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Wonder if She Hears Me…

Overwhelmed.

Not always, I’m good at holding the reins, at stilling my heart.

A painting my mother loved, Sunflowers by Claude Monet

But occasionally I slip.   And the hurricane that has been my life rips through me, unleashing emotions I do my best to keep hidden under a thousand layers of resignation.

It happens suddenly, but sometimes her image comes to me, tender and agonizing, and I weaken at the memory.

My mother.

Certainly the most important person of my childhood and adolescence, whether I acknowledged it or not, insensitive teen that I was.

Here I am, watching distractedly, eyelids straining to stay open, a variety show on RAI, when the great singer from the seventies, Iva Zanicchi, appears on stage. An elderly lady now, she descends the sleek glass staircase with caution, her flowing clothes giving the impression of great trembling wings. Soon a song that I hadn’t heard since that time of wonder breaks through the applause, and I’m no longer on my couch, but back on the stiff-backed chair, in the dining room in Portici, watching a TV show in black and white, my mother sitting next to me, skillfully knitting in the dark. She’s whispering along, the song is Zingara, powerful and sad, a young woman offering her hand to a gipsy (zingara), pleading that she tell her the future, will he ever love her…? I found it odd, even absurd, that my mother, a grown woman, would be so taken by a silly pop song, what did she even know about love and pain and dreams?   Those were only for young girls like me, no?

Beautiful with her blond hair and gray-blue eyes, my mother had had her teen years torn by the war.   The sirens in the middle of the night, she recounted, the sleepy rush to the shelter, the fear, then the habit, because it lasted a long time, that damn war. “I was wearing a bright red dress – she told us once – and was coming back from an errand, on an ordinary day, when the alarm shrilled, I was far from the shelter, crossing a field”. She simply lay on the grass, face down on her crossed arms, and prayed that the brilliance of her dress would not make her a target. She heard the explosions all around her, but felt no pain, hence she hadn’t been hit. Then the silence took over, the daunting smell of smoke and tragedy, but she was intact: the red dress had not betrayed her. And so it was for so long for young, pretty Wanda, her heart bleeding slowly as friends and neighbors were murdered or taken away. Those years of darkness.

A dedicated teacher and mother, she performed all the duties that were expected of her, year after year, complaining little, crying often, but then smiling again, brushing off any questions, rolling up her sleeves, back to her motherly duties because that’s what you do. Gracefully (but sometimes not) bearing the destiny that life handed her, dutiful and pained wife, she persevered through it all, one foot in front of the other, aware that dreams rarely come true and love is fickle and temporary.

I didn’t get it then.   Because the world revolved around me.

I miss her. The excrutiating emotion seizes my heart suddenly, and I fight it fiercely because I refuse to feel. I’ve hardened myself, sharpened all my edges, blocked all the tears to the point that I’ve none left to shed.

No, I won’t think about the day I left Italy with stars in my eyes, so long long ago, while she was withering with stones in her soul.

Broken are the ones left behind, never to be healed.

I’m fragile too. But I persevere, one foot in front of the other, mindful of my duties. The harshest of judges, I shall never forgive myself for the sorrow I caused her, lost in the haze of my self-centered youth.

Conquering – or attempting to – a hurdle after the other, I slap myself awake, one day at the time, focused, properly grown up.

Listening to Iva Zanicchi, I glance at my mother’s portrait on the mantelpiece. I yearn to reach out, touch her smooth face, tell her I love her like I never did.

Does she hear me from up there? Does she understand my life, my confusion, my ceaseless melancholy?   Mostly, has she forgiven my selfishness, whose guilty burden I relentlessly carry with me?

So much to tell her, I think I’ll give her a call, I catch myself thinking at times.

But she will not answer.

What’s with the Pink Carpet? (A memoir and an explanation)

Okay, I’ve heard your unuttered questions, dear friends who have come to my house.

I’ve noticed your surprise and wonder, your silent judging of my style, my taste. Your curiosity mitigated by your good manners, you never dared seek an answer to why, in God’s name, the carpeting in my living-room/dining-room/staircase area happens to be of a pinkish hue.

But here I am, my polite guests, giving you the explanation you’ve been yearning for.

Rewind my life back to my childhood in Italy, in the nineteen something something.  Every year, during the Christmas holidays, my family would receive lovely, glittery greeting cards from far-removed relatives living in America, always including Polaroid snap shots of a smiling family near a tall and colorful Christmas tree.  All wearing t-shirts or short-sleeved poufy dresses, all sitting on the floor. Unheard of in my apartment in Italy, or anyone else’s for that matter. Who would want to sit on a cold tile or marble floor in December, wearing summer clothes?  But the beaming people in the photographs were comfortably sitting or lying on soft, plush wall to wall carpeting!  Enough to make my childish heart burst with desire. In Italy, it’s called moquette, and, certainly at that time, it was unusual for anyone to have it, an ambiguous luxury, not at all traditional.  Oh, how I wished I lived in a house where I could walk barefoot on a comfy moquette, instead of wearing those stiff winter slippers over argyle socks, lie down near the Christmas tree, opening my gifts sitting on that cushy floor instead of a chair…

An image of complete bliss, including the snow piled high outside the patio doors, a wintry wonderland from a fairy-tale.  Or so I believed.

Fast-forward several years, moving to the US as a young woman, a new bride with her own place to decorate.  After a series of small apartments with uneven wood or linoleum flooring, I eventually moved to a house that had the coveted moquette!  However, it was worn out and thin.  At that time I had a new baby girl, barely one-year-old, just starting to take her first steps. Naturally I wanted a super-soft, super-clean rug for her to place her tiny feet on, to be playful and safe.   So we rushed to a rug store and purchased new carpeting for the main floor (thankfully, the rugs upstairs were in excellent shape).

Color dilemma.  I had eyed a rich rusty orange that warmed my heart.   It was called ‘tangerine’ and it was the perfect thickness and softness for my little girl to enjoy (and for me to bring to life my childhood dream).

The day the installers came, I watched them lay out the rolls, my baby in my arms, anticipating the moment I could let her roll on the floor (and join her!). However, once it was all done, my perfect ‘tangerine’ carpeting looked alarmingly like a sea of pink!  I was stunned and upset, complained fervently, even had one of the installers run back to the store and bring over the sample of the rug I had chosen, but, sure enough, it looked exactly like the rug just put in. What a difference lighting makes!

But, after all that anticipation, work and time, I didn’t have the heart to undo and re-do, so we kept it.  Of course, eventually it grew on me, my daughter loved it, it was soft and warm, and what great fun to play with her dolls on the floor in the living room, by the large picture window, glancing at the squirrels frolicking on the branches of the majestic oak tree in the backyard.  My American rug dream come true.

Naturally, no shoes were allowed in my house (slippers optional), thus it remained spotless and comforting for years.

Fast-forward once again.   Because of a series of unfortunate events, we needed to move from the house I adored in the town I loved. Broken-hearted, I decided to transform the house we moved to into a complete replica of my beloved one, to cocoon in the recreation of the place that had brought me so much joy for a few brief years.  Besides, I was blessed with a second beautiful little girl, only eight months old then, as I was to adjust to life in another town. Enter the same rug store.  I demanded, much to their surprise (I was a customer they didn’t quite forget, considering the drama) that they install exactly the same carpeting I had before.

And so it was done.  ‘Tangerine’ carpeting colored all of my main floor and crawled merrily up the stairs, softening my new baby’s tentative first steps.

Of course I still notice and sigh at the tint, still bear the unspoken comments of my guests.

Sure, I could replace it with another color; I could even remove it altogether and let trendy hardwood make its own classy statement.

But I will not erase the memories of my childhood dreams, and of my children’s precious babyhood.

Now you know.

Chissà se mi sente…

9 gennaio 2018

Succede all’improvviso.

Un quadro che mia madre amava, I Girasoli di Claude Monet

Così, mentre mi sto occupando di qualcosa di ordinario, o guardo distrattamente la TV.

Mi viene in mente mia madre. E quel velo di tristezza impetuosa, spesso trapunta da attimi di panico, mi avvolge nel gelo.

Iva Zanicchi. Si presenta in un varietà divertente. Anziana adesso, scende le scale con esitazione, avvolta in panni svolazzanti.

E canta Zingara.   Quella voce calda e potente, l’energia sorprendente, mi agguantano e mi trasportano nel passato lontano che poi non lo è, il ricordo vago, tremulo.

Mi madre che l’ascoltava con grande attenzione, le piaceva tanto la Zanicchi e soprattutto quel capolavoro emozionante di canzone, Zingara.

Era delle sue parti, la grande Zanicchi, emiliana verace.

Sognatrice, romantica di nascosto, spesso solare, la mia bellissima e pratica mamma cercava di tenersi a galla nel vortice delle emozioni che la travolgevano, ma che doveva sempre contenere. Quanti sogni aveva anche lei, immagino.   Ma chi lo capiva (o se ne importava pure) allora. Tutto girava intorno a me, no?

Una donna coscienziosa e misurata, certamente anche lei delusa e stanca, come ogni donna. Dedicata alla famiglia e al suo lavoro di docente, si era rassegnata alla vita che tutti si aspettavano, che lo volesse o no.

Invece immaginava la zingara, e quanto desiderava offrirle la mano un po’ tremante nella speranza proibita di un futuro forse più magico, uno che sfiorasse ciò che desiderava quando era giovane e anche lei innamorata dell’amore (che ti tradisce sempre, ma mica lo capisci da ragazzina).

Mi manca.  Più che mai.  Presa come sono dal ciclone della mia vita, rifletto poco sul passato e su ciò che ho abbandonato tanti, tantissimi anni fa. O meglio, lo evito, ecco, più precisamente lo ignoro, anche per tenere a bada sentimenti troppo grandi per me, che potrebbero sconvolgermi.

Ascolto la Zanicchi e guardo il ritratto di mia madre che ho sulla mensola del caminetto. Mi sorride, ma so che è triste.  Spero che mi veda da lassù, che mi ascolti, che mi comprenda, e,  soprattutto, che mi perdoni per aver creato questa  insostenibile distanza tra di noi.

Vorrei toccarle quel viso sempre liscio, i capelli biondi e sottili, stringermela al cuore con tenerezza come non ho mai fatto, e sapere che mi sente. Il peso è doloroso, e lo scaccio di continuo, distraendomi in ogni modo possibile. Mi spengo i sentimenti, m’irrigidisco, mi arrabbio pure con me stessa per non riuscire a perdonarmi, anche a distanza di decenni.

Tanto da raccontarle, da mostrarle. Adesso le telefono, mi illudo ogni tanto.

Ma non mi risponderà.

Another year, Another Chance

 

Rockefeller Center, NYC. The famous Tree.

To try not to screw up.

The most famous Christmas Tree in the world. NYC.

Yeah, good luck with that to all of us.  But God bless our good intentions.

New York is enchanting during the Christmas holiday period.

Grateful, thrilled to live in this wonderful place. Yes, I hate the snow, but I love the lights.  I hate the cold, but I love America.

Happy New Year, wonderful people!

Cerchiamo di non rovinare un altro anno, okay? Lo so, molto difficile, ma ci proviamo, Dio lo sa che ci proviamo…

Un po’ di neve. Romantica? Non direi. Abbastanza per rompere.

Odio il freddo e la neve, ma adoro New York.  Mi manca l’Italia, ma amo l’America.

Mi mancate voi, miei cari (sapete chi siete).

Certo che si deve spalare. Molto pratica io.

Buon anno a tutti voi, che vi regali amore, passione,  gioia,  salute e tutto quello che conta davvero.

She and the River

(Character Study)

The river is so immense that she thinks it’s the sea.

And she almost forgets where she is.

A different continent, a different life. Even a different century. Strangely surreal.

She reaches over, her hand trembling faintly. The water is cold under the late fall’s still brilliant sun.

But it’s so real.   She couldn’t be closer to her river.   And he listens.

She unburdens her sadness, and he accepts is. But doesn’t respond. Or maybe he does. The waves gently lapping at the gritty sand, only a few inches from her feet. I’m here, he says, lay your grief on the water and I will absorb it.   But I cannot rebuild you.

Can loneliness last a lifetime? Must she endure forever?   Is she deserving at all of a ray of sunshine that doesn’t last one day?

Does her existence matter?   Even in the scheme of things?

A speck in the fabric of the ever-turning world.

Dutiful, always. An eternity of sacrifice. Be quiet, she orders. To herself.  Her voice is too faint to matter to anyone else.

There is a point when woman (a mother) becomes part of the landscape. She forfeits feelings, desires, dreams, passions. Total subjugation to duties, others, ‘what’s right’, what matters.   Expected to accept it peacefully.

Bear it, she tells herself.   Let the universe run its course, hang on to karma, to a vague promise of heaven.

The river seems calm.   He is her friend.

Lei e il fiume

25 novembre 2017

(Studio analitico del personaggio)

Il fiume è così immenso che sembra il mare.

Lei quasi si dimentica dov’è.

Un altro continente, una vita diversa, addirittura un altro secolo. Davvero surreale.

Lei tocca l’acqua, con mano tremante.   Freddissima, anche sotto il sole brillante di fine autunno.

Questa è la realtà.   Ma sa che il fiume l’ascolta.

Abbandona i suoi travagli, lei, sulle onde leggermente spumeggianti. Lui le accetta, le assorbe. Ma non le dà consiglio. O forse sì.

Deve chiudere gli occhi, lei, per sentire, deve donarsi, pura e vulnerabile, alle forze dell’universo, sforzarsi a rimanere coerente. Anche quando della coerenza non sa che farsene. Infinito il dolore della coerenza.

Perditi, si dice.   L’acqua è fredda ma potrà anestetizzarti.

Dimenticare tutto, ecco.

Una vita al servizio di chi e cosa ha più importanza di lei.

Sola tra la folla esigente.

Sopporta, si dice.  Sorridi e sopporta.  Tu non vali quanto loro.

Una vita dedicata al dovere. Offerta con amore e sacrificio che poi non era tale.

La donna (la madre) ha il dono della sparizione. Così, a un certo punto, all’improvviso ma non proprio, lei scompare, cessa di esistere.   Rinuncia ai sentimenti, ai desideri, alle passioni, diventa acqua il cui solo compito è dissetare gli altri.

La lacerano, la calpestano, esigono. Tutto in nome del dovere.

E lei si dà, come ha sempre fatto, rinuncia a sè stessa perché lei non vale. Quanto loro.

Le acque antiche del grande fiume scorrono. Lei segue il loro corso. Le desidera.

Pace liquida. Dolce abbandono.

Il fiume è un amico.

Because Nobody is Listening

This is the world we live in.

A world where only some are heard. The ones who scream the loudest, the evil ones, and, ironically, also the self-righteous.

They, who proclaim their unbound holy faith, who recite their part of servants of God, prostrate themselves in church, tote a Bible studded with notes and bookmarks, reach out condescendingly to those who struggle at the edge of society.

But ignore (and berate) those who are closest to them. By right or by misfortune.

Those who trusted them because innocent and naïve perhaps (or, simply, too young and tender to understand), who unquestioningly placed their budding lives in their hands.

The invisible ones remain invisible. And always will be.

They can cry behind closed doors, then smile, joke, laugh in company, because this is what society wants.

Suffering is not cool.

It’s their word against the others’. And the others win, because life is unfair, uneven, meant to crush us (or, some of us).

The invisible ones can be beautiful. (Painfully) outgoing, (sadly) funny.

But long, sleepless nights are their routine. And human beings are resilient, are they not? We can get used to cohabiting with pain just fine.

Nobody knows. Christ, nobody knows.

Life is indeed a valley of tears.

Go on, lucky ones, proceed with your stable lives, be amazed, be amused, be touched by the loud phony ones, play their game.

Karma, some say.   Karma will vindicate you.  Will it make a difference though?

Will one’s suffering be worth it?

The wheel keeps turning.   On and on and on.

Survival of the phoniest?

To be continued, I suppose.