The Way We Were

Young and innocent, we were.

The world was a field of dreams, and our hearts ached with the tender agony of anticipation.

I’m walking fast, down the main street of my Westchester town, barely used green Skechers on my feet, propelled by my customary anxiety, fury, determination and pain.   An older man is ahead of me, baseball cap on his head, advancing at an irritating leisurely pace, looking around, as if…life were a walk in the park.

Move on, I’m inwardly hissing, don’t got time for this, I’m busy, just trying to get some stupid exercise done before I dive into my nerve-racking life again.

And I see my grandfather.   Nonno Romolo, the only grandparent I really knew, my mother’s dad. He came to visit us twice a year, for about 3-4 weeks, and we little kids so looked forward to his arrival. My father drove the trusty old Simca to the train station in Naples to pick him up, a bit worn out by the overnight ride from Modena, but still cheerful and calm.

We waited at home in Portici, peeking out from the kitchen balcony to witness the arrival, excited about all the gifts he would bring us, especially (for me) those large beautifully illustrated fairytales books I loved to lose myself into.

Nonno Romolo was a dignified old gentleman, always impeccably dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and tie, and a fedora hat. Comfortably resigned to the fact that his daughter had married a Southerner, il nonno would wander, curious and eager, the uneven streets of Portici, unmindful of the unruly drivers that never even dreamed of stopping at a red light, of the ever-expanding pot holes, the cars parked on the sidewalk just because, slowly but steadily continuing on his daily path, stopping at the newsstand at the corner, where the smiling giornalaia handed him the local newspaper, Il Mattino, and wished him a buona giornata.

Often, we little hyper children would go with him, ever mindful of the abundance of the hard mint candies he always carried in his pockets, to be dispensed according to our behavior. He would take us to the Royal Gardens (part of the old Royal Palace Estate), of Portici, where a delightful skating rink awaited, always packed with kids, in those days, a wonderland in the deep greenery of ancient, illustrious trees.

He would sit on a bench, pull out of his pocket the Settimana Enigmistica, the most popular weekly crossword  magazine in Italy (to this day), and watch us out of the corner of his eye, while we attached roller skates to our sturdy sandals with the two straps, and flew off into the freedom of the rink (well, me not so much, as I, always tentative, stayed in close proximity of the handrail).

Those wonder mornings of my childhood, easy and innocent. After our exhilarating roller skate ride, off we went, skipping on the dusty trails, to the little lake, where regal swans glided proudly. We pulled out the chunks of stale bread we had brought and tossed it to feathered creatures, anxiously waiting to see whose crumbs they snapped up first.

The sun rose higher in the sky, and burned on our skin, sign that il pranzo would soon be ready.   “Andiamo, my grandfather would say, la mamma ci aspetta”. And indeed, my mother excitedly waited for us for lunch, happy and serene (a rare thing) because her adored father was there with us, his tranquil and benign presence an anchor in her taxing life. Sometimes, after lunch, while my father took his routine afternoon nap (or happened to be out), I would catch il nonno and my mother sitting pleasantly on the kitchen chairs, the floor still damp after the daily mopping, smoking a cigarette and speaking in modenese dialect, a mysterious and indecipherable language. I would watch, fascinated, awed and somewhat confused (after all my father had forbidden smoking), catching a glimpse of my mother as a woman and a human being. Strange, yes.

I slow down my frenzied pace, and look at the old gentleman with the baseball hat, relaxed, retired from the rat race, finally viewing the world as the miracle that it is.

We were lighthearted, we were loved, we were protected.  But didn’t understand it.

Grazie, nonno Romolo, for those magic days of childhood.

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When Summer Meant Heaven

No, really heaven.

Pure joy, fun, excitement, change, nearly endless.

Crowded beaches, perfect sea, ice cream cones every afternoon, and even your birthday being in August.

Being a child in the summer. The only way to truly enjoy it.

My mother frantically surveying every room in the house, to make sure nothing would be left behind.   After all, we were going to rent a tiny apartment in a family-friendly beach area, so lots of household items had to be packed. Cleaning, cooking and laundry needed to be taken care of.

Carefully folding my two new bathing suits, one red, one a lively print with yellow and orange flowers, I anticipated wearing the one-piece red for the water, then changing into the other one to dry.  Well, yes, after we kids were allowed to go swimming (in a manner of speaking, since only my brother could actually swim), at noon, when the sun was at the hottest, thus less chance of catching a chill, the moment we came out of the water, my mother would wrap us in a large towel, and we changed into a dry bathing suit, to minimize the possibility of contracting a cold. Then after we were thoroughly dried, we could have a snack on the beach, a small panino with salame or prosciutto, one of my favorites, and every bite tasted wonderful, salty, appetizing, the bread soft and wheaty.

Once home, my mother put on the water for the pasta, reheated the sauce she had made in the early morning (before packing the beach bag), breaded the veal cutlets she was going to fry in a little butter, one at a time, while we kids and babbo were eating the first course, tossed the fresh salad with olive oil and a touch of vinegar, and made sure she had remembered to put together the moka coffee maker before starting the meal process.

Playing quietly (babbo was taking his afternoon nap) on the floor in the hallway (the tiny apartment did not have a living room), my siblings and I would talk about the evening car trip to a nearby village where they made the BEST ice cream, and the little souvenir shops; I really wanted that red and gold link belt, my brother yearning for the Matchbox Ferrari. But I would end up with dainty embroidered handkerchiefs because my mother was practical.

The coffee aroma lingered in the kitchen, while my mother washed all the dishes by hand, after heating water in the pasta pot, because there was a limited supply of hot water in the tank, and it had to be saved for bathing.   She removed the chairs to the hallway (Spostatevi un po’, bambini… Move over kids), washed the kitchen floor, checked the fridge for food for dinner – around 8 or 9 pm), then sat in one of the chairs and leafed through a magazine. Ten minutes later, she went to see if the clothes hanging on the line on the balcony were dry (oh, she had washed the clothes in the bathtub, because there was no washing machine provided).

Sitting outside on the balcony, at night, eyes turned up to the black sky decorated by a myriad stars, we listened as my father pointed to the constellations, awed by his knowledge of the names of nearly every star. The glass doors were ajar so the nasty mosquitoes would not filter into the bedroom and feast on our tender skin all night.

My mother deep in thought (though her eyes rolled occasionally as my father elaborated on the wonders of the firmament), possibly compiling tomorrow’s shopping list, Wednesday, the butcher would have the country sausages…).

As I felt my eyes begin to close, I knew the our bed time was approaching, and my father would tell us the story he created every night for us, just a few minutes of a journey into the splendor of his imagination before we dozed off. And tomorrow maybe my mother would let me have that delicious ice-cold pineapple juice that was constantly turned and mixed up in that huge container at the local café, sweet and a deep yellow in a clear glass.

My wonder years.

I think I’ll have some icy pineapple juice right now.  But in a different glass.

Quando il fiume ti accarezza

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La splendida semplicità  del mio fiume di mattina presto.

Tranquillo e intensamente azzurro, scintillante sotto il sole sorridente di New York, l’Hudson mi emoziona ogni volta che lo guardo.

L’aria è delicatamente fresca e i gabbiani volteggiano vivaci,  richiamano la spensieratezza dell’estate, anche se i prati sono ancora coperti dalla neve che si scioglie lentamente.

È amore questo?  Direi proprio di sì.  L’amore che ti calma, ti sostiene e non ti ferisce.

Grazie, grande America per avermi accolto a braccia aperte, tanti, tanti anni fa.

Yes, life is beautiful.

My New Short Story is on Amazon Kindle!

the lotto ticket

“Imagine holding a winning lotto ticket in your hand. Envision the euphoria, the avalanche of dreams. Your life is about to change drastically, the struggle is over!   All you need to do is have the ticket scanned at the store where you bought it, and sign the back. Simple, right? It should be, but life is ever-surprising. Sometimes, not even a winning ticket will give you a break.   Enough said. Just read Jeanine’s story.”

I’m super-excited to unveil my new short story, dear friends!

What inspired me to write The Lotto Ticket? Well, perhaps those square, shiny tickets that I sometimes find in my hand, resigned from the start that, of course, I won’t win, but also secretly hoping that perhaps, possibly…

A lotto ticket is a dream you can hang on to for a few hours. And dreams are always worthy, because, as they say, you never know.

Listen to Jeanine’s tale and fly off with her for a bit.

Easily download the story on your Kindle or other tablet.

Happy Reading!

ebook

Take a look at my other short stories too!

My New Short Story!

first selfie

When Laura attends a family wedding, she decides to attempt taking a selfie, something she had often wished she could do. Later, when she examines the photo, mostly curious to see how such a close-up of her face would turn out, she realizes that she got herself entangled into an explosive predicament. Careful what you wish for!  Available on Kindle, for any tablet.  Just click on the picture!

Inspired

“For each person there is a sentence – a series of words – which has the power to destroy them”.  A quote that caught my eye.  And that reinforces my opinion on the subject I like to call the infinite power of writers.  We are a sensitive lot, we crafters of phrases.  Our moods are eclectic and transient, we are restless beings who dive into the deepest darkness of hell, then re-Computer screen, Nov. 2013emerge bruised and battered, but triumphantly bearing ‘a piece’.  Pain is sharper for us, because we hang on to it, we flip it, squeeze it, reshape it, re-charge it.  Yes, super-sensitive, our very pores are on alert, picking up a word, a gesture, even a thought.  Indeed, people’s eyes can be read so clearly at times that we must take a few steps back.  Because the impact can be overwhelming.  Iknow what you’re thinking and I’m storing it.  We are not talkers, we keep it to a necessary minimum in order to interact with society.  We’re listeners, collectors of moods, sweepers of emotions, creators of parallel realities representing everything you are, but even more so.  Somehow we can understand even the confusion in your mind and make perfect sense of it.  Outsiders who get it, simply because we’re such.  Sensitive we are, I was saying.  Perhaps too much, I’ll admit, rudeness means a little more to us, it doesn’t casually slide off .  It pounds on our chest, it grates on our brain, its weight ballooning as we consume it, rearticulate it and, well, put it on paper.  We might even whisper thank you (through our unshed tears), but you’ll never hear it, as you dismiss the situation, whether consciously or not.  So proud of the actors in our stories, so realistically depicted – the false friend, the opportunist colleague, the over-paid and self-important individual who doesn’t even see you as you pass right by their shadow, often with a polite smile on your expectant face.  Sticks and stones are not our scene, we’re a pacific lot with a big memory and a sackful of words.  Which we use masterfully.

Cassandra’s Chinatown

And Natalie’s.  Tracing their steps, I catch myself, following the heroines of picturemy latest novel, The Summer of the Spanish Writer, when they, too, wandered the streets of mysterious New York’s Chinatown, lost in their tangled emotions, unraveling secrets, and the exotic aromas and faces picturearound them.  If you haven’t read my novel yet, you might not know that a crucial scene takes place in Chinatown (shh, all of you who have, let’s not give anything away!), as the two friends finally allow themselves to dig bravely into their hearts and expose the carefully concealed old, little (but not to little) skeletons.  Chinatown in the summer, not a place for the super-sensitive, as the heat pictureunearths aromas that may not be exactly pleasing, might they come from the exuberant fish markets, the piles of colorful thin purple eggplants, scallions and dragon fruits basking in the white sun of New York in July, or the acrid scent of incense filtering through the door hinges of the store-front Buddhist temple.  A flash of picturecrimson distracts me as I browse in a shop thick with dangling dresses and Mandarin blouses, silky red, embroidered with gold and fuchsia dragons and flowers. I hold my breath as I stumble on the dress that caught Cassandra’s attention, whose fabric she caressed and coveted for a few seconds, while disclosing – though not looking into her eyes – her shameful truth to Natalie.  I walk past the herbalist’s shop, whose glass window displaying jars of gnarled roots and powdery teas in green canisters, still bears the fingerprints of a distraught Cassandra seeking (yet fearing) a sympathetic ear.  The unassuming restaurant at the corner proclaiming Vietnamese Cuisine beckons tantalizing, promising crispy fried spring rolls wrapped in fragrant cilantro leaves, to be dipped in an aromatic amber sauce.  I give in and enter the dark coolness of the candle-lit room, where only a few patrons sip their tea.  Here, then, is the table which the picturefriends shared, while talking openly for the first time, the relief of Cassandra’s confession reflecting in Natalie’s own, since, she too, disclosed a memory she had deeply buried inside her soul.  The light is dim, the food warm and appetizing, and I imagine Cassandra nervously twisting her new delicate jade ring, which she wished so much to believe would bring her luck.  Come on over to Chinatown, dear readers, follow Natalie and Cassandra, feel their picturepresence in the narrow streets, see their images in the shop windows, peek at them as they sit at a small table, sipping sweet Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, and daring to reveal their sad secrets.  Enter the world of the Spanish Writer, live the passion, the intrigue, the treachery, the fear, but also the soothing comfort of true friendship.  (Click the book link on the banner for more info).

My Interview About my Italian Course

So exciting! I was interviewed by a reporter for the online magazine AllAboutArmonk.com.  Here it is!

Italian Culture in Armonkpicture
By Amanda Kleinberg

May 25, 2012
The North Castle Public Library recently began offering Italian classes taught by Mara di Sandro De Matteo. As explained in the brochure, “Each class combines lively conversation and grammatical instruction, creating interactive lessons on the richness of Italian culture, past and present, through real-life anecdotes, literature, personal memoirs, photography and even films.”  De Matteo, who currently lives in Westchester County, used to live on the Bay of Naples.

Italian classes are held at the library on Tuesdays from 7:00-8:00 p.m. I had a chance to ask signora De Matteo about her rich culture and background before class started.

1. Why did you move to America?

Well, it’s a very long story, but my decision was caused by love. I met an American man when I was on vacation in America and I married him very quickly, and then moved here.

2. Since you moved here for love, have you ever doubted your decision?

I am very happy to be living in America. I am glad that I came here, and as much as I love Italy, I get a chance to visit my entire family every year. I am the only one from my family who lives in America. I love living in New York. Westchester is a beautiful place, so I’m happy.

3. Were you living in Italy when you met your husband?

Yes, I was going to college in Italy at the time, and I was here visiting and decided to stay. Well, I went back for a little while, but then I came back here.

4. How does America remind you of Italy?

What reminds me of Italy is the place I live. I live in the Hudson Valley. I am in love with the Hudson River; it is stunningly beautiful and it is a great inspiration for my novels. The Hudson River reminds me of the Bay of Naples where I grew up. I used to go out onto the balcony and I could see the entire Bay of Naples, from the city of Naples to Capri, east of Sorrento. It was beautiful. It was a totally different panorama, but the beauty reminds me of the Hudson River.

5. Which lifestyle do you like better?

I call myself a citizen of two countries because I love both of them. They are different, not so different, but I grew up in the southern region of Italy in Naples and it was a little more relaxed. It is not as relaxed now as it used to be when I lived there. Life in America is wonderful too, so I really can’t choose. I would like to choose half and half: that would be ideal.

6. When did you decide to first start writing novels and memoirs?

I decided to start writing about 15 years ago. Suddenly, memories started coming back to me from my childhood, and I didn’t realize at the time how wonderful my childhood really was. Now that I am not a child anymore, I can reflect on my life and cherish those memories. It is also a “thank you” to my parents for doing everything for me. They really gave me a great childhood experience.

7. Where do you get the inspiration for your novels and writing?

All around me. Life. There are so many stories everywhere and I could not make up the stories that I hear in real life. Life is fascinating and full of interesting people and characters.

8. Is there anything that you want the community to know about your background and interests?

I am very passionate about what I do. Teaching Italian is what I do and I believe very strongly in my culture. I think it is a wonderful, ancient and inspiring culture and I want everyone to know about it. When I came to America I barely knew any English, and I am very passionate about the Italian language. I want to spread the Italian language all around me. My father was also a poet so I think that is where I got my desire and passion for writing. I write about Westchester and everything that takes place around me. I add the names of different streets and stores, even a doctor’s office. I always want my writing to be very real.

To learn more about the program and the North Castle Public Library click here http://allaboutarmonk.com/

Find me if you can!

I like to travel through my novels.  Oh yes, I’m there, dear readers, right picturebehind my characters, just sharing a little piece of their day, their life.  They don’t know it, of course, but I’ve observed them when, well, they walked through Chinatown in NYC, absent-mindedly eyeing the glitzy merchandise displayed outside the shops.  I was even touching a beautiful red Chinese dress, on a hot summer day, considering purchasing it, while Cassandra was revealing her darkest secret to Natalie.  Got to that part yet, my friends, inThe Summer of the Spanish Writer? Pretty intense, shocking, but, well, I kept my mouth shut and unobtrusively listened, while checking the size labels and the designs (yes, of course I bought one, bright red and super-gorgeous).  I was there in earlier times, when my children were younger (one of them has traveled with me through the books), and my hair was its original color – brown – (oh, you thought it was naturally blond?  Sorry, but therecomes a time when almost every woman desires to be a blonde…).  I do love to eavesdrop on my creations, because I learn so much about human nature just by crashing their lives.  I was also following Diana around in Dreams, Lies and a Touch of Smoke – did you see me?  I was in the bagel café in Eastchester, waiting in line while a very agitated Diana was talking to her mother on her cell, pictureimpatient and disappointed.  Disappointed because it wasn’t Adam calling.  Love, what a great fregatura…Anyway, I was there, holding my baby daughter in my arms, and she was looking super-adorable in her puffy pigtails.  Go ahead, leaf through the novel, look for that part, you’ll find us.  Once I even pulled out of a parking spot downtown Scarsdale, and Diana’s red Jeep immediately slipped in.  I was glad to help.  I was driving a blue Minivan then.  Take a look, it’s when Diana goes to the quaint French kitchenware shop right across form the train station. And you know who else surprised me by sneaking into my last novel (and I swear I had no idea!)? The two main characters of the first one! Yes, in The Summer of the Spanish Writer you shall find Diana and Adam on the same church grounds in Ossining, where Natalie went for one of her solitary walks.  She even glances at them, and is startled by the resemblance of the man with…well, I’m not here to spoil anything.  Just read on, with attention to detail, and you will find me and them, and maybe even yourself.  Why not? After all, our lives are all so intertwined, and we never know where we’ll end up at the end of the day.  So, take a look, my dear readers, play a little ‘find Waldo’ through my novels: like him, I wear a lot of red!