Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tomás Bozen - Chapter 6

Here's a new chapter in my novel in progress. Read and enjoy some of Tomás's adventures in the vicinity of Bolzano. I'd appreciate your comments about the characters or the story after you read this new chapter.


Tomás stretched out in bed to his full six-foot height. He liked the smooth feel of the crisp hotel sheets gliding over his naked body. He’d slept late in a most unusual hotel room. Sun beamed in through dormer windows set in the high ceiling above the sleeping loft. The other side of the king size bed was empty, but a rounded depression in the pillow reminded Tomás of who had been there before she left for the day’s meetings. He grinned, then buried his face in the depression and sucked in the essence she’d left behind. Nice….

Magdalena had driven the two of them to Bolzano in her Audi 80 Cabrio roadster. She had chosen the hotel, Albergo Greif, on Viale Stazione a half block from Piazza Walther in central Bolzano. She’d registered in both their names, but used her own credit card. Their spacious modern room on the hotel’s second upper floor was surprising. Tomás had expected something simpler, smaller. Decorated in modern Scandinavian style, the room was split into two levels with an open stairway leading up to a large sleeping loft. A pair of tall windows overlooking the street below gave the room a light, airy feeling. The whole place smelled clean and fresh, thanks to a diligent housekeeping crew. Tomás liked that…quite a change from his student digs.

Small copies of lesser-known art works, some of them overtly pornographic, hung in a groupings on a couple of the walls. Tomás imagined this sexy room would surely help him realize his hopes for a new kind of relationship with the beautiful Magdalena.

On the evening of their arrival in Bolzano, after a light meal at the nearby restaurant called La Torcia, Magdalena had ordered a bottle of the local Pinot Grigio for the room. The gentle wine went down easily as the two planned ways to share information from the restoration symposium. They talked about Tomás’s family and growing up in Ravenna. Magdalena told him of her own childhood in Modena and the tragedy of her parents death in an autostrada crash when she was fourteen years old.

They laughed together at some of the acrobatic sexual positions depicted in the prints on the room’s walls. Later, they had enjoyed every millimeter of the room’s large bed, sometimes mimicking the positions they had laughed about.

Next morning, Tomás threw aside the sheet and feather tick comforter. He stood next to the bed, stretched, and ran both hands through his hair—dark, thick, wavy hair that echoed his Italian heritage. Unfortunately, the only bathroom was on the lower level. Padding naked down the creaky stairs from the loft, scratching the scattering of dark hair on his chest, Tomás went into the bathroom and emptied his full bladder. He climbed into the oversized bathtub, closed the curtain and turned on the shower. “Ow,” he screamed, “Caldo! Troppo caldo!”

Water too hot was never a problem in the student apartment he shared in Bologna. He felt lucky when the water in that crowded bathroom was even warm—hot never happened. Toweling his taut body after the shower, Tomás smiled at remembering how things had worked out with Magdalena.  He loved her—he knew that for certain now. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, sleep with her every single night. Be with her every single day.

Alone until late afternoon when Magdalena returned from her symposium, he decided to see some of Bolzano’s sights, things he could tell Magdalena about in the evening, things they could laugh about together. The October day was cool and clear, so he dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and a pullover sweater, then took the elevator down to the hotel’s breakfast room.

“Buon giorno,” a smiling young woman said as she waved him toward a table in the corner of the room. “Caffé?

Buon giorno. Si, caffé e latte, per favore.

Tomás put his bulky room key fob on the table and walked over to the buffet. He chose orange juice, an assortment of cheeses and meats, and butter with orange marmalade to spread on a hard roll. Small pitchers of coffee and warm milk were on the table when he returned. Half way through the breakfast, he became aware of a growing sense of dread. Something he couldn’t explain, a general worry about nothing in particular. What could it be? It was a fine day, he had a beautiful woman, exploring Bolzano lay ahead. Nothing could be wrong. Yet, he couldn’t shake that feeling—a premonition that something bad was going to happen.

Back in the hotel lobby he decided he’d better call home, make sure the family was alright. He dialed Ravenna on his cell phone. Right away he heard his mother’s, “Pronto.”

“How are you, Mama? I’m spending a few days in Bolzano with my professor.”

“Tomás! I’m fine, son. What are you doing in Bolzano?”

“How is Papa? Is everybody else okay?”

“We’re all fine—why do you ask?

“No special reason, just wondered. Like I told you, I’m in Bolzano and I….”

 “Bolzano! Oh my god, Tomás.” He heard the faint click of Mama’s rosary beads slipping out of her pocket. “Are you okay? I saw a report on TV about some kind of trouble in the mountains around Bolzano. You be careful up there.”

“What kind of trouble, Mama? What did you hear?”

“I don’t know, son. You know how I am with the news—never pay much attention unless it’s right here…. Tomás, I didn’t know you were going to Bolzano.”

“I didn’t know either, until a little while ago, or I’d have told you. I’ll probably be back in Bologna by the end of the week. How is Papa doing? Are his legs better?”

“Much better. He’s working every day on one of the old buildings in the Piazza del Popolo. It’s an important restoration and they need good stone masons for the job.”

“And Papa’s the best, for sure. Give him a kiss for me.”

“Okay, son. Just you be careful. Find out about that trouble in the mountains, and stay away from there. Ask somebody. They can tell you what it is.”

“I will, Mama. Hug everybody at home for me. Think about me when you make the pumpkin ravioli this week. Ciao, Mama. I love you. A più tardi.

Tomás clicked off the cell phone. What could Mama be talking about? Trouble in the mountains? Something on the news? He asked the desk clerk if he knew anything about it, and the clerk told him there’d been a minor earthquake somewhere up in the mountains. Not really close to Bolzano. Farther east, near the border, somewhere around Cortina.

“Earthquake?” Tomás said. “Anybody hurt?”

“No. No injuries reported. No significant damage. Just a little rumble, un terremotito.”

Reassured, Tomás tried to push Mama’s worries aside and forget about his own sense of foreboding. He left the hotel and walked to Piazza Walther for a look at the square and the cathedral on its western side. The Gothic duomo’s patterned green and yellow roof and its tall bell tower decorated with elaborate carvings glistened in the bright morning sun. In the center of the piazza a marble monument stood tall, depicting the German poet, Walther von der Vogelweide, for whom the piazza was named. People milled about here and there, some shopping, some sipping a midmorning espresso at out-of-doors tables, others just seated in the warming sunlight.

Plantings of white alyssum and red geraniums brightened the corners of the piazza, and its far end included the stalls of a colorful fruit and vegetable market. Locals carrying shopping bags worried over a huge assortment of everything from oranges, shallots, and artichokes to beans, peaches, and peppers, looking for the ripest specimens. Braids of garlic and mesh bags of lemons hanging from the overhead beams gave the whole market a crisp fragrance. Some shoppers bargained for blooming pots of tulips or cyclamen for a sunny windowsill, or for a bunch of cut sunflowers to fill a vase.

The air flowing down from the mountains was cooler than Tomás expected, but the sunny day and the bright blue sky buoyed his spirits and made it easy to forget his premonitions and enjoy the adventure. He walked on  through the piazza to Via dei Portici, a broad shopping street lined with arcaded buildings, shops, and sidewalk cafés, where he continued toward the destination that drew him like a magnet,  the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology. He felt compelled to have a look at Ötzi, the five thousand year old “Iceman” found years before in the Alps north of Bolzano. His boyhood questions about the Iceman, his might-have-been ancestor, still burned inside him, and this museum was exactly what he needed to extinguish that fire. He hadn’t told Magdalena about his obsession with that frozen relic, hadn’t told her how the Iceman’s story had consumed him for almost a decade of his life.

Laughing at remembering how he’d fretted over whether the Ice Man might be his own modern relative, Tomás spotted the multistory museum at the corner of Via Museo. Converted from a 19th century bank to house a museum displaying the archeology of the region, the building’s fancy brickwork on the lower floor was a flashback to that earlier time. The museum had become the permanent home of Ötzi, the Iceman in 1998.

Inside the building, Tomás hurried past the museum’s general archeology exhibits to reach the display of things related to Ötzi himself. He was surprised to learn the Iceman might not actually have been naked. True, the body looked naked when he was found, but excavation of his frozen resting place also uncovered a fur robe, a cape, a furry cap, and shoes made of leather and grass. A copper-bladed ax and a flint dagger were found nearby, and a fur quiver contained a bow and several arrows. 

Reading the museum’s wall-mounted displays, he discovered scientists had estimated Ötzi’s age at death to have been about 45 years. His copper axe was of particular interest, since it was several centuries older than copper smelting technology was believed to have existed in Europe. X-rays of the mummy’s joints had showed signs of wear and tear, and investigators speculated that the sets of short parallel lines tattooed on his body could be related to primitive pain relief treatments similar to acupuncture.

One of the displays detailed analysis of pollen and dust grains found in Ötzi’s body. That analysis and the minerals in his tooth enamel suggested that he spent his childhood in the Isarco River Valley north of Bolzano, somewhere near the present-day village of Feldthurns. “My god,” Tomás said out loud. “That’s not much more than twenty-five kilometers from right here. My dad grew up in Feldthurns. My uncles and cousins still live there.” Nearby museum visitors looked at him with frowns, until he said, “Mi dispiace, signori. Mio Papà…. ” The frowns turned to smiles. One stranger patted him on the shoulder and said, “Va bene.”

Wandering on, Tomás finally reached the Iceman himself. The museum displayed the frozen body in a climate controlled chamber replicating the glacier in which Ötzi was found. A thick glass window allowed visitors to view the body directly. The man was naked after all.

Tomás was beside himself. At long last he was looking at the real thing, the Iceman’s mummified corpse, the corpse that had haunted his waking hours for so long, the corpse he felt more certain than ever was his own ancestor. Maybe those tattoos were not medical treatments, maybe they were artistic decorations, maybe Ötzi was an early Italian artist. All of those thoughts strengthened his feeling of kinship with the frozen Iceman. He found the prehistoric man’s excellent state of preservation a gratifying tribute to the glacier and to modern technology. He smiled when he realized Ötzi was in better condition than some of the ancient paintings Magdalena had shared with him.

A couple of hours in the museum satisfied Tomás he’d learned all there was to know about the Iceman. He felt a little hungry when he left the building, so he stopped in a small café to have a cheese and tomato pizza and a glass of beer. Wary of adding to his credit card balance, he opted for paying the few Euros in cash. After the pizza it was still early, so he went looking for another thing that intrigued him about Bolzano.

He walked to the far end of town, to the valley station of the Funivia del Renon, a 4,600 meter cable car that carried visitors up the mountain to the resort village of Soprabolzano in a little more than ten minutes. Mama had warned him to stay away from the mountains, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Tomás was surprised to find the signage in and around the funivia was bilingual, Italian and German. Makes sense, he thought. Bolzano’s less than sixty-five kilometers from the Austrian border. He had no problem getting used to the bilingual idea—he just ignored the German words, concentrated on the Italian.

He paid the fare in cash, just about depleting his wallet. The 35-passenger cable car was practically empty, only one group on board—they looked like parents and their two young children, a boy and a girl, on a family outing. The boy was probably about six years old, the girl a little younger. When Tomás took a seat opposite the family the little boy grinned at him and said, “Buon giorno.” His mother smiled and nodded. The boy’s father said nothing, he leaned near a window and seemed to be studying the heavy coach’s supporting cables.

As the car soared out of the station and climbed over the edge of the city, Tomás admired the green mountain scenery. Minutes later he could see snow covered alps to the north and, far below, the tall, beige, steeple-like rock formations known as Piramidi di terra. Everything was quiet, peaceful—incredibly beautiful high in the air like that. Quiet and peaceful until suddenly, without warning, the car jolted to a halt and began to sway wildly from side-to-side. Tomás could see they were no more than two hundred meters from the mountain station. What the hell? The thing was not supposed to stop until it reached that destination.

The family sitting across from him went berserk, both children crying, the woman screaming at her husband in Italian. “I told you this was not a good day for the cable car. That earthquake is not finished, not yet. I told you it was too soon, but no, you said it was alright—and look where it got us.” She hugged her children close and rolled her eyes skyward, as if preparing to die. “Mother of God, hear my prayer.” She crossed herself, practically choking her daughter by the movement of her arm. “In the name of Jesus, fruit of thy womb, protect my babies. Keep us safe.
Her husband acted paralyzed with fear. White-knuckled, his hands grasped the back of his seat so hard his fingers dug into the fake leather covering. The man was wild-eyed but he did nothing, said nothing. He sat motionless, staring at the floor like he’d willed himself somewhere far away from the crippled cable car.

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