November 07, 2010

Frank Orlando on Sex After Sixty, Sicily, The Mafia, Food and Self-Discovery

Frank Orlando guest blogs today. How might this have happened you? might ask. Okay so maybe you wouldn’t ask that. Frank found me when I was Internet dating, he “friended” me on Facebook and has been a loyal follower of this blog and then he joined the Facebook page for (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixtystory where supporters hit the “like” button to help get my memoir off the ground. Please do that for me, dear readers. But in the meantime …

Ah, sex after sixty—Frank will need to read the book to see if he’s in it. Ah, social media.

I give you Frank Orlando:

Frank Orlando was born in Cleveland, where he says, “I grew up anyway. My father moved from coast to coast, finally settling in San Clemente, California. I stayed in school until I was old enough to join the Army and spent three years followed by seven getting a college education finishing at San Diego State. With my Journalism degree, I took jobs on five newspapers in five different states before getting a job with the Coachella Valley Water District where I wrote press releases, publications and stared at the wall for 18 years. I left the desert for Vancouver, B.C., then took acting lessons in Hollywood and did extra work for two years. Bored, I left for the Monterey Peninsula where I watch waves and dream of foreign lands.”


“Imagine,” John Lennon’s song of anarchy and freedom, got me to thinking about the belief we have in Hollywood romantic comedies and how that contrasted, as real life often does, with what happened before and after my trip to Sicily with Tamme. 

First, I have roots in Sicily. So, or Alora, as the Italians say, it was a bucket list topper. I don’t like to travel alone so I started asking ladies. Got turned down and then started asking, as a joke, every woman I talked to, emailed or was introduced to. Tamme, my nephew’s ex-wife, accepted eagerly and began sending me incentives to taking her.

She had just celebrated her 30th birthday and I would be seeing my 70th in Sicily.

Yes, yes, there were people to consult: my nephew, sister and close friends. Nephew, Sister—no apparent problem, not yet anyway. My friends, however, were universally shocked. Screw them, I thought. Eventually, most reluctantly said “Have a nice trip” whatever that means. More on this later.

Food, Sex and Rom-Coms

I have little illusions about my performance as a food critic or sexual participant. So, what follows will be a not sophisticated, but appreciator of both. The food was comfortable for me. I’m a city guy and my first taste of fresh sardines and anchovies, surprised. Moist, firm, less salty and delicious. This kept happening. The thing I discovered about the food I ate is that it was simple good and uncomplicated. Florence could be complicated, Rome as well, but here, it was just good.

There, overlooking a marina in Cinisi, 10 minutes from the airport and the site of our hotel, we got our first antipasto. I was intimidated by three different kinds of local fish, cheeses, olives. There was a fish entrĂ©e during which my jet-lagged memory fogged over, exhausted.

I had my first canola, something I had come to know as “Momma’s masterpiece.” Another Hollywood ending bites the dust. Nowhere in Sicily did I find that taste, and I came to understand that there may be treasured, ancient and secret recipes, but necessity of the moment, serendipity, availability of local resources, all change a recipe. Momma’s creations were unique to Italian influences in an early 20th century Cleveland, Ohio.

Then, I ate in Sicilian restaurants, not homes. The restaurants were neighborhood places inhabited by a few late season tourists starting at 8 p.m. and coffee bars for insomnia addled old men in mid-afternoon: my favorite time to take pictures, late afternoon as orange light warms jagged surfaces. 

Shadows, soft and a burst of light would drift through the branches ringing the church piazza and we kept coming back to this place to settle in our minds and talk about the new, old things we saw.

This, as most of this trip was, was fun. Tamme, seeming to drive like she was auditioning for a NASCAR slot, yelled in late afternoon Palermo traffic, “This is like a video game, I love it!”

My license had expired while I was in Italy and anyway, I just didn’t want to drive through the maniac traffic where believers in a better life after death steer their Vespas at you like demons bugs about to splatter on your windshield. Tamme was not intimidated having been a truck driver in recent years. Her father was a truck driver, her stepfather as well. Anyway, dying in a traffic collision is almost worth it for the misconceptions that would follow reports of mine and Tamme’s demise.

About those misconceptions. Tamme and I emailed outrageous things to each other in the weeks that preceded our trip. I have, all of my life done this. Let you shrinks figure out why. As a joke. After a while I wondered what might come of this. With an adventurous past, both well known to our friends and to unbelievers everywhere, it was natural to think something sexual was going to happen.

The package I booked included one, double bed.

Nothing happened. No, really. Nothing. Tamme announced, on the last leg of our trip that “I’d sleep more comfortably if we had two beds.” That answered all my questions and the tone was set for the trip. It wasn’t possible and we would have had to give up a wonderful view of the beach and marina—and pay 50 Euros more a night. We slept comfortably without contact for the time we were there.  So, another Hollywood ending bites the dust.

We tour Sicily

Shopping was great and interesting. Tamme, with her proud truck-driver taste, shopped low end. There were plenty of these shops in Palermo, shops not much bigger than closets selling items you’d find in a Los Angeles covered swapmeet. Bins of cheap, Chinese and Indian made bras, bangles and beads along with coffee bars, auto body shops, law offices and the occasional designer clothing store. It seemed chaotic as is much of the history of this island.

Occupying a geographic central spot in the Mediterranean Sea,

 it has been a country unto itself, then a colony of the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Spanish, Swabian, Norman, Bourbon and whomever else had ambitions in the area. It wasn’t a part of Italy for most of this time. So many Sicilians immigrated to the U.S. that there was foolish talk of a 51st state.

We wound our way down from Cinisi to Palermo to Agrigento. a normally two-and-a half  hour drive. Tamme cut an hour off this doing “what I could never get away with in Canada.”

Did I forget to mention that? I picked Tamme up in Calgary, Canada where she lived in a house her husband left her as part of the divorce settlement. It was a chance to visit with my sister who lives in a nearby community.

Tamme didn’t have a positive image of U.S. citizens, accepting the stereotypes of loud, rude, badly dressed and aggressive geographic idiots. “Not all of them,” she diplomatically qualified. I’m not badly dressed, quiet, courteous and non-loud.  A red flag went up. Her biggest complaint, however was:  “They don’t even know we’re up here.”

Yeah, I guess a lot of us are that way, the ones with a lot of money and little time for courtesy—but hell, we’re mostly just folks with as many assholes with money as anyone in Europe, South America or, Canada.

The Mafia?

Look, I’m a movie fan, a Pacino, Brando, DiNiro fan in particular. I couldn’t go without seeing Corleone, the name for the “Godfather” family. The city itself was mostly hilly, with narrow, one lane streets beneath buildings seeming to tilting toward each other. The time was that four hour break Italians take, putting in a few, halfhearted hours afterwards followed by wine and food. We were hungry, wanted a rest from Tamme’s spilling like a flash flood through back roads that frequently degenerated to gravel.

We saw the crumbling ruins of Torre Saracen, called Soprano Castle. Throughout Italy guides told me of a temple that could become a mosque that could become a church and on and on. One conqueror would raze and build over what it couldn’t convert. These ruins could have been a victim of Allied bombing or retreating Germans, Greeks, Romans, Spanish, French, destroying anything they saw as useful to the new guys. Garabaldi, the unifier of Italy pretended to be attacking Corleone and instead took Palermo. There wasn’t anyone awake to tell us, only the ghosts of hordes of bloodthirsty soldiers who ravaged this land.

The worst, however, were the homies called the Mafia. Corleone was the home of the capo di tutti I capi, the boss of bosses Salvatore “the beast” Riina, was captured in Palermo, his successor, Bernardo “the tractor” Provenzano was captured in Corleone four years ago.

I recently read that Sicilians were throwing off the shackles of Mafia control. I find it difficult to believe. This countryside has seen millennia of brutal reprisals for any move toward cultural independence. They have a fatalism that accepts that there will always be bosses, just shut up. We saw only one sheepherder and a single shopkeeper in this village. We stopped to foolishly, touristy, take pictures of the sheep. I got out of the car to taste the white grapes across the road.  But no Mafia. Yes, the proprietor eyed us suspiciously. Yes, there were some young men lounging around this wine, gelato bar with tables outside. They faded away as we sipped the wine. I, affected by all the media Mafia attention, got more uncomfortable and left after the first glass had been drained.

The wine bar offered ugly looking deli meat, so we left looking for more appetizing places to raise my blood sugar. In the midst of all this architectural rustica, was a large hotel, restaurant. Empty, but we were seated. A wedding party was going on below us and the kitchen was open!


Let me say a word about tortellini, Wonderful. I didn’t see any Mafia guys, (I think) but I did see tortellini when I handed the menu back to the hostess and said with gestures, “surprise me.” The tortellini (part of the wedding feast downstairs? It would have been impolite and take more gestures than I wanted to make to ask) was served on a plate where several kinds of cheeses teamed up brilliantly, filled me and a secondi piata seemed illogical—sleep seemed the next logical step.
Ain't life grand!

So, Tamme had only Italian rock stations for company back to Cinisi.

The trip back from Sicily involved four changes of planes, lengthy to barely adequate layovers, bad sandwiches, diet coke and finally, landing in Calgary and discovering lost luggage. I was too tired to be angry about anything, so I just hugged Tamme goodbye and went to my sister’s home.

I’ve been home for a couple of weeks now and I’m getting pissed off—everybody believes me when I tell them nothing happened with Tamme.


I might end the story there except something of importance happened that I didn’t mention.

And, I made Tamme cry. It was the next to last day in Sicily and all our presents for people back home had been bought except for the rosary for her Grandmother, her Nanna.  We asked all around the church square in Cinisi, but everyone said we had to go to Palermo.

What the hell, we thought, one more shot at that bar where we had so much fun and I got wasted on the German beer there. The bar was closed, it was Sunday and we had no way of knowing when it would reopen. So, we drove around looking for a church. We found one and after a while as she fiddled with the radio dial trying to find rock music in English and navigated traffic. Eventually, she found Madonna singing about being a virgin and I said: “Y’know, Madonna played Evita in a movie.”

“Ya,” she said, “that was so wrong, Evita was white.”

“Madonna is white,” I said.

“She’s Italian, isn’t she?”

“And Italians aren’t white?

What about Spanish? Portuguese?

There was silence from Tamme. I broke the silence saying “Wow,” over and over again. When she asked why, I couldn’t hold it in. I was shocked at the depth of her cultural ignorance. I was shocked at my own reactions. Was I insulted and if I were, doesn’t that make me a racist.

This made me angry. Angry that she considered me and all Italians, non white and by definition less than her, less than a racial Nordic person.  I questioned her intelligence, her racial arrogance.

“I didn’t mean to call you a n-n-nigger,” she said sobbing, now as we merged back onto the chaotic city street.

I recoiled at the word, I think maybe Tamme did too. I had given up using that word many years ago and became militant about my son using that word. It was not a word a white person should use, I said whenever the subject came up. The word today is used to hurt someone when a white person says it. I can’t make judgments on what a black person says.

Here, hurtling down a Sicilian highway, I wasn’t going to create more of a problem than had already happened. I don’t think Tamme, or me for that matter, is an intentional racist. Not intentional, but the instinct is there and isn’t always easy to repress. It’s ironic how one’s feelings about race, one’s own ethnicity and how it is viewed by others all are different.  This also made me question my own motives in making Tamme cry. Was I beating her over the head because nothing was happening in the bedroom?  Am I that kind of person?

There were many questions about me that I wasn’t prepared to answer. Maybe I still am not prepared.