After graduating with a journalism degree, Mom thought I should learn Spanish before becoming a reporter, and she suggested I spend a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to live with my Great Aunt, Teta Antanina, the sister of my famous grandfather. I thought it would be an adventurous gap year between college and the real world.
When I met Franco Foti on January 1, 1985, I had been living in his hometown for five months and was freelancing for the Buenos Aires Herald and Argentine News.
On one of our first dates, Franco wore a camouflage cotton tee-shirt underneath a blue jeans jacket, and he held my hand, leading me down a trail through the tall grasses of Ezeiza Forest. He was a World War II buff, wore a short hunting knife on his belt, a rosary in his right pocket along with a book of matches. I held a blanket, a thermos of hot water and the utensils for mate—a bombilla (a metal straw), and a matero (a hollow gourd) to hold the green tea and sugar.
After hiking down a trail for about twenty minutes, picking up a bundle of dry sticks along the way, Franco found a secluded clearing with a pit for starting a fire. Once we settled in and began sipping our mate, he pulled out a brown, leather-bound book from the inside of his jacket, saying he wanted to read from it.
“What is it?” I asked.
“A poetry book.”
“How fantastic! Nobody has ever read poetry to me before.”
“I’m glad to be the first.”
He opened it to a passage he had already selected, and took care to read slowly, as I was still learning Spanish.
How beautiful you are, how pleasing my love, my delight!
Your very figure is like a palm tree, your breasts are like clusters.
I said: I will climb the palm tree. I will take hold of its branches.
Now let your breasts be like clusters of the vine
And the fragrance of your breath like apples,
And your mouth like an excellent wine. (Song of Songs 7.7-9)
He paused to see my reaction.
It sounded racy, yet tender, and I was puzzled over his choice of the poem. “What is that?”
“It’s called Song of Songs.” He handed me the book for my inspection and even though my Spanish was shaky, I immediately recognized it as the Bible.
“You’re reading from the Bible? Breasts are in the Bible? I can’t believe that!”
He nodded, laughing. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t recognize it. Would you like me to read some more?”
As he read, I listened to his deep voice and noticed his wide hands, holding the Bible gently, turning a page delicately, absorbed in the words and the moment. Franco’s parents were Sicilian, and they had left Italy during World War II as well. I considered his dark hair and eyes, and compared him to other men I’d dated. None of them had ever read poetry to me or had taken me out to the woods like this. Franco was unlike anyone I had ever met. He paused to sip mate, pleased with the result—how flabbergasted I’d been at the entire effect of him reciting suggestive verses from the Bible, a book he knew I had never opened. The strangest part was that he looked masculine, but kindhearted, like a man who could read from the Bible and still appear strong-willed, not brainwashed, which I didn’t think was possible until then.