my beautiful American friend?” His smile was broad and his eyes twinkled as he spoke.
“I am well,” Zelda replied. “I think I’ll have…”
Mateo immediately interrupted her with a wave of his hand. “Si, si….yes, allow me. I know, you will have your same? Si? The caffè latte?”
“Si,” Zelda laughed. “Why do you even ask?”
Their conversations always employed a mixture of English and Italian, as each attempted to converse in the other’s language, albeit with somewhat stilted accents.
As Mateo left to get her coffee, Zelda noticed the activity on the piazza this afternoon. There was a large stage constructed and the workers were hanging lights all around and above it. Massive, brilliant red curtains draped the sides of the stage. It was obvious there would be something special happening at the piazza, but she had not heard anything about an outdoor performance and was curious. Once Mateo returned, coffee in hand, she was quick to question him.
“Mateo, what is happening in the piazza? Is there going to be a performance here?”
“Si, my friend. There will be beautiful music for everyone to enjoy this evening. A trio will be singing la musica bel canto – or the finest music Italy has to offer. Will you be going, Zelda?” he asked, keenly interested in her response.
Zelda had not heard about the concert. “I'm not sure, Mateo. I didn’t know anything about it.”
Mateo took the liberty of seating himself in the vacant seat beside her. “Zelda, my friend, you must come. You cannot be here in Italy and not hear our musica bel canto in such a wonderful way. It will be bellisimo! Please, say you will be my guest. Si? Allow me to introduce you to something wonderful and magnificent from my country. It will be Italy at its finest!” Mateo insisted. “You will not regret it. I promise this to you!”
Zelda smiled, encouraged by Mateo’s enthusiasm. She had no plans for the evening and did not hesitate to accept his invitation. While she had not dated in more than a year, she liked Mateo a great deal. Perhaps this wouldn’t be an official date, but still, she was sure it would be fun as well as entertaining, and Mateo was most definitely worthy of her attention. She had secretly admired him for several months, charmed by the conversations they’d shared while also considering him to be a good friend.
“Si, Mateo, I would love to accompany you. Thank you so much for inviting me. When and where should I meet you?”
“Please, can you meet me in front of the café at eight-thirty? I will finish up about that time, we can enjoy a glass of wine and a bite to eat. The concert will begin at 10:00 pm.”
Zelda nodded. “Yes, of course. How exciting, Mateo, to hear your musica bel canto. Thank you again for asking me.”
“It is only my pleasure. I cannot wait until this evening when I will see you again, Zelda. I promise we will have a wonderful time,” Mateo said as he rose and kissed her cheek with a handsome smile.
After a short while, Zelda headed to her small loft apartment. She had worked for a year as an English tutor for several Italian families and had done so since graduating from William & Mary. Life was very different in Italy compared to Virginia, but she loved it in every conceivable way: the people, the art, the scenery, the music, the food, the language, and of course, the wine. It was all amazing, and she could think of no better way to live life at this point in time, especially while she was still young.
Later that evening, Zelda looked through her closet for something suitable to wear to the concert. Mateo had never seen her in much else but jeans or slacks, so she wanted to charm him a bit this evening. She decided upon an elegant, yet simple black dress and heels. The dress had three-quarter length sleeves and would be effective against the evening’s chill, although she would take her emerald green shawl as well.
Shortly thereafter, Zelda gave herself a final glance in the mirror. The simplicity of the black dress was perfect with her long, sleek hair that fell about her shoulders. With its rich blonde luster it was easy to see why she received so many whistles and stares. While blonde hair was not something out of the ordinary in the States, one saw few Italian women with it in the current locale, and it was all too apparent that the Italian men admired it. Satisfied with her appearance, Zelda grabbed her purse and headed out the door, excitement coursing through her at the thought of seeing Mateo again.
Taking a taxi, Zelda arrived at the café a little past eight. Although she was early, Mateo was waiting as if he, too, was anxious to see her again. Despite the coolness of the evening, a warmth spread through Zelda as she neared the handsome Italian. If she had thought him attractive before, she now knew it to be undeniably true. He had obviously gone home and changed his clothes for the evening and was now dressed in slim black pants, a crisp, white shirt, and a sports jacket. The color choices was perfect with his dark coloring and brown eyes. While Zelda could easily admire the look of the man, she knew after months of conversing with him that more importantly, beneath how he looked was a kind man, spurred on by an intelligent mind. She could not have been more pleased to accompany him this evening.
“Zelda,” Mateo said as he greeted her with a warm hug and a kiss on each cheek. Stepping back, he said, “You look bellissima!”
Zelda smiled, feeling butterflies in the pit of her stomach. “Thank you, Mateo. You look bellissima, too.”
Mateo laughed. “But Zelda, I am not a she?” he teased.
The dawning of awareness on her face, Zelda corrected herself. “Oh no, Mateo! I am so sorry. You look bello!”
“Grazie,” he laughed again. “Would you like a drink? Maybe a glass of vino? Si?”
“Absolutely, thank you.”
“Perfetto! Un momento.”
Mateo disappeared into the café and returned moments later with two glasses of wine. “It is the finest Tuscan Merlot. You like this vino, no?” he asked as he handed her a glass.
“Si! Merlot is my favorite. Thank you.”
Before taking a sip of the aromatic wine, Zelda immediately inhaled of the rich smell of currants, black cherries, and spices. As she tasted the wine, its warmth was immediate, invading first her mouth and then traveling to her extremities in quick measure. The wine was an excellent choice for this evening’s event. Zelda smiled at Mateo, who watched her drink it as though he’d never seen anyone drink wine before.
After two hours of nibbling on appetizers, more Tuscan Merlot, and flirtatious banter, Mateo guided Zelda to a seat in the piazza that was only eight rows from the stage. Zelda was surprised that they had such a wonderful view. As she took her seat, she noticed there was a full orchestra set up behind the elevated stage. It appeared that tonight was going to be a spectacular night of music. Nothing in Italy had disappointed her thus far, and she was sure this evening's performance would have the same excellent result.
“Do you know about our musica bel canto?” Mateo asked as they took their seats.
“No, I’m not sure that I do,” Zelda confessed.
The look Mateo gave her was a very proud one, as if he himself had invented la musica bel canto of Italy.
“It is the music of old,” Mateo began. “And it is amazing and beautiful. And…how do you say ‘difficile’? It is very difficile to sing. This music began in Italy, many, many years ago.”
“I cannot wait,” Zelda said. “It is such a beautiful evening for music beneath the stars. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
“Si, Zelda. Please know it is my pleasure to have you here with me beneath this beautiful Italian sky,” Mateo said and his smile grew even larger, displaying both dimples in his cheeks. Never one to disregard an opportunity, he stretched out his left arm and laid it across Zelda’s chair behind her back as he lightly touched her shoulder with his fingers . The darkness of his brown eyes deepened as he watched a blush suffuse her cheeks in response to the light caress.
Zelda glanced at Mateo beneath golden lashes and smiled as she relaxed into his embrace. The evening was indeed a beautiful one – not too hot nor too cold – and she was very comfortable in the company of the man seated beside her. The Cathedral of Santa Maria was lit up in the piazza and looked more stunningly beautiful than ever even though she saw it nearly every single day on her way to and from work. Zelda had fantasized about such an evening with Mateo for some while now, and one spent beneath the stars and moon while listening to beautiful Italian music only served to enhance the manifestation of the dream.
A short while later, three young men came on the stage and began to sing. Zelda was immediately mesmerized by the beautiful and harmonious strength of their voices.
Ma n'atu sole
Cchiù bello, oje ne'
'O sole mio
Sta 'nfronte a te
'O Sole Mio was an amazing song with which to open the night’s performance, and Zelda knew that it would always remain a favorite for her after this evening. The moving song, beneath the Italian skies, was exceptional. The stars and moon winkled brightly above as if signaling their agreement.
The evening continued with more wonderful music, and Zelda was in captivated by music and trio. Her mind and heart opened and her senses were filled in ways of which she’d previously been completely unaware. At long last, the final song of the evening began. Zelda was riveted to the music, in awe of Puccini's lovely music.
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle che tremano
d'amore e di Speranza.
Nobody shall sleep!
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
So moving were the words and music that Zelda felt tears sting her eyes. As she reached up to lightly wipe them, she glanced at Mateo. He was watching her intently, his own eyes liquid in appreciation. He was as moved by the composer's lovely words and music as she.
Unable to resist, Zelda rested a hand on Mateo's chest and leaned over to lightly kiss him. He responded warmly, and Zelda could not help but think his lips had been made by the Gods for just such a thing on such a night. She shivered as she tasted the faintest hint of Merlot. She moved closer, leaning into his shoulder as if she had known him always. Mateo’s pulled her closer still.
As the evening ended, the two rose and walked silently with interwoven hands about the piazza until they found a secluded spot where they could sit not far from the cathedral. Neither was inclined to speak for there was no need for words, only a profundity of emotion. Their senses were reeling with that which artists paint and writers write.
After long minutes of silence, Mateo found his voice and finally spoke. “Was bellissimo, no? Just as I promised you. Si?” he asked, gazing at her.
“Si, it was indescribably beautiful, Mateo. I have no words to describe its beauty or how it has made me feel.” Zelda smiled, her eyes full of the emotion the music had evoked.
Mateo smiled as his brown eyes deepened. He leaned toward Zelda and kissed her with a newfound awareness. Zelda responded in kind, feeling something she’d never felt fill her as Mateo's arms tightened about her. She tasted deeper of the Merlot he’d drunk.
Finally, Mateo lifted his head to look at her, searching her eyes. “Tesoro mio,” he whispered.
Zelda’s brow rose in question. “Tesoro mio?”
“Si, tesoro mio. You are my treasure, Zelda. A treasure as beautiful as la musica bel canto. I have waited for you always, and now, here you are, in my arms.”
Mateo’s words were so lyrical, moving her so much that that she nearly wept. Was this real or was she dreaming? Oh, but if she was dreaming, she hoped never to awaken. “Mateo…” she tried to find words to express herself.
“Si, tesoro mio?”
“Mateo, I was lost, but now it’s as if I’ve come home…to you and to Italy. I am so happy.”
“Si, tesoro mio….si. Me, too,” Mateo whispered and kissed her again. Both knew that the world was theirs and would never be the same now that they’d found one another.
Without a doubt, love on this fated, beautiful evening was as wondrous and enduring as the musica bel canto. And just as Puccini had written so many years before, the stars above the two trembled with love and hope anew. L’amore was indeed a rare treasure or tresoro, and two unsuspecting souls were fortunate enough to discover it beneath the Italian skies,, brought together by the beautiful musica bel canto.