About Nightfall in Verona

Welcome to a Great Story from a Loquacious Renegade...

In 1973 I had the great good fortune to be treated to a trip to Europe by two friends. We bought a VW bus in Frankfurt and wound our way over the Alps to Tuscany. A week and a half later I was in a train headed down the coast of Italy alone, embarking on what remains the adventure of my life. Nightfall in Verona is the memoir of my odyssey, written last year thirty-seven years out.

Friend Caroline Marshall, editor of the NPR Anthology Listening to Ourselves calls my book "fabulous."

The inimitable poet Ruth Mowry writes: "
Oh heartbreak and romance. This is incredible. You are a wonderful writer, and this has captivated me, just this chapter! Wow."

My friend and editor Jack Brooks says I've written a "glittering, lyrical tour d' force."

Thanks to all who spurred me on and served as my "beta" readers and editors: Caroline, Jack, Maureen. I'll be publishing the work through my imprint, Orfea Books with customary fanfare soon.

Use the archived links on the sidebar to access the chapters. Do leave a comment or two-- and thanks for reading me.

I post poetry at La Parola Vivace, and I blog on the issues du jour at Loquaciously Yours. You can contact me at jenneandrews2010@gmail.com .

Jenne' Andrews March 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter Eleven - Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter 11, Wherein the Poet Risks Life, Limb and Heart…

Dolce Pensiero

Dolce pensiero
Di quell’ istante,
A te sorride l’amante cor, si.
Come piu caro
Dopo il tormento
E’ il bel momento
Di pace e amor,
Eil bel momento
Di gioia e amor!

How sweet the thought
Of that moment!
A loving heart will smile upon you, yes!
How much dearer
After suffering
Is the sweet moment
Of peace and love,
Is the sweet moment
Of happiness and love!

   Semiramide, Rossini

“Quiero desterrar de tu pecho el temor....”

“I want to tear your fear (of my love) from your breast...”
Zarzuela de Iberia,  Reveriano Soutullo Otero 

That night we sat at the campfire, planning the next course of action. We poured Pernod over ice in our tin cups, sipping the exotic misting drink, toasting each other.

Julia took out her paints, and her pad of soft paper.
She worked away by the fire. Stars shone brilliantly above us; Pierre announced that at midnight there would be a meteor shower over the harbor. He and Stefanie sat in front of their tent, kissing, waiting.

“Here's what we're going to do,” Caroline said.  “We'll go back to Livorno tomorrow. You'll take the train from there.”

We walked to the edge of the bluff, where shooting stars criss--crossed each other's trails and plunged into the sea.

“What will you do?”

“We'll put you on the train, and then we'll go to France, probably to Paris, and then to Reims. Julia wants to paint the cathedral.”

We made a list of the things I would need to take; abetted by the wine Caroline was at her most magnanimous.

“This will just be like buying a trousseau for a honeymoon,” she said.

“Oh, please don't do that. I'm in debt up to the eyeballs to you for the entire trip.”

“No, no. Listen, you're doing this for all of us. We are going to be with you in spirit. We'll start with new underwear...”

She drew a pair of bikini panties on the list.

“God.”   Someone very young and frightened within me was trying to get the attention of the older me.

That voice said, I am afraid. I don't feel safe. I can't do this.

Yes, you can, I said to the voice. We most certainly can; if we don't go, we will regret it forever.

The voice persisted. They are putting us on a train to get rid of us.

What? No. that's not true. Maybe they do want to be by themselves for awhile. But you need to trust this and to trust me. If things don't work out, we'll come back.

In this way I placated my terrified inner child, who had been running alone in the world a very long time. I knew that protecting her was my job and yet the woman in me was living an assent to possibility. We would go; I and “we” would be the stronger for it, I hoped, my hands shaking as I wrote of our last night of Corsica in my journal.

Julia drew and painted, and then by firelight, showed us what she had done.

She had produced an exquisite water color of the moon rendered as a balloon, with an attached basket in which I stood. The balloon was sailing down the Italian coast, where an Italian family waited, their arms lifted up to the sky, toward me.

After the painting dried, she rolled it up and tied it with string and we stowed it carefully in the bus next to the gifts we were accumulating for those back home.

That night I lay in my sleeping bag once again, past sleeping, dreaming, wondering.

My heart wandered out into the grass and on into wildness, away from the others. It slunk along low to the ground, hungry and lonely. It wanted to rid itself of all past lives and attachments. It recklessly craved adventure. By morning it had returned to my body, beating out the slow, steady rhythm of anticipation, refusing to tell me where it had been.

We packed up our camp and went back to Bastia, again driving the bus into the hold of the Corsica Star. In four hours we reached the mainland, and in another hour's drive, Livorno.

We stood on the platform waiting for the train. We had repacked my duffel bag and purchased my second class ticket.

“Andiamo a Reggio or',” someone called. “Subito, Reggio.”

“That's your cue,” Caroline said, kissing me on the cheek.

They helped me board, passing me my knapsack. Now in my bra I had a small piece of paper with the address for Frankfurt general delivery, so that I could send a telegram to Julia. I would wire her in three weeks. She had Pepe's address in Reggio. Two pieces of paper, and nearly a thousand mile train ride ahead of me.

I had stocked up on bottled water and a few sandwiches at a trattoria. Now I climbed aboard a train that had emerged from a tunnel into Livorno Station. 

The second class car was decorated in graffiti; its windows were dusty. Jostling one another, boarding with me, were Italian soldiers on leave. Some dozen of them filled the seats facing me where I sat down next to an elderly couple-- a bent woman in a black dress, a dark red scarf over her head, her husband with a furrowed brow and full white mustache under a dented and dirty Fedora.

The woman pointed at the window.

“Piace le finestra?.”-- Would you prefer the window seat?

“No, grazie.” I could see around her, out into the dusk; a loud whistle reverberated through the car and with a hiss and lurch the train pulled away. I leaned forward to see my friends lifting their hands to wave, their mouths receding o's of farewell.

“Arrivaderci,” I whispered.

I settled back in my seat, leaned back and closed my eyes, I was exhausted.

“Signorina,” the old woman said.

I opened my eyes to see her leaning forward, a solicitous look on her weathered face.

“Ti piace mangare?” She had a piece of pastry on a napkin, passing it to me.

“Grazie. “

I bit into it; apricot filling and whipped cream burst into my mouth, spilling out onto my lips.

She laughed, and pulled a handkerchief out of her bag, wiping my mouth.

The soldiers were watching us. Several of them had their eyes fastened on me as if I were a zabbaglion' fresh from the oven.

I dozed to the rhythm of the train as it picked up speed. Perhaps it had gone up and down the Italian coast for half a century or more. Perhaps it was ordered into production by Mussolini himself, and past its prime, could no longer muster itself to arrive anywhere on time.

I had read in the brochure I carried that the journey would take a day or more. But we couldn't have gone more than fifty miles an hour, starting from Livorno well above Rome, destination the toe of the boot of Italy-- the town of Reggio Calabria in the province by that name.

We had wired Pepe and Francesco that I was on this train, writing large numbers on the telegram. Surely there was no mistaking the day and time of my arrival.

In my duffel bag was a new evening dress of silver lame' that accentuated my curves, hitting me mid-calf-- marked-down Italian couture from a boutique in Livorno. My Mediterranean-blue bikini, my new lacy underwear, a peach peignoir, shorts and tops. My journal, my passport, emergency information and a few postcards tucked into it. My ubiquitous and now I speculated, my heart skipping beats when I thought of it, very necessary diaphragm.

A high voice called from far away: “Billetti, prego. Billetti...”

The door opened and a conductor stood, balancing himself in the swaying aisle bisecting the compartments of our car. Everyone produced their tickets. He looked at me.

“Passaporte, prego.”

“Si.” I handed it to him. He looked at it, and gave it back to me. “Buon viagge,” he said.


We sped on through the night, into infinitely long tunnels and back out again, as if we were coming up for air. I tried not to think of trains coming in the other direction. I longed for a few glasses of wine to blunt my anxiety. What if he had changed his mind? Fear rose up around me, billowing like a sail.

It was one thing to take risks and quite another to get on an Italian train alone. I felt like a small plane stalling in mid-air.

I got out my journal and re-read my encouraging words to myself, written surrounded by what had become the familiar world of our campsite on Corsica. I turned to a fresh page.

“I thought I saw Rome from the window. We went by so quickly-- but there was something like a coliseum. I am afraid. I think I should get off at the first stop, and go back.”

Caroline and Julia would be long gone, but I would find them, or go to the American Embassy.

The train pulled into Naples; all I could see were ancient villas half hidden in shadows, and a flash of ocean.

“Napoli, Napoli,” the conductor called. Here was a chance to get off the train, and find my way to a tourist bureau. After a few minutes of struggle with myself,  I withstood this temptation.

The soldiers got up and got off the train, hoisting their bags over their shoulders, talking in a river of excited Italian. I could see women stepping out of the dawn to greet them, lovers clinching, kissing.

From time to time as we traveled on, I caught more glimpses of the sea. Glittering morning vistas flashed by like snapshots. I didn't want to sleep, but my exhaustion claimed me, and I dozed, jerking awake in rushes of adrenaline.

The last leg of the journey meant a labored chugging down a stretch of desert-like terrain where there were few towns. No Lido, no ocean; no visual bouquet of buildings with tile roofs grouped around a piazza, pigeons wheeling above them.

This filled me with despair. Suddenly I imagined that I had banished myself to a place so barren and remote that I wouldn't be able to stand it.

I had mastered trips on unsteady legs to the bathroom, a small square toilet low on the floor. There was a warning sign in Italian about the water. I sprinkled talc all over myself to soak up the sweat, hoping that sponging off with a little of the water would be safe.

At midday, when I thought that we would never reach Reggio, when I had craned my neck at every stop and flagged down the conductor, beseeching him: “Reggio, prego,” only to have him shake his head, we pulled in to a tiny station.

The conductor's voice was like an aria to me; “Reggio, c'e. Reggio it is. Prego tutti abondonare li tren. Tutti, subito.” Everyone get off. This is the end of the line.

My companions, the old woman and her husband, creaked to their feet and disappeared into the press of passengers heading for the door.

I looked out the window to a small sea of unfamiliar faces. Suddenly, I was terrified.

Adrenaline coursed through me. I couldn't do this. “I can't do this. I have to get out of here,” I murmured to myself, gathering up my duffel bag, stuffing journal, brochure, provisions into it.

Then, out of the crowd getting off the train I heard the voice of an American woman.

“Henry... Henry. Don't forget your shaving kit.” An unmistakable, haranguing, East Coast American voice.

Relief swept over me. Whoever this was would help me. She would take me to their hotel with them, and contact the embassy, wire my parents for money, somehow make me safe.

I turned to pick up my duffel bag and glanced out the window.

A shock of recognition traveled through me.

There he stood, disheveled, handsome, his eyes searching the passengers. His shirt was open; he had been sweating. I was still aboard and behind the thick glass pane. I tried to wave; he didn't see me. I saw him about to turn away.

I pushed through the crowd to the door, lugging my duffel bag, nearly tripping over my bell bottoms. My hair hung in long damp strands at my shoulders. My lips were dry.

I got off the train, following him.

“Pepe. Pino. Guiseppe.”

His diminutive figure kept going in the opposite direction.

I called again. I could see that Franco had joined him and was speaking to him.

Then Franco turned in the direction of my voice. He saw me and grabbed Pepe's shoulder.

He turned around. His dark, exhausted eyes searched the crowd and then he saw me.

He came striding toward me, his face breaking open in the gorgeous grin I remembered.

He swept me into his arms, burying his face in my neck. I dropped my duffel bag. People hurried around us.

“Bella, bella,” he whispered.

He drew back and looked into my eyes. He cupped my face in his hands. In front of half of Reggio Calabria he gave me a long, lingering kiss.

“O Dio,” he whispered. “Va Bene? Hai buon viagge?”

Franco stood nearby, smiling, reserved.

“He meet every train,” he said.

“Oh no. Why?”

“Telegram..”.Franco searched for the right words.

“Non posso leggere.... I couldn't read it, the numbers...”

Pepe had lodged me firmly against him, his arm around me. “Di'le tutto....” he spoke an urgent waterfall of Italian to Francesco.

I looked at Franco.

“What now. Where are we going?”

He looked at me and pointed up the hill, where small cars were parked in front of tall, salt-bleached golden villas. The sky was blue, blazing, the sun high.

“We get Fiat. We go to meet family. Tonight you and Pepe stay on the beach...”

“Where... a hotel?”

“No. In my father's palazzo. He is in Torino.”

He paused, clearing his throat.

You stay together in palazzo of my father. You make love.”

An itinerary at last.

 Thanks for joining me on my adventure-- links to previous chapters are on the sidebar and also archived on the blog. Thee are twenty-two total.  You can reach me at jenneandrews2010@gmail.com .  Copyright Jenne' Andrews 2011. 

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