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 Thirteen - Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter 13 Language Lesson

On Hearing the Lyrical Tenor

Let me lie with you like a castaway
in a redolent room
show me how to receive you

Within the very bread of my body,
risen and glistening
no more the woman of brass leaching
tears of pewter
two different metals fusing together
withstanding cold,
enduring loneliness:

Thaw me,
re-open me with knives of starlight
slice into me like a diver
halve me.

Decipher, rising moon,
when the new life
Of  paired foxes
slips wetly into the grass.
J.A. 2010

Udere il tenore lirico

Lasciatemi giacciono
acconto a te
come un marinaio perduto
in una camera profumata:
Mostrami come ricevervi

Con il pane molto del mio corpo,
risorto e scintillante
non piĆ¹ la donna di ottone
lacrime di peltro
fusione di due diversi metalli insieme
sopportare freddo,
durevole la solitudine:

Scongelare me,
mi apertare con coltelli di le stelle
fetta en me come un sommozzatore--
dimezzare me.

Di mi, luna crescente, quando la nuova vita
delle volpi erogene
scivola umide nell'erba.

-trans. jra

Morning broke over Reggio Calabria with a suffusion of sunlight and in a bursting bel canto of canaries on the balconies of the palazzi around us.

I woke, my head pounding.

Pepe leaned on his elbow, looking at me. His nearness, that he was so handsome, covered in dark hair, smelling of musk and sweat, that his eyes were dancing, overwhelmed me.

I blushed. Our night together came back to me in bits and pieces; overwhelmed, anxiety roiling in my stomach, I felt tears well in my eyes, and I turned away. 

He gently turned my face back to his.

“Che cosa, bella-- what is it.”

With my minimal grasp of Italian I said, “Non so. I don't know.”

Then I smiled bravely at him:  “Che notte fenomenale.....” What a phenomenal night…

His face broke into that wonderful smile.

“Si. Tu sei fenomenale.”… You are phenomenal.

I could see the gleam in his eye as he reached for me again.

“No. “

“Mai piu?” He pretended to cry. Never again?

I laughed. “Piu... en la sera, later.”

He got up out of bed and took my hand and we went down to the enormous, ornate bathroom. He sat down on the bidet and turned on the water, laughing up at me, soaping himself up vigorously.

“Voi fare bidet, amore?”

I desperately wished that my onset of shyness would abate.

I threw a towel over his head and sat on the bidet, splashed off, got up and dried off and put on my bathing suit and shorts.

He pressed me against the wall, kissing me again.

If this kept up it would take hours to get out of the door, into the street.
We dressed, and walked to the Lido where the sun had already warmed the white sand.

We walked over to a trattoria, ordering Cinzano on ice, and a “toaste”-- a panini.

Our arms around each other, we made our way to a dock, where Pepe gave a man several lire; a small blue rowboat was untied and presented to us. We stepped into the surf and got in.

Pepe rowed us out to sea, smiling at me.  The shimmering, lavender waters of the Costa Viola—the violet coast, reached off to the horizon.

The vermouth had blunted the edges of my anxiety. We slipped over the side. We slid out of our bathing suits and threw them into the boat.

I had never before swum in the ocean. I bobbed around in the warm salt water, surface-diving to pick up a few pale pink fluted shells.

The sun burned down on us; we splashed and clung together.

“Ti voglio tanto bene,” he said to me again and again-- This sounded to me like I want you so well. Perhaps it was more intimate a phrase.

Everything was dream-like; the glittering, warm sea, that we were there together. I wondered if I had lost my mind, to have taken such a risk, so far from home.

He seemed to be able to read my eyes.

“Sono al sicuro con me,” he said. You are safe with me.

I hoped and prayed that this was true. I felt the sun burn my skin and put my shirt around my shoulders. Pepe began to sing to me, as we held each other, treading water, each of us with one hand on the boat. “Una matina, mi son svegliato...o bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao,” the song of the Calabrian Resistance.

“Voi ancor aperitivo?” he asked.

I unraveled what he had said-- I needed to remember that “voi” meant “Would you like...” I assented.

We rowed back to shore, where throngs of Calabresi were already at play. Bright umbrellas had popped up everywhere. Other little trattorias had been set up with umbrella-shaded tables near them.

After our swim, more Cinzano poured over ice was delicious.

We sat facing each other. He looked at me ardently, his teeth flashing beneath his mustache, kissing my fingertips. My heart galloped in my chest.

“Vino, prego...” I said.

“Certo.” He stood up and beckoned to one of the waiters carrying trays over the sand.

Coming up the beach toward us, wearing sunglasses and a tropical shirt and khaki shorts, was Francesco.

“Buongiorno, Jenni.”

“Buongiorno, Franco.”

He sat down, ordering himself vermouth over ice, apparently the preferred drink at all hours even in southern Italy, coming in first over orange juice.

Everyone now sat boiling in the sun and heat, drinking, toasting.

All around us there was the sound of laughter. Beautiful Italian women languished in chaise lounges, each one a Botticellian Venus spilling over and around her bikini, calling out to a child building a sand castle, or taking turns holding an infant stripped down to the diaper.

Out on the Lido, the edge of the sparkling white sand, even the men and women whose bodies were walking evidence of a lifetime of rich eating thought nothing, it seemed, of wandering around in the skimpiest of bathing suits. Next to us, a woman pulled down the top of her bathing suit and began to nurse her tiny infant.

Franco pulled a pad of paper and a pen out of the pocket of his unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt.

“Jenni. Lesson in Italiano.”

He wrote down several phrases. With a twinkle in his eye, he wrote: “Lasce mi dormire...” - “Let me sleep.”

They watched me, chuckling.

“Parla, amore,” Pepe said.

I had to say it.

“Lasce mi dormire...” I tried it. They laughed. Franco spoke it again; I said it back and this time they clapped. 

I thought I would surprise them. Thanks to the vino bianco, I had relaxed.

“Lasce mi in pace...” Pace/peace was a word so often heard in opera it had hidden itself away in my memory.

“Brava!” Pepe applauded.

In front of Francesco, he took my hands. “Nessun' dorma..non mai lascero il mio amore in pace, aunche dormire...”

No one sleeps, from Tosca. I will never leave my love in peace, even to sleep.

I was increasingly relaxed. I raised my glass to him, to us; he moved next to me and wrapped me in his arms, planting another mustached kiss on my cheek.

“Mama wants you to go the market and then come to the house,” I thought that Franco said to Pepe, handing him a list scribbled on a piece of paper. 

“Andiamo, Jenni, he said. “Porta la bolsa...” He thought I would forget the small bag I had brought containing my passport, a lipstick, emergency numbers.

Our bathing suits dry, we dressed. I slid a shirt over my now red shoulders and pulled on my shorts.

We had been charged with stopping at the vintners to pick up the great globes of wine, and then the long loaves of bread.

We walked downhill to the market. Every few feet, Pepe kissed me. If passersby saw this, they would simply stop and watch, as if they were at the movies. They would smile and nod and walk on.

We entered a teeming market with the music of voices calling out specials on vegetables, fish brought up from the sea that very morning.

Under one awning an old woman skillfully skinned a freshly butchered rabbit that hung with its head down. Next to her, another woman with a kerchiefed head plucked quail, tossing the tiny feathers into a barrel, throwing the small carcasses into a bed of ice.

Calabrian housewives pressed up against the stands, arguing in the rich music of Italian, haggling.

“That's too much for a hare,” I deciphered.

“Why do you want so much for charred bread?”

Suddenly, I felt the skin around my mouth tingling, itching.

At the same time, I felt a burning begin in my bladder. The pain was sudden, sharp, intensifying by the second.


“Di mi tutto.” Tell me everything.

“I need to stop, I …. medico,” I said firmly.

He looked astonished. “Que c'e, bella?”

There was no way I could explain myself except to indicate that I was in mortal pain. Thankfully, there were Fiat taxis parked near the market. I had a few lire in my pocket, and my Berlitz in my “bolsa.”

We roared up to the farmacia, where, Pepe had said, there would be “un medico assistente.”

We went in, and I sat in the exam room.

Soon a young man came in wearing a white coat.

He and Pepe spoke briefly, shaking hands.  Clearly, the man was his lover’s advocate in this situation.

I opened the Berlitz, looking at the list of phrases.

The medico introduced himself: Dr. Paolo. We shook hands.

“Que 'cede, Signorina,” he asked. What has happened.

I took the plunge.

Ho …. I have.... una gonfia enflammada.....”

The medico's eyebrows shot up.

Pepe doubled over in the corner, nearly weeping with laughter.

“Jenni..” he gasped. He cracked up again.

I looked back at the translation in the Berlitz.

To my chagrin I had just told them both that I had a swollen sheep's stomach.

Resolutely, I looked up the infinitive for “To urinate.” I brightened.

“Non posso orinar.”

“Ah,” the medico said. “Va bene. Mi dispiace.” My condolences.

He turned to a cupboard bursting with dusty vials. I tried not to wonder about their expiration dates.

He fumbled through, producing an ancient bottle of tablets.

“Antibioticos...per le gonfia.” They both laughed again.

We were nearly through. But I knew what the itching around my mouth meant.

Every summer in the hot sun, I would break out in fever blisters. Surely there was a way to keep this from happening to me now.

When I pointed them out, il medico seemed to understand. He sat down and pulled a wobbly exam light over, shining it on my face. I closed my eyes.

He had been able to see the blisters, and I felt tiny pricks from a hot needle. He tamped them with cotton, and then poured rubbing alcohol on another piece of cotton. He dabbed each one so that it would dry.

This approach was basic, primitive and direct, and I nearly shot off the exam table in pain.

He gave me a small bottle of the rubbing alcohol and a small container of antibiotic powder. I dabbed the powder on my chin to hide the redness.

I looked at Pepe. He ruefully rubbed the stubble below his mouth.

Time had flown; it was already afternoon.  We walked back out into the day. From the steps up into the farmacia there was a breathtaking view. I drank in the beauty of the glittering sea, the white arc of beach where a sea of umbrellas threw off primary color and the people of Calabria soaked up life.

Pepe held me tightly against him. “Ti piace, bella?” He kissed my neck.
Does this please you?

“Si. Che bella c'e Calabria.”

We walked back down the hill toward the market. He pointed out the small cathedral where he had been baptized. His words fell in their own dialect through my consciousness, like the speech one hears in dreams. I gravitated to that voice and then away. Anxiety washed through me again and again: an impulse to run, low to the ground, like a fox.

But I was quickly learning that I had a lover who even at this early stage, was far more attuned to me than I had given him credit for. He had the perfect antidote to the shadows that despite effort to conceal them, would cross my face. He cupped my face in his hands, looked into my eyes, smile reassuringly and give me a long and gentle kiss.

These were not the kisses of passion, but of tenderness. I had needed a dose of tenderness for a very long time. 

There were sailboats out in the iridescent twilight blue of the sea. They drifted toward each other and then away. They were themselves, of the moment, as we were: flesh and longing and need, living, alive, falling in love with a vengeance.

I took in all of it to make it mine, so that I could relive it at will.

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