IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
During this time of isolation, I fight back the urge to have a cigarette. I don’t smoke anymore, but in the past when I needed a bit of companionship, I’d call up a close friend, she’d come over to have a cup of coffee and we’d light up.
Today, during this time of distancing, when no one is stopping by, I muse on remembrances of times past.
A Garden Conversation
I am at a painting workshop at a beautiful villa in Tuscany.
Before I set up my easel, I walk down a dirt path behind the villa looking for a place to paint and to have a forbidden cigarette. I pass a vegetable garden, a woman sitting in a webbed lawn chair is smoking.
As I walk over, to ask her for a light, she says: “Ogni tante ci vuole una cigarette.” (Every once in a while, there is a need for a cigarette.)
I light up. Rosa and I need no introduction. she is one of the housekeeping staff at the villa, and it was she who tidied up my room after I left for breakfast this morning. Her warm smile invites me to speak of family things, words of intimacy, things of the heart. Words flow easily as if we are old friends who have met by chance after a long time being separated.
In the Italian language there are two words that express the verb to know. One is conoscere where there is an intimacy, a closeness of spirit, even though you may have just met. And the other is sapere where you know facts, as in a dictionary.
In America, when you are introduced to someone, they may ask you what kind of car you drive, or what you do for a living? Cold hard questions. In Italy these questions would be considered vulgar and lacking in good taste.
Rosa and I speak of things of the heart. Her plump body fills her flowered housedress with a casual softness reminding me of my mother, although my mother, long gone, never smoked. On Saturday mornings after my mother finished washing the kitchen floor and I was done polishing the stove, my mother would put the coffee on saying: “Ogni tante ci vuole una tasse’ di café,” and we would sit down at the kitchen table have a cup and take a little rest.
Rosa tells me how proud she is of her daughter who has left to attend the University of Siena. Yet the timber of her voice tells of her sadness too. She is lonely for the days when she would plait her daughter’s hair before she sent her off to school. Days when her daughter would come home every day for lunch to eat the hot meal Rosa had prepared for her.
“Who knows what she eats in Siena?” she says as she drops her cigarette, steps on it and plucks a sprig of mint from her garden and hands it to me. She is a bit unsteady as she holds on to her chair and says: “Tonight, I will make you a nice minestrone with the vegetables from my garden.”
Luisa LoCascio was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1937, to a Sicilian mother and father. who came to the States in 1913. When anyone asked if she was Italian, her father taught Luisa to answer, “No, I am Sicilian.” This Sicilian-ness has never left her. Now approaching her eightieth birthday, Luisa has taken the stories her father told her about Sicily to write a memoir about growing up Sicilian in America. In the process of researching her parent’s town of Cerami, a tiny hamlet perched high in the Nebrodi mountains of Sicily, she discovered a massacre that occurred as Garibaldi was ready to launch his march with his rag-tag army through Sicily in 1860. She writes about the social and political climate that led up to the Italian Revolution.