Monday, October 9, 2023

Nurse in Rome

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adele Maritano), ©1967

For Ginny, Rome would mean Ilario—forever. Eleanor came to Rome for Ben—and was found by Ricardo. “He’s just a gigolo,” they said. But to Eleanor he offered thrills, glamour, and himself. He also offered escape from the memory of Dr. Beniamino Rossi, the man she had loved too well … and too late. Ginny Newhart and Eleanor Hill held the winning ticket to an adventure in Rome and took a trip that challenged their careers—and changed their lives.


Eleanor Hill has the best roommate ever—which means Ginny Newhart is smart, sassy, funny as hell, and homely. And, in this case, in possession of a winning lottery ticket that entitles the bearer to a three-week luxury vacation for two in Rome. So off the pair go! In a complete coincidence, Eleanor had been dating Dr. Ben Rossi, a native Roman, when he was in the U.S. for his fellowship year. “Love was as serious a matter with him as his profession. He had wanted to marry Eleanor,” but she was a farm girl loose in the big city for the first time and not ready to settle down. So she refused to commit and dated around because “he scared me, talking about marriage and a home and a family. I didn’t know how much he meant to me until it was too late,” and Ben went back to Italy to practice medicine alone. 

Arriving in Rome, the gals spend a few days touring the hot spots while Eleanor works up the nerve to call Ben. When she does call, it doesn’t go well. He’s put off by the fact that she took three days to phone, and lets her know he’s too busy to take her sightseeing. Brokenhearted, she plans to have dinner alone in the restaurant when she is approached by a suave gentleman named Ricardo Lienzo, who claims to be a rich member of a motor oil family overcome by her beauty. He wines and dines her—then discovers he’s left his wallet in the glove box, so could she pay for this ridiculously expensive meal he ordered? Sure she can! Gulping, she pays “a bill that would probably curl the hair of the Junior Auxiliary’s bookkeeper,” which comes to about $55. The dinner included a bottle of wine and one of champagne, so when she is staggering out of the restaurant on Ricardo’s arm at 3 a.m., Ben, who is lurking in the lobby in an attempt to apologize for his rudeness, decides not to bother and stomps off.

Meanwhile, Ginny has found herself an architecture student named Ilario and fallen hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, Ilario’s English is quite poor, and we are forced to endure a horrific accent: “Whatta you say we stop-a make-a da secrets, an’ we go, eh?” is just the first sentence that drops from his lips, and it gets worse from there (he cannot get the genders correcthe calls men “she” and women “heand cannot learn the difference, curious for a speaker of a language in which every noun has a gender). We also meet an Italian film director, Michael Orsini, who unfortunately monologues a lot in an equally terrible accent. It turns out Michael knows Ricardo, but as Eleanor continues to go around with the shallow, selfish, obviously phony cad, she keeps forgetting to ask Michael for a character reference.

In the meantime, Ilario introduces the ladies to a very poor family, neighbors of his, whose young daughter has been essentially catatonic since witnessing the death of her young brother. This is the excuse Eleanor has for reaching out to Ben again, who reluctantly agrees to treat young Anita. Eventually it is revealed that Anita’s illness is—surprise!—psychological, but Ben locates some top-notch psychotherapy for the girl, and on Anita’s road to recovery Eleanor and Ben manage to thaw out a bit; Eleanor even grovels a fair amount, pleading for his understanding and telling him that she is in love with him, just didn’t realize it until after he had left. When he tells her he has seen her with Ricardo and that he believes “you hadn’t changed a bit,” she retorts with a stinging tirade, calling him a self-righteous martyr who enjoys wallowing in self-pity. Still, she cant get over Ben; later that night, when Ricardo kisses her and asks her to marry him, “she felt wooden in Ricardo’s embrace.” But she remembers that Ginny has suggested that Eleanor is “the naïve victim of a slick gigolo” who is trying to marry his way to American citizenship, and this ironically somehow convinces Eleanor to accept the cad’s proposal.

Ginny, meanwhile, has accepted a proposal herself and is planning to marry Ilario and move to Italy until he completes his studies. Their engagement party is to be a picnic in the woods, with Ricardo as Eleanor’s date and Anita’s young brothers also in attendance. A simple countryside meal is not Ricardo’s best foil, and neither are the boisterous boys, and during the hours Eleanor suddenly realizes the obvious: that Ricardo is “a conceited phoney, a bore.” Then Dr. Ben drops by to say hello, and a disaster strikes … and another character stages a surprise …

There’s not much armchair travel in this book, but it is entertaining. Fortunately, apart from bad grammar, the Italians in the book are intelligent, hard-working people, and this may be the first VNRN I’ve read in which a female character actually marries a non-American man. I appreciated that Eleanor made no effort to hide her feelings from Ben, no matter how painful it was for her to be honest, as too many VNRN heroines simply wait around with poker faces, hoping the man will put the moves on; here she is truly the agent who brings on her own success. Overall this book is reasonably pleasant—again, if you can tolerate the truly awful accents. It was a tough slog for me, I have to confess, so depending on how tough your stomach is, you may wish to skip it. But if you can soffer through thee ogly diaologo withouta meesery, you mighta lika thees book.

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