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 Nine - Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter 9, Wherein Yearning Bests the Poet...

Che Gelida La Manina

...Chi son? Sono un poeta.
Che cosa faccio? Scrivo.
E come vivo? Vivo.
In povertà mia lieta
scialo da gran signore
rime ed inni d’amore.
Per sogni e per chimere
e per castelli in aria,
l?anima ho milionaria.
Talor dal mio forziere
ruban tutti i gioelli
due ladri, gli occhi belli.
V?entrar con voi pur ora,
ed i miei sogni usati
e i bei sogni miei,
tosto si dileguar!

Who am I? I am a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live.
In my carefree poverty
I squander rhymes
and love songs like a lord.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I've the soul of a millionaire.
From time to time two thieves
steal all the jewels
out of my safe, two pretty eyes.

They came in with you just now,
and my customary dreams
my lovely dreams,
melted at once into thin air!
Che Gelida La Manina, Rodolfo's Aria, Act I, La Boheme

The port city of Bastia, Corsica, appeared out of the fog; we were steaming in at sunrise, so that across several minutes the ancient villas built into mountainous terrain emerged, glistening like facets of a cleanly cut jewel. At first the clustered villas seemed transparent, without doors and windows.

As we neared the island, their ethereal blueness gave way to the outlines of salt-washed pale walls of three and four story buildings with red tile roof tops, each upper window with a balcony, behind which small doors concealed what I imagined to be vivid and happy Corsican life.

The port already teemed with activity. Our captain gave one last blast of the fog horn to proclaim our arrival. He maneuvered us past fishing boats; off to the right as I hung over the railing I could see great, gleaming white yachts at anchor.

Caroline and Julia woke, digging into their packs for combs, and joined me. We took each other's hands.

We docked and disembarked the Corsica Star. We waited while our bus was driven up out of the ship's hold and parked. Caroline picked up a map at a kiosk.

Now the air was filled with the poetic resonance of French. Fishing boats had come in with the first loads of the day; burly, dark men were dragging in their catch, dumping gleaming fish into great barrels, pouring buckets of ice over them. Women were setting up markets under flimsy awnings, opening burlap bags of potatoes, unwrapping fresh bread and setting it upright in baskets. Freshly butchered chickens and quail were hung in the early morning shade.

We stopped at the exchange on the dock, trading in our lire for francs. We sauntered through the market, filling our canvas shopping bags with bread, a round of parmesan, a wedge of brie.

We bought tins of sardines and a tube of mayonnaise; we found cans of hearts of palm and stocked up on the ubiquitous hand-blown globes of cheap but effective white wine that crinkled our tongues and softened the edges of uncertainty.

We drove out of the clamor and color of the port, and pulled off the road.

Caroline looked at the map.

“Look.” She showed us an area with the campground symbol of a flame with crossed firewood beneath it, that appeared to be at the very edge of the Mediterranean.

“It's only about 5 km from here. Let's see if we like it.”

The road was etched into the hillside, following the coastline yet well above it. We began a climb into Mediterranean ether, winding ever higher until we reached a plateau covered with vegetation-- startling, full bushes with enormous purple flowers, spiking plants reminding me of the yucca of the southwest, wide-leaved, gnarled and ageless trees.

We pulled in to a campground half-full of buses, small aluminum campers, pitched tents. Music of all kinds blared into the air. There were clotheslines strung between trees with frilly lingerie, t-shirts and khaki shorts draped over them.

We found a place on the grassy bluff, under the trees, and parked. We set to work bringing out small folding chairs, spading up a small circle we surrounded with stones. I went looking for dead-fall, bringing back dried sticks and twigs. I bagged up dried leaves for kindling, and checked to be sure that our tin of matches was still tucked into the cabinet where we kept our small vials of herbs.

We set up our camp stove on the lid of the trunk, and set water boiling for instant coffee. We had bought ice and the wine and cheeses lay in the cooler.

Caroline and Julia went into the bus and came back out in their bikinis.

“We're going down to the beach. Wanna come?”

Like a bird far from home, I was nesting, insuring that our refuge from the unknown was properly lined and that it would contain us. I wanted to sit in the shade, write, and collect myself. Above all, I wanted to take Pepe's address out of my bra and secure it in my journal.

Moreover, sunbathing, in my state of mind-- that we were journeying in heaven, was too pedestrian for me. How could they not want to live into every moment, notice everything, drawing it and writing it down?

“Have coffee with me first,” I said.

We sat on our small chairs sipping from our tin cups. Our closest neighbors—ten feet away-- were nowhere to be seen, but their small tent sat neatly on a tarp, two chairs next to it.

Suddenly, over the din of multiple transistor radios and portable tape decks, we heard a thin voice; perhaps someone was attempting an aria.

The voice grew louder.

We looked around.

“Oh, Pierre. Mon Dieux, Pierre,” the voice gasped.

Julia grinned, and pointed to the tent.

It was vibrating, and then it began to list from side to side.

Then we heard a duet: “Dieux. Sacre Bleu. Stefanie, Stefanie...”

“Oui. O, Pierre.”

We sat with our hands over our eyes until the voices died away, suppressing our laughter.

Caroline and Julia put on t-shirts over their bikinis, packing up beach towels, a thermos of water, a few magazines. They sauntered away, disappearing over the lip of the bluff.

I was alone, in our campground, in a now quiescent morning.

I took my journal out and uncapped my pen, writing the date at the top of a blank page.

“Last night we took the Corsica Star to the port city of Bastia. I thought of Pepe all of the time, even though the crossing was like a dream. I wrote to Mother.... I must not think of Mother. This is my rest-cure, like the languishing dowager princesses who used to be taken on holiday... “ Some passage from a Victorian novel lingered in my mind.

'I wonder what he is doing, and if he is thinking of me. I wonder if we will ever see each other again.”

There was a stirring amid the flaps of the tent not fifteen feet from the bus and a flushed young couple emerged, pulling on shorts and shirts. They were startled to see me.

“Ah. Bon Jour.”

“Bon Jour,” I said, holding out my hand.

The young man, tall, handsome, in his twenties, kissed it. “Parlez vous Francais?”

“No. Je suis Americaine. Parlo un po' di Italiano.”

“Ah,” he said, switching to Italian.

“Mi chiamato Pierre; lei--” he pointed to Stephanie—e’ mi sposa...”

Stephanie was short, slim and beautiful, with cascading, curly dark hair and dancing eyes.

“Bon Jour,” she said to me, draping herself around her husband.

I was about to attempt an explanation of the fact that I had two traveling companions, when Caroline and Julia came back up over the bluff.

“So soon? What happened?”

“Do you want to see something amazing?”


“Bridget Bardot's yacht. Everybody said it was hers. It's right out in the harbor.”

“Not really,” I said. “Did you see Bridget Bardot?”

“I thought I could see a blond on the deck,” Caroline said, going to the back of the bus and pulling out the cooler.

“Well then,” I said. “A Bardot sighting. What next.”

I was feeling my oats.

Then they noticed the couple, standing off to the side.


“'Allo; bon jour,” Pierre said, taking Stefanie's hand. 

“C'est Stefanie, mon amour.”

Caroline burst into beautiful Vassar French. Suddenly she, Pierre and Stefanie were rattling away, sitting in the shade.

I got out the wine and passed out extra plastic cups.

I had been thinking of something rash. Perhaps if I said what was on my mind, my pragmatic friends would stop me.

I took Julia aside.

“What would you think if I asked Pepe to join us here,” I asked.

She looked at me uncertainly. “What, in the bus?”

“No. We would find a site of our own.”

She could see the wistfulness in my eyes.

“Why not. But how can you contact him?”

“I have his address. He gave it to me in Verona.”

“Sure,” Julia said. “Write to him. We'll mail it tomorrow. How are you going to write a letter in Italian.”

“I don't know. I'll figure it out.”

I sat down in the shade, sipping wine. My friends were caught up in conversation with our French neighbors. They had broken out the bread and cheese, and were lifting their cups, now and then bursting into laughter.

I took my journal out of its shelf at the back of the bus.

 Suddenly I was again terrified. What was I about to do?

Someone was playing a tenor aria that began, “Io conosco un giardino....” I know of a garden...the rich voice filled the air. I saw myself under the Juliette Balcony, in his arms.

“Dearest Pepe,” I began. “I have not forgotten a single kiss. We are on Corsica, camping. We will forfeit our destiny if you don't come. Ciao-- Jenni.”

I reread my own words, somewhat astounded at myself.

I paged through my dictionary and attempted a rough translation in Italian, copying it to a separate page of my journal, printing carefully and largely so that no letter of the alphabet could be confused with another.

Later that day we drove to the Fermo Posta in Bastia, where with Caroline's help we explained we needed to send a letter to Reggio Calabria.

The postman took the envelope from my hand, and glued a bright blue stamp in the upper right hand corner. He tossed it into a leather mailbag behind him; it slipped into a sea of letters and cards and disappeared.

We drove back to the campground and made our campfire. We broke out our wine, once more filling our tin cups and toasting to each other by the fire.

“What will you do if he writes,” Julia teased.

“I don't know. Perhaps he won't write at all.”

For all her worldliness, lovely Caroline was a romantic at heart.

“I saw how he looked at you at breakfast. He'll be on the first train; if he has to swim, he'll come.”

I was tense, yet euphoric. I had given myself too much to look forward to, too much to worry about. Then I was struck by a sagging grief out of nowhere.

“What is it.” Julia came and sat next to me.

“I just thought of Stephen. I haven't thought of him in days,” I said.

“Stephen is moving on, like you are,” she said. “He's all right. And if he isn't, he'll have to deal with it.”

I could see Stephen's face; I was suddenly flooded with the memory of being in his arms, of waking together in his warm apartment in Minneapolis, in a blizzard, and making long slow love. The days before I left in which he had come and gone from his wife, in utter turmoil, breaking both our hearts, had faded too quickly.

What had I done? I had answered to the invitation to escape everything between us. Now I was falling for someone I had merely kissed, merely known for two hours, who had shown me I was still alive.

Pavarotti’s voice filled the air with his soaring, rich bel canto. I couldn't make out the words of the aria. 

I wanted to become something and someone else: to be one of the high white birds that soared over the Mediterranean we could see in the dusk that crept in from the sea, blanketing us in a suffusion of dream and memory.

Where would I go? I thought that I would wing my way straight into the sun,  so that I would be blinded, and not realize it in time.

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