La mia dinastia

 

26 gennaio 2019

Ho creato una dinastia americana e non me ne sono neanche accorta.

Una ragazzina diciottenne, che, fierissima, mostra il diploma dell’illustre liceo classico, in viaggio per New York.  Che regalo da sogno!  Chi se lo aspettava mai che i miei mi facessero un dono del genere? Complimenti per il diploma e quel gran bel voto, Mara, vai e goditi l’America per un mese!

Sono passati quarant’anni.

Sono diventata una New Yorker.

 

Da me, a lui, ai tre figli, poi ai loro coniugi, infine ai nuovi piccoli. Siamo in dieci adesso.  Il ciclo della vita continua e cambia continenti, lingue, culture.

Ho cominciato una dinastia americana, io, la figlia del direttore di Portici, timida, sempre un po’ impacciata, certamente insicura, persa nei sogni di grandi amori e terre lontane.

Conquistati entrambi.

Eccomi qui, figlia nativa di Napoli, ma il sangue che mi scorre nelle vene è modenese e molisano a metà. La prossima generazione è americana, grazie a me, cari antenati modenesi e molisani! Il vostro nobile sangue scorrerà nelle vene di bambini delle stars and stripes, che parleranno pure un’altra lingua, ma che si tengono ben strette le loro radici italiane. Bambini bellissimi, dagli occhi in varie tonalità di blu, dal chiarissimo, quasi grigio, all’azzurro scuro e intenso, a quello che a volte si confonde col verde.

Un pezzetto del vostro futuro apparterrà per sempre alla terra dell’Empire State Building, delle praterie senza fine, della costa ventosa della California.

 

Vi ho portato in America, miei cari! I Di Sandro continueranno la loro avventura oltremare e così anche i Nocetti, questi ultimi forse alle loro prime armi con i grandi States.

Il cuore duole a volte, l’anima piange, la nostalgia ti abbatte, la delusione per il comportamenteo di alcuni che si sono rivelati infidi ti fa intristire e anche infuriare.  Ma a quegli umanissimi sentimenti se ne aggiunge un altro che poi finisce con schiacciarli tutti: l’orgoglio, l’immenso orgoglio di ciò che sono riuscita a conseguire semplicemente vivendo la mia vita, senza programmi, ma armata solo di spontaneità e infinita speranza.

 

Ad maiora, mia grande dinastia, seguite i vostri sogni in questo grande Paese!

Fotografie dell’autore: dall’alto: Il fiume Hudson, Westchester County, NY, sulle cui sponde abito adesso; Empire State Building, NYC;  Portici (Granatello), dove sono cresciuta;  Modena (la Ghirlandina), la città di mia madre;  Colli al Volturno (le Mainarde), il paese di mio padre;  Napoli (la Clinica Mediterranea, Mergellina, dove sono nata).

 

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Lavori in corso sul mio libro di cucina

24 maggio 2016

IMG_3222Ve la dico con gioia (e con stupore!), questa fantastica notizia: il mio progetto “Libro di cucina” non rimarrà più nascosto nel mio computer!

Ho avuto la grande fortuna e l’onore di trovare finalmente uno straordinario agente letterario che mi ha offerto di rappresentare il ricettario cum racconti della mia infanzia in Italia, con entusiasmo pari al mio.

Ci siamo già messe a lavoro.  Sotto la sua guida professionale, m’impegnerò diligentemente per creare un libro originale e avvincente.

Ci vorrà del tempo, ma come ne varrà la pena!

La mia infanzia e adolescenza a Portici (e altrove, naturalmente) saranno il dolce sfondo delle mie storie culinarie.

Grazie di cuore a voi tutti, cari lettori e amici, in Italia e in America, per avermi sempre incoraggiato.

Christmas: Just live it!

It’s not the abundance of gifts and Christmas spirit I miss about my old Italian days. The ‘abundance’ was, well, limited, as my parents – though having secure and comfortable jobs as educators – were quite thrifty, and we kids Mara, red trench, gray cuissards, December 2015didn’t find more than one or (rarely) two presents under the tree (or on top of the dining room table, which was usually the case).   Nor the spirit of the season, being very elusive and low-key in my family.

It is the innocence.

That is, being so blissfully unaware of things to come that would hurt/anger/spoil/crush our anticipation of a magnificent future. Which all youngsters expect just because.

Because sometimes we live in/for the future. When everything is going to be so much better, perfect, all you always wanted, prince charming, a life of travel and adventure, the greatest love.

Walking, on Christmas Eve, in the midst of the hectic, messy, wonderfully loud holiday cheer of the market street in Portici, my hometown. Fish everywhere. Big buckets where wiggling eels slithered and dived in the collected sea water, perhaps aware of their fate. A Neapolitan tradition I never had, because of the ‘gag’ factor. Meaning, I’m going to gag if you feed us eels, mamma, I swear. She never did. Nobody in the family had any interest in eel cooked in tomato sauce, a delicacy of Neapolitan cuisine, a must on Christmas Eve. Yet, it fascinated me to watch the slimy creatures do their wild dance in those buckets, sometimes spilling over and hitting the cobble stoned sidewalk, with everyone screaming with glee (most shoppers) and horror (me). It was part of the tradition, of the season, of the ‘beat’ of Christmas, when I was a so young and sizzling with great expectations.

Laurel and Hardy’s shaky black and white movies on TV still innocently entertained me and my siblings, on the wonderful ‘day before’, while my mother feverishly shaped hundreds of painstakingly stuffed tortellini to be served in super rich, delicious meat stock on Christmas Day, according to her beloved traditions of Modena, her Northern Italian hometown. Beloved by all of us: nothing like my mother’s tortellini, buttery-tender, savory with a pork, chicken and parmigiano filling, never ever enough of them.

The gifts, not many, not grand, but the most exciting we ever had. The Christmas tree was sometimes real (usually a gift from a teacher in the school where my father was principal), hastily delivered on Christmas Eve, much to my mother’s chagrin (Damn it, now I have to trim the bloody thing overnight…), and to our most exuberant joy, almost too much to bear.

Innocence indeed.   Because the future was so overwhelmingly bright. You can do anything kind of bright.

We believed. I  believed.

Then (so many, many years later) Christmas became the season of duty, Mara, with desserts, Christmas 2015extra-work, stress and is-this-all-worth-it-really?

It is, people.

Make it be worth it.   For your children, for those who deserve you to care. Somebody always is.

Push away the memories of what could have been if only. You made your choices.

One pays for her choices.   But others – the important ones – must not. Suck it up, you who are all grown up and mature now, move on.

Christmas is beautiful.

Life beats you, but you recover.

Your children are the meaning of it.

Enough said.

 

 

Because it’s Always Time-Travel (When I Go to Italy)

pictureTime-Travel  (When I Go to Italy)

It starts on the ride back from JFK Airport.  The realization that I’m not in Italy anymore. The wide highways, the clear green signs, the heavy but orderly flow of traffic, the grayer sky, the exhaustion of my entire body.  But…but, I was buying candied fruit in the supermarket in Portici just a few hours ago…

Now it’s back to an ocean ago.

I’ll be okay, of course, it always works out, no panic attacks, no clinging to the heat of a Mediterranean summer that it’s no longer mine but that still knows my name.

Yes, I need to re-adjust, when I return from Italy. It’s not instantaneous, it’s not easy, it rips my heart, but I keep my cool of course.  I need to cocoon in my American house for a few.  Days, that is, but that’s just because I force myself to focus on my usual routine, not to disrupt my family, my reality.  I pictureunpack immediately.  Need to hide those suitcases that connote airports, fluffy clouds, mediocre airplane food, but also the sweet faces of those who wait for me on the other side.  My past, my core.

I pile them all up on the kitchen table, the wondrous items of my booty – espresso cups and stove-top coffee makers purchased at the usual place, Nicola’s cluttered little shop, on one of the side streets of the open market; stacks of pretty dish towels, baking powder, vanilla powder, Kimbo coffee, black pepper taralli in vacuum-sealed bags, colorful earrings bought at a local fair, handmade by an artisan out of aluminum and a special natural rubber, inexpensive and unique.

Gifts for my dear ones, summer dresses, and a pair of shoes of course, enthusiastically purchased on saldi (sale) in a trendy shoe shop on Viale Leonardo, Bla Bla (yes, that’s the name of the store), in Portici.  My tangible connection to Italy, to cling to as I re-adjust to life without it.

Sweet torture, my annual visit.  I want it and I don’t.  My heart beats out of my chest when I land at Capodichino (Naples’ airport), and it’s always sunny, chaotic, stressful, often the luggage belt doesn’t work, and the wait is eternal, but the cornetti are fresh and filled with cream, so it makes it all okay.  Someone is waiting for me, and their smile is pure joy, and I’m young again, though everything has changed.  But nothing has.

The smell of fuel and cigarettes rattles my soul, because it was always present, then, mixed with humid heat and the intoxicating scent of dreams and hope.

pictureI turn on the air conditioner, place Amica – my favorite Italian fashion mag – on the coffee table, next to a couple of novels I picked up at a quaint, old-fashioned (but fairly new) bookshop located in an old building in Via Diaz, the uphill street that used to be the gateway to happiness, a million years ago, when I lived in a different language.  I don’t answer the phone, ignore Facebook, concentrate on familiar objects that don’t hold powerful memories.  Others don’t understand, really (though nodding politely), that I can’t bear to go outside and talk to people who speak a language that I struggled to learn a lifetime ago, which I love of course, but right now just grates on my raw nerves.

I’m too vulnerable now, too fresh back from my past, too fragile to face the new me that I’ve built over the years.  I need time, just a little time to be comfortable once more in my beloved adoptive land.  Need to transmute into the person who is mature and confident, developed slowly, and certainly laboriously, over the span of decades.

Happy to be back; broken because I am.

I’m of two worlds, and each of them owns a piece of me. Love them both, but
ache for one.

But there they are, my colorful trinkets, concrete memories of what is once again immensely distant, untouchable, fading away as my sea becomes my river.

Material things: yes, they are important.  They can save your sanity.

Voglio e non voglio

picture27 luglio 2015

Ogni anno, scoppio dall’impazienza di venire a Portici.  Nonostante il (grande) stress di fare la valigia (lo so, lo so, non dovrebbe essere un granché, ma la tortura di farci entrare tutto e tenerla sotto ai ventitré chili mi riduce a notti insonni), del volo che normalmente mi fa pure piacere, ma non tanto in questi tempi di frequente terrorrismo, e dell’ansia di lasciare la mia famiglia americana per andare a trovare quella italiana, conto sempre le settimane e i giorni alla partenza, con tanto di batticuore.  Sentimento che ben pochi condividono, o anche capiscono, in Italia.  Abituati a vivere nella stessa città dove sono nati e cresciuti, non patiscono, loro, lo struggimento, l’angustia, la costante tristezza (appena velata) che comporta quel mostro che è la lontananza.picture

Hence, il ritorno in patria ti riempie il cuore di gioia dolorosa, ti pesa, ti alleggerisce, ti scioglie, ti sbatte, ti tira – ammaliante – e ti fa venir la tentazione di nascondere la testa sotto la sabbia.

Voglio venire.  No, non voglio, perché poi dovrò andarmene di nuovo.

Bella la mia Portici, cambia poco, ma cambia tanto.  Dettagli, veramente, perché la sua vitalità rimane intatta, il suo beat, il suo aroma di sole e speranza.picture

Mi avvio di prima mattina, sprizzante di energia mediterranea, al mercato, dove si svolge, da tempo immemore, la vita dei napoletani – reale, cruda, meravigliosa.  Sì che mi piace il baccano, il casino, anche le pozzanghere che mi spruzzano le zeppe nuove.  Il passato e il presente si fondono, il profumo onesto dell’infanzia mi accoglie e s’intreccia con la mia storia presente, di donna picturematura ma forse ancora ingenua.  Qui i cornetti più buoni del mondo, caldi e soffici, carichi di crema vellutata, con quel tocco di amarena; e le graffe enormi e zuccherose, altro che Dunkin’ Donuts, viva i panifici di famiglia, piccoli, scuri e fragranti di meraviglie culinarie.

Su per le traverse che danno in centro, il Viale Leonardo (la strada della felicità?), sempre elegante, marciapiedi a disegni, vetrine attraenti (certo, quei cartelli di saldi sono molto seducenti…), aroma di caffè come non altro, anche l’odore stimolante del fuel delle moto che ti volano a due centimetri dai piedi quando attraversi.picture

No, non voglio sentirvi, dolci fantasmi del mio passato remoto, non trascinatemi verso il tennis club, il teatro, gli angoli solitari, i passaggi segreti, la salita al mitico Flacco, anche quella piccola nuova libreria (così piacevolmente all’antica) nel vecchio palazzo.

Ma lo voglio.

Silenziosi, voi del passato, osservate, ma non osate avvicinarvi.  Timori strani e infondati vi incatenano pensieri ed emozioni.  Credete di proteggervi e di cancellare (perché fa male, diavolo!), ma non si sfugge ai ricordi.picture

Sono stata bene a Portici.  Ho trovato un’accoglienza calda e genuina, priva di drammaticità.  Comprendono, loro, con quieta sensibilità, l’agonia dolce-amara di chi sta lontano, ma non riesce a farsene una ragione, affezione cronica e irrimediabile.  Vengo in pace io (sempre), e pace ho trovato.  E di ciò vi sono immensamente grata, miei cari.

Il mio soggiorno è durato un soffio, un filmino accelerato, non avevo ancora finito, io, di ricordare…La valigia zeppa (maledetti i ventitré chili), ma me ne infischio, ecco, picturesia quel che sia, pagherò extra, if I must, non tolgo il caffè, i taralli, e certamente non i tronchetti nude, col tacco oro!

Mi fermo qui, ma parleremo ancora, cari lettori, ho tanto da raccontarvi.

Sempre travolgente, questo mio viaggio nel tempo.  Ma sì, certo che lo voglio.

My Doorman Was Spiderman: An Italian Memoir

Doorman, super, handyman, cleaning crew, even the occasional delivery pictureman.  That was Giovanni, the doorman of the condominium in Portici where I grew up.  A mild-mannered middle-aged man, Giovanni sat in his gabbiotto for a good part of the day.  That would be the little, glass-enclosed box where a doorman is stationed, don’t even know what it’s called in English, but in Italian it derives from the word gabbia, meaning cage, which makes it sound a lot more ominous that it really is.  The citofono (intercom) was in the gabbiotto, and only he was allowed to push the appropriate buttons to make the connection to the various apartments, about 120 of them. You would tell him to call number 20, 30, whatever (mine was 51, forever imprinted in my mind, like the old phone number), he would click it, then pass you the receiver.  Or, I would just say, “ Giovanni, può chiamare mia madre?” and he would connect me to my apartment.  I would encounter him on the stairways, sweeping the steps, washing the ample hallway floor, watering the many planters in the courtyard, opening and closing the windows on each floor, taking care of the tiny elevator when it got stuck (though sometimes he just put up the ‘Guasto‘ sign – out of order – and call a repair service who would take their sweet time to show up), going up and down those stairs several times daily.  But he sure took il pranzo seriously, his lunch break was sacred.  The gabbiotto would be closed at 1 pm, and stay so till at least three, while he hung out with his family in his street-level apartment, the first one on the left, in our wing of the building. The front entrance would be locked, and residents would have to use their key to get in.  If you needed to call someone, well, you couldn’t, unless you started shouting at the top of your voice (which we kids did sometimes, much to the embarrassment and fury of our parents and the other tenants).  Giovanni progressed through his years-old daily routine methodically, and kept everything in order, never rushing, never stressing. As I said, a very average man who just did his job.

Until it was time for the annual cleaning of the windows.

He would start early.  We children were still in bed, our day not yet begun.  But his was just about to change the dimension of his life.  Dragging along his cleaning supplies – bucket, rags, squeegee – Giovanni would take the elevator to the top of the building, the sixth floor, and begin his yearly task.  He would open wide the windows of the landing, sit on the sill, and start reaching out with his materials, spraying, scrubbing, wiping.  As he did so, he would picturegradually stand on the sill, then literally walk out of the window, holding fast to the interior glass with his left hand, and energetically scrubbing away with his right.  Steadily, precisely, but definitely fearlessly.  Balancing his loafer-encased feet on the narrow ledge outside the window, he seemed to stretch all his limbs to reach every corners, wiping and polishing till the glass was sparkling.  When we kids walked out into the sun-warmed balcony, we would stare in awe at this man, our very own Giovanni il portiere, practically walking on glass, and we would cover our mouths so no sound would escape that might distract him.  And cause him to plunge to his death.  My mother would avert her eyes, scuttle back inside, mumbling non posso guardare (I can’t look), and again cautioned us not too make a sound, but just pray (silently!) that he might not lose his grip…quel pazzo scervellato…Yeah, she wasn’t very fond of his dramatic acrobatics, deeming that display of circus-like behavior completely irresponsible and ridiculous.   But, really, how else was he going to wash down those windows?  No professional window-washer crews, with scaffolding and workers secured with ropes, for my building in Portici, just a one-man team who crawled his way through six floors of landing windows, and on both wings of the building, a total of twelve floors.  How I wish I had snapped some photos of this awesome spectacle, but those were not the days of cell phones (besides, if he heard the click, he might even have turned around and, well, you know the rest).  Thus, I shall just post some photos of my good old building and the rusty gate (yes, you can see the gabbiotto behind it), as it still stands there today, beckoning every time I go to Italy.

The doorman days are over now.  It has already been more than twenty years that Giovanni’s gabbiotto has been locked up and empty, and a sturdy gate blocks the courtyard.  A regular intercom system outside the gate allows people to contact the residents, and be buzzed in.

I don’t know who cleans the windows these days, but it will always be Giovanni, il portiere, I will imagine up there, high on the fourth, fifth, sixth floor, semi-dangling from a window, his palm flat against the glass (so white!), his legs steady on the sill, our resident Spiderman performing his stunts. All in a day’s work.

C’erano una volta le vacanze

8 giugno 2015

L’odore dell’estate m’intorpidisce.  Il suo alito umido mi avvolge, appiccicoso.  Ma non mi lamento.  Cari lettori, quante volte mi avete sentito brontolare – la maledetta neve, il freddo polare, le tempeste invernali e la rottura di coprirsi di maglioni, sciarpe e guanti termici?  Ecco, per questo sto zitta adepicturesso e accolgo il caldo umido e denso con piacere.  In giro per le strade della mia città americana, annuso il catrame dei vialetti d’accesso delle ville del mio quartiere, e il ricordo delle strade di Portici mi fa girare la testa.  Quando dovevi calare le persiane nel pomeriggio, tanto per cercare di abbassare un po’ la temperatura bestiale.  Ed io che mi torturavo in attesa della partenza imminente per le vacanze estive.  Infatti, mai trascorso luglio e agosto a Portici, sempre in vacanza, al mare, a Colli (il paesino di mio padre arrampicato sui monti del Molise), insomma un posto che non era dove avevo depositato il cuore.  Quando si è piccoli e ti dicono che si va in vacanza, gioisci, che meraviglia, andiamo alla spiaggia, il gelato al pistacchio sul lungomare, i castelli di sabbia, il salvagente nuovo…Ma poi, quando cresci un po’e ti affezioni a qualcuno, non vuoi partire e ti strazi perché lui (il ragazzo du jour) non si può portare appresso, e la vita fa schifo.  Ovvio, poi si cambia idea, quando ci si abitua al nuovo ambiente, le notti scorrono dolcemente ammalianti e risuonano di musica, e di opportunità ce ne sono in abbondanza.  Però, a volte c’era qualcuno che non ce la facevi proprio a lasciare e dovevano staccarti con le tenaglie.   Poi sentivi una canzone dei Pooh, e ti aggrappavi al ricordo di un teatro di provincia…Una vita fa, ma le cicatrici ce ne mettono di tempo a sbiadire, ecco.

Back to the present: eccomi qui ad accogliere la fine dell’anno (scolastico) con nostalgia ed emozione.  Perché parto per le mie sponde natali un p
aio di giorni dopo.  Accidenti ai ricordi, all’ansia, alla paura e alla gioia, alla rabbia e all’abbandono, alla voglia di emozionarmi e anche di fregarmene.  Ma di solito ci si mette il giubbotto antidolorifico e la maschera di ferrea imperturbabilità, e si affronta il passato-presente con un sorriso coraggioso.

Le valigie chiuse, in fila nell’ingresso, le saracinesche ben serrate; il frigo staccato, lo sportello aperto, le mensole vuote.  L’esodo estivo del mio “c’era-una-volta”.  I vasi di gerani erano già in alloggio sul balcone di vicini che non andavano in vacanza.  Spegni le luci, controlla l’interruttore, sollecitava mia madre, e il gas, abbiamo girato la valvola?  Quasi sempre però, dopo la chiusura ufficiale del portone e qualche chilometro verso la meta estiva, si tornava indietro perché, oddio, non mi ricordo se ho staccato il ferro da stiro…Parole spesso seguite da un litigio animato, lacrime e musi lunghi fino al giorno dopo.

Viaggio in aereo io, un percorso lungo e noioso, scomoda sul sedile che reclina solo di un centimetro, ad occhi aperti nella notte tra le stelle, perché a dormire proprio non ci riesco in volo.  Auricolari a posto, bicchiere di plastica col vino bianco fino all’orlo, guardo un film dopo l’altro (di cui poi non ricordo un cavolo).

Vorrei riabbracciarvi tutti, miei cari.  Chi lo vorrà, a chi importa ancora tenersi stretto questo fragile rapporto intercontinentale. Se poi siete troppo presi
dalle vostre vite super-busy, e avete altro da fare (o temete chissaché), ebbene sia.  Comunque io scrivo, ecco, la mia tastiera è attiva non-stopAnd everything is material, for sure. J

Sono pronta, Portici.  Ad affrontare quel che sia.  Ho già le scarpe all’altezza degli adorabili ma micidiali sanpietrini: zeppe alte e solide (ma stylish, chiaro) che scalpitano impazientemente (no, non m’incastro stavolta…).

Sono forte, adesso, e molto più saggia di quanto avessi mai immaginato.  Succede a volte.

Volo verso l’estate (ma ad occhi aperti)

Eh, sì, Portici cara, arrivo!  Viaggio estivo stavolta.  Sono tanti, tanti anni che no vivo la mia terra a fine giu
gno.  È il primo autunno che di solito mi trova in Italia, con le sue temperature calme, la luce carezzevole e un po’ sonnolenta, gli alberi ancora pictureostinatamente verdi mentre i nostri cominciano ad invecchiare gialli e arancioni.

Niente giacca stavolta, niente sciarpe.  Sandali aperti (con tanto di tacco, chiaro) e gonne leggere che svolazzano nelle brezze tiepide dell’estate appena nata.

Portici vivace e libera, le voci allegre che risuonano la sera tardi, provenienti dai bar e dalle piazzette, gli ultimi tormentoni che ti fanno venire una fitta al cuore con le prime note perché sono le parole e gli accenti con cui sei nata e saranno sempre i primi e gli ultimi.

Parto sorridente e traboccante di buona volontà.

Ma lo scudo me lo porto.

Perché ingenua non lo sono più, e il meccanismo di naturale self-defense deve rimanere costantemente attivo.

C’è sempre chi ha voglia di farti inciampare e ci prova pure gusto.  Per ragioni che a volte proprio non riesci a comprendere.

Evito, dunque, le situazioni che sanno di trappola, scivolo via silenziosa e cauta, risoluta a non tornare più indietro.  Anche se poi finirò col farlo.  Human nature: glutton for punishment.

Ma basta.  Solo il Vesuvio nei miei pensieri.  E il bosco reale, il Granatello, Viale Leonardo, i sanpietrini, il tennis club il cui nome voi che mi conoscete ben sapete; i vicoli e le traverse del passato, che incombe – crudele e dolcissimo – su ogni momento dei miei giorni.  Ascolto Biagio invece di Claudio, i Modà al posto dei Pooh, anche se è vero che questa serata l’ho voluta io, nonostante tutto.

Venite a stringermi la mano, voi semi-fantasmi che mi osservate di nascosto, sicuri della vostra anonimità (ma vi vedo io).  Abbassate le armi, respirate profondamente e afferrate quel diem sfuggente.

I can’t tell them I was there

To my kids.  Driving along the streets of The Bronx, stopped at a light on a busy boulevard, he will say to them, ‘See that building, it was my Junior High!  See the big window, all the way on the right? That was the gym, at least then,picture don’t know about now…’  And then the corner deli comes up, and he’ll say ‘Got some of the best heroes there, that tangy dressing they used, God knows what was in it, but it sure tasted great when I was famished after school…’.  And up there, third floor, was where they all lived with his grandmother until he was four, tiny apartment, he still remembers her sitting there, fiercely knitting a crooked beige scarf he would have to wear, period.

But I can’t.  I can’t tell them I was there.  Because I wasn’t there, on these streets, or in that town ten-fifteen miles away, even in Jersey or Rhode Island, orthe East Coast.  Or the country.  Slowly walking to my Liceo, on Via Libertà, long and uphill, in Portici, Italy, frenzied with traffic and lined with small shops, gas stations, cafés and newsstands, a lifetime away, so far beyond these walls, children of mine, beyond the ‘big pond’, where they speak another language which you don’t really understand.  I can’t say, look, here’s my high school, now a medical facility, but in that yard/now parking lot I didpicture gym sometimes, and all the class photos were taken there.  The Tennis Club, the legendary hangout of my adolescence, there, the entrance on the left, the rusty gate (see the sign?), the dusty red earth of the courts that haven’t changed one bit, the high wall at the end, my shadow still hovers there, quivering under the June moonlight…No, you don’t know about it, because I was there when none of this life existed for me, and now it’s too distant to see.  I can’t take you to the pizzeria where they sold it by the meter, where I pretend-smoked chocolate cigarettes at the table with your aunt and uncle, while our parents chatted – relaxed for once – their reciprocal belligerent inclinations tamed by the local red.  I can’t because it’s before your history, sunk in the well of my long ago, almost an illusion, a faded reality, a backwards path of bitter tears and tender aches. And so I find myself catching my breath (my heart pounding itself to a million bits), when I watch a fictional program on RAI Italia, and the image of the Università Orientale‘s front entrance fills the screen, my fragile emotions stirred and torn and trampled, and I call my kids (urgently!), ‘Come! This is my university in Naples!  I was there!’  Even if you can’t touch it.  They smile and nod.  But do they understand?  My youthful days live on only in my tormented mind, with no connection to the present because it can’t be visualized by anyone else but me.  Accidental pilgrim in the land of fleeting dreams, dragging my burden of pictureagonies that forever will define my nature.  No, I can’t tell them I was there, I can’t point, I can’t – just barely – recognize faces in the crowd, because my faces never grew up.  Hence, I will carry on with my bittersweet load of unshareable memories, always to remain the unwilling secrets of my heart.

Being really, really cold in Naples: A Memoir

Of course it’s possible.  I think that many Americans are under the impression that Naples is in a somewhat tropical zone.  Well, it isn’t so at all.  There are four distinct seasons, though it’s certainly a much milder climate picturethat we experience in the North Eastern US.  But, people, I’ve been damn cold in Naples, to the point of spending my recess at school perched on the radiator, with my arms wrapped around myself, frozen in one position for fifteen minutes.  Gets worse.  Now, my apartment building in Portici was built in the early sixties.  When we were touring it, we realized that it was lacking radiators.  Non fa niente, my mother said dismissively (completely enamored with the mesmerizing vista of the Gulf of Naples from the fifth floor balcony), doesn’t matter, it’s not that cold in the winter here…All right, she hailed from Modena in Northern Italy and often mentioned the dreary snowy and foggy days of her childhood, but you don’t need frozen precipitation to feel cold. The gray, wet and drizzly days in December and January, seeing your breath form little clouds before your eyes, as amusing as it was for a child, it meant it was frigging COLD!  I remember the rides in the family car, the dark green Simca Mille, the heater going full blast, filling the car with delightful warmth with its strange smell of engine (yes, slightly nauseating, but a necessary evil).  We kids would be all bundled up in our wool coats, hats, gloves and thick socks, cocooned in a steamy cloud of comfort in the back seat.  Then we returned home.  Alarm!  While my father searched for an available parking spot (always time-consuming, and the later in the evening the worse – no assigned parking spaces there), I began dreading the exit from the car.  Out of the heated paradise, into the gloomy ‘wasteland’ of our dark, frigid apartment.  No, my friends, not a pretty experience.  I remember refusing to remove my coat at times and my mother saying impatientlynon fare la stupida, mettiti la vestaglia, poi ti scaldi, mica abitiamo al polo…In other words, don’t be silly, put your robe on and you’ll warm up, we don’t live at the North Pole…And I did, gingerly taking off my outdoors gear, whining to my sister (slightly more stoic than me), getting into my so-bloody-cool-to-the-touch flannel pajamas, then swaddling myself with my long, insulated pink robe, tremblingly working on each miniscule pearly button.  My father would plug in a couple of space heaters and I would practically move inside one.  It was always a joy when I had to go to a friend’s house.  Simply because, everyone else I knew lived in a heated apartment!  Oh the pleasure of that blast of warmth when I entered their foyer!  All my bones would exult, my fingers would resuscitate…and my cheeks would turn cherry red!  Yeah, a picturelittle issue I developed with the heat.  Everybody always asked me if I was okay, since I looked so flushed, which would of course increase my color. I suppose it was the fact that I wasn’t accustomed to a heated environment and it somehow caused havoc with my system, I don’t know…Fact is, that the condition of super-flushed cheeks would last quite a bit and, when I got back home with my flaming face, my mother always reminded me thatthis was why artificial heat wasn’t good for people, vedrai che ti ammali con questi sbalzi di temperatura! You’ll see you’re going to get sick now, with these sudden unhealthy changes of temperature…Oh but it was worth it.  Wearing a stylish coat over a thin sweater and a short skirt, walking on the Viale Leonardo da Vinci in late January, on the way to meet someone, my toes semi-frozen in my fashionable high-heeled boots, insisting with my mantra of ‘looks before comfort’ (still struggling with that subject!), I moved quickly, focused, rubbing together my un-gloved, shivering hands which were holding a fabulous purse.  And then I’d see the few winter tourists, tall and blond Germans or Scandinavians, striding down the damp sidewalks in their Birkenstocks and t-shirts, smiling and content in ‘sunny Southern Italy’.  Allora, maybe it’s simply a matter of perspective, no?  No.