When the Floors Had to Be Waxed: A Memoir

Rose graniglia floor

This was not a job that was done often, when I was growing up in Italy. It was extremely time consuming, required a good amount of elbow grease, plus the excruciating down time.

These days, most people in Italy prefer the trendier wood floors, especially sleek and elegant parquet, with tile usually installed only in the kitchen and bathrooms.  But back then, every apartment had floors made of graniglia, which is a kind of more affordable marble, sturdy and basic.  These tiles had all pretty much the same design, with some color variations, mostly in the yellow-orange, rose, and forest-green hue.  And those were the ones I grew up with in Portici.  I don’t remember too clearly the color patterns, but I believe the bedrooms were rose, while the long hallway was orangish. The living room and my father’s study were green. The dining room, the most formal space in the house, had instead a luxurious marble floor, with a nearly mirror finish.

In order to look attractive, all those floors were high-maintenance.  My long-suffering mother, who had a full-time job as a teacher, went food shopping on foot at the open-air market every single day, cooked and cleaned, and often assisted with our homework, tackled that major chore every couple of months.  Of course, the floors were all regularly washed weekly, but they lost that coveted sheen, and that was unacceptable.

Usually on a Sunday – since school is open six days a week in Italy – she would wake up in a fairly unpleasant mood, and begin her day of labor.  That meant, we had to get out of bed earlier then normal, and literally get out of the way.

Perfect graniglia floor

After seriously scrubbing all the floors, one room at the time, with a mop and a bucket, she allowed them to dry thoroughly, and we knew better than talk to her or even breathe then.  We were confined to a room where the floor had already dried, while my father had cleverly made plans to be gone for good part of the day (usually he went to his office in the school were he was the principal, to catch up on paper work in peace, while listening to Beethoven).

Then came the wax.  She would pour the liquid from a little bottle, then quickly spread it out with a special mop, and waited for it to set.

This is when the fun part began.

A smile of satisfaction would appear on her lips, we children released our breath, and got out our equipment: le pattine!

My unwaxed kitchen floor

The pattine were two thick pieces of soft cloth with a strap; you slipped your feet under the strap, and, voilà, you were on skates (pattini means skates in Italian)!   We each had our own set, and were rearing to go.  My mother would begin by going over the entire floor with a soft mop made for that purpose, then she would say Avanti, cominciate! And the race began.  Sliding and slipping playfully on the floors, we ‘roller-skated’ in circles, diagonally, and every which way, reaching every corner, sometimes slamming against walls and furniture, especially my very aggressive brother who was prone to turn everything into a serious competition.  The floors shined and glowed under our speedy feet, becoming a glorious rink, as our shadows turned into mirror images.

Oh, to fly freely through our spacious apartment, fearless and light, the fresh sea breeze from all the open balconies inflating our youthful sails.

The tedious chore had become a game, directing our infinite energy into a most practical job that didn’t feel like such.

The flawless glory of a highly polished floor.  My mother would be tired but satisfied and proud.  Only slippers in the house for that day.  My father would dutifully admire the result, and praise us for helping.

All was well with the universe.

Till the next time

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The First Time I Was Happy

It is not a memory, it’s more of a sensation.

My mother was there.  I was very small, ensconced in warmth.

Life was good, her love was tender and forever.

Nothing exceptional was happening, but she was talking to me, though the words have faded into the nebulous past, which I attempt to catch, grasp, own.  But no.

We grow up, and we believe we are the ones.  The ones that will understand everything, make all the good decisions, move forward, paving a path of glory.

Because we know better, right?

Wrong.

She was not happy.  I know that now.  But she endured and smiled, because she was a mother.

Her hair was blond, and she was beautiful.  She was young, but who knew?

Happiness is a moment.  Yes, my friends, just one little moment, and you erroneously  believe it will last forever.  There is no forever.  There are only instants, subtle pearls that land in you hand, and you need to clench your fist!  Hold them, squeeze them, bleed them, because this is all you’ve got.  Frame them.  Hang them in your brain.

You will need them when life beats you, and you confuse them with rocks.  But they are the pearls that could save your life.

I recall other moments of happiness.  Fleeting, dear God, so fleeting.  Did I catch those pearls? Yes.

Because of them, I live.

And still hope.

The first time I was happy was glorious.  I didn’t know it then, but it was the essence of my life. A snippet of time to be frozen.

To hang on to when darkness sweeps over all.  Because happiness is not your friend. It turns on you in the midst of your joy, it crushes all you built, and leaves you deflated and lost.

Sometimes, your memories are the lullaby you need to descend into the oblivion of the night.

May your dreams be merciful.

Cherish the pearls.  They are rare.

The Time I So Wanted a Nanny

For myself.

I was around seven or eight.

Disney movies were dreams come true, when I was a child growing up in Italy.  Disney World, on the other hand, an impossible dream, since one just doesn’t pick up from Naples, Italy, and takes three little kids on a flight to Florida.  Unheard of.  Later, Disney Paris came along, but, by that time, I was on the other side of a child’s dreams and had zero interest in lame rides with Mickey Mouse and company.

Anyway, in the middle of my childhood, Mary Poppins burst into my life.

Andiamo al cinema stasera!”, my father announced. We are going to the movies!  Not something we did often,  My parents, though both educators and financially comfortable, were rather thrifty, and superfluous things were not lavished on us frequently.

I was used to Disney cartoons, and when the movie about this lady with the silly last name began, I was amazed that it was a live action film.

It was love at first sight. This beautiful fairy-like lady gracefully coming down from the sky, hanging on to an umbrella, her elegantly booted feet in a perfect first position, seized my heart, never to release it again.

Poised, perfect Mary Poppins, firm and kind at once, scaring me a little, then making everything better with her (literal) bag of tricks, singing the most beautiful songs I had ever heard with her silky nightingale voice. I memorized all of them, including the unusual and adored Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but of course they were dubbed in Italian by an unknown artist with a remarkable voice, so I was singing Supercalifragilistichespiralidoso and Basta un poco di zucchero (instead of Just a spoonful of sugar).

The magic wonder raised me out of my seat in that super-crowded theater, and catapulted me into the surreal world of Jane and Michael Banks, the children we all wanted to be.

Oh, the dance of the chimney sweeps on the rooftops of London (a city I always dreamed of visiting, as a child), with pretty and talented Julie Andrews twirling among them! The walk to the park, when the four of them held hands and jumped into a picture that Bert had just painted on the sidewalk, and all was transformed into a colorful fairy tale, with glorious new costumes!

Mamma, I would beg, please please, hire a nanny for us! You are always so busy, with school, the market, the house, all those things you always complain about, how worn out and unappreciated you are…You would not have to worry about us three annoying children anymore…And we would live in a special magic world. My desire was so intense that my chest physically ached as I pleaded my case.

No chance.  My parents had no intention of hiring a nanny, dismissing my passionate insistence with an amused look on their faces.

Needless to say, Mary Poppins has remained my favorite Disney movie of all times, and always shall be.

Then, recently, the magic was back, with the new sequel to the movie.  I took my precious daughters, three and seven (okay, twenty-three and twenty-seven), to see it, and fell in love all over again with my favorite character.  Emily Blunt did a remarkable job with that iconic role, nearly as perfect and captivating as the original, and my heart will forever yearn to live at 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

Finisco sempre in cucina: e va bene così

6 gennaio 2019

Non ne avevo nessuna intenzione. Troppo da fare, stanca, apprensiva.

Ma ci pensavo.  Ai tortelloni che faceva mia madre.  I tortellini erano buoni, certo, ma la roba in brodo non è mai stata la mia number 1, ecco.  Però i tortelloni, belli grossi, panciuti, ripienissimi di ricotta e spinaci (o bietole), allora, questo è un pasto ne plus ultra.

Dunque, vado giù nel seminterrato della mia casa newyorkese e cerco il vecchio tagliere che usava mia suocera.  Eccolo!  Per niente nascosto, ma non ci ho dato uno sguardo da anni, usando sempre e solo quello più piccolo di marmo per fare i miei vari biscotti e crostate.  Ma questo è il ‘tagliere della pasta’, e questa farò!

I ricordi sbiadiscono, si accantonano nel buio, e tu li lasci lì, perché ti punge troppo risvegliarli.  Poi smetti di pensarci.  Ma, all’improvviso, è Capodanno, e ti ritrovi a Portici, mia madre (modenese DOC) tira la sfoglia, che diventa così sottile e enorme sotto quel matterello lunghissimo; lei si affanna a finire presto, perché poi si asciuga e deve ancora tagliare i quadretti.  ‘Via, bambini – diceva – copriteli coi tovaglioli, si seccano, si seccano…!’ E noi lì, a gironzolare intorno al tavolo di fòrmica della sua cucina gialla, con niente da fare ma aspettare il risultato delle sue fatiche: i bei tortelloni fumanti, lucidi di burro fuso, spolverizzati abbondandemente col parmigiano che toccava a me grattugiare.

Preparo l’impasto, nella mia cucina gialla di New York, l’odore onesto di uova e di legno m’ipnotizza, la pasta è soffice, elastica e liscia sotto le dita.  Era sempre di sera, quando lei faceva i tortellini/tortelloni, poco prima di preparare la cena. ‘Guardate-diceva-, ecco come si formano i tortellini, osservate, ricordatevelo…e non ditelo a nessuno!  È un segreto della mia famiglia, da passare ai vostri figli e a nessun altro!’ E così ho fatto, muta come un pesce, tanti, tanti anni dopo.  Capisco, mamma, certe cose non si buttano al vento, sono preziose e importanti, pesano di memorie e di una vita intera, devi raccoglierle e custodirle nel silenzio.

Taglio i quadretti con la rotella, cerco di farli uguali, ma non misuro niente, altro che riga, tutto a occhio, come faceva lei, veloce ed esperta, con lo sguardo perso nella malinconia dei suoi ricordi.  Invece delle salviette, li avvolgo nella pellicola, che li terrà belli morbidi (viva i tempi moderni!).  Il ripieno l’ho già fatto, la ricotta soda dal caseificio di Brooklyn, gli spinaci freschi in un bel pacchetto sigillato, già lavati e asciugati (di nuovo, viva le comodità moderne), il parmigiano importato (carissimo!), profumato come allora, quando lo grattuggiavo a mano, ascoltando l’hit parade alla radio, in attesa emozionata della canzone della settimana.

Uno alla volta, li farcisco, con attenzione, ma il più velocemente possibile (‘si seccano!’), e li metto in fila ordinata e diritta, così potrò contarli più facilmente, sulle lastre per i biscotti; li copro con la carta stagnola e li metto in frigo.

Il tagliere mi aspetta, e lo pulisco con cura con il raschietto, il legno spesso e solido, confortevole, come quei giorni di tanto tempo fa, quando prendevo per scontato, nella mia innocenza puerile, i piccoli miracoli quotidiani, la mamma sarebbe stata sempre lì, nella calda cucina gialla, impegnata con le sue meraviglie culinarie.  E mio padre, nello studio, con la libreria scura cinquecentesca, immerso nelle sue carte e nella gloria della musica di Beethooven.

Il tempo ti ruba il passato; poi te lo sbatte in faccia quando meno te lo aspetti.

Che fai allora? Ti abbatti per un istante, ti lasci lavare dal dolore, ti afflosci.

Poi ti rialzi, ti rimbocchi le maniche e ti metti a fare i tortelloni.

(Ringrazio di cuore mia cugina Elisabetta a Modena, che mi ha pazientemente tenuto la mano step-by-step con la preparazione della sfoglia perfetta, via messaggi Whatsapp.  La tecnologia è stupenda quando funziona!)

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.

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.)

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.

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.