I was born below the gentle rolling hills of Mount Subasio and I was blessed beyond imagination but only in the hindsight of my later life did I realize that paradise was here on earth in my much beloved village of Spello. But now my heart is breaking into a million pieces as my only daughter Lutetia is dying and I must rush to Manaus on the other side of the Amazon rainforest to be with her. Inside my cabin on Brazilian flight 501 to Manaus there is the acrid smell of burning metal then suddenly the plane lurches downwards and we are plunged into darkness. Outside my window the lightning flashes violently across the tropical sky. I am so scared and just want to be back in Mamaâ€™s kitchen where I felt safe. I am filled with guilt, what if my daughter dies before I get there? I would have failed as a mother. I love her so much but it has been so long since I told her.
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Table Of Contents
Other books from the Author's
Chapter One My beautiful Spello
Chapter Two Marriage, not what I expected
Chapter Three My best friend Lutetia and the gypsies
Chapter Four Education in the alleyway
Chapter Five Lonely days and lonely nights
Chapter Six Brazilian Flight 501
Chapter Seven Please don't die
Chapter Eight We need a Miracle
Chapter Nine Rainforest Magic
Chapter Ten A New World
Chapter Eleven A Mother's agony
Chapter Twelve We will be gone Forever
©Copyright 2018RJ & SL Schoenefeld
The right of RJ & SL Schoenefeld to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988.
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Table Of Contents
Introduction toA Silent Heart in Spello
I was born below the gentle rolling hills of Mount Subasio and I was blessed beyond imagination but only in the hindsight of my later life did I realize that paradise was here on earth in my much beloved village of Spello.
But now my heart is breaking into a million pieces as my only daughter Lutetia is dying and I must rush to Manaus on the other side of the Amazon rainforest to be with her.
Inside my cabin on Brazilian flight 501 to Manaus there is the acrid smell of burning metal then suddenly the plane lurches downwards and we are plunged into darkness. Outside my window the lightning flashes violently across the tropical sky. I am so scared and just want to be back in Mama’s kitchen where I felt safe.
I am filled with guilt, what if my daughter dies before I get there? I would have failed as a mother. I love her so much but it has been so long since I told her.
Chapter 1My beautiful Spello
I was born below the gentle rolling hills of Mount Subasio where once Roman legionaries returning from battle against the army of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were given a pension and land from a grateful Emperor. Where walking the olive groves in a moment of enlightenment Francis of Assisi found meaning in a humble life. I was blessed beyond imagination but only in the hindsight of my later life did I realize that paradise was here on earth in my much beloved village of Spello.
But as Mussolini’s black shirts were defeated and we started to feel safe again. Then Germany sent its army of cold face soldiers to take up where they had left off. There was no joy in watching the young men of the village quickly disappear into the surrounding hills to fight another war against Hitler. Many never returned.
Papa worked in the railway yards in Foligno, thank God he was too old for the fascist army and then too weary for the Partisan army. But these things I remember and will never forget. In each cell of my being wherever I am is a part of the little village perched amongst ancient olive trees, churches and Roman temples.
My story starts as a young Francesca Gubbini from the earth of Spello.
It was very dark and I was so afraid because I didn't really understand what was going on, everything around me was unfamiliar and out of my control. I remember thinking, ‘I don't want to be here but this is my little casa where my family has lived for generations.’
Those nights were long ago but sometimes my memory takes me back and I imagine I am still there sitting quietly petrified, waiting in fear for the thundering noise of the bombers overhead to fade into the distance. And then in the same moment all I want to do is really forget those nights in 1944, when my frightened family huddled together in the tiny dark cellar underneath our house in my precious little town. But who I am today, Francesca Maria Gubbini a sixty five year old sprightly widow is still at times a fourteen year old girl running and playing in the alleyways and flower filled streets of Spello.
I loved my life my world and all my friends growing up in the village, even with the war and then the liberation I had this incredible freedom I have never known since.
My small hilltop world of stone houses had sprung up from somewhere in the distant past and formed a crazy pattern of subtle earthy colors which became a part of my very soul. For wherever I am, Spello always draws me back like a magical spell that calls me back. It allows my imagination to wander its streets and alley ways as I live again in its houses and with its adoring families. It was such a big part of my life and it is just as much a part of me as I am of it.
Papa and his father and family had lived in this small hilltop village their whole lives. Its soft pink and creme stone walls and neat little orange terracotta roof tiles were born out of the earth keeping us all safe and secure. I more than lived there I was somehow entwined in its sacred mystique. The quaint little houses that were grouped together by chance were my world, my universe and everything I knew and loved.
As a little girl, the allied planes flew overhead at night bombing the Fascists and then the Germans in Foligno while Papa, Mama, my brother Vincenzo, older sister Unella and I huddled together in the cellar of our little family casa.
Papa would scare us with stories of the Gnefro, the mysteriously ugly and slimy blue creatures that supposedly lived in the caves around the outer Roman walls. When on dark nights they would seek out naughty young children that had not returned home by eleven in the evening. The children were never seen again and their fate unknown. In dark of the night he would tap the cellar door with the edge of his boot and we would all try to squeeze into the folds of Mama's long skirt for dear life.
We never put a foot out after ten at night and were always squeezed tightly around the open fire or huddled in the cellar. Even today I am sometimes a little fearful being out to dinner too late or mindful to be home before ten. Such was Papa’s deathly words about the mythical Gnefro tribe of Spello. Even today if I hear about a missing child my immediate thoughts go back to Spello and Papa’s stories.
Occasionally a bomb would explode in the fields near the village, maybe this was a mistake or maybe not. We never knew but the noise was deafening and our small cellar shook. Dust and bits of brick mortar would fall down from the corbeled ceiling above, a small candle in the corner lit the room with shadows and I could see tears running down Mama's face as she would start sobbing uncontrollably. Papa would grab my sister Unella, Vincenzo and me squeezing us together so tightly that his fingers dug into my arms. I wanted to wince and cry but I was so scared I didn't want to upset Mama, but when the candle blew out in the corner I started to tremble.
“It will be okay my darlings, the Madonna will protect us.” Mama would say with a knowing, as she held her rosary beads and cross tightly in both hands with her face to the heavens. What seemed like an eternity was probably only a minute, but the noise overhead was suddenly gone as we sat on our wooden beds that Papa had so lovingly made for each of us in our cellar.
As the railway yards and lines became rubble Papa rarely went into Foligno but each day he would return home with all sorts of wood and old mattress springs, finally strapping them together into old fashion camp beds for us to sleep on. Today, they are still in the cellar pushed up against the wall, as if they are waiting for us to return. We will never return.
My ten year old sister Unella would hug and squeeze me so tightly at times, I thought I was going to pee myself. I would eventually pull free and we would all fall asleep exhausted and with tears onto our beds. Vincenzo would occasionally open the large cellar doors and look out into the darkness of the night without fear, there was always something different inside my brother’s head, a knowing or a wanting. After the war he left for Australia and never returned. I should have known my little town was not big enough for him.
I am not scared by loud noises or dark places anymore. You see, dark places only take me back to the small cellar in Spello where I felt protected and surrounded with love. Where Mama's embrace and warmth would surround and protect me for all eternity. But eternity in my world was not going to be forever.
The intensity of those nights still lives in me in each moment of the day and in each day of the week. My memory is still sharp and clear when we would all wake to the earthy damp smell of the cellar as rays of sunlight shone from the alleyway through gaps in the cellar door and the salty meaty smell of curing pork legs would cloud my sense of smell forever. Rarely do I go into my local Alimentari with their cured meats hanging from the walls when I don’t look for my Papa and Mama in the shadows.
Each night Papa would open another of his favorite bottles of Spello Rosa, one of the many bottles Grandpa Gubbini had left behind before he died. In the morning in the corner lay Papa, all crumpled up like my rag doll, snoring and snorting in the stale musty air, oblivious to the world. And as always Mama was unhappy mumbling something under her breathe about my Papa being a disgrace in all this confusion and that the Madonna would only protect the sober members of the family.
I am sure God would never have judged Papa harshly as he lay in the corner understanding he was our protector from the Gnefro. But Mama was always having little digs at him still being a Mama's boy and that she really was the head of the family. Papa just looked at her with his big sad red eyes unable to compete with her argument, as he knew more than likely, what she said was the truth. It didn't matter what she said because Unella, Vincenzo and I loved and adored our Papa so much.
We would all look forward to Saturday morning when we visited Uncle Nino. Papa would borrow the old Fiat Balilla from his friend Vincenti and would drive into Foligno to buy little bits and pieces for the house and fill the food list for Mama. No one said anything about the holes in the road and the buildings blown into rubble that last week stood tall, sometimes a little wooden cross or two and flowers were left in front. It was so sad but sadder as time went on and we didn't even pay attention to it.
But before the short drive home Papa would stop and buy us each a gelato.
“For my lovely children.” My father would say before passing us the little cones.
We ate it so slowly, making it last until we got home. On those Saturday's we were the luckiest children in the world. The memories leave me with such warmth, happiness and total surrender of myself that in my unhappy days, I am able to bring back the feeling and emotion to caress and comfort me. So I thank Papa and Mama for my memories.
I am jolted back to the present with the sound of boarding calls for passengers.
‘Oh hell where am I? Here at Guarulhas Airport in Sao Paolo or back in Spello aged fourteen.’ I mock myself.
“Final boarding call for Brazilian Airlines Flight 501 to Manaus.”
I can just make out the Portuguese accented words. This crazy twelve hour flight via Roma Fiumicino and Buenos Aires airport is exhausting enough even without another five hours before I reach Manaus on the other side of the Amazon rainforest. I am a travelling wreck and keep asking myself, 'Am I crazy to come to this place?'
But how could any mother not see her daughter, knowing the heartbreak that her only child is dying? My eyes wander throughout the passenger lounge as I think of Lutetia.
The American couple in their matching blue and white Adidas track suits stand over by the customer service counter complaining about something I can't seem to understand. I am gathering the plane is probably late and if that is the case, there is nothing they can say to change it. The Adidas woman in her late forties has one of those mouths that attacks the poor customer service girl with such fury reserved only for a lioness over her prey.
“I don't think you understand Missy, we have to get to Manaus on time for a very important meeting. Where is the plane, why aren't we boarding?”
She continues to harass the poor girl as her husband just stands faceless, without emotion with a stance and look only reserved for a concrete wall. He nonchalantly looks around the waiting lounge with total disinterest in what his wife is saying. Finally, the customer service girl disinterested starts waving her arms in despair pointing for them to go over to the boarding gate.
As I stand to stretch my legs I straighten the silly black dress that I have worn for the last ten years. It always clings to my body with static, damn these synthetics. Once I am straightened, I admit that somehow it has become more of me than it should. It has become my hiding place, my refuge from the world, the world I don't want to let in anymore. A hiding place for my body and at the age of sixty five I haven't worried about my shape for many years. Even my breasts don't remember where they are supposed to go anymore. Hell, even when I didn't hide my body under this black cloak my husband Amelio didn’t touch me in those sensual sacred places in nearly all our thirty years.
It has been ten years since he died at his desk in the tile factory in Modena. He was slowly and carefully designing new patterns for his precious ceramic tiles. In my darkest moods, I thought he loved his tiles more than me. He loved his work so much that I would imagine his fingers kept moving after his heart stopped so he could finish his precious work on the next design. He was so proud of his tiles, yet I saw the rest of the world dropping dirty underwear on them in the bathroom.
If only he had put his hand on my magical spot and made me happy. So am I eighteen, sixty five or just a silly old woman. I am all those people, Papa's little girl, a mother, a wife and sometimes the angry family matriarch. I felt I had to be there for all of them when they needed me, but when I needed someone no one was there.
My life with Amelio was as simple as his coming home late at night and leaving early in the semi darkness of the gray foggy Modena mornings. The fog would hang around and surround me even when I left the house to go shopping later in the morning. I felt trapped in my life as I was trapped in the fog, it wouldn't let me go and I couldn't escape.
After getting married, we settled in Modena. Amelio had grown up in the area, the city itself was quite pretty with tree lined streets but a prison all the same and a place that wasn't my beloved Spello. Whenever I went into the city center I took the time to look at the fading photos of the partisans, the proud men of Modena. Many of those men and woman were murdered by the Nazis during the war and I saw faces not unlike Papa and Uncle Nino. I know this place has a soul that I should know but I can't understand why I couldn't find it.
When my beautiful baby girl came along my world changed to happiness. I had someone to give my love too. Lutetia was a good girl but she grew up so quickly that I hardly noticed the changes. I thought I did all the motherly things, school plays, birthday parties, walks into town on Sundays for gelato. Occasionally if we were lucky I was able to buy tickets to see the traveling circus, Circo di Moira Orfei. I was the sad lonely clown in and out of the circus. But I did all these things with so much love in my heart.
But as a teenager she made a life for herself outside the home, I saw her less and less as the years went by. Did she see my detachment, unhappiness or my missing love towards her father? Maybe she silently punished me instead of punishing him. I once saw them laughing together as a small sparrow fought bravely to stay on its icy perch outside the window of our apartment. I looked at them both hoping to be included, but they glanced at me with a discarding expression and went their own ways for the day and I was alone again.
I thought I was happy for her as she made a life for herself during the years at University but I was sad and I was home alone. Why didn't I have a baby boy, a good Italian mamas' boy who would stay with me to keep me company in those long, lonely days of married life. He would need me to look after him and I would need him to talk too.
Each day I awaited Amelio's return from work and then in the short time he spent with me. I asked myself, ‘For what do I wait for his return?’
My attitude would sour as I made his dinner, cleaned his house and for a few hours each Sunday we would walk to the Piazza and meet Lutetia for coffee and then go home. But after coffee we walked, but it was always Amelio and Lutetia ahead as a couple and me behind as the outsider. Their chatter and laughter only made me feel more alone. I felt life had no meaning and purpose, maybe if I deserted them both, they would miss me. But I couldn't or had I done that already?
Of course the time with Amelio was never enough. And what could we talk about? It never seemed to get beyond the trivial silly things of life, the mundane senseless things that were the everyday, maybe that's all there was to life. I had memories of myself as a young woman full of desire to do something with my life, to become more than the girl from Spello.
Most would have thought themselves blessed to marry a man from Bologna with such a good job, but I had this glow, a flame that burnt deep within me that wanted the world to explode in color around me. But I was still in that place, that apartment, the prison of my own doing. I would ask myself if life is preordained or destiny? And I am still asking, do I really have a chance to change and make more choices in my life?
This meandering thought has stayed with me forever.
Chapter TwoMarriage, not what I expected
I remember it was strange when I left Amelio just after the birth of Lutetia. I must have either come to my senses or the emotion of the birth had overcome my feelings and my world shifted in the starchy of life living in Italy during those years. How could I leave him some people would say. It was quite easy but it wasn't the world of today, it was the early fifties and the word divorce didn't exist. Infidelity was a man's world and a woman's duty was foretold from the beginning of her marriage vowels to the end.
It happened on a cold December afternoon when I arrived on the doorstep of Mama and Papa's house in Spello with my three month old baby girl in my arms. Mama with her apron covered in flour and bits of pasta in her hair just looked at me with disbelieving eyes and started to cry. I hadn't expected this reaction but there she was with tears rolling down her face as she dragged me through the door, “Francesca the whole village will know you are here without your husband?”
“But Mama” I pleaded with my red teary eyes.
She raised her hand and didn't want to listen. Spello was and still is a small town, a place of whispers and innuendos, where people grew old worrying about what other people said.
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