In Rome, the brewery was not as full as we expected it to be. The beer-tour fanaticism seemed to not have reached this remote corner of the famed city, or maybe it was the chilly summer rain that was keeping other tourists away. We were glad for the relative quiet, especially after fighting our way through crowds almost everywhere else. It was a bad idea to come during the "on" season, but we also weren't sure whether Rome ever had an off season. You could say many things about us, and one of them was that we weren't great at doing our research.
The brewery - makers of Castebebe beers, which ran a wide range of styles, from hoppy IPAs to smooth and dark coffee stouts - was off a main road and really not very hard to find, but we arrived just in time for their final tour of the day, and we were the only ones on it, though people who had been on earlier tours were sitting in the bar area and drinking despondently, maybe because of the weather outside and maybe because they were disappointed. We knew that we were of a rare brand of people who actually enjoyed Castebebe's product. For the most part, it was enjoyed either only by Italians - or so we'd read - or ironically. Everyone other than us agreed that Castebebe's label designs were the best part about the beers. They hired artists - or maybe it was only one who did all the different lines - who drew fantastical creatures that were impossible and Escher-like, their wings and tusks and hooves folding in on themselves like Mobius strips. People would sometimes get high instead of drunk and then stare at the designs on the bottles and cans made by Castebebe for hours, mesmerized.
We weren't like that. We truly enjoyed the flavor of the beer, which we agreed was an acquired taste but one worth acquiring. It was over Castebebe that we'd bonded originally in a beer-lovers thread on Reddit over a year ago, and it was from there that we found one another on various other social media outlets, stalking each other equally, until we finally friended each other on Facebook and almost at the same time, asked each other out, just on different platforms (Twitter DM and Faceboom IM). Our first date was predictable - sharing a pitcher of Castebebe's 2014 line of StormSoldier Wheat Ale - and our subsequent dates were predictable in a different way, in that we did what all new couples do. Movies, cafes, restaurants, more bars, until we finally were comfortable enough with one another to make it official and also begin to spend more time in bed and on couches, talking less, eating and drinking more.
What brought was to Rome was an attempt - so far a failing one - to rekindle our sex life and save our relationships from going up in flames over who got to come more when neither of us was ever really in the mood to pleasure the other, much less go through the entire messy time-consuming and exhausting act. It had begun as a half-baked scheme, a joke, but once we realized that the Castebebe brewery was in Rome, we decided to make good on the plans. We both asked for cash from relatives who thought we had birthdays coming up and made a concerted effort to save up our tips for a while from our respective tip-making jobs (massage and food service) until we finally had enough for an all-inclusive four day deal during the week, which was the worst tip-making time anyway and so the best for us both to take off work. Things seemed to be working out cosmically, swimmingly, until we got to Rome and found our Airbnb full of air-born bugs that had hatched somewhere and had to ask for a refund - which we wouldn't get for some weeks - and check into a hostel where we didn't get a bedroom of our own or a jacuzzi or any of the other things we'd been looking forward to.
But there was still the brewery, and as we followed the tour guide, who spoke a lilting version of broken English that we agreed in whispers sounded more like an American actor putting on an Italian accent than like an actual Italian accent, we decided in a few short sentences that we should probably break up when we got back to the states, but that we should enjoy the rest of the trip and be friends thereafter.
Over our favorite beer, which we got free as part of the tour package, we agreed that you can take the romance out of Rome but that you couldn't, linguistically, take Rome out of the romance.
Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, McSweeney's, Joyland, StoryQuarterly, the Washington Post, the Guardian, LA Times, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, a podcast featuring new, emerging, and established fiction writers.
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