Chapter 10, Wherein Fate Whispers Sweet Everything to the Poet
sua voce e il palpito
nostro core. del
E fama e gloria,
e trono potenza
umane, fragili qui cose sono
una pur avvene sola, divina;
e amore che agl'angeli piu ne avvicina!
Love is the sun of the soul, love is life itself,
its voice is the beating of our hearts.
Fame and glory, power and position
are nothing but frail, human things,
one thing alone is divine;
it is love that raises us up beside the angels!
Duke's aria, Rigoletto, Giuseppe Verdi
At the last minute, before we returned to the campground and for good measure, I had re-sent my letter as a telegram to Reggio Calabria.
Then, we spent a day in the sun, lolling on the beach, looking for the whales that did not exist in the Mediterranean, raising the opera glasses to see if we could make out Bardot in her bikini again. Her yacht swayed in stillness out where it had been, with seemingly no one on board.
That night we went into
and walked with everyone else, in the square. Bastia
In the morning we explored
Corsica via the coastal highway. I looked out at striations of blue water, blinding white beaches, clustered salt-eaten villas, making notes in my journal.
Each time I wrote I imagined who might live within those walls. Who slept there, who loved and fought there, what child might be conceived there, even born there with the help of a midwife, in early morning stillness?
We went to an outdoor market where I bought a jar of wild pear marmalade for a friend in
. I wrapped it in paper towels and stowed it in one of our cupboards. St. Paul
On our third morning I resolved that I would walk back up the road to a cafe I had seen on the way to the campground. Today, Caroline and Julia again wanted to spend the whole day in the sun.
I determined that I would take my journal and the manuscript for my chapbook with a few francs for coffee. I would sit under an umbrella, forcing myself to pay attention to the moment, writing my impressions of the bougainvillea, the alcoves in which pensive rococo marble angels stood as if they guarded humanity's secrets.
Over the trellised walls of the terrace I could hear the banter of men playing volleyball on the beach. Corsican men seemed abrupt, rough, like the gardener in Lady Chatterley's Lover. They came on to you without preliminaries. We had tried one night of dancing and had to flee for our lives to the safety of our campsite, eluding three who chased us in their Peugeots, the odd little cars that whirled around on the mountain roads.
The group of men had followed us and stood in the clearing. I slipped out of the bus and under cover of the shadows, woke
I set out, up the road. Small cars and listing trucks roared past, men whistling and waving. I ignored them. I walked quickly, the salty breeze stinging my face.
I found an empty small table under an umbrella on the cafe terrace and sat down. A waiter came.
“Cafe, si vous plait.”
“Oui.” He disappeared and came back out with a white bisque pot and one matching cup and saucer.
I opened my journal.
“Today is our third day on
Corsica. I sent a letter to Pepe. I must not count on this not at all. I shouldn't have done it. I must think about my book, my work. “
I looked at my list of “thou shalts” and “shoulds” and tore out the page and crumpled it, setting it on the tray.
I poured thick cream and raw sugar into the coffee. It was strong and good. I had not written in days, and I thought I should at least attempt a poem.
I searched for a way in. In my mind, I saw the Juliet balcony yet again, draped in wings of nightfall in
. I saw myself stepping into Pepe's arms, lifting my face to be kissed. Verona
“God,” I wrote, “I am lost. I am obsessed.”
Someone was watching me -- I turned my head to see, within the recesses of the cafe a bartender, young, handsome, smiling at me.
I turned away. He came and sat down and began to rattle away in French.
“No parlez Francais. Je suis Americaine.”
He made a lewd gesture. I shook my head. He persisted, moving his chair closer.
“Garcon, si vous plait, ” I called. The waiter reappeared. “Si vous plait, attendez vous....” I pointed to my uninvited guest.
The waiter frowned, and motioned to the young man to leave.
I gave up on any further attempt to write. I headed back to the campground; around the bend came Caroline and Julia, in their bikinis.
They were followed by a slow line of traffic.
They were tipsy, and laughing. When they saw me they swiveled around; each had picked a wild lily and stuck it in the back of their bikini bottoms. As they sauntered along, the lilies waved back and forth like semaphores and calls to the wild.
“Are you nuts?” I was covered up, in a lightweight shirt and jeans.
I confiscated the lilies and tossed them to the roadside, convincing them to go back to the campground.
They changed and we got in the bus and drove down to the post office.
Caroline went up to the window.
In French she asked if there was mail for me.
“The mail hasn't come yet,” the diminutive, reserved postman replied.
We drove out of the city and took another route to explore the island, on a narrow road that wound along the sea cliffs, looking down at the turquoise and indigo
Mediterranean. There was a pale yacht out in the harbor.
“That's it,” Julia exclaimed. “That's Bardot's yacht.”
We parked in a church lot and hiked up a trail. An old woman in a black dress passed us, leading a reluctant nanny goat by a rope, with a bell around its collar. She didn't look at us. I thought about the vengeful ghost in Lammermoor who appears to Lucia. Perhaps this was my mother, or the ghost she would one day become, warning me not to bring ruin on our family name any longer.
I stood against the bursting purple flowers at the church dooryard while Julia photographed me.
On our way down we pulled in at a vegetable stand and to Caroline's joy, found fresh long-leafed lettuce. She had been craving a salad for days.
We headed back down to the Fermo Posta.
“We'll meet you at the cafe in the square,” Julia said. “Half an hour.”
I went in and wrote my name on a small piece of paper, hopeful that the afternoon postman would understand my Italian.
“C'è una lettera per me?”
My heart flew into my mouth.
The postman handed me a thin blue envelope.
I walked over to a bench and sat down and carefully opened it. In elegant and light lavender script I could make out a few words-- a reference to the pop song du jour, il mio piccolo grande amore....
What was I going to do? I could scarcely decipher the writing, let alone most of the Italian.
I went back out into the street, looking frantically for a shop or a café where someone might help me.
I was running out of time to reunite with Caroline and Julia. In desperation, I went into a butcher shop.
I looked around; I heard someone in the back singing. “O Sole Mio, sole mio....” Surely this person then, knew Italian, and perhaps he knew English.
I walked back over a creaking wooden floor to a butcher block where a burly, tall man with long sideburns was lifting a meat cleaver high up in the air.
I stepped back, clutching my letter behind my back. While I watched he brought the cleaver down, splitting what appeared to be the carcass of a calf or a pig, blood and gristle spattering everywhere.
He stopped and looked at me.
I showed him the letter. “Non posso leggere...I can't read this. I switched to French in case. Je Suis Americaine.”..
“I speak Anglish. I study in
I spoke carefully, slowly.
“I have a letter...it's in Italian.”.
He went over to the sink and rinsed his hands, wiping them on a rag. He came back, and I handed him the letter. We stood at the back of the store while he read it.
He frowned over it, looking at me out of the corner of his eye, as if it were bad news.
Then, he called out into the darkness of the shop:
“Giovanni! Marco! Una lettera c'e.”
Two more strapping, swarthy butchers with blood on their aprons appeared.
He began to read it aloud, phrases of Italian then broken English.
“Tu sei il mio piccolo grande amore....”
“You are my little big love...”
“Tu sei l'osso
mio cuore...” del
“You are the bone of my heart....”
This attempt at poetry brought a storm of laughter from the three butchers.
They took my letter and peered over each other's shoulders to read it.
They waltzed around the store, reading it aloud, singing parts of it.
Customers in the store looked up, and began to laugh.
I tried to snatch it away from them. They raised it high in the air.
“La la la la la...” They danced, pretended to waltz; one got down on one knee and raised his hands imploringly to the other.
“Non posso vivere un altro giorno senza di te ..”.. I can't live another day without you......
“Please,” I said. “Give me my letter. Does it say that he's coming?”
“Ah,” the butchers said, calming down, having had their way with me.
“No. It says you come to
“Here, look. It says, ‘I have to work, I don't have any money, please come by train. I'll be waiting for you.’”
I took my letter and dashed out of the shop. I passed a vintner's, and on impulse, my heart pounding, went in and bought a half-pint of Pernod, the French liqueur that became a green, licorice-flavored mist when poured over ice.
I was late; Caroline and Julia were impatiently pacing up and down in front of the cafe. We all sat down and ordered wine.
“There was a letter... I.... I had it translated.... Give me some wine. I bought some Pernod. ”
They poured me a glass.
“Look. It says, here it says he can't live without me. He calls me his little big love....”
“It says, Come to
Caroline and Julia looked at each other.
“Really? He's invited you all the way down there?”
“Yes,” I said. “I know it's impossible. “But....”
I looked at their faces.
“Maybe not,” Caroline said.
I saw Julia nudge her hand...
Caroline looked at me, a long, thoughtful gaze.
“I'll buy you a ticket and get you some clothes. One of us has to have a romance out of this trip. You're going.”
I was stunned. I tossed back more wine.
“You don't have to...”
“I know I don't have to. Consider: this could never happen to you, or to anyone, for that matter, again. You, my dear, are going to go to
We set out to the shops. In front of one, in the late day light, we found a display of bikinis on sale.
“Here is one that is the color of the
Mediterranean,” Caroline said. “This one has your name on it.”
Stay tuned for Chapter Eleven of my scintillating memoir, Nightfall in Verona-- it will go up tomorrow! Use the sidebar links to find previous chapters and thanks for reading! xxxJenne'