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 Eighteen - Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter Eighteen - Of the Vatican, Torino, and Inevitability....

...Ti  voglio bene assai
ma tanto tanto bene sai
e' una catena ormai
che scioglie il sangue dint' e' vene sai...
I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…*
Ti Voglio Tanto Bene – Giuseppe Pietri

In the morning we took the bus into Rome. We walked together among ornate fountains, past small cafes, to the “centro,” the heart of the city.

I thought I should see the Vatican. At the very thought, Pepe groaned.

He launched into a soliloquy about the rudeness of tourists and how the mere idea of touring the Sistine Chapel gave him a headache.

I had wanted to see it all with him, but I left him resting in the grass and joined a line of tourists already in place, early in the morning.

We filed in to a holy quiet; in the first rooms were Etruscan artifacts from the early ruins of Rome-- primitive, eroded figures on display identified by placards written in a delicate script.

I passed from these rooms through arched, narrow hallways into more such museums in miniature. 

Suddenly I was in a great room that opened up and ascended to a stained glass dome.

There were what appeared to be coffins lining in the walls, and these contained saints and popes under glass, preserved against their will for eternity.

I looked into the walnut-shriveled face of Pope Pius X; it didn't give me any clue to his heart or soul. I wandered to the Stefaneschi triptych of Giotto, where in the center panel, Christ sat surrounded by angels.
I looked around, suddenly self-conscious.

Then, I knelt, before the triptych.

I reached for my other language. “Ayudanos, Senor. Somos perdidos de amor y miedo. Non sabemos que hacer... in nomine de Pater, Fili, Spiritu Sanctu...”

A smattering of Spanish, a little Latin from my grandmother's antique missal I had paged through as a little girl: Help us, Lord. We are lost in love and fear. We don't know what to do... in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

I walked into the Sistine Chapel, and paid .25 in lire for a cushion. I lay down, pulling opera glasses Julia had tucked into my duffel bag out of my pocket.

Adam and God reached out to each other, but their fingers didn't quite touch. Exquisitely detailed and plump cherubs seemed to float in mid-air. I tried to comprehend the vast beauty and detail of the ceiling, to memorize it, so that I would never forget it. 

Michelangelo had clung to his vision for life's incarnate beauty, the beauty and vitality of the body. I thought of D.H. Lawrence's delineation of the intense, potent physicality he found in Italian life.

I emerged into redolent late day air and found Pepe asleep in the grass, so alive was he.

I knelt down and kissed him awake. We gathered our things and walked to a cafe.

We pulled our chairs together, sipping white wine, holding hands.

There was a couple near us that was neither touching nor speaking.

“Due morti,” Pepe said, wryly.

I laughed. Two dead ones, he had said.

I leaned forward, kissing his hands. “Che cosa 'or?” What now.

“Andiamo a Torino,” he said resolutely, looking at me with regret. “We have to go to Turin. Ho bisogno lavore, no ho basta soldi....” I have to work, we're running out of money.

I was chagrined. I had been so thoughtless. He had pampered me the entire time, springing for Cinzano on the beach, the boat, humoring me with a breakfast sandwich at the trattorias, paying for medicine at the farmacia.

“Mi dispiaci, Pepe,” I was miserable. I was down to a few lire.

“Non fa niente.” Don't worry.

We strolled through Rome, Pepe showing me as much as he could bear. Like Verona, on a grander scale, there were exquisite sculptures at the center of fountains where a hand gifted beyond comprehension had brought life from marble-- the torsion of lovers, the mysterious expressions of gods and goddesses, crouching lions of stone from whose mouths flumes of water caught the light from the cafes.

We walked through a marble archway to the Coliseum, where there was a door into a wax museum.  There, perfectly replicated, violin to the shoulder, his face expressive, sorrowful, stood Vivaldi.

We walked partway around the immense structure, and I felt the sun-warmed stones of the walls. 

Out of the blue, Pepe issued a proclamation. “Noi siamo un populi philosophi ed scientificazi,” he said.  “Ed humanisti, artisti.”  We are a people of philosophers and scientists, humanists, artists. 

This I understood, with heart and soul, and I held his hand tightly.

I told him more about my childhood and girlhood, about my mother's illness. He listened, kissing away my tears. He asked me if there was any hope of her recovery, or of my father's, from emphysema.

“No hope,” I said.

This was distressing to him.

We stood under a street lamp and he cupped my chin in his hands.

“Jenni. We suffer as one.”

We had been together for a few weeks. His discernment overwhelmed me. Perhaps I was an open book-- perhaps he was far more devoted to me than I could afford to believe.

We walked back to the train station, buying tickets for Turin. We boarded and rode in the dusk, the four hour journey to Torino.

Pepe's room at the University was nearly the size of the broom closet lavatory on the train. His bed was narrow; everything was plain. His pre-med books sat neatly together under a metal lamp. On a small section of linoleum topped counter was a hotplate. My heart sank.

For us, for the sake of our adventure, we should have been in the best hotel, on the central piazza, I thought.

I was materialistic, young. I looked at him as he stood opening his mail. He was generous to a fault. He adored me. I again searched my own heart. How could I have been so oblivious to his feats of self-sacrifice during our time together.

We would make do. I had seen the vestiges of a market directly under the window. In the morning there would be teeming life there once more, the ambiance, color and sound of Italian life that caught me up, filled my senses and countered the sorrows I brought with me to Europe, those soindelibly written into this--our libretto.

We curled up together in his small bed. He reached over and turned on his small vintage radio. He had come into the cafe in Scylla where I had been writing, listening to Mozart, and now somehow, he found classical music on the worn dial.

We, paupers together, caressed one another, drowning our impending grief.

In the morning, after he left for work, I went to the market and bought freshly butchered rabbit. I braised it in flour, adding red wine and garlic, for an impromptu au vin. I set it aside on a plate and then cooked pasta al dente. A lover's feast. I chilled our wine.

At the end of a long day, after I had amused myself by writing postcards, napping, attempting a perfunctory copy edit of my manuscript, I heard him come up the stairs.

He peered into the room as if he were amazed that I was still there.  Then he stepped in, covered in white paint from standing all day on a scaffolding in the sun. He had flecks of paint like snow in his hair.

He could smell the garlic and see that I had set the desk with a small bouquet of iris from the market.

“Bella, bella,” he said, kissing me. “Che cosa delizia mi hai fato?” What delicious thing have you made me?

Rain drops spattered on the window as we ate, and he talked to me about the semester now a month away, when he would take chemistry, and work in a lab.

After dinner, he got up, and knelt down where I sat.

“Ti voglio tanto bene, amore...”

He stopped short of words I knew he longed to say.

By now I was fluent in Italian.

“Remember the canaries in Calabria. Remember my infection?”

We laughed.

“Voi fare amore?” he asked, unbuttoning my shirt, caressing my breasts, playfully pinching my nipples, biting and teasing my lower lip, so that I was helpless by fiat.

Making love was everything's panacea; eyes to eyes, body to body, it didn't matter that it was raining in Turin, or that the furniture was plain, or that tomorrow would break with a relentless light over an ever encroaching reality.

Looking down at my handsome lover whose eyes were half-closed in raputre, I thought that we too should be cast in marble, stopped in time just as we were, placed in a garden of trellised roses so that anyone looking at us would see love and desire incarnate.

After we made love, he lay his head on my breast.
I stroked his hair.

“Una mattina, mi son svegliato, o bella ciao bella ciao ....” I sang to him.

He joined me, so that the song of the Resistance he had written in my journal became a duet.

Night deepened and wrapped us in her ebony wings.

*Ti Voglio Tanto Bene – translation

Here, where the sea shines
and the wind howls,
on the old terrace beside the gulf of Sorrento,
a man embraces a girl
he wept after,
then clears his throat and continues the song:

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know;
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…
He saw the lights out on the sea,
thought of the nights there in America,
but they were only the fishermen’s lamps
and the white wash astern.
He felt the pain in the music
And stood up from the piano,
but when he saw the moon emerging from a cloud
death also seemed sweeter to him.
He looked the girl in the eyes,
those eyes as green as the sea.
Then suddenly a tear fell
and he believed he was drowning.
I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the vein you know…
The power of opera,
where every drama is a hoax;
with a little make-up and with mime
you can become someone else.
But two eyes that look at you,
so close and real,
make you forget the words,
confuse your thoughts,
So everything became small,
also the nights there in America.
You turn and see your life
through the white wash astern.

But, yes, it is life that ends
and he did not think so much about it
on the contrary, he already felt happy
and continued his song:
I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…
 Yes, I've fallen a day or so behind in posting-- but the end is in sight-- this version has twenty-two chapters and an epilogue.  Check Facebook for announcement of Chapter Nineteen tomorrow-- scroll down to find the links for preceding chapters, and you'll find the earliest ones via the archive tab.  xJ

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