© 2022 Robert Sickles
Richard Haliburton was a travel writer of the 1930’s with a gift for rousing descriptions of faraway, must-see places. I found his Book of Marvels among Linda’s Grandma Pearl’s effects. His readers were treated to eyewitness accounts of such amazing places as Lhasa, Mecca, Easter Island, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu! I was captivated by his account of seeing the Blue Grotto, a cave on the Italian Isle of Capri. The Grotto sits at sea level and is accessible at low tide, when it’s possible to float in on a small boat. There, you behold a magical sparkling blue light all around you. Sunlight is refracted through rippling blue seawater at the cave entrance, creating a surreal dreamscape.
I wish this story was about that place.
In the early 60’s, our tour guide with the microphone on the big bus was the young Italian man, Manuele. He was knowledgeable of all the places we visited in Europe, spoke several languages, and attended to everyone’s questions and comforts. He was sophisticated, smart, well-dressed and even a good singer when there was nothing to say. The women all adored him. Husbands were uneasy with his suave manner, continental style and good looks; but, they had to admit Manuele was darned good at his job. Naturally, I sided with the men. I thought he was cool and all, but I felt the flush of jealousy when the two pretty college girls on the bus were obviously smitten with Manuele and turned their attention toward him. I had a silly case of 14-year-old's puppy love—and those girls were supposed to like me!
On our first night in Venice, I was completely surprised when the two girls whisked me off after dinner, telling my stunned mother they were taking me out on the town. My "dates” and I strolled arm-in-arm into the Venice evening, up steps, over bridges and down passageways to a dimly-lit and very hip night club, the Blue Grotto! The walls were contoured and textured to look like a cave, bathed in shimmering blue light to resemble the real Blue Grotto on Capri. There was live music, people were dancing, and it was very crowded. I had never seen such an exotic place nor had such a heady feeling! Oh man, I really was on a “date” with two beautiful girls and I was on top of the town... though just for a few minutes.
Very soon after finding a table and sipping our beverages, things got fishy—"Oh crap!" I muttered. There was Manuele, already standing at the bar, and the girls were laughing and acting out to make sure he noticed them. They waved at him to join our table. I was relieved when his expression and polite gesture said “no thanks” and he turned away. The rejected girls’ moods shifted suddenly; they were miffed. With a brusque “Come on Bobby, we're leaving!” the girls pushed away from the table and led me out of the club. I was so naïve, had I done something wrong? I was hustled back to my hotel room to face my nonplussed parents. I don’t remember the conversation, but Mom and Dad were understandably upset. I downplayed it, afraid Dad was going to make an embarrassing fuss with the girls or Manuele. I wasn't swift enough to understand why I was put in this complicated game. Who knows? Maybe the girls suddenly realized I wasn't 21 years old yet! 😂
My thought at the time was that I functioned as the girls’ prop, pet or fallback companion, to be a pawn in their ploy to get Manuele’s attention... or to embarrass him. Was Manuele too professional to get involved with his passengers—what if I said something to my parents that could lead to him getting fired? I could go round and round with more explanations.
Of course, I was crushed. Whatever adolescent fantasy I had going was smacked down. For the rest of the trip, the girls were polite toward me but said nothing further about the Blue Grotto. That was fine with me. I thought they were snotty toward Manuele. He also seemed changed, more aloof, professional, less charming. Thinking back now, I can imagine the sticky situations Manuele faced all the time: Does he allow himself to be wooed by an amorous passenger and risk a scandal? Or, does he reject an amorous passenger and risk a different scandal? Hard to see a win-win for him.
And what about Bobby? Oh, fully and quickly recovered! There was a smiling young lass in the elevator on the way down to breakfast the next morning! She opened a conversation in a loovly Liverpool accent, “You’re an American, aren’t you? How long is your stay in Venice?” So cute in her wee boots. Ah, friends... like it was yesterday!
After recounting my night at the Blue Grotto, I'd say there were some lessons learned. Some good rules for a man in this world: Keep your eye on the puck, and your stick on the ice. And if women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy. [Sorry, I couldn't think of an original conclusion for my story. But thanks, Red Green Show, for lending me some words.]
Next time I go to Italy, I want to see the real Blue Grotto — La Grotta Azzurra!