NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Friday, April 5, 2013

#27.2—If Bergman Had Been Italian

There is only one thing worse than begin terrified of something—being terrified of nothing.

Trying to cope with that volatile station agent in Lamezia in Italian was a sunny day at the beach compared to finding myself alone in front of that boarded up train station...not the hint of a single person up and about in this little town at 11 a.m....and where were all those seaside resort facilities for which Pizzo was noted?

Not that I didn't find myself laughing at the absurdity of it all. Alex Haley had turned the search for roots through slavery and injustice into an acclaimed miniseries. More recently on TV, famous people had journeyed down the genealogical path into marvelous places of personal revelation. I ended up at a boarded up train station on the edge of an inhospitable sea in a seemingly lifeless town. My laughter was brief, lost to the sound of the mean green sea and gray indifference of the sky.

If Bergman had been an Italian filmmaker, I was living a script he would have written. I was not entirely in control of my mind but walking through it. The life I had lived for the last seventy, friends, my sweet little house in Oregon...the awards, rewards, and struggles with the education system...the damned washer back in Rome that wouldn't wring my clothes dry...that splendid dinner the night before at the Europa in Lamezia...all of it seemed part of a distant past I would never again be able to access. I'd been dropped off at a place between life and death...left

I began talking out loud to myself. It was all I had to tell me I was real...except for my little traveling companion. I usually leave him in the hotel but was glad that at the last minute I'd stuck him inside my jacket pocket:

I then noted, also out loud to myself that I'd been afraid that the little Italian I knew would be irrelevant in the midst of the Calabrese dialect. Now language, any language, even my own, was irrelevant.

If a tree falls in the forest with no one there, does it make a sound?
If there is nowhere to go, do you just keep walking?
I considered crying. But that would only make me thirsty, and there was no where to pee. Even when alone in a desolate place, one must retain decorum and not pee in the street.

My mother and father felt like tangible presences, as when those departed return to you in a real to your mind even in those brief minutes when you awaken to what is...real?

Nothing in my life had ever felt so real as the being present in the days and hours preceding their deaths...each breath so real...each word so precious. The last thing my mother had said was, "These next few days will be difficult for you girls." My sisters and I, all adults, still her girls.

As he awaited the morphine, my dad, scientist to the end, had reflected, "I'm looking forward to seeing of all those theological stories are true."
I had no such caring or reflective thoughts. I longed only for the chance to pop that Italian-tenor CD into the player on the little brown shelf in my beloved house, turn up that song with the title I can never remember, and dance with my Cat-Prince big bunchy orange boy. When the neighbor makes a crack that Reno could lose a few pounds, I say, no, he needs that big bunchy body to contain his big heart and even bigger spirit.

I remember the blissful moments in my garden with all four cats supervising as I landscaped my yard with beds of stone...learning only after the gardens and pathways had been built, how I should have done it...realizing finally that tearing them apart and starting over was not the answer...the answer was to enjoy what had come from the bliss.

In fact, it had been in building the gardens back in 2004 that I first thought of traveling to Calabria. I couldn't afford a landscaper. No one had done anything with my yard in the twenty-some years since the house had been built. The yard was clay and crabgrass. I decided on rock...a beautiful dark rock that had once been on the bottom of the sea.

Because of the angle of the house, the truck had to dump the rock in the front so that I then had to haul it wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow around to the back of the house. I started by following all the instructions from a book on building rock walls. Using stakes and string, I laid out a perfect circle. My friend Jim showed me how to dig a drainage trench that I would then fill with gravel to drain water from under the garden walls. He got me started with, oh, eighteen inches of trench. Then he left. And there I was alone with my new pick ax, shovel, ten yards of rock, ten yards of gravel, and my plan for a circle ten feet in diameter.

After three days of trying to dig, haul, and build within those damned strings, I began to get a feel for the rock. The rocks began speaking to me about their was kind of and the rock, and the cats hanging out in the sun following me back and forth with the wheelbarrow, building the round wall...I tossed the string and stakes to the side and within days had a perfect circle built on eighteen-inch drainage trenches filled with gravel. Okay, Ross my nephew I right...the circumference of a circle ten feet in diameter would be...(pause) C = pi r squared...78.5 feet????

Anyway, it was in building my first gardens that I cast of the system, took what I needed from the books, what I had learned from my study of Zen, and just loved the rocks and let them love me back. The backyard led to the front.

It was during this process that I learned from my Aunt Carrie that my Italian ancestors worked with stone. It was in my blood. One day my dear neighbor Peggy popped over from across the street to compliment and support my effort. It happened to be during the 2008 election, and our politics differed. I found myself becoming agitated by our differences. And so to change the subject, I asked if she might use her expertise in genealogy to help me track my Italian ancestors. Being the generous soul and marvelous neighbor that she is, she vanished into her house and returned in short order with all sorts of information.

Now at the time, I was teaching myself French with the idea of becoming more, well, I don't know, everything the French have that is not in my disordered, naive, insecure temperament. I never really liked French. It was an exercise in self-improvement. But within hours after Peggy provided me with documents of my grandparents' emigration from Maierato, I said out loud to the cats: "Why on earth am I studying French. I'm Italian." I immediately ordered an assortment of Italian grammar books from Amazon. For my birthday, my dad bought me Rosetta Stone. Through the internet, I found five Cutuli families living in Maierato and after some months of study, wrote them all letters saying that I would like to meet them.

No reply...until one day I arrived at the Netarts post office. "You got a letter," Lyn said, her voice full of excitement...a letter? I opened my box. And there it was...a letter from Italia. Polma Cutuli, said the return address.

She said, in Italian, that all the Cutuli families in Maierato were all related, and so I was part of the family and would be welcome. She even called me in Oregon to say she hoped I would come. When I noted that the call cost her a lot of money, she said, "Non e' importante."

I had planned to visit when in Florence, but at the last minute Polma called to say that there'd been a death in the family in Canada, so she couldn't be there to meet me. In preparation for the Rome trip, I wrote several letters but received no response. Yet when I called from Rome, she seemed genuinely excited that I would be arriving. But then when I got to Lamezia, someone from that phone number hung up on me...and then never answered my calls.

I'd given Cinzia the Plant to Orlanda, the manager at my hotel in Lamezia. She was delighted and placed Cinzia in the little breakfast area for the guests. I'd been tempted to just stay in Lamezia for two days, as I'd paid for the hotel and my train ticket. But there was nothing to do in Lamezia. Going to Pizzo was merely something to do with the off chance I could find a way to Maierato...just to say I'd been there, after having made such a big deal about going there.

All these things crashed at me like the mean green sea dashing itself against the shore on the other side of the row of houses to my left. Other people were living normal lives with families and jobs. "What the hell am I doing here?" I said out loud to no one.

It suddenly felt like one of those moments when death is so imminent that being alive is almost too much to bear.

There'd been a short break in the rain. It began falling again out of the moody uncaring sky.

About twenty yards in front of me, a figure in a black coat, hood up, emerged from one of the narrow passageways between the houses to my left...

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