When in Rome.

We were in a foreign land, on our honeymoon in Positano, Italy. The town had looked impossible, built into the side of a mountain, as the ferry we had taken from Capri approached the dock. The balcony of our two-room suite was high enough to provide a stunning view of Positano below and the Mediterranean beyond, and give B, my husband, vertigo. I stood at the railing, alone, marveled at the rungs of pastel-colored streets that climbed the mountainside, and sipped red wine from a glass borrowed from the signora at the front desk.

B was sitting on the bed when I re-entered the room, smiling. It was our honeymoon, but his was not a come-to-me-bellissima-sposa smile. It was what is called in Jersey a shit-eating grin.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, and placed the empty glass on the dresser.

“Oh, it’s a surprise.”

“Do I have to guess?”

“Yep. Guess where the shower is.”

“Duh, In il servizi.”

“Huh?”

“The bathroom. You’re really going to have to remember the word for bathroom, babe.”

“Well, smarty, take a look.”

I thought perhaps B had placed a surprise gift in the bathroom, maybe some body oil. I opened the door and saw… an ordinary, square-shaped white bathroom. The wall with the door and the one to its left were both bare. A shuttered window, pedestal sink, and mirrored cabinet were on the wall to the right. The toilet sat before the wall directly ahead of the door. I was almost surprised there was no bidet, as there had been in our room in Rome. I had reminded B what bidets were for when he suggested we fill it with ice to chill our celebratory bottle of Champagne. There was everything I would expect to find in a bathroom. Except a shower.

I stepped back into the room. “Is this the half-bath?”

“Uh, no. It’s the only bathroom for our suite.”

“Oh. There’s no shower?”

“There’s a shower somewhere. Keep looking.”

I looked around the bedroom. There were four doors I knew did not lead to a shower, but I opened each again. I looked at the balcony to make sure I had not missed an outdoor shower. Nothing.

I opened the door to a shallow closet and looked up. Only an empty shelf above the rod. B’s sneakers were on the floor, and there were no fixtures on either side of the closet door.

The door opposite the bed led to the sitting room. There were fake bronze sconces of questionable taste on the wall, but no shower head or faucet anywhere. The sitting room had only the door that led out of our suite into the hallway.

“Is there a communal shower in the hallway? The web site said all rooms had private baths.”

“It was right. Our shower is in our suite. Just keep looking.”

I entered the bathroom again, and opened the beveled shutters to let in the afternoon sun. The window faced directly onto the street on the other side of the wall, and I said “Buon pomeriggio” to the man carrying two market bags as he walked past. My Italian was too limited to ask where showers were hidden in Positanoan bathrooms.

There was no curtain rod or door rails because there was no shower curtain or door. The tile was uniform on the entire floor, no lip or edge to mark a separate shower space. I wondered if that was the secret: Perhaps there were no showers in Positano. I knew from past experience and travels that we Americans can be considered fastidious about showers and hygiene. B knew the surprise of no shower facilities would unravel me. How could I go for a daily run? I would be brined by the end of our honeymoon. I wondered how to say Wet Ones in Italian. Could I buy a jumbo tub at the farmacia at the base of the town?

I stuck my head out of the bathroom, and said, “So people don’t shower here?”

“Nan, it’s in there. I promise. Look real, real close.”

I did. And I saw the drain. In the middle of the floor. It was curious. Perhaps we were supposed to fill the sink and sponge ourselves clean? I had not packed bathing sponges. I would need to consult my Italian/English dictionary to compose my growing shopping list.

Then I looked at the knob over the toilet. I had thought it was just a weirdo flushing system. I walked closer and saw the knob had a circle in the middle. The right half was blue and printed with an “F”, and the red left half had a “C”. I knew that freddo is cold in Italian, and caldo hot.

I turned the knob to the left, heard a phissh above me, looked up, and saw what looked like a drain in the ceiling. Drops of water began to fall. Not spray, but just surrender and fall. I turned the knob further to the left, and more water fell, but with no more pressure or force. It was as if two or three dehydrated Italians were spitting on me from the ceiling. The whole bathroom was intended to be a shower. That, indeed, was a surprise.

I turned the knob completely to the right, and stepped back into the bedroom. B still had that Jersey grin.

“I found it,” I said.

“Are you surprised?”

“Si.”

I sat on the bed and thought. B would never enjoy the view from the balcony because of his fear of heights. Tepid droplets from the ceiling would never be enough to keep me smelling fresh for seven days. I suggested we finish the bottle of red before dinner. We returned the glasses at the front desk, asked for a restaurant recommendation, and informed the signora we’d check out the next morning – quite early, right after my morning run.

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