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 Twelve - Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter 12 Wherein Aphrodite Claims the Poet.

Cielo e mar

Cielo e mar! L’etereo velo

Splende come un santo altar.

L’angiol mio verra’ dal cielo?

L’angiol mio verra’ dal mare?

Qui l’attendo; ardent spira

Oggie il vento dell ‘amor.

Ah! Quell ‘uom che vi sospira

Vi conquide, o sogni d’or!

Per l’aura fonda

Non appar ne’ suol ne monte.

L ‘orizzonte bacia l’onda!

L’onda bacia l’orrizonte

Qui nell ‘ombra, ov’io mi giacio

Coll’ annelito del cor

Vieni, o donna, vieni al bacio

Della vita e dell’amor…

--La Gioconda, Ponchielli

Sky and sea! The ethereal veil

Sparkles like a sacred altar.

Will my angel arrive from the sky?

Will she arrive from the sea?

Here I wait for her; the wind of love

Blows ardently today.

Ah! That man that sighs for you

Conquers you, golden dream.

Through the deep air

Neither shore nor mountain appears

The horizon kisses the wave

The wave kisses the horizon.

Here I lie in the darkness,

Waiting with a racing heart

Come, oh woman,

Come to the kiss of life

And love.

Pepe and Franco helped me up the steep hill in downtown Reggio, to a battered Fiat parked at the curb. We got in, stowing my duffel bag in the back.

Pepe tore away from the curb, down-shifting, sprinting up the hill; I thought the wheels would leave the pavement. I could see him glance at me in the rear view mirror, grinning. I smiled. My heart still pounded. I combed my hair with my fingers and gathered it into a pony tail. I rubbed a little lipstick on my mouth, and on my cheeks.

Within a few minutes we had reached a villa set back from the street, three stories high, its salt-bleached stucco wearing away.

We went in, climbing three flights of stairs. Pepe squeezed my hand reassuringly.

“No hai paura, Jenni.”

I looked at Franco.

“He say don't worry-- don't be afraid.”

Franco knocked on the door. It swung open.

There stood twenty five percent of the population of Reggio-- thirty-five people of all ages and descriptions, all shouting in unison:

“Ciao, Jenni! Ciao!”

Franco laughed. “Family,” he said, opening his arms in an all-inclusive gesture.

Pepe took my hand and led me to an elderly woman in a black dress, with neatly coiffed grey hair, sitting in a chair to one side. There was no mistaking her identity.

“Piacere,” Mama said, extending her hand. “My pleasure.”

Was I to kiss it, or take it? I took it in mine.

“Piacere, Signora,” I said.

They all looked impressed.

Suddenly a rough-shod, stooped and balding man with an enormous mustache and bristling eyebrows stepped out of the group.

“Buongiorno, Regazza!” he shouted.

Everyone laughed. “Papa. Basta,” they said. His voice was deep, rasping.

Franco whispered to me: “Papa ha un voce grosso di...” 

He stopped himself. “Papa has a bad voice from an accident... regazza: beautiful woman...”

A stunning young woman with full dark hair in disarray, enormously pregnant, stepped forward.

She scrutinized me, her eyes twinkling.

“Buongiorno, Jenni, buongiorno. Capish? Mi Capiciste?”

I thought I did understand her for the moment.

“Ciao,” I said.

“Mi 'chiamato Anna. Anna,” she said slowly, patting her belly. “Anna enorme'.”

Anna's legs were startling, covered in thick varicose veins from the weight of her pregnancy.

The family, laughing, everyone talking at once, surrounded me.

“Entra,” Jenni.” “Entra. Sedi.“ – Sit down.

They ushered me in to a dining room, where there was a long table. At the end of the table was one place set with ornate silverware and a silver goblet, a snowy linen napkin.

I sank into the chair. By my count there were still thirty-five of us.

Franco sat down next to me and Pepe sat on the other, his arm still around me. He leaned his head against mine in exhausted relief, as if he had just rescued me from the Titanic.

“Voi aperitivo?” he asked.

I looked at Franco. “Is it all right? Is everyone else having a drink?”

He shook his head.

Overwhelmed, I nodded. Immediately Carmelo, Anna's husband, came from the kitchen with a crystal goblet.

Pepe lifted the glass to my lips.

“Latte di mandorla. Per ti.”

“Almond milk,” Franco whispered. “Very special.”

I took a taste. The flavor of almonds and alcohol assailed my taste buds and the first swallow traveled immediately down my arms and legs; it was surely at least 80 proof.

I took another drink. Then I took a chance.

I raised the glass. “Libiamo, libiamo calici,” I said-- let's drink together, from Traviata, a line that lingered from my old life to which I would surely never return.

At this everyone burst out laughing, pulled out chairs and sat down. Someone brought out an enormous blown glass globe of white wine and distributed glasses.

“Brava. Cin-cin.”

Before the eyes of all present, Pepe began to plant soft kisses on my neck. These too traveled down my spine, my legs, weakening my knees.

Mama herself came to the opposite end of the table.

She was brought a special goblet filled to the brim. Everyone lifted their glasses, waiting for her.

She lifted hers, breaking into a smile. “Cin-cin, Jenni. Nostra regazza Americana-- our American girl.”

Utter merriment ensued. Children burst out of a room off the dining room; a toddling baby girl was swept into Anna's arms.

She brought her to me. “Santina. She said. “Mi figlia.”

“Brava,” I said, past caring whether I could carry on in Italian. I looked at Franco; he was hanging in, sipping wine in reserved amusement.

Suddenly, Carmelo stood up. “Mangiare,” he proclaimed. He disappeared into the kitchen.

He returned with a steaming plate and set it down in front of me and stood back and watched my face.

I looked down to see at least twenty shrimp floating in melted butter. I looked around: there was no other place set; no one else was eating.

I hesitated. “Tell them they can eat,” I said.

Franco shook his head: “In Italia non e’ cosi. Not in Italy. The guest eats first.”

Pepe picked up the fork and the napkin. He speared an enormous shrimp dripping with butter and stuffed it into my mouth, so that butter dripped down my chin.

Everyone laughed and raised their glasses. Papa stole up behind me, leaning down and shouting in my ear,
“Mangia, tutto!”

I nearly fell out of my chair.

Now the women went into the kitchen and brought out platters of food. Everyone had shrimp. An enormous bowl of pasta tossed with pungent, aged parmesan and freshly crushed garlic was set in the middle of the table. The wine was passed around the table again and someone brought out another globe, setting it on the sideboard.

“Va Bene . Brava. Mangia tutto..”

I was sitting in the midst of a Brueghel painting, with someone I didn't want to be separated from for a minute. He gently held my hand. My pulse raced.

Mama leaned forward, her eyes on us.

“Cuando le sposare mi figlio.....”

The word 'sposare' caught my attention. It reminded me of “esposa” in Spanish-- wife.

Everyone stopped eating, their forks half-raised to their mouths; I nudged Franco.

“Mama. Lascele mangiare...e dormire”. Va Hotel di Lido,” he said—let her eat and get some sleep-- distracting her and deftly explaining away the issue of where I might be staying for the night. Officially I was booked into a hotel on the waterfront. Pepe and Franco were to stay at Franco's father's palazzo.

At last, we all rose from the table. All eyes were on me.

I toasted the family one last time. “Grazie per tutto,” I said, patting my stomach. Delicious....

They laughed again and toasted me and each other. It seemed that the party would go on and on, although Anna had broken away to put Santina to bed.

Finalmente. At last.

Suddenly, Pepe, Franco and I were standing outside in the pure, salty air. From the steps I could see the twilit sea.

They retrieved my duffel bag from the Fiat. Franco would drop it off at the palazzo while Pepe and I strolled on the Lido. Franco would go to a friend's for the night.

Pepe led me down stone steps cut into the hill to a path that paralleled the waterfront. His arm around my waist, we walked together, passing other couples, some stepping aside for long kisses.

We were enveloped in exquisite nightfall on the Lido. Lances of starlight pierced the incoming tide and the air was salty and sweet. Phosphor outlined the cresting water as it covered the beach and drew back again and again. Great roses lolled on their stems along the path like mouths aching to be kissed. 

We sat at a cafe and had a splash of Cinzano over ice, toasting each other, the tangy vermouth stinging my tongue.

We walked on. Then, around a bend in the path there was another set of stone steps that we took, climbing up, into a courtyard, to a small villa connected to similar villas, not twenty yards from the sea.

Pepe took the key out of his pocket. He unlocked the door; we walked down a terrazo hallway.

We were there, together, in a moonlit room, alone-- at last.

I had thought that we would collapse on a couch in the living room in a long-awaited clinch that would be so frenzied it would be over as soon as it began.

But here we were, in nearly holy stillness except for the sound of the tide below us.

Someone had put pale pink long-stemmed roses in a vase on the dresser. Their perfume filled the air.

I excused myself and put on the shimmering peach peignoir my friends had insisted we buy in a boutique in Livorno.

I came back into the room. My heart pounded. The bed stretched between us with the imperatives of an unwritten letter.

Pepe stood back in the shadows; I could not see his face. Then he came toward me.

His eyes were pensive, dark and glistening. He had taken off his shirt.

"Jenni," he said, softly.

He quietly and carefully untied the strings of the peignoir.

He took off my gown, and lay it across the foot of the bed. He knelt in front of me, slowly moving his hands over my body.

He traced the line from my navel to the curly, silky hair between my legs.

He wound a finger in a curl and tugged gently, smiling up at me.

His soft kisses traveled back up my trembling stomach, to my breasts.

He led me to the bed; I helped him undress.

We lay down, breathless, our eyes locked on each other.

He balanced himself over me, teasing me, his eyes dancing.

I could bear no more; I reached for him.

"Jenni. Amore," he whispered again.

The tide had come in. I could hear it mouthing at the docks. The sea withdrew and returned again and again, overwhelming the glittering rim of the beach.

Two ascending voices, soprano and tenor, floated out from the open casements of Reggio Calabria, over depthless water.

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