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-Two - Nightfall in Verona - Jenne' R. Andrews

This is it, with the possible exception of a revised epigraph.  I hope you enjoyed my journey through the adventure of my life, a mere 38 years ago.  Please FB, Tweet or otherwise share.  The best books in the world are free.  Hah!  Jenne’ Andrews, the Memoirist.  Check out her poetry at La Parola Vivace.  Xj

Chapter Twenty-two  Che Crudele Come I Treni….

E Lucevan le Stelle

E lucevan le stelle
e olezzava la terra
stridea l'uscio dell'orto,
e un passo sfiorava la rena.
Entrava ella, fragrante,
mi cadea fra le braccia.
Oh! dolci baci, o languide carezze,
mentr'io fremente le belle forme discogliea dai veli!
Svani per sempre il sogno mio d'amore...
L'ora e fuggita e muoio disperato!
E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!

How brightly the stars were burning
how redolent the garden was
the gate whispered open
a footfall touched the sand
She entered, with her fragrance
stepping into my embrace.
Oh, sweet kisses, languid caresses.
I was shaken by the beautiful form hidden by her veil...

Now my dream of love has gone forever
Our hour has flown--- in desperation, I succumb,
never having so loved life.

Califf's aria, Tosca.

Trans. jra

In the night I lay next to Pepe, listening to his breathing.  I doubted that he slept, but we were drained. I prayed that we would have the stamina to hold ourselves together on the ride to the train station.

I relived my arrival in Calabria, and that the family had welcomed me like a prodigal daughter.  I let myself imagine what it might be like to attempt to stand in the path of fate and stop the events already set in motion, my own expectation of myself that I leave, that I stay instead. 

Whatever will was required to have cut my ties to my family, to a life I still associated with safety, had leached out of me. Yet, it was one thing to know that this day would come and push it to the back of our minds and another to have the dawn of imminent separation appear in the windows of the bus.

Day blinded me with its blades of light. I turned and buried myself, my face, against my lover’s back.  He was resting, but he stirred, and reached back to take my hand.

I knew what was waiting for me, perhaps for us both although I could not bear to think that he would suffer.  Years earlier someone had jettisoned himself out of my life in a coup d’ gras to my very being. I knew that waking without Pepe would be abrupt and chilling. 

We held each other, kissing, whispering to one another that we should be brave.  Julia went out and came back with espresso and we sat in the early morning light near the bus on our camp chairs.  Pepe’s handsome face was half-hidden in the shadows from the long branches across the morning; he caressed my hands with resolve. 

We rode to the station and Julia left us alone; we walked to a kiosk and had our photo taken, a tiny black and white instant of our profiles as we looked at each other. 

We tried to ignore the announcement of the trains that blared though the ferroviagge. 

We sat quietly on a bench near a fountain.  I turned to him and saw tears at the corners of his eyes.  I kissed them away, fighting back my own. 

“We have been so happy,” he said to me, pulling me against him.  “Nostra vita breve insieme.”  Our brief life together….” 

He paused, looking down at the floor.  Children ran by shouting, their tiny voices echoing throughout the platform.

“Ed ‘or, dunque, propria finita.”  Now then, it is finished.  He turned my face toward his.

“Let me recall every moment, every second.” 

He began the series of kisses of my hair, my eyelids, my mouth, my neck, that perpetually stunned me into his possession.

There was a loud whistle and a voice in the background calling,  “Reggio.  Subito.  Reggio, tutti, prego.
“Remember everything, Jenni”, he whispered into my hair, Julia standing nearby, passengers gathering.

We stood and he gathered me into his arms. “ Di mi che sei mio.”  Tell me that you are mine.

“Sono tua per sempre,” I whispered.  Yours, always.

What had been the dispersing mist of a dream-like farewell suddenly became a chaos of others and their luggage, the clamor of their voices; a tide of people separated us and I lost sight of him.

Then I saw him, boarding the train, leaning out of the window.  I went to him and reached for his hands, bracing myself against the side of the car.

His tears rained down on mine. I wept even as I kept a brave smile on my face. The Italians standing around us wept in solidarity.

Then--“Ho bisogno di casa di cura... bisogno mi madre,” he said, half-audibly,  suddenly so distraught, so abruptly revealing the anguish he had not communicated to me that Julia had to pull me away before I fell under the car as it began to inch forward. I need a hospital, I need to see my mother, were his words.

Then, where we had been unto the last moment of the journey, the train took him away. Where he had been was a blankness, a spare and dull patch of earth and track. 

The present and past fused together; I was stepping into his arms on my arrival in Reggio and then  as if it all had come and gone in a day, watching the waving brakeman of the train carrying Pepe away disappear around a bend in time.

I felt myself plunge into deep, cold water. I struggled to hold myself together.

Julia took me aside, to a cafe, where we sipped wine in the dusk.

She leaned forward, taking my hand.

“We have time for a few days in France.  You have just had the adventure of a lifetime,” she said. “Not one more tear.”

I gave it my best.

But when I got home to St. Paul, and a letter came on fine paper in a delicate lavender script, every word of which I could read-- that spoke of longing and hope and memory-- a last letter to which I could not bear to reply, I broke my word to Julia.  I wept.  I wrote a poem and translated it into Italian, and sent it to him as a last aria of farewell.

. . . . .
The first autumn rains had begun when a final missive from Reggio arrived.  Pepe spoke of “quella partenza dolorosa,” our sad parting.   He thanked me for coming to Calabria. He wrote that he did not expect to see me again, to not worry, to know that what we lived had transcended time and circumstance. 

Every night, at twilight, as the nighthawks wheeled in the oak trees outside my third floor window looking out at Old St. Paul, I played Violetta’s farewell to the richness and beauty of life and love,“ Adio del Passato,” reading and rereading the letter, falling asleep on the couch, re-dreaming of my Calabrese, of the family, and the eternal whispering presence of the sea.

I went about my life is if it were a dream and the adventure at my back, reality. 

Then the journey blurred and softened into an inner, impressionistic painting of beaches, villas, the lido of Calabria, the tramonto, the sunset over the Costa Viola.

Where my skin remembered kisses and my being remembered touch, ever more faint recollections would stir and subside--a tide of endings, the withdrawal back into time of what had been living and surging water.

The present caught me up in a skein of events and days cascaded into weeks and then months and years.  Others came and went; I moved on in slow motion like someone who had broken her limbs in a fall, healing crookedly. 

When I tried to open fully to another possibility, something within me would run, low to the ground, an amber streak in the Calabrian heather,  something searching, under the moonlight, living by instinct, hungry and solitary.

Water water everywhere and not a drop to quench what burned on within, a flame at a shrine, a votive in red glass before the light-suffused triptych of our adventure, the indelible reality that I had been plundered and fed, adored and cherished, that I had known “il cielo in quel’ vita…”-- heaven in this life.

Jenne’ R. Andrews
Summer 2010

 Since drafting this memoir, in fact in the middle of the writing, I learned of the movie Letters to Juliet.  I had been so wrapped up in Italy's mystique and the night in Verona that I had neither noticed the other tourists nor the notes they were leaving in the walls in their own lovelorn states.  When I began the memoir, I had a searing flashback of Pepe leaning out of the train and an intense recognition that he had truly loved me, followed by the realization in a more profound way that I had, deep down, not been able to believe that, or in my own ability to respond to that love, when I was in Italy.  I began a search for him, only to learn of the bleak eighties and nineties in Calabria, when the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, waged a blood bath in the streets of Reggio.  The more I learned, the more I felt that my dream had been desecrated by awful things.  I was, therefore, very happy that I had written this short book before I realized the course of events.  

I have not been able to find him and thus my story does not have the happy ending of Letters to Juliet.  At least not a traditional happy ending.  But I have drafted a spin-off novel, The Rose of Scylla, that is my next project and that picks up where the memoir left off.  We can live in fiction, what we cannot in life and yet art so utterly mirrors life.  My lover and I lived an opera, our own La Boheme, from start to finish.  Stay tuned and thanks for reading.  xxJenne' Andrews  April  13, 2011. ( I can be reached at jenneandrews2011gmail.com or on Facebook as Jenne' Rodey Andrews.   

1 comment:

  1. Oh heartbreak and romance. This is incredible. You are a wonderful writer, and this has captivated me, just this chapter! What a tender lover he was. It does my heart good to read of a man so utterly smitten and attentive, and with words to express it. Wow.