I miss Italy. When I was younger I would go at least once or twice a year, and I learned a great deal of Italian because of it. Sadly, as a result of mental atrophy, aging, and just general, all-around brain-fog, much of that Italian is now lost to parts of my mind that used to also be in charge of remembering people’s names and locating my sunglasses and keys in under fifteen minutes.
Luckily, I also love Italian opera. Music, it seems, is easier to recall than language in general. Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, one of my favorite composers next to Verdi and Bellini. Puccini is the glass of good inexpensive Prosecco to Verdi’s fine Chianti and Bellini’s, well…Bellini. He is generally a bit more folky than the two latter. Coincidentally, this makes the librettos of Puccini’s operas perfect for use in navigating the everyday situations of Luccan life with casual, Italian banter. Como un boss.
In 2016 I decided to take my son out of school and go to Italy for a month—to travel, to paint, and to eat—not necessarily in that order. Upon arriving late at our rented apartment in Lucca we are met by our hosts Luciano and his wife Rosa, who are both absolutely adorable, and also absolutely horrible at speaking English. I would rate it somewhere between Roberto Begnini at the 71st Academy Awards and Italian Tarzan. In other words, as good as my butchered Italian. Luckily, my memory of the lyrical librettos of Puccini was as sharp as a tuscan steak knife.
“You speak Italian, yes?” asks my host, as he grabs my suitcase and proceeds to drag it up the five steep flights of stone steps of our ancient building. He’s still a little disoriented that I am a woman, as all our correspondence has me as Mr. Skaar - a small detail I didn’t have the heart to correct until just now. I introduce them both to my son Conrad.
“Here we are!” I announce, “This is Conrad, happy flower-girl. Her presence alone makes our company complete. For...for I am a poet; and she is poetry itself.”
Luciano nods. Conrad is already being unceremoniously tousled by Rosa who is blissfully unaware of my son’s body language which is silently cursing like a Genoan sailor.
We reach our floor, and the doors are opened to reveal our beautiful apartment. Spacious and clean, it also boasts a vast assortment of Italian knick knacks and odd textiles which of course, are absolutely perfect. I am relieved to finally be here. I’m also relieved that the place is better than expected.
“I’ve been aching all over since yesterday. I fled during the night and I set out at dawn and came here to find you.” I tell Luciano. “Let us make a bargain together - for a penny I’ll sell my virgin heart.”
Luciano gives me my receipt as I hand him the balance of the rent for the next month. He shows me the apartment as well as the large covered rooftop deck. The kitchen is wonderful, with a great gas stove and everything I might possibly need to cook at home. He shows me the fridge, which is filled with some bubbly and a cake.
“Destiny provides us with a feast of plenty!” I cry out. Luciano is pleased at my enthusiastic response to the tiramisu. “Let me look around,” I continue. “How wonderful it is here. I’ll recover... I will...I feel life here again. You won’t leave me ever…”
“Yes,” says Luciano sadly, “We actually must go now. It’s illegal to park outside.”
“So it’s really over. You’re leaving, my little one? Goodbye to our dreams of love.” I make a sad face.
Conrad, on the other hand, perks up at the movement of our guests towards the door. Rosa’s hands are still massaging his scalp.
“Ah! do you remember when I came in here the first time?” I say wistfully, to no one in particular.
“Si,” Luciano and Rosa say, kissing me on both cheeks. Conrad has made an escape and locked himself into one of the bedrooms. I explain Conrad’s abrupt disappearance.
“It’s just a little cough. I’m used to it. He’ll be dead within half an hour,” I explain cheerfully.
“He is so tired!” Rosa says warmly. I usher them out the door.
“I bid you farewell, faithful old friend. Farewell. I’m staying behind, you’ll go on to greater heights. I give you my thanks.” I say as I mentally uncork the Prosecco in the fridge.
“If you need anything, you can call or email us.”
“GRAZIE! E BUONA NOTTE!” I yell down the stairs after them.
Our time here has begun.
"Il Polpo", oil on canvas, 2016