Saturday, July 3, 2010

Four - All in Good Time

They set off in a two-wheeled cart that carried Maria’s big home-made trunk, her mother, one of her brothers, her sister and also Lisbetta, to go to the train station which would take Maria as far as Naples.

And so it was, Maria prepared to go to America. As she left Neopoli, her thoughts of parting turned to every scene that met her eye. What a farewell it was, to look no more on these mountains that soar against the clouds; these rugged and majestic crests. Maria knew them in every light—every season. And they knew her, too, their creases and folds were as familiar as the smiles and frowns of her family.

How to say farewell to quiet streams, whose whispering sounds Maria could recognize with her eyes shut, just as she knew the sounds of the voices of her dearest friend, Lisabetta? How to part with the narrow yellow, white and pink houses that tumbled over the countryside, like the goats of the pastures? How to say goodbye to the familiar carved stone faces of Lucia and Grazie and the heroic form of J'vill? How to part with the memory of the promised love of Tanio Bellafaccia, and their quiet covenants of the rustic farmhouse?

Yes, this was the time for farewell! Up until this day, the thought of the new adventure had meant a lither step, but now, the day was upon her. And so with a cumbersome slowness she went through the motions of leave-taking.

Even though Maria was going of her own free will, to seek her way, to find that dream of happiness that beckoned from America, she wondered at her own ability to have made this resolve to leave.

They descended from Neopoli and with every turning of the road, Maria looked back and thought of calling out to stop, to return, to put this idea out of her mind. To stay—what would it mean? That her sister would go in her place? That she would be the spinster sister ever consigned to care for her aging parents, year upon year, until she became old and frail and alone?

Maria told herself that she would go now. But not forever. She would come back when she had made her fortune in the new world. Others had done it, so could she. Return with stores and provisions that would last a long time and stories and money that would bring the admiration of the town. Then, no threatening voice could frighten her.

As they rose from the Sinni valley, Maria resolved to look forward instead. To see what would appear. What the world would show her, if she paid attention. In another mile or so they would go beyond the stolid house of Nazarie Pignola, “Il Tiranno”, and then, beyond the furthest limit of her life’s experience. From there, all would be new and if she would see it though hopeful eyes, all of it could be hers.

Home is where the heart is, they say. What did it mean, this "Mogli e buoi, paesi tuoi"? Home is where the heart is, so of course Maria would set her heart on what lay ahead not what was left behind.

The decision to go was hard, but saying farewell was harder still. Maria had spent one last tea time with Lisabetta at the Padrone’s. She could not keep it from this dear friend and in fact told him the moment that she and Lisabetta arrived at the palazzo. They had only entered the salon and the tea things were not yet there. The Padrone became close to tears when she told him of her decision.

“I will send you off with many heartfelt prayers and many good wishes for your new life in America,” the Padrone had told her, “and I would not do anything to dissuade you from your chosen course. You seem resolved to go, so we, your dear friends in Noepoli, must be resigned to see you go. But are you certain, my dear Maria?”

She hesitated before answering, “Yes, dear Padrone, I am certain. While so many I love are here, you will understand when I say that everything I see reminds me of Tanio. How he would dance the pastorale and the tarantella. I look at the view from the piazza and think of when Tanio would talk with me there. I stop at the fountain and remember conversations with Tanio there. I cannot ever enjoy the carnival; since I will look for Tanio's face behind every mask. And how can I bear the feast of S. Antonio, when I will think always of Tanio as he climbed up the fir-tree to win the prize. The streets he walked and the houses that he once looked upon will see him no longer but they all remind me of the one who is no longer there.”

The Padrone nodded; he understood her feelings. “I had hoped that over time and with the love of friends such as we who are with you now, these feelings might have become tender instead of sorrowful memories.”

And Lisabetta said much the same. But it was no use. As for the other, terrifying experience on the way home from visiting her aunt, Maria had not told a soul.

“Here is the tea,” said a brusque voice, as Marginalia wheeled in the cart. She said it brightly, as if she were in a very happy mood. “Look, I found special cakes at the baker’s today. And in honor of Maria’s decision I have placed little American flags here and there on them.”

The three shared the tea together, not in a festive mood, but rather a muted one. It was not until she had returned home that Maria wondered to herself how Marginalia had known to buy the special cakes, and the American flags.

Before she made her farewells to the Padrone, he handed her a small package, wrapped in a silk scarf and tied with a ribbon.

“This you must take with you to America, and open it when you have arrived there safely,” he said as he presented it to her. “Promise me that and promise that you will let us know in letters how things go with you.”

Maria made the promise and took the gift with a solemn gratitude, and thougth of it as she continued on her journey. It was packed safely away for the long trip ahead of her.

* * *

As the little party advanced over the countryside, they looked not at the view around them, with its vast uniformity. They paid more attention to each other, as they spoke of everyday inconsequentials. Yet, they sensed this would be a parting of long duration.

So even the air they were breathing seemed heavy to then. They were in turn sad and preoccupied. They leaned against each other, as one road led to the next.

Maria was prone to wave upon wave of an uneasy longing, for the dear house that was her home, for the table around which the family took their meals, for the view from the window near her bed, with its glimpse of mountain and sky. And every sound from the horse’s hoof seemed to say, “Farewell to your father's house, your mother’s smile, your sisters’ secrets, and your brothers’ laughter. Farewell. Farewell."
* * *

“There goes the little pest,” Marginalia said to Briccone Pericoloso as she watched the cart disappear in the distance. “We are well rid of that one. I knew we could make it happen. Aiutati che Dio t'aiuta. Help yourself and God will help you.” The two had stationed themselves high on a hillside where they could assure themselves that the girl was truly going away.

“She was worming her way into the Padrone’s heart, for sure. Troppi cuochi guastano la cucina. Too many cooks spoil the broth,” Briccone answered. He spat in disgust. “Not that she can do such a thing from America, no matter how many letters she may write.”

“Batti il ferro quando è caldo,” Marginalia chuckled. “Strike when the iron is hot!”

The day was hot, even under the tree where they had partially concealed themselves—although, at this distance it scarcely mattered. He took off his floppy brimmed hand and wiped his brow with his hand.

“Now the skies will clear and things shall be as they were,” Marginalia predicted. She shook her apron as if she were shaking away crumbs and dust left behind by Maria. “Our way is no longer in peril. As time unfolds, what is the Padrone’s will one day be ours. We shall have the finest seat in the church and the place of honor at the carnival.”

“With Maria off to America,” Briccone added, “the Padrone will go back into his shell of solitude. With you the only one to come and go and endear yourself to him more each day. Cambiano i suonatori ma la musica è sempre quella. The melody has changed but the song remains the same.”

“This calls for a bit of celebration,” Marginalia announced, as she drew from the folds of her dress a bottle of wine, direct from the Padrone’s cellar.

"Ah, the best!” Briccone licked his lips in anticipation. “Open it and let us drink to our health and our future success!”

With a wink, Marginalia replied, “Detto fatto! No sooner said than done!”

They opened the bottle and each took a healthy swig.

"Ride bene chi ride ultimo!" Briccone chortled. Then in a husky voice he added, "Beware! Never go to the Palazzo again!"

Nodding her head, Marginalia echoed, "He who laughs last, laughs best!"

* * *

All too soon Maria's family reached the train station. There as they waited for the train, Mama held Maria’s face in her hands. "You are going to your brother’s house and there he will be your protector. Do what he tells you as if you are being instructed by your Papa and by me. We do not yet know what will happen, but we do know that in America so many good things are possible. Be not sad. The freedom there will lead you to new joys. Be patient. Be brave my little one. Your future will unfold, tempo al tempo," Grace said to her, "All in good time.”

While still in this tender embrace, Maria held back tears as she said to her mother, “Una buona mamma vale cento maestre. A good mother is worth a hundred teachers. I will do what you say and I know all will go well with me.”
“Bellissima,” Grace replied.

Joseph, looking on, said, “Remember when you arrive in Naples, to look for your cousin Giovanni and his sister Fiametta. They will see that all goes well for you in Naples and that you find your way to the boat that will take you to America.”

Maria hugged her father and gave way to tears.

She embraced her sister and brother who had come along with them. Then turning to Lisabetta, Maria said, “You must tell me all the news in letter after letter.”

“I promise, if you will do the same for me.”

The train drew up at once and with these farewells still beating in her heart, Maria departed, waving to her dear ones until she could see them no more. The train journey, though long, was uneventful. At its end, she found her cousins as planned and was welcomed by them into the vast and unfamiliar city of Naples. Since it was Maria’s first night in Naples, her cousin Giovanni took her to dine at a place where he was well known.

They had no sooner been seated when the proprietor of the café, Umberto Targioni, stood up and in a loud voice, announced, “Now my good friends please give your kind attention to a very dear friend of mine, a great man with a great voice and yet a man of the people of Naples—Mr. Rico!—who will sing for you what I know is one of your favorite songs, as it is mine.

The musicians played a few opening bars of the song, which at once everyone recognized as “O Sole Mia.” For the past twenty years, the rage not only of Naples but all Italy, and some would say, the whole world. But it was Naples’ own, written by two of Naples most creative citizens, the poet and the composer. And now, sung by a dashing looking man, with raven black hair and a trim moustache, impossibly handsome, who stood up from a table on the opposite side of the room, nearer the musicians, and began the words that everyone in the room knew by heart.

“Che bella cosa e' na jurnata 'e sole,
n'aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe' ll'aria fresca pare già na festa
Che bella cosa e' na jurnata 'e sole”

And while it was not spoken aloud, it was as if the whole room gave a collective sigh, and settled in to hear anew the beloved melody.

“Ma n'atu sole,
cchiù bello, oje ne'
'O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
'O sole, 'o sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
sta 'nfronte a te!”

Maria sat in the corner of the café and all at once was transfixed by the power of the music. As Rico sang the familiar words, but with such a powerful emotion that it was as if she heard them for the first time. After the first few lines, it seemed as if there was not one other person in the room except the singer and Maria herself. As if he was singing to her, and to her alone. She thought of the heroic knight, Jacuvill, and the girlhood love she had imagined, and the best of it seemed wrapped up in this one song.
And then – impossible as it seemed – the singer had left the small stage and was walking across the café, still singing, and as if answering the beating of her heart, came toward her. Singing, smiling. Until he stopped just before their table. Giovanni looked at her, but she did not see him. She saw only Rico and heard only his magnificent voice, and the magical words…

“Quanno fa notte e 'o sole se ne scenne,
me vene quase 'na malincunia;
sotto 'a fenesta toia restarria
quanno fa notte e 'o sole se ne scenne.”

Awestruck, it was as if with Maria’s every breath he was singing. The song made time stop. The song made all of yesterday disappear as a forgotten tale. The song made tomorrow a misty dream. There was only this moment. But this moment was also forever. How could it be?
And then, all at once, the room was filled with wild applause and boisterous cheers. The singer turned away from the table, and with a flash of a smile, bowed as gracefully as a willow in the wind, and then, instead of walking away, he turned back to the table, smiled at Giovanni as he said, “But my friend, where have you been hiding this rare blossom and why have you not yet introduced us?”

Maria held her breath. Giovanni said, “A thousand pardons! Rico, may I present my cousin, from Potenza—Maria Fucci.”

“Cousin? Belissima!” Rico said, “I have the honor of meeting the most beautiful woman in the room, no, in all of Naples, and there is only one thing that would be better than this, to be able to join you for a few moments, before our friend Umberto Targioni asks me to sing again.”

“By all means, Rico, join us,” Giovanni invited.

“I thought you would never ask me, my friend!” Rico sat down at once, and looking at Maria again as if there were no one else in the room, said, “Miss Fucci, now that you have brought all the charm and wonder of yourself all the way from enchanting Potenza to right here in sorry old Naples, the city has suddenly become a lovelier place. It is for you to pass judgment on it. What do you think of our city by the bay?”

“I hardly know what to think, sir,” Maria replied softly. “I have only just arrived. What little I have seen has been in going to my cousin’s home from the station, and then from there, to here.”
“What? You have not been to the Bay?”

“No, not the Bay.”

“Impossible! To come to Naples and not see the Bay! And do you tell me that you have not been to the dizzy heights of Mount Vesuvius?”

“No, sir, I have not.”

“But surely, this must be remedied and as soon as possible! I think, Giovanni, that you have been neglecting your cousin, by withholding from her the greatest charms of Naples.”

Giovanni grinned, and looking at the two young people, he winked and then said, as if to himself, “Now that she has seen Naples’ greatest charmer, she is ready to see its other great charms!”

They all dissolved into laughter.

“But no, really,” Rico continued, “it must be arranged! A tour of the city! And a trip up the mountain on the funicular! For sure! Allow me to be your guide! To make it happen! It is the very least that I can do for my friend Giovanni, the great poet and for his belissima cousin! When I have here at one table both the man who wrote the words, ‘O Sole Mia’ and the woman who inspired me to sing them as they should be sung, well! I am honor-bound! I must show Miss Fucci the city and you will be my guest and her chaperone. I entreat! I implore! I insist!”

Giovanni was about to reply when they all sensed a stirring in the room. Mr. Targioni was standing by the piano.

“I have had a request that our friend Rico delight us with another song,” he announced. “What will it be?"

From somewhere in the crowd a voice chimed, “Santa Lucia!”
“Yes! That’s it! That’s the one! Santa Lucia! What could be better!” All the other patrons cried out, at once.

“Ah, I see we are a discriminating audience!” Mr. Targioni nodded. “Santa Lucia it shall be. Yes?”

Rico stood up and nodded, “Santa Lucia, for my old (very old!) friend Giovanni Capurro and for my new friend, his beautiful cousin, Maria Fucci! Who has not yet seen Naples, not even the Bay! Let us show her Naples from the Bay, with words and music, only! In this song!”

The pianist struck up the introduction, as the other musicians joined in. With an aching sense of longing and love, and yet as light as a bird on the wing, Rico sang,

“Sul mare Luccica l'astro d'argento.
Placida è l'onda; prospero è il vento.
Venite all'agile Barchetta mia!
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.”

All at once there it was. The silver moon, the glowing sea, the calm waves. Maria felt the soft winds blowing, balmy zephyrs. And this sense of pure joy that comes where the water and the sky meet. Immediately, the whole room was, as it were, waltzing, swaying to and fro, on the gentle winds and waves, along with the music. As if the walls of the café had suddenly parted, and the expanse of the Bay was all around them.

"O dolce Napoli, o suol beato,
Ove sorridere Volle il Creato"
Tu sei l'impero Di armonia!
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!"

Maria could see in her minds eye the “Holy ground, smiled upon by the Creator” and the Santa Lucia quarter, the "impero dell'armonia"—the empire of harmony. So different, this song was, from the first. And yet, together, they somehow defined the idea of Naples. The ideal of Naples. The sun and joy and the calm, with the water and wind, all the moods of this city.
All too soon, the song was ended. Again the café erupted like Vesuvius itself, with loud and thunderous applause, and the cries of appreciation for the song and the singer. Once more, Rico bowed, and again Maria noticed, with a dancer’s poise, and with pride, but something else, a kind of shyness even in the midst of the adulation. This is a man to be liked, she thought. This Rico, he has undoubted ability and still he has this humility. What a rare combination. The applause continued until Rico returned to their table and sat down with them again.

“Now that you have this picture of Naples, what is your judgment, Miss Fucci?”

“It is all I had hoped it would be, and more,” Maria answered.

“Good! And now that you have had this glimpse of it, I must show you the rest. Giovanni, will you agree to my plan?”

“I don’t see why we should not do so,” Giovanni replied.

“Wonderful! When shall it be? Tomorrow, I think. Yes? Good! I will make all of the arrangements! And I will call for you at your home in Montecalvario, tomorrow at half past nine. Chi dorme non piglia pesci. Those who sleep don't catch any fish! Agreed?”

“Agreed, my friend. Tomorrow at my home in Montecalvario!”

“Until then Giovanni! Until then, Miss Fucci!” Rico bowed and took their hands, shaking Giovanni’s and kissing Maria’s.

Soon after Rico departed, Giovanni and Maria did so as well.

As they made their way along the via Roma toward the Spanish Quarter and back to Montecalvario, Maria asked, “Who is this Mr. Rico, Giovanni?”

“Ah, you have seen and heard him, so you know him well already!”

“Yes, but a bit more about him if you please.”

“He was born right here in Naples, as was I. A fine fellow. A good Catholic. Baptized in the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. His voice is like an angel’s as you know. He started in the usual way, singing in church. Others heard and liked what they heard. Some who appreciated it helped him along, some noble persons, patrons, as one always needs when one is an artist. Yet, like me, he also sings in the cafes and sometimes we even sing together. Rico began his singing career in earnest, here in Naples in eight years ago—in 1894. He did a fine job as Enzo in La Gioconda at Palermo three years later. The first major role that Rico created was Loris in Giordano’s ‘Fedora’ in the Teatro Lirico in Milan, four years ago (1898). Two seasons ago, he sang Nemorino in L′elisir d′amore at La Scala. This autumn he is to create a new role at that same theater, in November; in something by Cilea.”

“So he is a serious singer; he sings opera, then?”

“Yes of course!” Giovanni answered. “This café singing is his bread and butter just now, but not forever and not for long, if I can predict. His is an extraordinary voice, with verismo, range, power, and beauty. I think he will be doing only opera before a few more years have passed. Chi la dura la vince. He who perseveres wins at last.”

“And does he have a family?” Maria asked.

“Everyone has a family! His parents, to be sure. And there is a brother who took his place in the army when one of the Padrones felt his voice was too important to be hidden behind an infantry uniform and a rifle.”

“What a good brother! But has he no wife, no sweetheart?”

“None that I know of. None to speak of. Say, you aren’t thinking about that for yourself, are you, little Maria?”

“What woman wouldn’t, after he has sung to her?”

“You’re right. What woman indeed!” Giovanni shrugged. “But remember! You are off to America in a few days—so nothing serious, please or I will have to face the music with your mother and father. Not to mention your brother and sister-in-law who are expecting you to come to them and be of help to them. Please, Maria! Enjoy tomorrow and then let it pass. Tomorrow and no more.”

Maria sighed, “Tomorrow and no more. I promise!”

The reader is invited to check this blog often to be able to read the next chapters as they are posted.

No comments:

Post a Comment