Half Empty - Jul 25, 2005

By Ariel Leve.

Liza and I are in Italy. We're on holiday and everywhere we go she's smiling at men and calling out: "Ciao!"

I, on the other hand, am calling out nothing. For Liza, a greeting is an opportunity to make new friends. For me, it's yet more people I'll have to avoid.

Last night, two men were flirting with us. In Italy, that means they said hello. Suddenly Liza is Paris Hilton. Only without the money, the blonde hair or the desire to expose her midriff. And instead of saying, "That's hot," her catchphrase is, "Join us."

For no good reason, she invited Alonso and Alfonso along for dinner. But before we got to the restaurant, we were granted a tour of Alfonso's palatial apartment, located above the local gelato store. Everything Liza found charming, I found creepy.

For instance: the 90-year-old mother watching an Italian game show in the dark? Liza's reaction: how sweet he takes care of his family. My reaction: a 38-year-old man should not be sleeping six feet away from his mother. The photo collage of celebrities who have visited his gelato shop? Her reaction: impressed he met Kelsey Grammer. My reaction: get a life. But the final straw came with the shelf of stuffed animals. Liza's reaction: he's a child at heart. My reaction: Liza's the least judgmental person on the planet.

At dinner, Alfonso learned I was a writer and immediately volunteered to call his good friend, Gore Vidal. Seconds later, he hands me his mobile. "It's Gore," he says. "Talk."

Things were looking up. Liza's chatting to gelato boy; I'm chatting to Gore Vidal. At first, he sounded confused. And a little scared. "How do you know Alfonso?" he asked. I said it was a long story.

He then began what I'm sure was a fascinating conversation, but I'll never know because the reception was so bad I couldn't hear a word of it. I'm on the phone with Gore Vidal and all I can contribute is: "Can you say that again?" As I walked around trying to locate a better signal, the line went dead.

So it's the end of the evening, Liza is a huddled with Alfonso discussing the finer points of gelato, and I'm left alone, having put the phone down on Gore Vidal.