November had come and gone and December had slipped in unnoticed by the time I was due to go to Europe. It was an odd feeling. A huge task lay ahead when normally I was winding down, ready for the Christmas break. While I would usually be thinking of dusting down the sled, I was headed for one of Europe’s most beautiful cities in all its autumnal glory.I sent a text to Elizabeth from the airport, a final call to keep her fingers crossed for the hurdles that were to follow. My only regret was that I couldn’t take her with me. I could only imagine the wonderful time we could have together, but we both knew it wasn’t a vacation. The ‘sale’ of the painting had got her out of the immediate threat of bankruptcy and a holiday now would only pile on a profligacy that we could ill afford. I needed to be focused on the task in hand. If I took in some culture along the way, then that would be my reward for a little dedication to my art.It had occurred to me some time back that I might be challenged over my taking the painting on the plane. It wasn’t exactly big, but with the wrapping it was the size of a decent pizza. I made representations to the Chamber of Commerce and with a little smooth talking got them to issue a waiver. I was fearful of what might occur if it went in the hold, and I had visions of someone’s suitcase cutting it in two. This way, I had the necessary documentation, which said it was ‘valuable merchandise’ and needed to be hand luggage. If I didn’t have enough bridges to cross, stumbling over bureaucracy was something I could do without, but at least the painting would only have to make the journey twice.I can’t say that I relish flying. It’s a necessity but I do get the jitters from time to time. I was just happy that it wasn’t a long-haul. The flight to southern Italy takes the scenic route, crossing the snow-capped mountains of the Alps and the lake district of Switzerland. I had taken first class for that little extra comfort and because I could afford it. After breaking through the clouds, I was up and away, relaxing in my reclining chair, a glass of wine on my tray and a tub of Pringles on my lap.The wine and the gentle hum of the engines had a soporific effect. I hadn’t slept well the night before. I never can when something’s going to happen and I nodded off, occasionally experiencing momentary periods of wakefulness as a little turbulence rocked the plane.I wasn’t entirely surprised to be the only passenger in first class but I was surprised by the Stewardess. As far as I knew Elizabeth was in telesales, so what was she doing working on a plane? I watched as she trundled the drinks trolley up to my seat, her uniform snugly accentuating her hourglass figure. Her skirt seemed to be a size too small, so that her panties bit into her bum cheeks.“Would you like something else, Madam?” she asked.“Eh? Elizabeth?”“I’m your sexy stewardess for the flight. Would you like a little massage?”“Won’t the Captain mind?” I asked.“The Captain’s flying the plane, Cindy. What he doesn’t know, eh?” Elizabeth winked and licked her lips.“I’ll have a glass of Champagne then please. And a punnet of strawberries, like in that film with Julia Roberts.”“I’ll give you more than strawberries, Cindy. You can have my lips if you like.”Elizabeth removed her stewardess’s cap and shook her hair, allowing it to flow naturally over her shoulders like a waterfall of silk. She stood in front of my seat and gave me one of her smouldering looks, her brown eyes giving me a little rash of goose bumps and a tingle down my spine. I dipped a strawberry into my Champagne and sucked the sparkling wine through the tender flesh of the fruit as she undid the buttons on her top. I lay back in my seat as she planted a knee between my legs and then she looked into my eyes, as if she was reading my thoughts. I pulled her towards me, my right hand caressing her breasts through her top as my other hand ran around the smooth outline of her sweet derriere“Yes?” she said, sweetly.“I…” Before I could speak she planted a kiss on my lips. It was a kiss like honey on my lips – her tongue making little darts into my mouth. I opened my legs and bursa escort lifted a knee, my thin skirt riding along my thigh as I pressed my tongue into her mouth. I could feel her fingers popping open the buttons on my blouse. I began to draw down the zip on her skirt, easing the material over her hips until I could feel the smooth flesh of her bum under my fingers. I was so wet, so aching for her tongue and her fingers…I woke up with a start. The seat belt sign was illuminated and the tone of the engines indicated our descent. I looked out of my porthole and the countryside was close enough to make out roads and individual fields in a patchwork of greens and browns. I was aching after the dream, my heart beating hard and in need of some love and affection.***************Italy was everything I had imagined. I wasn’t one for winter holidays, but the sunshine in Rome was like a cuddle for the soul.After going through the formalities at the airport and checking in at my hotel, I made it a point of getting my bearings before I ventured farther. The immediate vicinity was a confusing criss-cross of streets, where everywhere looked the same. It wasn’t until I got onto the main thoroughfare that a meaningful landmark appeared. I was very close to both St. John’s Basilica and the Coliseum. It was as if the latter had been lowered randomly into the middle of an intersection and occupied a space, where every square metre was being competed for by a pillar or an archway. It was hard to believe that there could be so much archaeology in one place. Ancient, crumbling ruins competing for space among mediaeval buildings; museums on the corners of quaint little tree-lined avenues. It was beautiful and humbling.My first mission was to check out the place on the letter, which had accompanied the painting. Try as I might I hadn’t manage to track it down, so I decided to head for the Tourist Information Centre, hoping someone there would know. I could see from my map that it was only a couple of blocks away but involved the traversing of a couple of arterial roads. Crossing main roads was a nightmare, there being no point to the zebra crossings as far as I could tell. At one place I actually took a longer route to avoid getting mown down by the traffic. The alternative involved my walking through a park, where there was a pond and a few quacking ducks and a forlorn-looking summer house. I could have lingered there, but I began to feel guilty having no bread and walked on, trampling the piles of leaves under foot.After my detour, I reached the second main road but failed to see a way of navigating my way round. Crossing a busy road, with 200 motor cars bearing down on you in a foreign city was intimidating. Watching a couple of fellow pedestrians narrowly miss a serious accident wasn’t encouraging. I was about to summon up the courage to cross during a slightly less treacherous period when a couple of nuns breezed by and proceeded to cross, causing the traffic to halt. I followed them, in the wake of their holy protection, and arrived at the other side in one piece.I reached a river and dropped down, taking some steps to the bank where the autumn leaves had been blown into little brown piles and were now being scattered randomly in the breeze. The Tourist Centre was set back, above the east bank of the river. After involving a couple of the members of staff, they were unable to locate my street. I retraced my steps and, in trying to avoid the main road, got hopelessly lost. I consulted my map and somehow oriented my way back to my hotel via a completely different route.My first big appointment loomed and, taking no chances, I got the hotel to call me a taxi. The painting under my arm, I instructed the driver to take me to the National Institute of Art. It was a huge gothic affair, along a street with other important looking buildings, with the Italian flag waving above each entrance.I entered through the heavy front door and entered the cool, stone entrance where a guy in a kind of uniform greeted me at the desk. He raised his cap, revealing his slick, black hair.“Buongiorno, signorina! Come posso bursa escort bayan essere di aiuto?”“Oh. Ummm do you speak English?”“A little bit. How may I help you, please?”“I’m looking for Elanora di Rosso.”“Certamente! Second floor, is from the first door and is on the left.”“On the left?”“Si signorina. Her name is on the door.”“Multo gratzie!” I said in what little Italian I had.Inside, the institute was an odd mish mash of sterile rooms in a crusty edifice, with age worn paintings and old wedding cake ceilings. On the second floor I emerged in one such area, which had a modern appearance, with blank white walls and little stain glass windows at the top of the stair well. It was as if you were constantly reminded that you were in Rome. No matter how advanced the science was, you were nudged in the ribs by culture.I picked my way along the corridor, noseying through the little, fire-proof windows where white-coated workers were looking through microscopes and using all sorts of cutting edge instruments. At last I arrived at the door marked Dr E di Rosso. I knocked once and entered cautiously. A slim, attractive dark-haired woman of thirty or so looked up from a book that she was reading.“Cindy Lucina?”“Yes. That’s me!”“You’re younger than I had imagined,” she said, offering her hand.Elanora had long auburn hair, tied in a ponytail. She had a light Mediterranean complexion with sharply defined features, which were relieved by a pair of rimless silver spectacles. They were perched on an aquiline nose that made her look alert and intelligent.“You have something for me?” she said. She spoke perfect English through a thick Italian accent.“Yes, it’s here. It’s hardly left my side for two weeks.”“We will take care of it. Don’t worry.”“Thank you, it means so much to me for you to do this.”“You know the odds against it being a Michelangelo…”“Are a million to one, yes. But when you see…”“I’m not an expert in art, but I hope for you that is one.”I unwrapped the painting and placed it on the heavy wooden table where she was working. She raised her glasses and looked at it closely.“It is a remarkable painting. It is beautifully painted.”“When will you begin the tests?” I asked inquisitively.“The carbon dating will begin tomorrow. And then we will see.”“What’s the accuracy of the test?”“If it’s an uncompromised sample, then for the last half millenium, about one hundred years.”“Uncompromised?”“Yes, if there are more recent sources of cross contamination or much older elementals, it can give a false reading.”“Oh!”“But we will take a sample from behind the frame and it’s prepared specially The preparation is the hard part, the test is an hour. Don’t worry Cindy, we’ll get a good sample, I’m sure. If it’s something that’s been buried in the ground – well that’s tricky.”“There’s a painting just like this one in the Sistine Chapel. That one is a Michelangelo.”“Well, the subject was very popular during the Renaiassance.”Elanora listened as I enthused over my confidence in the painting and then I remembered the letter. Maybe she would be able to throw a little light on the address.“Elanora, I have something to ask you. About a street in Rome…”“Go ahead.”I pulled the letter out of my pocket and read the address.“Via Azzo Gardino. Do you know where that is?”Elanora looked blank and shook her head.“I’ve never heard of it, but Rome is a big place.”“I know. It’s not on my map.”“Ah, that means nothing. I will check the directory. May I ask the relevance of Via Azzo Gardino?”Elanora’s pronunciation of the name, her stress of the syllables made me smile. Her speaking voice was as near as one gets to singing as I had heard.“Apparently it was in a sale there, in 1934,” I confirmed. “I thought if I could trace the records for that sale, it would add to the provenance. Maybe it had an attribution.”Elanora ran her finger down the large green-covered A to Z. She looked up at me and held out her hand.“Let me see the letter.”“Hmmm… it’s odd there is no street with this name in Rome.”“There must be!”“Okay, let’s not give up, but some would say using Google is a last resort, but we will do it.”Elanora escort bursa tapped at the keyboard of her laptop as I waited impatiently.“Ah!”“What?!”“Oh. No. I can only see one Via Azzo Gardino and it’s in Bologna. Maybe the sale was there?”“No, Elizabeth’s great uncle was in Rome. The sale was in Rome, I’m certain of that.”“Well, I don’t know what to say, it’s not in the directory, which is very unusual. Anyway, you can leave the painting with us.”“Thank you, Elanora. I appreciate it.”“That’s okay. Oh by the way, if you’re interested, I’m playing in a little recital tonight, if you want to come. A few friends and I are playing some Vivaldi and Scarlatti.”“Domenico or Allesandro?” I asked.“Oh! so you are a lover of the music? Allesandro, we are playing. I will give you the address, there is a bar and we have a little following. The atmosphere is good.”“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, thank you!”I left Elanora to her work and headed back into the centre of Rome for a coffee, relieved that I had set the ball rolling but feeling more than a little trepidation. Drawing a blank on the earlier sale was a bit of a blow. A text to Elizabeth confirmed what I already knew, that the sale was in Rome, without doubt. Maybe this Vincenzo had written down the wrong street, though that didn’t seem particularly plausible.I picked my way back to my hotel, now recognizing certain features, which enabled me to build a good mental map of the city. The opportunities to linger around places of interest and beauty were endless. Entrance fees to places were very reasonable. I passed an hour or three wandering around a huge museum that consisted of statues of various Roman Gods. There was Neptune and his trident, Mercury with his winged hat and the boss of them all – Jupiter, who posed reclining, with one finger pointing into the distance, no doubt summoning a bolt of lightning. I was struck by the fact that these and other notable characters like Hercules were sculpted with very small genitalia. Maybe some kind of antiquarian political correctness forbade a realistic anatomical likeness. Who knows?There seemed to be something to look at on every corner. There was a museum, which was full of every kind of musical instrument from primitive pianos and lutes to guitars and trombones. There were inviting little restaurants and cafes, which I made mental notes of, though I hardly could guarantee to pass the same way twice with the network of streets and alleyways.As arresting and absorbing as it was, I was missing Elizabeth and couldn’t help think how much more I would have enjoyed it, in her company. It was all the more frustrating now that the painting was out of my hands. All I could do was wait.The evening brought both entertainment and an encouraging development. I took a taxi to the address that Elanora gave me. It was in a kind of wine bar that was attached to an old hall that had polished floors and intricately carved wooden gargoyles around the interior. She was just tuning up as a few people were arranging chairs and others were mingling at the bar. Elanora came towards me with a look on her face that said she had something important to say.“Cindy! I’m pleased you could make it. I’ll introduce you to the others in a second. Anyway I have some news!”“What is it?”“My friend Giuseppe is a cartographer at the La Comune di Roma and he did some digging. It turns out Via Azzo Gardino changed in 1960 when they did some restructuring of some crumbled buildings. For some reason it was renamed Via dei Greci and the auction house is still there!”“Wow! Thank you so much. I’ll go there in the morning!”“No worries. And they open at ten.”I ordered a white wine and blackcurrant before taking a seat as Elanora and her cohorts struck up a series of Baroque numbers. The acoustics in the hall were amazing. The bouncy, vivacious cords of the harpsichord morphed into the dancing notes of the violins and cello. It was beautiful and relaxing. I was enchanted by the music and totally impressed by how talented Elanora was, having both scientific and artistic leanings.Afterwards I was introduced to two of Elanora’s closest friends, including Mima. Mima was a petite and cute mousy-haired girl of 21 or so. She had a distinctly impish smile and sparkling blue-green eyes. She was lovely in every way and seemed to take an immediate fancy to me. She was dressed in a brown suede jacket and black leather skirt.