"One Hunting Trip Too Many" by Robert E. Fields, Jr.

I dedided I liked the CIAAO Hotel the first time I ever went to Massawa, on the first day I arrived in Asmara. There was just something about it that reeked of adventure and 1920s decadence. Not too many months later, I would tire of all the army BS and start taking a monthly three day pass to go there. It was cheap, relatively convenient and I could be by myself. I was, therefore, in excellent company. I would buy three bottles of Ballentine's Black Label scotch at the Oasis Club for $.90 per fifth. Upon arrival, I would always give the bartender one and keep two for myself, one to drink on Firday night and one for Saturday night. The bartender could make about $50 Ethiopian or better selling his by the drink.

It became my practice to have supper each of those nights in the hotel dining room and then go out and sit by the pool, alone, and ponder the meaning of life. In exchange for his fifth of Scotch, the bartender would, for the whole weekend, every hour on the hour that I was at the hotel, send a runner to find me with a milk-shake can sized glass of fresh squeezed orange juice over crushed ice. In the evenings I would sip the entire fifth of Scotch and chase it with ice cold orange juice. I never once got drunk, only sleepy. Never before and never since have I even dreamed of partaking of that combination, but over there, in that time and place, it was excellent.

Late one Friday afternoon I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, two or three cameras on the table in front of me, just sipping a glass of orange juice and minding my own business. An Italian man with about three cameras hanging from his neck walked in the front door of the hotel and, seeing the cameras spread out in front of me (I was the base photographer), smiled and walked over. We started chatting, him with his broken English and me in my atrocious Italian. We were getting along pretty well when a Land Rover pulled up in front of the hotel with a sign on it, "Phoenix Film."

Another four people came in and, seeing (it turned out) the still publicity photographer for the film at my table, came over and joined us. One of the men was short and balding, the others I hardly remember at all. I would learn later that one of them was the male lead in the movie this Italian film company was shooting, part of it in and around Massawa. But all of them disappeared as far as I was concerned when I saw the girl. About 18 years old, absolutely beautiful and built like the proverbial brick….oh well, you get the picture. Her last name was Scicolone, or something like that. The group was involved in shooting a movie called "Africa sotto i mari", Africa Under the Seas. I would see it several times when it came to the Odeon Theater in Asmara months later. It was a pseudo-scientific adventure movie with a lot of cheesecake thrown in. The Italians aren't stupid-they know how to sell a movie. The girl was the cheesecake and a lot of other things besides.

I ended up getting one of the bottles of Scotch. We sat around drinking for a while and then went into the dining room for supper. It was a delightful evening. They told me what they were doing and I was invited to go out on a yacht (I have absolutely no idea where they got a yacht) into the Red Sea the next day and take photographs if I wanted to. Unfortunately, I had already made arrangements to spend Saturday and Sunday on a hunting trip out on the flats south of Massawa with some guys who were coming down from Asmara. Stupidly, I declined. For years I had a beautiful gazelle head from the hunting trip but I don't have a single photograph as proof of this story.

I've had a lot of fun with this story, telling it to people even though I have not a shred of proof. I know when I tell it that no one believes me. That's part of the attraction. I tell it anyway because it's so much fun to watch their disbelieving faces.

I went hunting instead. Months later, I would buy a LIFE magazine in the PX with a feature on the new Italian starlets like Gina Lollobrigida and others. By the time the LIFE magazine was published, my beautiful little girl had changed her name to what it is today. I remember the short balding man as the director whom she would later marry, but since he is not credited as the director of that picture, I can't be sure.

The movie sequences they shot that day-the photos I would have had I not gone hunting instead-would have been of Sophia Scicolone, now Sophia Loren, cavorting around in a wet t-shirt top, climbing in and out of the yacht and swimming. At eighteen, she has to have been one of the three most beautiful women I've ever seen in the flesh.

Some days you just can't do anything right.


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©Copyright Rick Fortney 1998 All Rights Reserved