Today's Reading

5.

Now he knows, she thought. He stared back at her for a moment, his sleek sealskin eyebrows raised, then looked out the windshield and laughed to himself in a way she found hard to interpret.

The road narrowed as it zigzagged steeply up to the city.

The beauty of their marriage was that she, too, at the moment of saying "I do" felt like she had won the lottery. A Yale man. Handsome. And not some frat-boy bruiser either—Michael was sensitive, with an artistic soul. He was compassionate, having endured the tragedy of losing his brother in the war. True, he was not wealthy—yet. But he was ambitious and hardworking, so success was sure to follow. He had a good job with Ford, that most solid of companies. This was the age when every American family was for the first time buying a car or two, and as Michael had told her,
Eisenhower was building interstates so that Americans could go see this land their loved ones had laid down their lives defending. Scottie felt that with Michael, she was literally going places. And fortunately, those places were across the Atlantic, where no one would ask too many questions.


6.

"With the plague came depopulation and poverty, poverty led to military weakness, military weakness led to the city being conquered by its loathed rival city-state Florence, which led to humiliation and more poverty." They were climbing through olive groves toward the city now. He steered around another donkey cart, this one piled high with firewood.

"That little guy could sure use a pedicure," she said, craning her head to study the poor beast's hoofs in the rearview mirror.

So she didn't have money. He had to admit that was a surprise. He ran over their conversations in his head. Had she lied to him? No. He had made assumptions. Father in oranges in California. Vassar. Nice clothes. Friends with the DuPont girl. She must mean she didn't have money yet. There would be a trust fund for her. Perhaps it came later, when she turned twenty-five or thirty. It was fine—she was still perfect. Nearly perfect.

Michael felt an urgent need to make her understand the importance of everything they were seeing. How it got this way. How bad things were, but how much better they would soon be. He wanted her to share his love of history.

"Except for the bank, which did fine, Siena pretty much limped into the twentieth century as a market town for poor sharecroppers growing subsistence crops in a not particularly fertile zone of heavy clay soil, vicious mosquitoes and baking summer heat."

"Baking summer heat. Got it." She smiled at a little girl on a red bicycle, who stared back at her wide-eyed, as if she were watching a spaceship float past.

"The rest of Italy refers to Tuscans as maledetti, damned, trapped here as if in hell." He pointed off to the left. "Other
than the train station over there, which was decimated, even the Allies pretty much ignored Siena as they bombed their way north, chasing the Germans out of Tuscany."

She glanced over at him. On the roof at Vassar the night he proposed he told her that his brother Marco had been killed at Monte Cassino in 1944. Michael, the youngest of their parents' six children, was only twelve at the time. He didn't seem to want to say more about it then. She wondered if he would now, but he went on blithely. "I saw a picture in an old issue of Life. The Allies paused their tanks in Piazza del Campo just long enough for a photo op before they moved on to more important targets."

"But they like us, right? The Italians?"

"Oh yes," he said. "They love us."

They came to a stop at an intersection with about twenty signs pointing in all different directions. "It says to enter the city at Porta Camollia," she said, deciphering the directions.

"Sì, signora," he said with a confident smile. He piloted the Ford Fairlane under the arched gate in the massive city walls, and they motored slowly down Via Banchi di Sopra, a crowd of curious and excited children gathering behind them as if they were movie stars. Scottie looked up at the laundry festooning the narrow streets and said, "These women are going to be so happy when they have dryers."

"And televisions," said Michael. "I heard everyone goes to the corner bar when they want to watch something, and there's only one channel."

"I can't believe they still breastfeed their children," said Scottie.

They shook their heads at how sadly backward things were here. But help was on the way!
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