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TUSCANY (continued)

On the drive into Abbadia San Salvatore we pass a stadium of boccie courts. It is closed and gated in preparation for The Feast of the Chestnut which is tomorrow. Italians give the chestnut its own feast day because the chestnut is shaped like a heart. Through the gate and beyond you could see one boccie court after another. Most people perhaps even here associate boccie with retired Italian men with dusty, faded fedoras tilted back, tossing boules with stern concentration, then bending down & measuring centimeters closest to the palino, with chiseled faces and lifetimes of experience with exactitude. But not Daisy. “Why can’t we play?”
“Well, players are made-up mostly of Italian men of a certain age. But I’m sure they wouldn’t mind of if you tossed a boule or two.” The first person to walk on Mars will be a woman similar in heart and soul to Daisy.
Italian street names have memory. In city after city their streets are named for partriots such as Ugo Bassi, Goffredo Mameli and, of course, Giuseppe Garibaldi. There are more monuments around the world to Garibaldi than to any other historical figure. Bless my beloved sister Mari, when she heard that the street outside our first home was named for the wonderful actor Vincent Gardenia, she got upset. “Our street should be named after you! What did he do? The street in front of our house should be named Anthony Valerio Boulevard!” That’s the street on which our contrada is marching. Sister Mari is in there among us, having grown more exact with the passing years.
Daisy cannot find our street, Strada Goffredo Memeli. Round and round she drives, shifting, down-shifting, stopping, going. You can’t predict when it will happen. When she will suddenly lose it. But I can feel this point of utter despair, of hopelessness, of stopping all that she is doing, close upon the horizon.
“Let me ask this local.” We are going slow enough.
“No! I have to find it myself!”
Another 5, 10 minutes of driving around the self-same streets. Massimo Asseglio, Angelo Massini, Luciano Manara, Enrico Dandolo—round and round and around again. At moments such as this one there is nothing any man can do. Finally, harrumphing, she slams the downshift and pulls over to an empty spot along the curving curb. “I’ll call the landlady.” Her name is Desi. Waiting for this Desi to pick up, my Daisy says, “You know her name could very well be Daisy, too.”
Within moments an elegant smiling face appears outside Daisy’s window. Refined, settled, composed, her skin surprisingly fair, full cheeks with a hint of rouge, studious in her clear lenses and frames, reserved distant smile as though she is always remembering a distant lover in Shanghai or Morocco or New York. Desi says to Daisy:
“You are very close.”
Daisy’s instincts for travel are bounteous. I call her “Madge,” short for Magellan. Twenty minutes in any town on earth and she’s got it mapped. We get out of the Fiat, grab our bags and follow.
We could not find Mamelli Street because its entrance is small and slightly uphill and off a main thoroughfare, beneath an ancient arch. The modern town was built around the ancient one. Modern street names like that of Mamelli’s was attached to streets with no names. Streets of the old towns are more like alleys than what we know as streets. Twisting, circuitous alleys, all stone, both the ground and the buildings, masons loading horse-drawn carts up in the mountains then riding down, unloading, then laying in stone by stone, day after day, year after year. Generation after generation of men with muscle and bone. The engineers designed that these streets should be short so that you couldn’t be chased more than about 15 yards. After that--“Oops there he goes!” and, right or left, you disappear into a 45- degree-angle turn and, suddenly, your pursuers are facing the stone façade of some unknown edifice. We turn into Strada Goffredo Mameli. I have written about Goffredo Mameli in another book of mine, Anita Garibaldi, a Biography but have forgotten the details. Sill, I can still feel Mameli’s heart, his youth, his courage, the way he was admired and loved, teenage author of poems sung and recited by his fellow soldiers, those who defended the Roman Republic of 1848. Young Mameli was a favorite of Garibaldi’s, who, after Mameli was hit and fell, fatally wounded, visited him in the make-ship hospital in the Quirinale, the pope’s former quarters, Pius having fled to the Neapolitan kingdom disguised as a page. Nurses included the American journalist Margaret Fuller and Anita Garibaldi, who had left her three children in Nice to be with her husband, General Garibaldi, and the general walks in in his bloody red shirt, long red hair matted with blood, on his way to Mameli passing and regarding the best of Italy’s generation, 14-year-old boys and women who had swept the streets so that the horses could have surer footing. And then Mameli breathed his last while the war for Italy’s independence from the northern Catholic countries notably France, and Austrian and papal civil rule continued on, bombs falling onto Rome, musket balls tearing limb from limb, other hearts stopping and others continuing to beat, as it is for all ages, for all men for all time. That night in his room in Trastevere, a slum then, in the light of one flickering candle which also shone partially on the great man’s grieved face, Gaibaldi wrote a letter to Madre Mameli, informing her of her valiant son’s death.
Our landlady leads the way up to our place which is at the very top. If you look up as far as you can, that’s how high our place is. Four sets of stairs, contiguous yet different, leading into separate apartment with different price ranges, each with its own banister. Desi goes up first. She has the kind of thick ankles and calves that, especially with open-toe sandals, seem to glide over the most difficult of terrains. Daisy follows her.
“Go and fix Mrs. Grillo’s line,” my mother would tell me.
Ernestine Grillo, called Ernie, was my mother’s neighbor and the women spoke as they hung out their clothes to dry from facing windows. I’d come and squeeze in beside my mother to get the latest news, learn what was going on in the neighborhood and the world. I remember how uncustomarily joyous the two women were the day Great War ended, voices and veins rising, looking down below on the street at other neighbors marching, waving, cheering, a sudden burst of happiness from Italians in New York who pretty much kept to themselves inside their houses, but now Mussolini was dead and Japan surrendered and Nicky from Seventy-fifth Street and Albee from Fifteenth Avenue would be coming home. I can still see and hear Ernestine with her highly gravelly voice, very lively and always nice to me, and generous, sometimes calling me in from the street for a wedge of mozzarella and a Pepsi. The women’s common clothes line was attached to the tops of two steep steel ladders riveted to the top of their attached garages, and sometimes high winds would blow down the rope and my mother would send me up to re-fasten it. First I had to climb onto the garage roof by standing and balancing on top of a garbage pail. The steel ladders stood like totems on top of the garage, narrow rungs placed pretty far apart, going up to the level of their bedroom windows. It was a pretty easy climb then. Way up there, re-fastening the rope line four stories above the street, I felt like I was king of the world.
Later on, before her playing engagement, Daisy wanted to go to Monte Amiata. “You can see the sunset over the Mediterranean from up there,” she said. The engineers of Monte Amiata decided to make the overall nature of the climb very clear from the beginning, show you the entirety of it before you set out. A gradual, steep climb, plenty of space on either side to step off and take a breather, not to slow down the pilgrims behind you, at the top your path meets the horizon, and that’s it. We start out, I am doing well, limping, hustling along. The best thing is not to look at the top. Down at the ground just ahead, step by step, progression by increments. I say: “I have had a recurring dream that immediately after I die I am climbing a wide open path just like this one which also meets the horizon and, just like now, I know nothing more.” Daisy stops. “Let’s not go up now.”
“Are you sure? I can do this. The sky is clearing, we can see the Mediterranean.” She hesitates. An idea had entered her mind. We walk a little further up the grade.
She hesitates. “Some other time. I need to practice a little.”
I climb up to our quarters, characteristically following beautiful women. Up the second then the third of four flights, pausing on the last landing, breathing heavily as way of showing the young women on the top landing, looking down, concerned, that is perfectly normal for a man of my age to be winded, to present the obvious contrast between two roses in full bloom and a faded one. One of the last things I hope to achieve in my life is to be realistic, not to exaggerate, be credible. I make it up there.
The first thing I usually do in any new abode where I find myself is to look outside, most likely for an escape route. Here, in this truly medieval mountain town, I look out the kitchen window which is higher than all of the surrounding buildings, the long view west is over the orange- tiled roofs. One neighbor has a roof terrace with a clothes line hung now with clothes swaying, drying. Chances are it will not rain in the near future. Inside, striking green tiles with ferns sash behind the sink. “The stove is electric,” Desi is telling Daisy. “And this is how you work the pellet stove.” Daisy takes the small metal shovel and she digs into the sack of pellets and pours them into the open hopper. One by one a pellet drops and ignites, and soon there is a fire. Daisy fills her shovel time and again, she likes the grating sound of the shovel entering the dwindling pile of pellets, and then the swooshing sound down into the hopper. I see that there are at least four large sacks of pellets, enough for our stay. Singular painted here and there decorate the walls. In the main bathroom, under the sink, a marble remnant painted over with lovely, dense blue and red leaves rests against one wall. A couch with a blue cover faces the fireplace. “I took this place because it had a couch where you can sit while I practice.” Directly across from the couch, beside the fireplace, a corkscrew staircase leads up to the loft/bedroom area. The staircase is imaginative. Its first step stands alone, pedestal-like, detached from the rest, made of a large, round piece of stone that has been whitewashed, another remnant, relic from some monument dating back thousands of years. This step leads to two more stone stairs, most likely taken from the same place, and then these stone stairs transform to five stairs made of wood that are steep and sharply spiraling, bordered by a much-needed steel banister. Physical feats in Italy are endless, unpredictable. The loft area contains a queen-size bed with down comforter, double armadio and chest of drawers enough for two. There is little walking around space, for this area is not for walking at least in the conscious state. The second bathroom is close, tight, the tile wall above the toilet has one painted tile at eye level amidst a tiled wall with a fine line drawing, no color, only sharp, black lines reminiscent of Jean Arp or Matisse, of a couple fornicating, she robust, ample, lying back, left thigh in the small horned he-goat’s hand spreading it out, while he, a muscular devil, stands at the edge of their surface, penetrating his human lover while standing, squatting slightly to the level, cloven hooves flat on the ground.

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