In the giardino degli aranci

The smell of oranges!“In the giardino degli aranci.” Zoë pronounced it slowly and deliberately, her gaze inward, her head bobbing to count off each syllable. Then she looked up and smiled. Our chorus erupted around her. Oh! Oh! we cried. So perfect! So romantic!

She extended her left hand; the ring is a black pearl, set in a tiny frond of white gold.

Oh, Dylan! Oh, Zoë! Oh!, everybody went nuts.

I knew I wanted to do it in Rome, Dylan had begun. They had gone there to visit Travis, Dylan’s older brother, who is living there and working, teaching English and performing. Trav – was supposed to scout locations because he lives there and his girlfriend lives there and they know places. At first we were going to do it out on this island, right in the middle of this river, and Travis went ahead with all the stuff in his knapsack — the table cloth, the bottle of champagne, the rose, the place cards. Imagine: Travis who mightn’t weigh 110 pounds with his own pockets full of rings.

And Trav went ahead that first time, but it turned out there was a film festival going on, and the whole place was roped off, locked down, and we couldn’t get in. And he was frustrated, but I just shrugged my shoulders and said, well…all right…OK…we’ll do it some place else. So next we thought: the Trevi Fountain! It’s so beautiful, we’ll do it at night, the crowd will be gone, it will be lovely…

So the day comes and I said to Zoë Come on, Zoë let’s get all dressed up and go see the Trevi Fountain at night, and then we’ll go get pizza. So we did. And the plan was to meet up with Trav and Viola at the Trevi Fountain. But Travis went ahead of us, and went down to set everything up. And I stalled, I said Zoë help me change the film in my camera. Nobody uses film anymore. So we were doing that, and Travis had gone ahead…

And the people there were into it, very excited once they understood what he was up to, and beginning to bunch up a little, watching. So then the policia noticed and came over. And he got into a fight with them! And he had to take it all down. So by the time we came around the corner, there was just Travis, loading up his HUGE back pack and he was really pissed off. I mean this is Rome! It’s supposed to be romantic and all. But the cops? Not so much…

Change your point of view.So finally Travis says I know this other place. It’s out of town aways. So a couple of days later I tell Zoë I want to go see this keyhole — there is this place where you can look out and supposedly it is the most beautiful view of the city. So I took Zoë on a walk, and we walked all through the city, a long way, out past the Circus Maximus, you know the big ruined arena where they used to kill the Christians? Out of the city, up hills and down little stone streets overrun with feral cats.

And we stopped to pet a cat… And we were there awhile, and then we kept walking. We climbed through these old ruins, these tumbled-down bits of old city and everything is white because it is summer and hot and sunny and I said to Dylan Where is this place? Where are we going? And he just said Come on, it’s close, and we climb up these steps these old broken stone steps and the smell of oranges comes up on the hot air. And I see we are in this little garden, this little walled garden, and away across the garden there is a wedding going on — a little group. And before us I see a table, spread with a white cloth. And there is a bottle of champagne on it, and two glasses, and a red rose, and I turned to Dyl and I said Oh look! Somebody is going to get proposed to tonight! And Dylan is like, Yeah! Somebody…! And still I didn’t get it! And we go up to it and I see the place-cards on the table with our names on them and all of a sudden I’m like Oh my god! And then Travis pops out from behind a wall and he’s clicking away with his camera and what I didn’t know is, he’s been taking pictures of us the whole way! So you see us first, we’re little specs! And then we’re closer, and next we are stopping to pet the cat, and then we are there! And the pictures of my face, I’m just crying and so surprised and overwhelmed and horrified to be seen like that —

“You said Yes, right?” from the couch pipes up my mother, who detests ambiguity, and who has been uncharacteristically quiet throughout — truly rapt throughout the telling. Both of them, in fact — both the grandparents. You could see the wonder play across their faces. You could watch them “catch up” to Dylan, to realize what he has grown into. This romantic gesture — the absolutely strike-’em-dumb power of it — they did not expect of him. But of course it is vintage Dylan, which is what they had to catch up to. All the rest of the day — the cycle of medications, of measurements, of pulse-takings and salt-watchings, of feeding ponies and cleaning stalls and planning meals — is of course eclipsed by this fairy tale, this incontrovertible testimony to what a huge array of other, imaginative Good is abroad in the world.

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