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

Saturday, April 6, 2013

27.4—Up the Stairs Across the Street from the Half-Open Door

How many times I'd visited this turn in the road...#19...I'd recognized it at one, it was so familiar to me. Now I was getting out of the car at the very address:

Why was the door open? For me...should I call on the phone...climb the stairs and knock...Tony had to get back to was raining...I turned to go up the stone steps across the street so that the mystery might be revealed. Except the steps weren't stone but brick. And no need to discover what lay behind the trees at the top. The trees had been cut back. There was nothing there but trash.

We saw no one but an ancient woman dressed in black, a man pulling down an iron door on a garage, and a woman in boots and a black leather jacket who despite her attempt to cultivate that urban Italian look merely looked out of place in the deserted and narrow street.

At one point, we turned down a steep sloping road that was so narrow, I was afraid we were going to have to back out. As we inched our way down and through, then up and out, I just wanted to leave. We stopped at the guard rail on the hill for a view of the city that is known for its factories, especially for tuna packing.

And then the rain began to pour down, and we were gone.

Why was there no public transportation in or out of this mountain town?
Would the experience have been different on a sunny day in late spring. Perhaps if I'd had the words in Italian to express my emotions they would not have become so tangled on the way back to Pizzo.

I knew now why my grandparents left. My grandfather went twice before he stayed just before the end of the 19th century. My grandmother joined him in 1902. What I saw was likely what they experienced, those narrow confining roads with no way out except to leave.

Except they never left. My grandmother never learned to speak English, although all five of her children had college educations. My grandfather was a man with a lonely dark spirit, a man with the soul of a tragic opera...a shoemaker able to translate Dante into English and work algebra problems for fun. I wasn't quite twenty-one when he died. But I'd had a nip or two of his wine, and it was fabulous. He had a wonderful family who, had he given them the opportunity, would have showered him with the love they had for him.

But my grandfather was an angry man, never satisfied, unable to find...what might it have been that he was seeking...perhaps something we might call importance. He once threw the Black Hand out of his shoemaker shop, refusing to pay the extortion fee for protection. They never came back.

There was intense prejudice against Italians, especially poor Italians. Yet, my grandfather was so personable to professional people he encountered that they would visit him at his shop and house, just to engage in conversation. What did they talk about? He never conversed with the family.

He was like that town he tried to escape, high up on a hill with no way in or out except by leaving. But he never left that spiritless place behind. And his darkness shadowed the family.

Back in Pizzo, Tony and Carmelina left me at a restaurant near the sweeping seaside cliff.

It reminded me of Oregon. I sat in the restaurant not knowing if I wanted a glass of wine or a good cry. Tony had given me his phone number for the drive along the coast back to the train station. But I needed to remain sharp and unemotional to ensure my way out. I still had that boarded up train station ahead of me.

As I sat eating my risotto, it was hard to swallow. Emotions I'd not expected began to rise up from deep within, and the truth of the day began shape-shifting like those strange moments in mythology or fiction where characters change to achieve a purpose, to escape, or to live out punishment....

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