June 14, 2009 by Kimberli, under espresso, father, Italy, Osmizza, photo, Slovenia, Uncategorized, Wine.
…continued from Italy 4. The Old Man of Ternova
Part 5 – Italy
The light filters in through the fly-proof-velvet front door as the old man from Ternova sets a heavy silver pot on the stove top and lights the flame. It percolates as we are directed to sit at the lace-covered kitchen table. He shows us the room, one of two, one piece at a time. This is our new stove, this is our refrigerator. He draws our attention to a beautiful antique hutch containing the small espresso cups and saucers he will offer up for our coffee. Passed down through his family, he says. He hands me a small spoon and bowl of sugar. The coffee is strong and works to counteract the glass after glass of red wine. It’s a high percentage of Terrano grape mixed with whatever else he grows on his small farm. Black or white wine here. Not red wine or white wine, as we would say. Not a specific vintage, just black or white. Whatever grows on your land. That’s what you can sell during your ten days. It’s some of the best wine I’ve ever tasted. My mouth puckers as the tang bites at the back corners and makes my molars twinge. Again, the red clay has served its true purpose.
I think of how my father told me, in his final year, that he wished he had gone to war with his three older brothers. He says this as we try to figure out where he will live and how my siblings and I will pay for his care. My father, who was twelve years older then the man of Ternova, could have been the soldier who needed his own shoes and denied them to a child. He could have been the GI who taught the boy to say, “cunt.” Instead, he was forced to stay behind on the Washington state dairy farm and manage things for his newly widowed mother who was short three sons. I imagine my father milking cows and making cheese that this man, as a boy, was dying to have. My uncles sending the kid to town for prostitutes, not knowing if they would make it home to wives or perhaps not caring after what they had done and seen. When my father says he wished he could have been there what he means is that he wishes he could have the health care in his old age and not burden his children. My father was not a man of many words. He seldom talked. Period. Perhaps his brothers were the same. Did they ever really tell him about the war as this man was telling me? Or did they protect their younger brother from the realities of WWII? Was it left behind or lived out in silence the rest of their days? My uncles were welcomed home as heroes, but I wonder if they were ever heard as men. What they must have seen. The stories they must have held close. The boys from Ternova they must have met.
My camera clicks away as we enter the back of the house, the cellar, where the smoked ham legs and long, thick sausages are hung. The smell is overpowering, but the light is perfect. The youngest son of this man is my age. His wife-beater undershirt and cigarette give him the look of my cousin Steve who, in the ’70s, rode with a motorcycle gang. This son, however, winks at me as he tries to speak Slovenian with an English accent. He wants me to take pictures of him and his dog. It’s a big deal, these photos of his dog. It occurs to me that these 10 days of life each year are their experience of the world. They don’t own a camera. I ask them if I can email photos back from America. They don’t have a computer, or a phone. I tell them I’ll send them prints. They gather around the makeshift bar, everyone in the yard – cousins, girlfriend, dog and discuss what their address might be. The postman has finished his lunch and wine and vanished. They finally bring out a slip of paper with all the information written in the wrong order. Elisabetta corrects it for me when we return home. I ask why they don’t know their own address. “Didn’t they have to give it to the water company or someone?” “Yes, probably originally.” Then I remember, the old man from Ternova saying, “This farm has been in our family for 300 years.” It’s been a very long time since they hooked up the water.
Salty Sea and Peanuts
Groups of children are equally noisy wherever I’ve been. They likely all say the same types of things in any language, “Ah, he has a booger! Look at his booger! You farted!” The children of this bus must be on a field trip, I think. Perhaps to a prison, as they look like aspiring convicts. Rough little Italians, even at the tender age of five and six. I’ve finally figured out how to buy a bus ticket, boarded my first bus, unraveled the mystery of validating the ticket and then this! Baby felons. I’m off for a cultural excursion to Miramare Castle. Something about Maximilien, Emperor of Mexico, and a summer home. I’m sure it’s all very interesting and would make for beautiful photographs, but what I’m really about today are the beaches I saw when I passed the castle on the way in from the airport. It’s hot. I need cool water and silence. I want salty water and peanuts. Maybe I’ll make it to the castle for some culture later, I think.
As the bus lurches away from the station the prospective criminals begin their assault. They are pushing and teasing as their schoolmarm-ish teacher-guards watch with practiced resignation. If they riot, will the marms react? I’m sitting in my little seat minding my own beeswax, my face resting on my hand so I can plug at least one ear, trying to block out the chaos. I think of my happy-place on the beach. I’m like this around groups of small children. I don’t have the “off” switch that most parents have for babble. I hear everything. Everything. All the time, everything. Children one at a time work best for me. Preferably with a muzzle, in case of an emergency. Then only if they are related to me. Then only on Tuesdays. I can say that because I’m in Italy. Many things happen only on Tuesday. Or Wednesdays after 1pm or every other Friday. That’s just how it is. Try to buy fish here, for example. Only Thursdays mornings on the north facing side of the street.
So we’re on the bus and these miniature jailbirds are caw-cawing away and gyrating like actors in an Indian musical. I’m plugging my ears and thinking, “happy place, happy place,” when I see the one in front of me pointing to someone or something in back of me. He has huge brown Italian puppy dog eyes that would be lovely in a soundless photo. I’m imagining him in print when I see his terror on his face. “Ragno, ragno,” he yells and points. I catch myself before I turn to look behind me at what must be no less then Freddy Kruger himself when I realize that he is looking directly at me. Ragno, I’ve heard this word from Elisabetta’s grandson. Ragno, sounded like Arachno to me. Arachno, Arachnophobia… SPIDER!” the translations runs through my head. Spider in my hair. I fly off my beeswaxed seat and shake my head. The ragno falls to the floor and the children scurry out the door as their stop arrives. I swear I see their black and white striped shirts disappear through the gates. I turn to the people behind me who I’m sure say something like, “You go girl,” though it’s in Italian. The bus is silent the rest of the way to the castle.
I see the castle over the hill and through the woods, and turn and walk the other direction. The water is, indeed, clear and cold and salty. I take out my peanuts, as well as my borrowed red towel, and look for a place to sit here on this “free beach,” i.e., a concrete pier. It’s right next to the “pay beach,” which is the concrete pier a few feet away, but costs ten Euro and includes a lounge chair. As I’m reaching for my book and getting myself situated a chorus of voices says, “Ciao, Luca!” I look up to see the wide-mouth smile of Luca. This young man with Down’s Syndrome soaks in the welcome and then jumps straight off the pier into the water. His mother, lines running deep in her sun baked face, pushes back her flowered headscarf and slides out her clothes down to her thong bikini bottom. She is received as warmly as Luca. It’s obvious that this group of fifteen or so people know one another well. A petite woman with curly blond/brown hair and a killer body looks up at me as I adjust my sunhat and apply more sun block. She asks in Italian if I want her to move her blue jeans and bag.
Thus begins another friendship here in Italy. MariaPia is somewhere closer to my age then the young newlywed couple and gregarious Sara-of-the-red-dress that I met the first night of my stay here in Italy. Though they also play an important part. She is old enough to have her PhD in mathematics, but young enough to still be doing her post-doc work instead of a full-time position. She is old enough to have lived abroad for a number of years, but young enough to want to again. And me? Am I older or younger then that, I wonder. MariaPia speaks English and shares my peanuts – good enough reasons to be friends. We make a plan to meet again – perhaps Croatia?