I wrote the following in various quiet moments during my first week away. Thank you for reading.
Nov 30 2006
Iím in Rome right now, awaiting my flight to Bari. Aside from running around trying to find the proper terminal and check in desk, everything has gone rather smoothly. I slept a few hours as soon as I boarded in Toronto, thanks to Gravol, and then I did it again a few hours later, more thanks to Gravol. My layover in London wasnít too tedious, as it took over an hour just to get from one terminal to another, a chore that killed a third of the wait. Heathrow is HUGE, which is something I always seem to forget. I think itís something about the personnel and their English accents. It makes everything seem so much more pleasant, you know?
On the flight to Rome, I ended up switching my seat twice, which bought me good karma, in the way of two Italian gentlemen who were kind to meÖ Iíve always relied on the kindness of strangers. One spoke a little English, and reassured me that Fiumicino is not hard to navigate at all, and at that point, reassurance was worth itís weight in gold. I was nervous, and starting to take the kind of shallow, little breaths that precede anxiety attacks and foolish decisions. The other gentlemen gave me his phone card which was loaded with 3 Euros on it, enabling me to call my cousin right away to tell her I changed my flight and would get to Bari 4 hours earlier. I saved 3 Euros, which is good, because it cost me fifty to buy five extra hours with my family. However, they didnít charge me for my luggage overage, and almost everyone I talked to spoke a good amount of English. So far, Iím ahead.
Iím a little hungry right now, and a little sweaty, though Iím not worrying too much about the latter, as Iím in ItalyÖ theyíre big on natureís perfume over here. That being said, I canít wait for my next shower. Itís been two planes, twenty-four hours, and an ocean since my last one, and I still have one more flight to go.
Iím in Italy, you guys. I have to tell you that for awhile there today, at Heathrow and then again when I reached Rome, the sense that my brother was walking along with me was as strong as it was on my sisterís wedding day. I know that sounds like Iím dancing with crazy, but honestly, Iím not even going to romanticize the telling. I can only present it in a matter-of-fact manner, because thatís how I feel about it. The grass is green, the sky is blue, and my brother is with me today.
Zio Jimmy gave a speech on my sisterís wedding day, and said, ďI know youíre here, Frankie. I know it so surely I can almost touch you!Ē and thatís how I felt today, a few hours ago. Now. Heís here, I know he is. He is why my luggage was where it had to be, and he is why all my flights were on time, and he is why Iím here, in Italy.
I didnít know it when I booked, and I didnít know it yesterday, but Iím sure of this as I am of anything right now: I am here for Frankie, in a way I canít understand but Iím certain will come to light soon.
My flight is going to board soon, and I think I have a Weight Watcherís bar in my bag. That should tide me over for a while.
More, as it happens.
Dec 1, 2006
The surprise was complete, and Mare-Serenitatis and I managed to pull the wool over everyoneís eyes, an unlikely job when surrounded by people who tend to tend to live in your business. Weíre an ocean apart, but some parts of blood just donít separate. I did it though, and managed to thrill the lot of them. There was yelling, and clutching of hearts and faces, and honestly, it was all just soÖ happy. Iíve not ever been held so closely by so many people before, and many times, I couldnít speak for the sheer level of emotion. Words just didnít work.
Last night, my cousin Francesco kept pinching himself because he couldnít believe I was actually there, a feeling I kept echoing. ďIs it possible Iím in Italy? What on earthÖ?Ē I kept asking myself. I would be pulled into the arms of people I rarely see, and feelÖ natural. It all feels so natural, and thatís the weirdest part.
Last night, in the cold, I walked the ancient streets of Toritto, past the church in which all my grandparents were married, past the homes where everyone was born. I smelled the unmistakable smell of pig coming from someoneís basement, and the whole town smelled like it was on fire, because central heating isnít common, but open charcoal stoves seem to be the name of the game. Francesco pointed out the homes of relatives who donít know Iím here yet, relatives who will open their doors to me and be glad Iíve arrived.
There is a pub that my cousin pointed out, a door in a wall that made him swallow hard and shake his head before he told me that he had sat there with my brother two years ago. I smiled and said that Iím glad, Iím so glad that Frankie had had the chance to do that with him. Heíd loved Italy, and heíd idolized our cousins. He was happy walking these tiny, ancient streets with his family, that treated him so kindly.
I donít get it. I really donít. There are modern cars peeling through streets not made for automobiles, and crumbling walls that have been falling down for centuries. The homes have wooden doors, or hanging curtains that allow anyone and everyone to poke their head in and say hello. And say hello we did, because my cousin knows everyone who crosses his path. Seriously, poppets, everyone. The guy was saying hello to people driving by in cars, and giving me tidbits of information about them, and about the people who live behind that window over there, and about the guy that just came over and had a cigarette with us.
I stood on a street corner with my cousin while he passed the time of day Ė at quarter to midnight on a Thursday - with some guy who came aíwalking. Who even DOES that anymore? I mean, is it Mayberry?
I donít understand. And yet, I donít care so much. Iím just glad Iím here.
Dec 3, 2006
Though Iím staying at my auntís house in Palo del Colle, both sides of my family hail from Toritto, and of the ones still in Italy, 90% live there. Toritto is a crumbling depression of a town, but yesterday I spent a fantastic day there, making the rounds and surprising even more people.
ďIím only here for five daysĒ Iíve said a thousand times, in explanation as to why I canít come spend a day, a dinner, more time with countless people who have urged me to stay on.
My aunt and uncle, who is my fatherís brother, who is Francescoís father, who hugged me close when I showed my face, said that it was un piacere to have me there, to eat with them, but really Ė and you obviously saw this coming Ė the pleasure is mine. I gossip with them about family back home, and they gossip with me about things that happened thirty-five years ago, and we laugh and laugh and laugh. We talk, and I see my uncleís head move in the same way that my fatherís does, when theyíre particularly intent on getting the point across. It is both frightening and comforting.
Francesco, I think, may be my second chance with my brother, though I may never say that aloud because it probably sounds as ridiculous as it looks.
He and I went to buy cigarettes yesterday at some corner store. He greeted the woman behind the counter by name, and mentioned that Iím a Canadian cousin. She is an Ingenii too, and asked which daughter I was, whether I belonged to my father or my uncle. A woman I donít know has my last name, knows my father by name, knows what my bloodlines are, and all I did was buy cigarettes from her.
Thatís when I realized that my connection to this bloody little town run deeper than I ever understood. Its one thing to see a couple hundred years of your family tree jotted down on the back of an envelope over after-dinner conversation one day. Itís another to buy cigarettes from a stranger on the other side of the ocean and be recognized right away. This is justÖ something else, I told myself, as I walked away from the store with my cousin. This is deeper than I expected.
I saw land that belongs to my father that may one day belong to me. My heart breaks at the thought that it may one day cause strife, because land handed down usually does. Already is.
Still, itís land, with olive trees and stone walls, which feels so much different than condo sites and swimming pools. There is something noble about a crumbling stone hut in the middle of an olive grove, because for every rock, Francesco can tell me a hundred words about who built it, and why; who slept in it, and when; every pebble in the place screams to me of my own stories, tells me why my hair is the shade of brown it is, and why my hands do that weird thing they do.
I am overwhelmed by how comfortable I am. I am overwhelmed by the fact that eight years have passed since the last time I had a conversation with Mare-Serenitatis, and itís as if that time doesnít exist. It is profoundly touching to see us reacting to the activities of our parents in exactly the same way. I am moved beyond understanding by the way my aunt clutches my face in her hands before I go to bed at night. I am in awe of the way I have been welcomed into the fold, as if I was never not there, as if my place was mine from the beginning of time.
I have fallen in love with dozens of people, and maybe its insanity, but I think that they just may feel the same way about me.
Geography is nothing but a thing.
Dec 6, 2006
Iím on a plane right now, less than an hour from landing in London. I navigated a lot of wait time and a bit of luggage delay at Fiumicino quite successfully, all in Italian. Itís amazing, really, how a bit of immersion makes me start to think in another language. Mind you, it was my first tongue, though I donít remember that time at all. Still. I feel more continental because of it, more sophisticated, more ready to take on the world. Most of all, I feel more capable, which is something that stronger people take for granted, I think. Feeling capable is, quite honestly, amazing. Itís a high like no other.
My Italian is still quite bad, and my Toritto dialect leaves a lot to be desired, but everyone has commented on the fact that my accent is spot on, and Iíve managed to get the cadence of the language pretty well. I am, without a doubt, a Torittese.
I will always insist that the English language can be musical, and bring joy to a reader or a listener, but for the first time, Iím starting to cringe, because it is not Italian, and romantic, and rounded and full of thrilling high notes. I know this is ridiculous, but I am dreading the first few hours of having to speak English.
Italy is mine, now, though, language or not. For the first time, itís not a place that Iím borrowing from my parents. My cousins are mine; they belong to me. For the first time, itís not as if we all just accidentally landed in the same family and the fact that half of our parental units are brothers and sisters to each other is just a coincidence. My cousins are MINE. My family is mine. I have a place there, amongst them, even if I never fill it again. Frankie is gone, but he still has a place there too, just as surely as he had it at home. I ran into strangers who know who I am, who know what my parentage is; my roots arenít a theory anymore. They arenít just a tale told after dinner on any Sunday.
I have history.
I donít know if Iím explaining this properly. I guess I have to think about it more thoroughly, because right now Iím just a mess of charged emotions that need to be sorted out. I have to switch gears completely now, for there is a week in London that must be dealt with.
Iím looking forward to lots of it and, in fact, Iím looking forward to making it mine again, to reclaiming it from the jaws of grief and pain. However, this time, there may be some getting used to it involved. Iíve never known the rumoured cold of the English people, but perhaps after a week in the arm waving, full-voiced, clutch of my Italian parenti, it might show itself more clearly.
I feel very alone right now, but London usually starts out that way, so I think that Iím on my proper course.
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