“I am living permanently in my dream,
from which I make brief forays into reality.”
—Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography
Erminia danced the Charleston. My friend Gianluca told me how, almost every evening, his grandmother would pause on the threshold of the French doors that opened onto the terrace and trace out the steps. Her arms swinging, legs twisting, a toe to the front, then to the back, a heel swiveling to the side, a toe to the front again. She confined her movements to the doorway as though she wanted to go unnoticed, and yet somehow she demanded the attention of anyone nearby. Whenever I was at Gianluca’s, I always saw her singing softly to herself.
“In the Fog” is taken from Le Solitarie (1917), Ada Negri’s first collection of stories, astute portraits of marginalized women struggling with poverty, exploitation and loneliness. Raimonda is a young woman who was horribly disfigured by a fire in her childhood. Only in the dense and murky fog of Milan, her face concealed by a “nebulous mass of vapors,” does she feel free.
We decided to work together at the close of a week-long Italian translation workshop at the British Centre for Literary Translation and we chose this story because we were captivated by Negri’s richly evocative prose. Much of our lively collaboration, helped along by Tuscan reds, seppie in zimino, minestra di fagioli and lesso rifatto, took place in Lucca and Florence.
Ottaviano held the staff high and steady as Scipio tugged at the bunches of leaves fixed to its top.
“He remains content?” Ottaviano asked the giraffe’s keeper.
“He does,” the keeper said. “Twice since sunrise he’s moved his bowels.”
Ottaviano watched Scipio chew. With his knobbly horns, his puzzled hide, and his great neck, he had clearly been made for a far different existence in his home beyond the Nile, a home for which even the library’s grandest atlas possessed only the most rudimentary of maps. And yet, snatched from that home, confined to his pen, the animal betrayed neither alarm nor sorrow.
Mariangela Gualtieri is a poet of great incandescence. Whether confronting existential questions or questions of daily existence, she writes with searing honesty and compassion. A veteran of the theater, Gualtieri’s voice can be thunderous and oracular, but also painfully intimate.
Sulfur: odor of rotten eggs, matchhead, volcanoes, gunpowder, and Lucifer down there in Hell’s fire and brimstone.
Also the smell that pervades thermal spas. Along with minerals such as sodium chloride, iodine, and calcium, sulfur is a key component of manytherapeutic waters. Linked as it is with fire and corrosion, sulfur also has a storied association with the healing of numerous ailments, particularly respiratory and skin-related ones.
“No one has mastery before he is at the end of his art and his life.” —Michelangelo
On that bright morning in November—the first day I saw her—Anna Lea Lelli wore the outfit that distinguished her on the streets of Rome: a long cape and beret. The beret emphasized her craggy jaw and prominent Roman nose. Under her Scottish wool cape, Lea wore a gray suit in gabardine and a cream-colored silk blouse with French cuffs and pearl cufflinks. Just the right amount of cuff showed under the suit, no doubt perfectly tailored to her years ago. At her neck was a silk scarf, on her hand a carnelian ring carved with the face of Mars. She held a cane with the silver head of a horse, the patina worn from the warmth and pressure of her hand.
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.
Review: Hurtling in the Same Direction – At Home in the New World
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.