Maria Terrone’s grandparents were among the estimated nine million people who emigrated from Italy between 1881 and 1927. While her parents were born in the United States, her connection to Italy is deep, informing her identity and experiences as much as being a lifelong New Yorker has.
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I bought it thirty years ago on my first visit to Italy, in a cramped bookbinding shop tucked on a dark, narrow alley behind Piazza San Marco. I paid for it in lire—heavy coins that bore the images of grapevines and olive branches, and oversized pastel bills printed with portraits of Guglielmo Marconi and Maria Montessori.
My address book, covered in blue marbled paper, is the size of 3 x 5 index card. The flyleaf is stamped with the symbol of Venice: a winged lion. The lion looks proudly out, as if—in a city where many go to deliberately get lost in the enchanting maze—he knows exactly where he is going.
The room was full, though not as jammed as the time I’d visited the summer before, when the space felt hot with the exhalation of hundreds of miserable souls. It was still full enough that I bumped into people and they bumped into me as we moved around with our heads bent uncomfortably backwards. A couple of women sat on the floor and leaned back to stare at the ceiling more comfortably, but an official, known unofficially as a shusher, indicated that they should rise. He and other shushers moved through the crowd of upturned faces whispering “shush” and “silenzio,” reminding us that the Sistine Chapel is a place of worship and not an art gallery.
“The painter wanders and loiters contentedly from place to place, always on the lookout for some brilliant butterfly of a picture which can be caught and set up and carried safely home.”
– Winston Churchill, 1948, Painting as a Pastime
Hoisting our backpacks, my students and I start up a narrow staircase that points us left and right. In November 1820, John Keats and his friend Joseph Severn climbed these stairs to two small rooms above the Spanish Steps, ready to stay until the end, which they knew wouldn’t be far away. Nevertheless, they rented a piano. Getting that piano back downstairs must have been a nightmare. Not to mention the armloads of drapes and rugs, and the sheets and the pillows, and the mattress, stained with sad rings of blood. But it was the law: all movable furnishings of a consumptive’s sickroom, even the wallpaper, must be burned. And then, on a late February day in 1821, would have come the carrying-down of Keats’ small body itself: a twenty-five-year-old man, five feet tall and wasted to the weight of an adolescent, the luminous eyes closed for good.
I liked to climb to the highest point of the village, to the wind-beaten church, where the eye can sweep over an endless expanse in every direction, identical in character all the way around the circle.– Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli
When I was a boy, my grandfather, Domenico Preziosi, lived on Route 110, a double-barreled commercial strip in Huntington, New York, on Long Island, its cacophony a rousing anthem of people engaged in the business of living. Seemingly oblivious to the commotion, my grandfather tended his modest lot with a rustic’s stoic care that revealed his origins in one of southern Italy’s most remote regions. There was a small garden where he planted tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. There were pear trees, cherry trees, and apple trees, and where two had grown close together he had wedged planks between the trunks to serve as benches. Grapevines twisted through the piping of an iron trellis. He also made his own wine, which he bottled and stored in his cellar, its color closer to black than red.
I take the number 25 bus from Piazza San Marco north into the hills and get off at La Pietra—a stone marking one Roman mile from Florence. Behind the imposing gate, Villa La Pietra waits at the top of the long drive lined with Tuscan cypress trees.This fifteenth-century villa is the centerpiece of a fifty-seven-acre estate of Renaissance-revival gardens,a vast art collection, a library of over twelve thousand volumes, and olive groves with views of the Duomo.
By PAOLA PERONI
Last year, Antonio Greco committed suicide after attempting to kill his wife with a hammer. The doctors refused to speculate on the prognosis of his wife, hospitalized in critical condition. When we heard the news, I said I was only surprised Antonio had waited so long to try to kill Maria.
i want to travel with you like light, all over
wine and gondoliers, round pink-faced foreigners, street lamps
my hand in your black hair
and because we’re often laughing, we laugh
at how precious the buildings are in this drunken city
like piles of leaves we jump inside them
When your cousin offers to meet you at the airport and drive you to Abruzzo, don’t even pretend to defer. As you will learn from the passenger seat, to say “driving” in Italy is to say “a lot of close calls.” A tunnel on a two-lane road may admit just one car. Passing’s no fun senza risk. In small towns, main roads are closed on Sundays so neighbors can chat in the street. Memorize multiple routes.
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