It took six months in 1998 to organize our jitter-filled lives around a two-week vacation in Vernazza, a thousand-year-old fishing village in Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.
Rooco, Kristina, Mark and I left the 19th century train station and rolled our overstuffed suitcases 20 minutes up a cobblestone switchback twined in purple morning glories. Our home abroad sat 1300 feet above the Mediterranean Sea and overlooked a village of 1000 happy Italians. We arrived at LaTorre midday, when the sea is dark turquoise and the sun swells the nose-tickling lemon and olive trees.
LaTorre is a 13th century pirate lookout with a galley kitchen, a modern bathroom, a luminous living-dining area and an alcove captain’s bedroom. Three other beds were lofted into stacked platforms in a stone tower, and the only way to get to them was by rope ladders. We staked out our sleeping arrangements and headed back down the path to the village.
Like bloodhounds we followed the scent of ground basil and garlic around the village into a ristorante on the piazza at the harbor. Our first meal was homemade bread dipped in fresh pesto,Vernazza’s culinary legacy to the world.
Some days we hiked the village-to-village trail along the sea, returning to Vernazza by water taxi. Other days the train took us to Le Spezia, Portofino, Pisa and Lucca. At night we lounged on LaTorre’s heirloom terrace in front of the twinkling lights of passing boats on the navy blue horizon.
And then the phone rang.
John Funderburk was on the line frantic to let me know that a journalist was about to call me wanting information about Monica Lewinsky. John was a fellow political appointee in the Clinton Administration and he recommended I consult with a lawyer before taking the call. Perfect vacation bliss was now teetering at the cliff of a darkened sea.
My D.C. job occasionally had me organizing publicity and logistics at events for the President’s appearance. In the Spring of 1997 I’d been advancing a small fundraiser in a Washington hotel when an old friend from Indianapolis came into the room through the metal detectors right after Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was known among advance people as a Clinton stalker, so I asked my Hoosier friend to shield the President from her potential clutch as he passed by.
A half a year later news broke about a Grand Jury investigation into Clinton’s relationship with former White House intern Lewinsky. Back in Indianapolis my friend panicked that he would be hauled before the Grand Jury. So he held a press conference about his brief encounter with Lewinsky – and mentioned my name.
The sudden jolt of reality stirred our Dolce Vita quartet in Italy to hatch hilarious mad scenarios to confound the intruding journalist. When the call came, Rocco answered. “Prrrronto! Si? Si? Sorry. No Inglese! Ciao!”
Che finito, we returned to our intermezzo between the acts of the crazy world.