A SHORT ITALIAN EXCURSION
Gina was taking a few days off work to recover from her recent ordeal at the hands of kidnappers, and was overjoyed then to get a call from her Aunt Dolores, who was visiting Britain from her home in the US. A native of the Hamptons, Dolores had investments over here and came over at least once a year “to push my stockbrokers around” as she always said. Still lively for her 75 years, she had been a friend of Gina’s parents and Gina was very fond of her, calling her Dol even now after all this time, as she did when she was a small child.
One night they were talking about this and that, and Gina mentioned that she was thinking of taking a short break in Naples, as the flights were so cheap at the moment. At this Dolores became agitated.
“Oh dear, oh dear, I’m...oh but it was years ago.” She seemed flustered, quite unlike her usual confident self. Gina was concerned. “What’s the matter Dol?”
“It’s just...Naples. You see I had a very bad experience there.”
After a pause, Gina asked, “do you want to tell me about it?”
“Yes”, Dol said firmly, “yes I should tell someone, even this late in my life, and maybe it will serve as a cautionary tale for you. I’m very uncomfortable about your choice of vacation...you see, I’ve never told anyone about this, not even my late husband, and I’d like you to keep it to yourself, at least while I’m alive. Do you have any brandy?” Gina went to the kitchen and brought back two glasses each with a large measure of the golden liquor. Dolores took a large draught, and stared into the glass. She was quiet for a long moment, then she began her story.
It was 1961 and I was 25, young, free and rich, and like all the girls at that time I thought I was Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor. There were lots of movies around that were set in Italy, Rome mostly, it was so romantic, and naturally we all wanted to go there. Well, I pestered my parents to send me over there, it would be educational, all that art and history I said, and eventually an arrangement was made for me to go and stay with a work colleague of my father’s, a college professor at the University of Naples. It wasn’t Rome but it was cheap and it was what I wanted so I was happy to go. All my friends were so jealous of course.
The professor and his wife were nice enough, if a little old fashioned for me, and they were very wary of leaving me alone at any time. I was headstrong, still am – her eyes glinted as she looked at Gina, smiling –and they fussed over me saying I should avoid a certain area of the town, making vague references to crime and the mafia, and anti-foreigner protests, but nothing specific, so naturally at the first opportunity I went straight there in a taxi and found the main street alive with young people flitting in and out of the bars and clearly having a good time. In my mind I knew that this was why they didn’t want me to go there, because there would be young people and they would be enjoying themselves. The sixties hadn’t really got going at that time, but we were coming out of the post-war period, and I for one intended to make the most of it. I got a lot of stares from the Italians there, but I loved the attention, thinking that they must see me as a glamorous American, a movie star maybe. What a naive fool I was. Anyway I walked into a bar called Il Girasole, the Sunflower, I can still picture the sign above the door.
I can also remember clearly what I wore. A girdle, naturally, with seamed stockings, and a beautiful dark green A-line dress, and white gloves, we all wore them then, if we wanted to show we were refined and ladylike, even if we weren’t. I had pearl earrings and a double string of pearls as a necklace, white court shoes and a green purse to match the dress. It was a wonderful warm July evening and it all seemed so wonderful.
I soon got attention from the boys, offering to buy me drinks and asking who I was and where I was from, in their broken English. One of them was very handsome, said his name was Paolo, smartly dressed, kept his distance at first, but gradually moved in. I had a few martinis, we danced on the small dance floor, there was a juke box playing Elvis, Brenda Lee, Bobby Darin, all the American hits. I was having a fabulous time. Then Paolo said, let’s go outside. I wanted to stay and dance, even if it was very hot in there, but the crowd all seemed to close up and I felt hands brush my legs, and other places, so I quickly agreed, expecting to go out into the street where there were plenty of people. Paolo grabbed my hand and led me out through the back. I should have pulled away and got out of there, but maybe I’d had too many martinis. Anyway, hindsight is a great educator.
***She paused, looking again into her brandy***
Suddenly I was aware of other men behind me, moving in the same direction, then pushing me towards the door, not obviously shoving but you know what crowds are like. I started to complain, but I was bundled out into a narrow, dark alleyway, and the noise from the bar was cut off as the door was closed behind us. I did wonder why no-one intervened but I guess they all knew what was going on and didn’t want to get involved. My purse was snatched from my hand, but I didn’t have time to panic at that point, just managing to get in one brief shriek before I was gagged tightly with a silk scarf, then blindfolded with another. My arms were pinned behind my back and another scarf was tied around my wrists, followed by a tightly tied rope over it, then yet another scarf around my arms at the elbows. I remember the cool slippery silk on my arms suddenly tightening.
They frog-marched me down the alley, and pushed me into a car, which sped off. A hand held my head down on the seat, whilst another held my ankles. I knew it was no use to struggle, but I tried anyway. They were very strong and eventually I gave up and just lay there, my mind racing, imagining what was happening.
I assumed I was being kidnapped, they must know that I’m a rich American. I was hoping I wouldn’t be raped or tortured, but I was soon to find out exactly what they intended for me. I tried to stay calm, but it was difficult. Eventually the car stopped and I was dragged out and made to walk. I could tell from the echoing sounds and the smell of the car exhaust that we’d stopped in a garage of some sort. They kept me moving and when we stopped, the blindfold was removed, and I saw that I was in a dark room, lit only by the light of a single streetlamp outside, some yards away from the building, shining through the window. I could make out figures in the gloom, lining the walls, all looking at me. A torch was shone in my face briefly, startling me. A man’s voice said “E una bella, questa”, “this one’s a beauty”, but a woman’s voice retorted “puttana” – whore.
Suddenly I felt hands all over me, some held me still while others fixed padded straps tightly around my ankles. I found that I could not bring my feet together or move them apart, as the straps were attached to a metal bar which kept my legs wide open.
In the middle of the room was a low table, and I was lifted up and dumped onto it, then I was rolled onto my side. The table was covered with a thin bed mattress which smelt as if it had not been cleaned for months. My shoes were removed, at which point I began to frantically try and escape, and cry out, but to no avail. Because my legs were spread, my girdle was pressing into my hips but that was just a minor irritation as you can perhaps imagine. There was nothing I could do to stop whatever was about to happen. As far as I was concerned this was clearly a carefully planned kidnap, the degradation and abuse of an innocent American girl. This must be one of those “anti-foreigner protests” I’d been told about. I slumped, feeling utterly helpless. I felt very vulnerable, exposed as I was by the bar holding my legs.
Someone, one of the women I think, took hold of my panties and cut them off, with a knife I assume. I thought then that they were going to murder me, and I began to cry, but a hand gently moved the hair away from my face, untied the scarf gag, and hope rose within me, only to be dashed as the hand immediately pressed down onto my head, and my mouth was ...invaded...by a man’s rubber-covered penis, it was quite a shock. Now you can see why I’ve never told anyone about this before. My dress was bunched up around my waist and another man took me from behind, pawing at my buttocks and legs as he did so. More hands pulled down the dress and brassiere over my chest and then began to squeeze each exposed breast and nipple. Yet more hands stroked the inside of my thighs. All this time the men said nothing but I heard the women talking, and even with my meagre grasp of Italian I could tell they were not being complimentary. They just wanted to humiliate me.
Anyway this went on for I don’t know how long, and more than one man had his way with me, thrusting, groping and tweaking. The air was filled with grunts. I of course tried to cry out for help but my mouth was, well, obstructed. Eventually I began to relax, I couldn’t stop them, and, well, almost started to get a thrill out of it, does that sound weird?
***She paused. “You don’t have to go on Dol”, said Gina kindly, thinking of her own feelings whilst tied up by Lady Charlotte’s gang.
“I’m OK” she replied, and continued with her story***
Suddenly I heard a woman say loudly “Basta” , stop, and the men released me immediately, then grabbed my head and tipped gin down my throat, causing me to choke but not before enough got down inside to take an effect. A scarf was pushed into my mouth, and tied in place with another.
They took the straps off my legs, stood me upright, blindfolded me and took me back to the car, they didn’t gag me this time, I assume because they didn’t want me to throw up, but there was nothing I could do or say at that point anyway. We drove for about a quarter of an hour then we stopped, they pulled me out, untied my wrists and took the blindfold off. We seemed to be in some kind of garden. They checked my wrists and ankles with a torch to make sure no marks had been left. The padding on the bindings was obviously meant to prevent any marks being left on my skin. Like I said, this was carefully planned. They poured more gin into me, and a lot of it went all over my dress, but that suited them and their humiliation of me as it just made me look, and smell, like a fallen woman.
My head was spinning from the gin so I’d forgotten that I was a captive and didn’t shout out, but then I got yet another dose, and they bustled me though some trees and dumped me on a stone bench, face down. One of them started to pull my dress up again, but they must have heard someone coming as they ran off, leaving me in a state of undress.
My shoes had gone, my pearls too, obviously my purse and money as well. I got up and wandered about for a while, surprisingly calm, probably I was in shock. Anyway I was very lucky as I made it to the main road through this garden where they’d left me, which actually turned out to be a cemetery. I found out afterwards that prostitutes, the very cheapest ones, even going back to Roman times, used to ply their trade in cemeteries, so they were making out that I was that sort of girl.
I was found at the cemetery gates by some English sailors, on their way back to the harbour. They could have taken advantage of me, in the state I was in, but I blurted out something about being attacked, and they could tell I was an American so they were very concerned for my welfare.
They got me down to the harbour and took me to the police station there but the Carabinieri weren’t interested. After all I must have looked like a cheap drunken whore by then, but at least they got hold of the American consul and he came for me. I knew then I was safe at last, although I could tell from his face that he thought the worst of me too. After I told him my story, he became a bit more understanding. Apparently I wasn’t the first girl to have gone through a similar experience, and he told me that the gang deliberately didn’t go further with their, ahem, games, so that if they had been caught – and there was no chance of that now he said – they couldn’t be charged with rape. “The law is very specific round here” he said, “you were only ‘assaulted’ which is a much less serious crime than rape”. I was appalled – remember this was a long time ago before the women’s rights movement. I went back to the US two days later, and told my parents all kinds of stories, but never the truth.
She relaxed back into her chair and finished off her brandy. “You know, looking back on it, the worst thing that was at one point I started to enjoy it, being bound and helpless, only for a moment. Thank you for listening, Gina.”
Gina looked thoughtfully into her own glass. She didn’t cancel her holiday, and went to Naples as she had planned.