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 Twenty-One Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. andrews

Chapter Twenty-One Baci e’ Addio...

O Soave Fanciulla
O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso
di mite circonfuso alba lunar
in te, vivo ravviso il sogno
ch'io vorrei sempre sognar! 
Oh! come dolci scendono
le sue lusinghe al core...
tu sol comandi, amore!..
Oh lovely girl, oh sweet face
bathed in the soft moonlight.
I see you in a dream
I'd dream forever...
Already I taste in spirit
the heights of tenderness!...
Love, you alone rule!
Act I La Boheme Giacomo Puccini

“Only in Italy can love’s colpo di fulmine (lightning bolt) set off spasimi (spasms) of infatuation of such Richter-scale force that they transform love-struck suitors into spasimanti, corteggiatori, innamorati, pretendenti, or, if almost fatally stricken, cascamorti.
In English a heart breaks just like a dish, but a lovesick Italian soul claims a word of its own—spezzare—when it shatters into bits.” from the blog of Diane Hales, author of La Bella Lingua.

We sat high in the Arena di Verona, in the “Gods,” the seats nearest heaven, at nightfall. Caroline had gone back to the states early to start a new job and Julia had decided to come for us in Turin; we all returned to Verona for a few days. Pepe would take the train back to Calabria in the morning. Julia and I would take some time in France before I had to catch the plane.

We had camped for a few days on the outskirts of the city, sitting in small canvas chairs, toasting each other, telling stories under a high and gladdened moon. I translated, while Pepe smoked a cigarette and told me brief vignettes of life in Reggio that I did my best to convey to Julia.

Now that our separation was imminent, when we were alone, we were tense. On occasion, when he wanted to make love far into the night, I would push him away.
“Lasce mi en pace,” I would say. “Leave me in peace.”

Once he had drawn back and uttered the resounding indictment: “Tu sei una donna di poco fede.” You are a woman of little faith.

This cut me to the quick. Had I not thrown my lot in with him-- was I not facing the dark inevitability of good-bye as well?

Yet, somehow, each time we made a small wound of misunderstanding or impatience upon each other, our rancor would melt away and we would become closer, unable to fathom life without each other.

On our second morning at the campground he went into Verona and came back with a box of Perugia Chocolates-- “Baci”-- kisses.  The box had a royal blue background covered in stars. A couple in Victorian dress waltzed on the upper quadrant, dancing against eternity. “Baci” was written in Italic across the top.

We sat in the shade and he unwrapped them, handing me the tinsel.

Inside there was a small cri de coeur, a half-sorrowful little valentine in gilt script: “My heart will break without you,” “You are mine forever.”

I took a piece out of the box, peeling back the foil, reading it to him. “Ti voglio tanto bene” it said.

Of course. By means of this phrase we had fully pledged ourselves; I placed the chocolate in his mouth.
As Julia had gone into Verona to buy groceries, we walked along the river.

“O Soave Fanciulla...” someone was playing the tenor aria from the first act of Boheme, there in the campground.

We stood under the trees, watching the river.

I put the Baci box in the bus, among the things I would pack at the last minute.

When I came out, Pepe had gone alone down to the river bank. He smoked a cigarette, his back to me.

Perhaps he needed a few minutes alone.

I went back into the bus and lay down with my face in my sleeping bag. I let my tears come. How, in loving someone, could you break a heart. I was a poet, about to return to her own country and a life that now seemed ordinary and unendurably lonely and empty. Fate had shown its other face: I had answered to it, only to have to tear myself away.

I took out my journal. “I am damned. I have gone down into the Inferno and I will not be allowed to come back,” I wrote.

I poured a glass of wine, and kept writing. Julia would be back soon, and we were to head into Verona.

Suddenly, in my mind, the Calabrian pesce spada, the swordfish, leapt from the sea and was held against the sky. The glittering water of the Costa Viola was illuminated. I saw myself there, swimming, treading water.

In the same journal where Pepe had written the Song of the Resistance, where I had pressed a rose from one of the bushes growing out of the cliffs at Scylla, an epiphany cascaded over my mind and heart.

“You don't believe you are loved. Something happened, sometime, so that inside yourself, you run: you cannot surrender.”

I did not want to see this about myself; the truth of it hit me in the solar plexus. My tears fell over the page. I wondered what Pepe was doing, and if he were weeping. But in that moment I needed myself; I needed to understand: perhaps it would help us, or somehow soften my leave-taking.

I quickly wrote a reassurance to myself: “You are brave. You are strong. Brava to you for assenting to this adventure. He will be all right, as will you.”

Pepe stepped into the bus and came to me. His eyes were weary and sad, but he smiled at me.

“Scrivi, amore?” Are you writing?”

I picked up my glass of vino bianco.

“Cin cin,” I said, taking him into my arms.

With his thumb he rubbed away the stains of the tears at the corners of my eyes, then holding my hand against his cheek.

At that moment Julia stepped into the bus.

“Are you two up to no good again? Let's go. We might get tickets.”

This was good, I believed. We would lose ourselves in the opera; it would help us. We could pretend we were weeping over the unfortunates whose fate as set forth in Puccini's music was renowned all over the world.

I had longed to see Pavarotti in Boheme. I thought that so many tourists swarmed Verona to see the opera that it would be impossible.

But as we dressed, and set out for the Arena di Verona a half mile away to stand in line, Pepe disclosed that he had come by three tickets high up in the stands.

So it was that on our last night together, we sat rapt together as dusk fell over the Arena. Candle vendors came by: “Ecco i candelini,” they called. We bought little candles stuck in thin paper to light at nightfall, as was the custom.

We bought another pair of cheap opera glasses.

Then it was the cushion vendor's turn.

“Ecco i cushioni,” – here are the cushions-- a thin voice called. The vast audience from all over the world reached for the paper-stuffed cushions that would make sitting on the steep marble steps of the Arena more tolerable.

A ripple of excitement passed through the crowd.

“Look,” Julia said, handing me the opera glasses. “The King and Queen of England.”

It was true; Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth processed toward box seats near the stage.

Another ripple and then an uproar: Italy's prima ballerina, Carla Fracci, had come in, turning to wave in a long strapless white gown. She was to dance in Prokofiev's Cenenterola – Cindarella-- in two weeks.

The maestro appeared in the orchestra pit and bowed to the crowd; it was nearly dark. Suddenly the Arena was ablaze with thousands of hand-held stars.

Boheme opens with a rolling, joyous dah-dah-dah-dum..., the curtain rising on the first act almost immediately. Two writers banter as they wonder how they will pay for the garret they rent in Paris.

There, in boots, leather pants and a doublet, a snowy long sleeved period shirt, stood Pavarotti as Rodolfo, the poet. With his first lines, electricity traveled down my spine; his voice floated out over all of us, up into the night air.

I could feel Pepe's eyes on me; the light in them had returned. We squeezed each other's hands.

In the middle of the first act, Rudolfo is left alone when there is a knock at the door. When he opens it, there stands Mimi, a neighbor, looking for a match. Rudolfo has just tossed his manuscript in the fire out of frustration at his poverty....They sing to each other in a cresting profession of love that would go downhill in the second and final acts.

At the end of the first act, the two sing a duet, going off stage for an infamous finale in which both voices, singing the word “amore,” again and again, soar up into the stratosphere.

There was no escaping the relevance of Boheme to our circumstances, or any opera, for that matter, and the great tenor's voice pierced the last of the defenses I had raised around my heart. I took one look at Pepe and tears began to roll down my cheeks. He kissed them away.

As their voices died away and the lovers wandered off stage, Pepe brushed tears from his own eyes. Julia glanced at us.

We huddled under our blanket, weeping, kissing desperately. There was no mistaking the imperatives between us.

I whispered to Julia that we would meet her at the bus. She nodded, riveted on the opera.

We slipped out, climbing down the stairs, out into the night air of Verona.

We found our way to the cafe where we had exchanged our first words. He took my hand.

“We love each other like an opera without an end, he said, in cascading Italian. “The curtain does not have to fall.”

He looked at me earnestly, his deep brown eyes steady, his mouth in a resolved, half-smile.

In my newly minted Italian I said to him, “Your life is here in Italy. Your family is here. My parents are sick, far away.”

He shook his head, not buying it.

“Tu hai paura di nostra amore,” he said, simply, laying the flush of hearts on the table.

“You are afraid of our love.”

In the great operas someone dies, leaving someone else alone.

This was worse than dying.

I took his hand.

“Tu sai che lascero il mio cuore con tu...non posso vivere un giorno senza ricordare...ritornero il proximo...” my voice trailed away. “You know that I leave my heart with you, that I won't live one day without remembering this. I will come back.”

He wiped away my tears with his napkin.

The moon soared high above Verona as we walked through the narrow streets. We walked on to the Fiume Po, and spread our blanket on the grass.

We undressed and on our knees, held each other in the moonlight. We fell back into the redolent grass, two statues in torsion come to life, memorizing each other. Locked together, transfusing each other, speaking to each other with our bodies, we rolled into the shallows of the river.

We got up and dried off with our blanket, dressing quickly.

We climbed up the bank and wound our way down the cobbled streets of Verona back to our café. We sipped white wine and went back into the street, to the courtyard. We had it all to ourselves.

I ran my fingers over the inscription of Juliette's desperate cry to Romeo. We kissed, touching the breast of the Juliette bronze for luck.

We walked back to the bus just as the opera was ending. We curled up together, past the ability to utter a word.

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