Lasciarsi andare (per un istante)

12 novembre 2018

Le poche volte che salgo in soffitta la ignoro.  È sempre lì, la valigetta verde, nel suo angolino, seminascosta dai valigioni rossi e lucidi che aspettano pazientemente d’imbarcarsi per l’Italia.  Mentre la valigetta verde l’Italia ce l’ha dentro.  È un vecchio modello vintage anni settanta, leggera, perché le carte non pesano poi tanto.  Anche quelle cariche di storie.

Stavolta la porto giù, l’adagio sulla moquette e, con mano leggermente incerta, tiro la cerniera.

Teneri i diari scolastici Grazia del liceo, con quelle copertine cool (almeno così sembravano allora) e spigliate.  Calligrafia non bella, a volte anche disordinata, soprattutto quando scrivevo quelle dichiarazioni assurde e pesanti da adolescente (irragionevolmente) angosciata –  Sono così infelice! Dio mi odia! L’amore fa schifo!  Spesso scritte in un inglese da principiante, sotto la lista dei compiti.  Poi i diari, quelli veri, quelli su cui disegnavo i cuoricini e i nomi più preziosi del momento.  La passione possente che ancora non capivo, travestita da amore nascente, attenuata dalla naïveté della mia giovane età, che volava sulle ali traditrici di sogni irrealizzabili.  Emozioni acerbe, pure e intense – ti amo, ti odio, mi manchi, ti riprendo, adesso basta, avanti un altro, quello vero, quello grande, quello ‘per sempre’.  Ma ‘per sempre’ non esiste.

Le lettere.  Carta fragile, sottilissima, quasi ho paura di toccarle, che si frantumino in un mucchietto di polvere e si disperdano nell’aria.  Come i sogni.  Nomi che mi afferrano il cuore, altri che non riconosco perché tanto tempo è passato, e forse non erano importanti.  Quelle amicizie estive, sbocciate spontanee il primo giorno al mare (o in montagna), diventate vincoli di acciaio in pochi giorni, poi cuori spezzati quando ci si doveva separare.  Ti scriverò tutti i giorni! giuravamo.  E lo facemmo, missive fitte fitte, spedite in fretta, ricevute con gioia traboccante.  Per qualche mese.  Poi qualcuno non risponde più e finisce lì.

Le foto di classe, in bianco e nero, quei visi così familiari, ma i nomi sfuggenti; poi giro la foto e mi perdo nella dolce tortura dei messaggi e delle dediche, spesso spiritose, commoventi perché sincere nella loro immaturità.

I disegni.  I taccuini a quadretti, tanti racconti infantili, da me creati quando ancora non sapevo che avrei scritto per una vita intera.  Illustrati coi pastelli, fate con i veli svolazzanti, principi azzuri dai capelli biondi, il lieto fine, sempre un lieto fine.  I ritratti di amici, sorella, compagni di classe, attrici.  Ero brava, accidenti.  Ma perché ho poi smesso di disegnare? Già, la vita, quella vera, mi ha incastrato, ha cancellato i desideri e la creatività, regalandomi in cambio una lista di doveri che mi occuperà per l’eternità.

Basta.  Chiudo la valigetta, mi accingo a riportarla lassù, nel suo meritato nascondiglio.

Ma la trascino a stento, è diventata pesantissima, una cassetta di piombo che mi taglia le dita.

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Diving in

Against my better judgement.

I usually ignore it, when I go up into the attic.  The little, light, green plastic suitcase, vintage 70’s, standing up straight, partially hidden by all the others, the large modern ones, mostly red, mostly rarely used.

But in there lies my story, my history, my Italian life, my marvelous and angsty formative years.

I unzip it, and the flood of the past engulfs me almost instantly. I can smell the salty marine air of the Portici’s harbor, all the fishing boats lolling on the gentle waves, preparing for their nightly journey.  I am blinded by the lights of the parochial theater, buzzing with activity and excitement, as the teens enthusiastically rehearse for the play.  I walk the elegant, crowded Viale Leonardo da Vinci, a river of chatty, animated young humanity, bursting with the hope and joy of those who still don’t know better.

A rainbow of notebooks unfolds before my apprehensive eyes: I blink, even turn my gaze toward the window and the fading green of the trees of my New York autumn.

I’m ready to close up that perilous well of the past immediately…but I can’t.

So much writing, more or less neat, in those hundreds (thousands?) of pages, a plethora of exclamations points ending the sentences, because emotions were pure, extreme and raw in those wonder days. The tender, innocent diaries of someone who was in love with the world, yet insisted on despising it.  Call it teenage angst, or embarking into the tentative construction of your own life, not according to your parents’ desires and plans.

My cheerfully decorated school agendas, filled with an insane quantity of quotes, mostly sappy, but, at the time, fundamentally powerful, next to the list of my homework assignments.

Life was vividly colored then, no gray areas.  Friendships were forever, infatuations were eternal love, the future was a kaleidoscope of images of that amazing life of traveling the world, a world that was kind and welcoming, as I believed in my naïve knowledge of humankind.

A stack of letters, some slightly yellowed, the ink fading in spots, some corners torn.  I read the names, and some shake me to the core, others barely ring a bell.  So many summer friendships, developed spontaneously at the various resorts where my parents would take us during the summer months, new ‘best’ friends, whom we couldn’t bear to leave, at the end of our two-week stay, our young hearts ripped in two.  Thus, the frequent correspondence, afterwards, for several months, three-four sheets of flimsy letter paper filled, with every single detail of our lives, sincerely curious and interested in each other’s stories.  Stories that eventually ended, when one side or the other would simply stop responding.

Those days when people were made of flesh and smiles, their touch was real, their voice close by.  Not photographs on Facebook, their words blue-white letters on a lit screen.

My precise drawings, illustrating my original fairy tales, amuse and inspire me: Why on earth did I stop drawing? I was rather talented.  Oh yes, life happened, the real thing, the one that overwhelms the mind and soul, that erases dreams and innate skills, that dulls the senses.  It’s called maturity.  Also known as the demise of spontaneity and vibrant, liquid emotions.

The photographs are aggressive. They grasp my heart and squeeze it till I’m gasping for air.  Noisy school yards, smiling boys and girls, spensierati, yes, carefree though we didn’t know it.  I turn over the class photos, and make my aching way through all the handwritten dedications and messages.  Yes, I remember you, and you, and you I hated, but not truly.  And you were my world till it ended. And, after that, you were my world. A series of important people that really weren’t so, after all.  The cruel unfolding of life. Continuous replacement.  Of everything.

I close the suitcase, grab the handle and make my way up the ladder to the attic.

But it’s so difficult, the climb: the little green suitcase is so much heavier now, I can barely drag it.

My Kingdom

My kitchen. 

My comfort zone.  My safe place.  My hideaway.

I won’t cry: I will make an Apple Cake.

I won’t bang my head against the wall; I will start chopping onions on a pretty green cutting board, following Jacques Pépin’s precise instructions, and caramelize them slowly in a little olive oil. (Do try them on a burger).

I will avoid dwelling on the past, refuse to be tortured by regrets, what could have been if I had gone through the other door, if I had been wise at nineteen, if I had listened to my mother, if I…

It is small, my kitchen.  Counter space?  Will twenty inches do? Yes, my friends!  I can work in that little space just fine, spreading out to my sturdy wood kitchen table when I bake.  You don’t need yards of polished granite to perform, I assure you. You don’t need recessed lights, stainless appliances, French copper pots hanging from strategically placed hooks on the ceiling.

Or the ISLAND.

I never had the ISLAND in my life and, believe it or not, I’m  surviving.

Desire.  And passion.  With a touch of fury.  All you really need to become an outstanding baker and cook.  Not that I claim to be.

All I know is that when I am in the kitchen, I am okay.  I will put on my apron du jour, command (mostly) reliable Alexa to play something (Yes, Latin Pop works wonders), pour a glass of something other than lemonade, and become Chef.

The apron, by the way, is important.  I do have a little collection of them, since people who know me well gift them to me at times (and I go directly to the housewares department of TJ Maxx more often than not).  You slip on that crisp apron and…you’re on!

Getting serious in the kitchen.

You need to be serious.  And determined. 

Serious because you love it.  If you don’t, then make reservations.

The kitchen can heal you. You are broken, limp through your emotions, tremble secretly, swear never again, consider extreme options, then brush them aside.  You are going to cook!

My trusty black GE gas range is awaiting instructions. It’s four burners, by the way, not restaurant-size, but then, I’m not running a restaurant.  I clean it lovingly every evening, grateful for its reliability.  Yes, the Sausages and broccoli di rape were cooked perfectly, the meat tender, golden and flavorful (but I did keep a watchful eye).

I will not (usually) slam doors.  I will not drive aimlessly for two hours, boiling with anger, swearing revenge (at least, not for the whole two hours).

I will not book a flight to Paris with a credit card, shrugging whatever, had enough.

I will make a little gem of a flourless chocolate cake.  I will place it carefully on an egg-yolk-yellow cake stand which will enhance its simple perfection: I will buy fresh heavy cream, whip it to cloudy softness, add a hint of pure vanilla.

I will glance around my tiny yellow kitchen, smile at the colorful stacked bowls on the shelves across from the fridge, allow my patched-up heart to skip a beat at the sight of my French baking pan collection (gathered through numerous years of baking passion), trace the sharp curves of my Bundt pans, imagining all the glorious pound cakes to come.

I will turn the ache into a tender tart filled with satin-smooth lemon curd.

I will drown the sadness by bathing bright-green basil leaves in cool water, then patting them dry for an absolutely magnificent Pesto.

The kitchen can save your life.

The kitchen is my kingdom.

(Here is the link to the recipe for the Flourless Chocolate Cake).

Why You Should Make Le Fraisier 

Because life is short, and you always just do what you must.

Because you are practical, responsible, with common sense coming out of your ears.

That’s most of us. 

You bake a pan of Brownies for the kids (scrupulously from scratch, please!), stirring the melted butter and chocolate with a spatula, in a pot on the stove, already visualizing the little dark squares that you have been making for twenty odd years.

Suddenly, the bubble of routine and intense boredom has become intolerable, and the urge to take that panful of molten monotony and shove it out of the window is nearly irrepressible.

So, you make Le Fraisier

In fact, I bake quite often, but generally I go for simple, hearty breakfast cakes, the ubiquitous Brownies, a pound cake baked in a spectacularly intricate Bundt pan, to obtain at least a visually inspiring product.

Naturally, the time factor is the culprit, plus the constant exhaustion, as we zombie our way through life, our only purpose survival of another day.

Following one of my favorite TV programs, The Great British Baking Show, while partially dozing, due to the above-mentioned exhaustion (and perhaps the oversized glass of Pinot Grigio), I perked up when I watched the

Genoise

mesmerizing preparation of the stunning Fraisier, one of the glories of French Haute Pâtisserie.

In the ‘old days’, before my life became so fast-paced and maddening complicated, I used to dedicate long, enjoyable, hours to the preparation of elaborate cakes and tarts, following lengthy recipes in my enormous cookbook collection.  I became quite an accomplished pâtissière!

Mousseline

 

Then life caught up with me.

Well, I’m rebelling.  I’m not making Chocolate Chip Cookies this time, but a stunning Fraisier!  And I don’t need a reason for it.

I did some research in my French baking books, surfed the web, till I found a video that seemed quite reliable.  I watched it very carefully, then wrote my shopping list, hit the stores for a few items I didn’t have at home – strawberries, almond flour, milk (yes, milk: nobody drinks milk in my house), then began the methodical prepping of the various components.  It took a couple of days, stealing time from this

and that; prepare the almond genoise (French sponge cake), the crème pâtissière, the mousseline, the simple syrup, the marzipan. A serene joy filled my heart as I watched each creamy, velvety concoction turn out beautifully.

The little things.

The final assembly was perhaps the most heart-fluttering and dramatic stage of the process.  The exquisite beauty of a well-executed gateau  makes one feel, well, worthy.

Homemade Marzipan

Damn, I still got it!

I invited my whole family over for cake, the day after.  Just because.

Le Fraisier became only a memory in thirty minutes flat!  Thank goodness for smartphones.

Make a Fraisier, my friends.  Good for the soul.

 

(If you want to give it a try, here is the link to the  professional video I followed to the letter. Have fun!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4tiAdE38E4&w=560&h=315

A Woman in Time

(Character Study)

A heap of broken stories.  

Never mind the dreams, hopes, expectations, and all that jazz.

Enter and exit stereotypes.

She believed because she was young.  Tender and clear are the young. Willingly vulnerable, the world just a sea of glorious adventures.

She used to be kind.  The smile rarely left her lips, she was open and soft and trusting.

She abandoned the well-known but dull, hanging tightly to sizzling comets.  She didn’t miss the past, those left behind; the memories were tucked away, deep in the tunnel of things that don’t matter so much anymore.  Or so it seemed, when the sky was so much bluer on the other side of regular.

But dreams are meant to explode.  Or fade, or shamefully rot away.

Those splendid knights turn out not to be the heroes of a romantic crusade of love and forever joy beyond possibilities.

Sometimes she doesn’t recognize the image in the mirror.  She sees her mother, or, frighteningly,  a strange woman  with no connection to her.  She catches the image suddenly, brazen and bold, even mocking.  She turns away, stricken, but when she dares peek again,  it’s undoubtedly her.  But twenty, thirty years in the future, right?

Wrong.

She feels cold and weighed down by a curtain of sorrow.

She glances at the heap of broken stories, touches it gently, silently cries out when they sting her.  No tears, no visible anguish, no wavering, no time to feel.  She signed that right away when she grew up.

She picks up her cup of coffee and erases the heap.

Easter Monday: What’s that?

Pastiera napoletana
Rustici (savory pastries)
Valle fiorita

It’s a holiday in Italy.   Called Pasquetta or Lunedì dell’Angelo. A day dedicated to feasting outdoors. The great after-Easter picnic, which always happens since the weather usually cooperates.   In Southern Italy, that is. A tradition that is fairly recent, dating back to the period right after World War Two, when the government decided to extend the Easter festivities by one day, so that people could relax and enjoy Easter without the stress of having to go back to work on Monday. Damn good idea, I’d say, can we adopt it? Anyway, I, having been raised in Italy in a less traditional way than most Italians, had not experienced this customary picnic until I was about sixteen or seventeen. And not with my family. We were staying in my father’s country house (his almost two-hundred-year-old ancestral home) in Colli, in the tiny region of Molise, something we did sometimes for Easter, as the weather was more pleasant and that little mountain village wasn’t as frigid (ancient stone house with no heat: not a cozy picture, believe me!). So, the day after Easter, some far-removed relatives of my father asked me to join them on their traditional Pasquetta picnic at Valle Fiorita, in the countryside nearby. Sure, why not, better than hanging out with my family doing nothing, or possibly bickering with my siblings. Allora, my father’s cousin and his daughter, a girl a couple of years younger than me with whom I occasionally hung out, came to pick me up in an old Fiat, and off we went toward the outskirts of the village, along bumpy and dusty country roads, till we reached – almost by magic, I thought, since I didn’t pay much attention to itineraries – a green valley, smiling cheerfully emerald under the sun, surrounded by woods. Pretty for sure…but there was nothing there. Now what? Well, ‘what’ arrived promptly. A small crowd of participants began pulling up in cars and motorcycles, all carrying baskets, containers, pots, and bags of groceries. Before I could get my bearings, folding chairs were opened up, a huge pot (a cauldron?) was removed from the trunk of a car and set on the grass, while some of the men began building a fire. As I was waiting for the salame and prosciutto sandwiches to be distributed, like at a proper picnic, I was surprised to see that the cauldron was being filled with water (from where?) and set on the now lively fire…while the women were tearing open packages of pasta. What? Yes, indeed, another pot brimming with sauce was bubbling already over another fire, and tables (from where?) were being set with tablecloths and napkins! I was stunned: we were going to have freshly cooked pasta at a picnic in the middle of a forest! And so it was. Spaghetti with some kind of tomato sauce (I think, I didn’t really pay much attention to these things as a teen, just focusing on boys, fashion, boys, romantic novels, boys, nail polish, boys…), with parmigiano, clinking glasses of red wine, followed by lamb chops cooked alla brace, on a makeshift grill, vegetable contorni, then the thick and golden frittate di Pasqua, special tall frittate made with dozens of eggs, filled with all sorts of meats and cheeses, aromatic of nepitella (a type of wild mint that grows in the mountains), cooked at length on the stove, till they looked like solid cakes, to be sliced with a knife (no diet food this, nor easily digestible, but quite delicious), green salads, plus, of course, the leftover pastiera and other Easter sweets, and, naturally, strong sweet coffee for all, freshly brewed in the little army of moka caffettiere brought along by everyone. A gargantuan meal, which bore no resemblance to a picnic. A long afternoon spent, after, lying around on the grass, half dozing, half listening to the soccer game on the radio (the men), washing all the (real) dishes and flatware and cleaning up the valley (the women). Us kids? Off into the proximity of the picnic area, with friends or boyfriends, a fairly reckless motorcycle ride down the country path, hanging on for dear life to a friend of a friend of a cousin who had this cool red Vespa…Never experienced it again, this incredible Easter Monday picnic that wasn’t a picnic, but, damn it, still can’t get it out of my mind, even after decades, wishing that, well, I knew then what I know now, and actually had a clearer memory of the bounty of the food and how it was magically created in the middle of the woods. Instead of the color of somebody’s eyes. Ma così è.

( I originally wrote and posted this memoir on April 1, 2013.  Re-published here because I didn’t have the time to write a new one.  Simple as that.)

A-ha Moment (My Way)

That song again.

Never fails.  No matter what pop music station I listen too, at some point a-ha comes on.  With their eighties’ one-hit wonder of course, Take on me.

Hope not to make too many enemies, but…I cannot stand the music of the eighties.  There, I said it.  I believe it was a dark period in American musical history, one that needs to be deleted.  Apparently, I’m one of a few.  Most radio stations will – constantly!- promote ‘eighties weekends’, and one appalling song after the other will assault my ears.  That’s when I switch to Nash FM.

That said, I will admit that I actually love Take on me, and, in those dark ages of music, I was actually delighted by their clever video, impressive in the early days of computer animation. (Take a look at it, worth it.  Just try to ignore that God-awful eighties hair).

But the first thing that comes to my mind, every single time I hear that piece, is Why didn’t I write this damn song? Or co-wrote it, performed it, recorded. Just once.   Because that is all this lovely Norwegian band needed to do.

One song, one lifetime of serious income.

A movie I loved, About a Boy. Remember the plot?  Yep, that concept.  Write one bloody hit song, enjoy the rest of your life, my dear.

I’ve tried a couple of times (though not with excessive enthusiasm) to write lyrics.  Okay, I don’t play any instrument, nor can I sing, so I would definitely need a team of experts who could take care of everything else.  But, you know, writing love songs?  I’m way too pragmatic (bordering on full-on cynical) at this point of my life, so couldn’t squeeze any romantic words out of my brain without gagging a little bit, and also not a big fan of rhyming (as you know, I write prose, not poetry).

Another project quickly put aside. Too bad, this is the one that could have made me rich.  With very little sweat. Which is the way I’d like it.  Sort of slightly more effort than buying a ‘Cash4Life’ ticket.  Two bland sentences, repeated four-five times, some remarkable falsetto performing (awfully good, I admit), and cha-ching!

I’m not chasing fame and applause.  Just regularly send me checks, decorated with numerous zeros, and I will be blessing that one song till the day I die.  So will my offspring, and those after them forever on.

Don’t mean to sound greedy, I’m not.  Just exhausted, anxious, yet still a tad of a dreamer.

The hit song that would offer peace.  Remove the insecurities and fears, restore restful sleep to those tortured nights, ease the daily struggle, the never-ending hurdles, that steep hill that just leads to another (and another), the tunnel that will never proffer relief at the end.  Because some seem to be destined to an existence that lacks even the dimmest light.

Mistakes that will reveal catastrophic.  It happens.  And cancel the word peace from your life.

Gotta write that hit song.

Back to work.

My Friend Gail

I hesitate to write about my friend.

I’m still in the denial stage.

Broken and fragile, I approach the keyboard, my fingers trembling slightly as I attempt, resolute, to celebrate her existence in my life.

Beautiful Gail, kind, generous, lovably original, spontaneous; always surprising Gail, my wonderful neighbor.

Gail who was so much more than my next door neighbor, she was a thoughtful friend, a sister.

She is gone, and my heart aches with immense grief, disbelief and fury.

Just like that, Gail flew away into the arms of the angels, and I didn’t get the chance to say, what happened, please don’t go, hang in there, my friend…

The lady who blessed my life, and my family’s, with her presence for many years disappeared in a tragic manner, leaving the deepest void in our souls.

Sunny, friendly Gail, who would show up at my front door, nearly invisible behind a massive armful of zucchini, basil, cucumbers and tomatoes, gathered from her backyard, she the devoted constant gardener with the magic touch and the brilliant green thumb.   Gail, who would ring the doorbell, carrying a beautiful dress, excited, almost child-like, eager to show me and my daughters what she had found for a special event she was attending, unraveling with enthusiasm. Gail, a fantastic cook, who invited us for dinner on the spur of the moment, ‘just made a special dish, come on over in half an hour, all of you…’

Gail, the intrepid traveler, with her beloved husband John, returning from Thailand filled with gifts – earrings, necklaces, hot sauces, stunning scarves.

Gail and John, hosting those unique, unforgettable crawfish boils, gathering friends and neighbors for hours around that long makeshift table covered in newspapers, heaped with spicy crawfish right out of the caldron, potatoes, corn, and butter, our glimpse of Louisiana in our New York suburb. The pile of colorful Mardì Gras’ beads they brought back from New Orleans, where they proudly rode on the floats.

Gail and John, sharing our Christmas Eve’s meal, armed with wine bottles, excited and happy to partake of the pasta with fish, and my Neapolitan festive desserts.

Yes, Gail, you are my sister. 

Gail, who moved away a few years ago, but still made us feel so much part of her world, surprising us with packages from Oregon, much to our delight. A cake pan for me, because she had admired one of my baking post on Facebook, and shared my love of sweets. Jars of delectable homemade preserves and pickles from her quickly established Oregonian garden; a shimmery wall decoration for my daughter.

Gail and John, the neighbors everyone would wish for, a blessing for my family, one true thing that should never end.

Gail and John, who watched with tender affection my daughters grow up, evolving from cheerful little girls to gentle young women, surrounding them with love, to the point that my girls thought of them more as relatives than neighbors.  And, as such, they danced at my daughter’s wedding.

Gail and John Giler dancing at my daughter’s wedding, September 2017

Gail, so much part of our life. Our forever memories.

Life can be cruel, fate can be brutal.

Bent under this burden of grief, I will still find the strength to thank God for having placed this incredible human being in my life, her luminous smile an indelible memory, her reality a true gift.

Be happy in heaven, my precious friend. Keep watch over me, over us, stay in my life, as I continue my path into the future, a better person for having known you.

Gail Giler: In Memoriam.

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.