Saturday, July 3, 2010

Six - What Will Be

The day of the departure Maria was resolved not to cry. Not to fear. Only to smile and to hope. These cost no more than the other emotions and were far less messy. So she smiled all the way to the docks, at those they passed by on the way.

Maria smiled at young woman, a strolling musician, wearing a long black coat and top hat, and playing a small mandolin. The woman nodded to Maria and smiled back. They traveled on.

Maria smiled upon the macaroni factory along the street. She smiled at the long poles, some suspended high overhead like a simple trellis and others supported by sawhorses, as from all of them, the pasta hung like creamy fountains of fringe. She smiled at the men of the factory, who were coming and going, all of them shoeless and shirtless, wearing only the simplest of garments around their waist. A day or two before, she might have been too shy to smile at them, but now, she was on her way to a new life in America, and so she smiled. The men who noticed Maria smiled to her in return.

Maria smiled to the barefoot water-seller, a boy standing along the quay, in his yellow shirt and brown trousers rolled up to the calf; with his cluster of ten of terra cotta jugs, one for each finger, and a large rectangular basket suspended down his back, from its perch atop his bright green cap. He too, smiled.

So too, Maria exchanged smiles with the fan seller and the broom-boy, with his cluster of several dozens of whisk brooms slung over his back. So many things to see. So many people to smile with.

There was a small girl in a street corner, holding several pretty birds in her hands, to be sold. Nearby an elderly couple sharing an alfresco meal, she in her native Neapolitan costume of yellow long sleeved blouse and a red scarf wrapped as a stole and tucked into the waistband of her gray skirt; he in a cobalt jacket, white shirt and dark trousers. Maria smiled at them all and they all smiled in answer.

The stands of the white garbed oyster vendors, stood along the waterfront, with their tabletops overflowing with the oysters; and piled all round, their wooden buckets. Several of the oyster vendors smiled to Maria even before she smiled to them. And so it was with the teams of pescatori towing in their fishing lines like one half of a game of tug of war.

Maria was fortunate to have cousins in the port city. Many others who would be on the same journey had awaited the sailing in much less congenial surroundings, sleeping ten to a room in the steamship hotel. But one and all had to deal with the crowd of peddlers, scugnizzi, stray dogs, dock thieves and confidence men. The waterfront had a reputation. But it was not unlike the reputation of all busy waterfronts, the world over.

Looking around, Maria’s eyes took in the many fishing boats, many painted white, with others yellow orange or blue, all of them uniformly painted blue on the inside. She saw the mountains, the sea and the Castel Nuovo, the grand and mysterious Palazzo Donn'Anna, jutting out into the water, still noble in its crumbling state.

Looking back, Maria could see the cluster of ancient buildings on the Vomero hill above Naples—the sturdy walls of the ancient Castel Sant Elmo and the ivory arches of the Belvedere di San Martino. In that setting, they seemed so much like Noepoli, yet here, they looked over the gulf and commanded all of Naples. She felt as if she had never seen anything quite so perfect.

Tearful farewells were made to Giovanni and to Fiametta. And then, before she had time to think it, she was up the gangplank and on the steamer and had the earth of Italy beneath her feet no longer—and for how long?

In the preliminary examination by the steamship company representatives, examiners turned many away, mainly for reasons of health. But Maria had passed that examination without incident. Except that while in line she heard a snippet of conversation between two young men, about her age.

The better looking of the two said, “As for that old boss of ours who gave us so much grief, I have sent him a postcard. And what do you think the message was? ‘Better look this picture over carefully for you know the saying—See Naples and Die—in which case you haven't long to live.'" The other slapped the fellow on the back and answered, “Serves him right! And see if he tells anyone about it, since everyone would agree with what you said anyhow.”

The ship got underway. It slipped its moorings and fled from the shores of Italy, passing the Castel dell'Ovo, departing the magnificent Bay of Naples, passing between Ischia and Procida.

Just then, Maria felt something unfamiliar in her pocket. Reaching in, she found an envelope, sealed with wax and addressed with her name. She opened it carefully.

“My Maria, Already, too soon, I feel the lack of you. L'Italia farà da sè. Italy will take care of itself. But I must be inconsolable. You must go to America and I must go to South America. But this is for only an instant. Naples is ours and Naples is forever. Wait my love! Quella destinata per te, nessuno la prenderà. No one will take the one who is destined for you. True love waits. Rico.”

"How long of a wait, I wonder," thought Maria.

She could feel the movement of the ship under her feet. The ship was the S. S. Patria, an iron-hulled steamship with two decks. Not that Maria knew or cared, but the fact was that it had been built by the Vulcan Shipyard, in Stettin, Germany, in the year of her birth, 1882. With a displacement of 3,467 gross tons, the Patria was 352 feet long; 43 feet wide, with a compound single-screw engine. The ship’s profile showed three masts but only one funnel, as compared with the grand liners that had three or four funnels.

Her service speed was a leisurely 12 knots. The ship’s capacity was 1,196 passengers (of which only ninety-six were first class, the remaining 1,100 were second class or steerage).

The Patria had been built for the Hamburg-American Line, to sail under the German flag, and when built, it was christened the Rugia. In 1894, it was sold to Fabre Line, sailing under the French flag, and renamed the Patria, under which name it began regular Marseilles, Naples to New York service. The venerable ship would have only a few more years of service before it was scrapped in Marseilles, France in 1906.

Maria’s ticket was of the standard type; in Italian it read:

“I, W. P. SAUNDERS, hereby undertake, upon the following terms, to forward from Naples to New York in North-America, the emigrant named below for the sum of $50.00, which amount has been duly paid and includes all ordinary charges upon landing in America.

“The journey takes place from Naples by steamer steerage passage within 12 days after departing there, by Ocean steamer steerage passage, to New-York in North-America. From New-York the Emigrant will be forwarded, immediately after having passed the customs and complied with other formalities, by rail 3rd class to Pittsburgh.

“At the above mentioned fare the emigrant will be supplied with good and sufficient provisions and attendance from leaving Naples until arrival at place of landing in America, and care of effects not exceeding 10 cubic feet space by steamer and 150 Lbs weight by railway. Effects of children between 1 and 12 years are carried free at the rate of half of what has been before stated for effects to America, where no free conveyance of effects of children under 5 years is allowed.

“The emigrant is entitled to a check for such effects, as are not under his own care, and will receive or same consisting of packages and numbered 3606 a compensation not exceeding $25 adult, in the event of non-delivery of the effects on surrender of said check upon arrival at place of landing in America but no compensation will be allowed for loss or damage all effects caused by sea accident.

“Should the emigrant at arrival in foreign country be refused by the authorities to immigrate and if it cannot be proved that this prohibition has been caused by circumstances come to pass after this contract was made out. I do hereby agree to repay the emigrant for the passage and at my expense have him returned to Naples, Italy; like- wise his maintenance on his return and forwarding care of his baggage.

“Likewise do I agree to, if so required by the emigrant, to let all controversies about this contract's explication and the emigrants justice of compensation for non-fulfillment of the same to be decided by five arbiters, of whom the immigrant appoints two, I or in case I refuse, the government two, and the before said governor the fifth.

“If the emigrant has any reason for complaint of not being treated in accordance with the terms stipulated In this contract, a report thereof should be made to the nearest Consul as soon as circumstances admit.”

"Any reason for complaint!" thought Maria. "What wasn't there to complain about?"

The conditions in steerage were less than ideal. Maria found herself in a room with three other women, next to the steering equipment. The lower depths of the ship were dark, unsanitary, crowded. Who could describe the tiers of iron bunks, the hot stale air made worse by seasickness. The lavatories were cleaned and disinfected not once on the voyage, until the final day at sea.

There was precious little relief on the open deck that was cordoned off steerage passengers only. It was situated just behind the funnel; as a result, it was a little Vesuvius of a place, as soot and ash from the engines fell upon Maria and her fellow passengers there. It made Maria think of Pliny and his pillow.

The food was mostly unpalatable: soggy bread, indefinable vegetables.

On board the ship, hailing also from Potenza—were several countrymen if not kinsmen who found Maria, or she found them, before the first day was done. There was a man named Rocco di Gioro, age 41, who acted like a father figure on Maria’s behalf, intervening from time to time when some uncouth person looked at her sideways. Maria felt fortunate in his courtly ways and was reminded of the Padrone.

There was also a careworn woman named Maria Peloso, age 40, and her children, a handsome son Prospero who was ten and a shy little daughter Rosa, just five. Maria Peloso was on her way to meet up with her husband who had gone to America two years before, to make his way and arrange things until the family could join him. She looked forward to seeing him with great anticipation, but about America itself, she said to Maria,

"Chi lascia la strada vecchia per la nuova sa quel che lascia, ma non sa quel che trova." "Who leaves the old street for the new one, knows what he left but not what he'll find."

“Yes, who knows what I will find,” Maria mused. But she kept such thoughts to herself. And with that same smile she gave to the strangers in the crowd as she left Naples, she smiled again as the Patria moved steadily toward America.

“You look exactly like La Gioconda with that calm and beatific smile of yours,” Rocco di Gioro said to her one afternoon when they were all taking the air on the open deck.

“I have been thinking it myself,” said Maria Peloso. “The very same smile, come to life in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! Could old Leonardo have imagined such a thing?”

“And we will never guess what mysterious thoughts are behind that smile,” Rocco added.

“Not much to guess,” replied Maria. “The smile is my way of putting the best face on all that is happening. I could frown and fret, but I would still be here halfway between the Old World and the New World. So why not smile. Que Sera Sera. What will be, will be.”

As if to emphasize her remark, the Patria took a wave at a very unfortunate angle, righted itself, and continued in its heaving way toward the New World.

Then came the day of their arrival in silvery New York Harbor. It felt so much bigger than the harbor at Naples. The approach to the city was prefaced by the outstretched shorelines on both sides, as if they were arms reaching out to the ship, to invite her in to this place of shelter.

And then a familar figure--the robe, spikes and a torch. “Madonna Della Libera,” someone whispered near by.

"Yes," whispered Maria. “Our Lady of Liberty.”

The city's skyline was impossibly vast and high and complex. The double towers of the Ivins Syndicate’s Park Row Building, the tallest building in Manhattan, rose a dizzy 29 stories high, with 26 full floors and two, three-story cupolas. From the top of both cupolas flew gigantic American flags. The passengers looked, in awe of its height and mammoth proportions. It towered at least 15 to 20 stories over most of its neighbors.

But there were countless delights to be seen. To one side was the golden dome of the New York “World” Building. To the other, the spire of Trinity Church. Among and around them were lesser domes and insistent dormers, spiky flagpoles and lofty chimneys, and everywhere, soaring towers.

There was the stately squat tower of the Corbin Building with its elaborate terra-cotta columns, window surrounds and scalloped arches. It vied for attention with the glorified steeple of the Manhattan Life Insurance Building. Maria thought of the wonders of Naples and even the fabled heights of Vesuvius were surpassed by this fairyland.

Above all, a blue sky spread over the spires and domes of New York, cloudless and fair. So much bluer it seemed than the Italian sky. The air was warm, hot really, against Maria’s cheeks.

"So this is America," she said to the wind. It kissed her in return.

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