705 VAllejo St. NO.6
San Francisco, Ca 94133
"Youth is a blossom whose fruit is love;
happy is he who plucks it after watching
it slowly ripen."
A Room Full of Memories
Robert Wallace Paolinelli
If Adriana had not died, this room would be filled with her very presence and the things she loved. But she died.
I look around the room and what do I see? Cousin Silvia's harpsichord, given to me by sweet Silvia before she went off to be a Carmelite nun. She gave away everything she owned except the clothes she wore the day she left for the convent to take the veil and vow of silence. She gave me the harpsichord because I loved to sit and hear her play it. I cannot play it; though I know by heart the repertoire played thereon by Silvia, whom I shall never see again, whom I've not seen in--how long? Too many years have passed for me to remember. She must be gray and bent by now--and how beautiful she was in her youth. Grandmother used to call her "Angel face."
We loved each other so much, Silvia and I. In our youth we even discussed marriage. How foolish we were. Yet we loved one another as only youth can love. But as we grew older and "more sensible" as grandmamma used to say, we cooled our ardency--it was for the best, though. We went our own ways. She had a tragic romance with Gaetano and after his accident, wherein he lost both legs and one eye--and she barely escaped death herself--she sought refuge in the church, and after ten years of paternosters and living an austere life to rival that of St. Teresa de Avila, she made her decision to take up holy orders. But it was through her that I met Adriana; and that meeting, of course, changed everything for me, drew me away from my family, my work and made me follow her all over the world, while she roamed about with her cameras and bags of photographic equipment.
The harpsichord was made in France, in the year 1750, in Tours, by an unknown craftsman who inscribed only his initials on the inside: C De V., 1750, Tours. How it got to Kansas City, where father bought it, we never knew. When Silvia was six, and had come with Aunt Fioretta to spend the summer with us in the wilds of New Mexico, where father at last "put down roots," as he said, she fell in love with Monsieur De V.'s superlative instrument, and every morning she would go to it after breakfast and play it. That is how we discovered we had a child prodigy in the family. She astounded everyone with her heretofore unknown talent. Father, being the kind of man he was, at his own expense, engaged a teacher, much to the proud delight of portly Aunt Fioretta, who was convinced Silvia Maria would grow up to be another Wanda Landowska--alas, that never happend, although Silvia did have a musical debut at age fifteen in Chicago. But Silvia, my sweet Silvia, talented that she was, did not wish to pursue a musical career, much to the chagrin of her unhappy mother, my father's sister.
During one of our numerous long walks which we used to take during her many summer-long visits (the rest of the year we carried on a lengthy correspondence) she confessed to me that although she loved playing the harpsichord--especially for me--she added, she felt her true calling was in literature, and she was convinced (in her own genius) beyond doubt, she would become a famous novelist. A year later, when she was seventeen, she told me she'd changed her mind about becoming a novelist and, instead, would study medicine, heal the sick, deliver healthy babies and find a cure for a half dozen incurable maladies. That was the summer that we declared our love for one another. Until that season, long ago, we had never said anything, never touched each other except in cousinly embraces and kisses on the cheek as is common in Italian families. But, oh, that summer, while hiking in the mountains, unable to contain myself, I blurted out, "Silvia, I love you and I want to marry you." She looked at me with widely opened eyes from which tears suddenly began to form, and she threw her arms around me and declared, "Corrado, I've loved you since I was a little girl," whereupon, we kissed and kissed until we ran out of breath. I became terribly aroused, and so did she, but being both innocent of sex and very ignorant, we didn't do anything (that day) except embrace, kiss and hold hands. A week or so later, again in the mountains, we swam naked in a cold stream. And afterwards, we lay close to one another; but did not consummate that ardency because we knew nothing about birth control, but knew enough about life to know that making love caused pregnancy and she didn't want a baby until after her medical studies were over. That whole summer we were lovers, of a sort--but still virgins, the both of us, although I will admit we did other things which might not have qualified us as such. Be that as it may, the summer ended, she and Aunt Fioretta readied for their return. Grandmother, mother's mother, who had come to live with us the year before, being an astute observer, called us, Silvia and I, to her a few days before Silvia left for Chicago, saying she wanted us to walk with her, not anything unusual. So the three of us went for a walk, and, when we were out of sight and sound of the house, she stopped for a rest and, being a very blunt woman when she felt she needed to be, told us that she had observed us all summer closely and--she did not mince words--asked us if we were in love and had we done anything?
Silvia burst into tears and I turned my head away in shame. Grandmother, usually a gentle woman, grabbed me by the shoulder, spun me around and slapped me hard on the cheek. "Have you dishonored your cousin?" she asked in a voice which made me tremble Then turning to Silvia, whom she also slapped, she said, "Did you dishonor yourself with your rascal cousin?" We were in a state of shock both from her slaps and her words, and we were weeping so much in shame that it was at lest a full five minutes before either of us was able to speak, and it was Silvia who spoke first. "I love Corrado, and he loves me--and we want to marry someday--but Grandmother, I am still a virgin--and so is he--we have not dishonored the family." Technically, Silvia was correct (of course we both knew otherwise).
Seeing how upset our grandmother was, whose comportment was always serene, or close to it, I fell on my knees and admitted to kissing and touching Silvia in an intimate way. I felt that if I did not at least admit to some transgression, she would pull it out of me. Silvia rushed to my side and fell on her knees and put her arms around me. "We love each other. Is it wrong to love, Grandmamma?" Her voice was so passionate, so humbly honest that Grandmother's entire demeanor changed: One minute she had been the outraged matriarch, the next she was the loving, almost saintly, doting grandmother whom we both loved. "My children, my poor misguided young souls, this love you have, alas, is wrong--it is forbidden by tradition since days of old. Yes, love one another, for did not our Lord admonish us to do exactly that? But carnal love between cousins is wrong, and you must promise me you shall cease at once and never, ever kiss or touch one another again." Her voice was filled with kindness and love. She was no longer (in our eyes) the angry matriarch; and she began to cry and then all three of us were crying and hugging each other in reconciliation and she apologized for having slapped us.
That was the end of our ardent summer. We exchanged letters per usual, but we knew we would never again be lovers.
As I look about this room and see the things which occupy its space, I can't but marvel at the number of things which clutter and gather dust on the shelves. Next to Silvia's harpsichord is a bookshelf; among the books is an old atlas which belonged to my late father. Not long ago, after having read an ancient history text, I wanted to see where Sogdiana was, that place where once a Roman Legion faced a Chinese army around 36 B.C. or so.
I found Sogdiana, satisfying my curiosity and was about to close the atlas when I decided to see if a certain small town in Spain, near Salamanca, was on the map, for it was there that Adriana and I met.
Having been graduated in architecture with no distinction from a most prestigious university, my father, a lover of travel, decided that after four years of academic incloister, I, too, should travel, and see something of the world and how others lived. He, therefore, subsidized me and sent me on my way.
Silvia and I, now much "older," and having lost our ardor--but not our genuine and deep affection for each others--nevertheless, still kept up our correspondence. She was in Italy, about to start her study of medicine in Bologna. I wrote to her saying I was off to Spain and that I would go to Italy and visit her. I received her reply while I was in New York waiting for my ship to arrive (father insisted I go to Spain by sea) and was staying with my mother's relatives in White Plains.
What a thrill it was to read her news. She was a fine correspondent, her letters being filled with historical anecdotes, glimpses of street scenes, her philosophical confusions and her vivid descriptions of the people she'd met. In this particular letter she told me about la friend named Adriana Visconti, who would (also) be going to Spain that very summer, and that the two of us should meet, perhaps in Madrid. I will always remember what she wrote about Adriana: "She is as beautiful as one of Botticelli's graces in his La Primavera, as sharp-tongued as an inquisitor when she needs to be, as compassionate as a Buddha and as fiery as a Gypsy dancer bent on seducing a pious Calvinist." Well, I was intrigued and wrote back immediately, saying I would be docking in Valencia, and would make my way to Madrid, arriving the 3rd of July, where I would be staying at such and such a hotel and that signorina Visconti could contact me there.
The sea voyage was exhilarating. Having been raised in New Mexico among mountains and mesas, the sea was a thrill. The weather held and the voyage smooth. I never got seasick and had a hardy appetite. I read, wrote in my journal, made friends with the other passengers and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I made friends with a Spanish gentleman who marvelled at my appetite. He was the owner of a large and exclusive restaurant in Barcelona, and he invited me to visit him and his family if ever I went to Barcelona. (I did go to Barcelona with Adriana and looked up senor rovira--but that's another memory).
I stayed just a few hours in Valencia, then took the night train to Madrid. I'd not slept the entire time from Valencia; and when I arrived in Madrid, I was, however, fresh, alert and eager for the sights. I checked into my hotel and immediately asked if there were any messages for me. There were no messages. After a bath and a change of clothes and with a cafe con leche, bread and sausages under my belt, I left the hotel to explore the capital of Spain. I bought a guide book and went walking. By the late afternoon my fatigue caught up with me; moreover, the heat was intense and I'd failed to buy a hat and had a miserable headache. I took a taxi back to the hotel. As I was paying off the driver, a young woman was just leaving the hotel, She approached the cab, asked the driver something in Spanish and got in. I when I went to the front desk for my key, the clerk told me I had just had a visitor who had left me a letter. I knew intuitively--instantly-- that the woman who had got into the taxi from which I'd just alighted had to be Adriana Visconti! I ran out the door; but the taxi had already gone. The run to the door set my head to throbbing and I felt dizzy. I went back into the cool hotel, asked for my key, my letter and for some aspirin. When I got to my room, I took the aspirin, washed my face and head with cool water, then lay on the bed, opened the envelope and read Adriana's first letter to me.
"Caro cugino della Silvia," Dear Silvia's Cousin, was her rather unusual salutation in Italian, then continued in English, "I'm sorry I missed you and so sorry I will not be able to meet you here in Madrid. Silvia has told me so much about you--and I do want to meet you. Unfortunately, I must go to Salamanca today on business. I shall be there for three days. If you would like to meet me there it would be my pleasure. You will find me at Avenida de los Cipreses, 32. Until then,
I reread her letter and decided I would go to Salamanca and find this exotic friend of Silvia's; but the gods would not allow it. Apparently the sun had been just a bit much for me, and when I awoke the next day I had a slight fever, no appetite and all I wanted to do was sleep, which I did that entire day and the next. On the third day, feeling better, but not well enough to travel, I dressed and went to the front desk and had a telegram sent to Adriana: "Am ill Stop Unable to go Salamanca Stop What now? Corrado." That very evening I received a reply: "Sorry you are ill Stop Am off to the countryside Stop Will be in Aldealengua one week Stop Meet me there if possible Stop Adriana."
Her telegram made me feel better and that night I even slept better and, upon waking the next day, Felt fit and ready to continue my travels. When I asked the clerk at the desk how I might get to Aldealengua, he didn't know where it was and had to look on a map and said it wasn't far from Salamanca and that I should have no trouble getting to it or finding my friend because it was a small town. I went, therefore, to Salamanca, spent the night in a modest posada and the next day made inquiries about Aldealengua and discovered it wasn't far. Seeing that I was on an adventure, I decided to walk there. I bought a pair of boots and a rucksack, then set out for a walk which I expected to cover in a long day of walking--which turned out not to be so.
I made good time; but by midafternoon the new boots had blistered my feet and my ankles were swollen and walking was painful. The Rio Tormes ran along the old country road I was following, so I removed my boots and socks, soaked my feet and felt immense relief. But when I went to put my boots back on, I could not, for the blisters were painful and my feet swollen. My youthful exuberance had led me to this impasse and my enthusiasm was starting to wane. But being made of sterner stuff, I simply resolved to continue shank's mare barefooted. I lasted about a mile. The road was simply too rough for my feet. Then came my salvation. I was sitting, my head down, looking at my feet trying to decide what to do next, when I heard a sound. I looked up and to my great surprise I saw a cart being pulled by a giant ox, and walking alongside the beast was an old man. As he approached, I hailed him, and after a few amenities, I explained my situation. He took pity on me, and nodded his head in understanding. I further asked him if he were going to Aldealengua and to my joy he said he was. Inviting me to get into the cart, he took my rucksack, and once in the cart handed it to me, and we were off.
The ox was slow; but at least I didn't have to walk and we did not get to Aldealengua until noon of the next day, having spent the night near a wayside shrine. At sundown, the old man built a fire and from a sack took a piece of jamon, bread, cheese and wine. He fed me, for foolish youth that I was, in my arrogance of thinking I could walk the distance over a rough road in one day, I brought only a canteen of water. He asked me why I was going to Aldealengua, for there were no tourist sites there. I explained about Adriana. He told me he seemed to recollect an estranjera staying on the outskirts of the village and that he would take me to the house, or close to it, where he thought she was staying. I was delighted and that night slept peacefully.
Aldealengua was a small village, just a few hundred people and not much else. When we arrived, the streets seemed to be deserted; but being noon, I knew the people were at home eating. At the outskirts, my good guide pointed to an undistinguished house saying it was where "los estranjeros" were staying. I thanked him profusely, gave him some pesetas for his troubles, and on bare feet, my boots in one hand, my rucksack in the other, I went to the house and knocked on the door.
A young man, about my age (who turned out to be Gaetano) answered the door. He seemed very somber until I introduced myself and said why I was calling. Then he broke out into a smile and a torrent of Italian, calling out, "Adriana, Adriana, il cugino della Silvia e' arrivato," Silvia's cousin has arrived. He bade me come in most cordially and I entered into a cozy, but plain looking room with a table set for two; on the stove were steaming pots of food. The only distinctive piece of furniture in the room was a long, Victorian couch, in front of which was a hand-wrought, heavy-legged coffee table on which were books and magazines. I heard a voice in English call out, "Corrado, I'll be there in a minute." The voice I heard was a silver bell, a sweet, sonorous, slightly accented bell which rolled the rs of my name and endeared me to that voice (as it turned out) forever; and I believe it was at that moment that I fell in love with Adriana Visconti--even without having seen her--a love which would span many years of bliss, mystery, misery, laughter and fun.
Gaetano, who spoke with a northern Italian accent, introduced himself to me. He was Adriana's stepbrother, a painter, who had rented the house in Aldealengua for the summer so he could paint without distraction. He took my rucksack and boots and, looking at my blistered feet, also took pity on my. "Please sit; you shouldn't be standing." But I was too nervous to sit and stood in place until the silver bell came out.
Standing before me was Adriana. She stood about five foot three, long black hair, an olive hued skin and deep, chestnut colored eyes. She had a classical Italian face. She was beautiful in my eyes. Silvia had been right: she was as beautiful as one of Botticelli's three graces. She wore a long, straight, burgundy colored skirt, a plain white peasant's blouse with a deep decollete; her breasts delicately pushed out the loose blouse. She walked, or rather glided across the room. "At last. Welcome Corrado, welcome. I hope I didn't cause you any inconvenience, and that your journey here was a pleasant one." The words tumbled from her lips like clear crystal water from a mountain tarn. Oh, I was so taken by her that for a moment I was lost for words and my usual glib tongue was mute. "Gaetano, some wine for our guest, quickly." She extended her hand and I offered mine in return and while we shook hands my voice returned. "Adriana, I'm so pleased to meet you, at last." I held on to her hand and looked directly into her magnificent eyes. She made no attempt to disengage her hand or her eyes and stood cooly looking back at me with an enigmatic smile on her face and it was only Gaetano's offering of the wine that made me withdraw my hand. We sat on the couch, and it was then that Adriana noticed I was barefooted and saw my blisters. "What on earth happened to you?" she asked solicitously. I related my experience on the road and as I spoke, tears welled up in her eyes and she excused herself for a moment, returning with a small first-aid kit, a basin of warm water, a wash cloth and a towel. Without even asking, she knelt down and washed my sore, dirty and blistered feet tenderly, lovingly. There was something almost saintly about this gracious act of ministering to my wounded, road-weary feet. With the towel she carefully dried my feet, and from the first-aid kit she took a tube of some soothing ointment which she applied to the broken blisters and red spots. Taking one of the pillows from the couch and putting it on the coffee table, she told me to put my feet thereon and stay like that until she said otherwise. Her firm, physician-like orders I obeyed without discussion. I rather liked her caring for me, which fulfilled another of sweet Silvia's descriptions of Adriana: "...as compassionate as a Buddha."
"We shall move the table closer to the couch and eat by Corrado," she said to Gaetano after she had taken the basin, the towels and aid kit away. At the stove she donned an apron and took a large capon from the oven, and busied herself with other culinary things, while Gaetano moved the table and chairs close to the couch while I sat sipping wine and feeling ever so much better and relieved, for at last my journey was over and I was in good hands. Adriana put a large, heavy white linen napkin across my lap, then put a tray on top of the napkin. The food was brought to the table. I was served first. We ate soup, the capon, a huge green salad; there was bread and, of course, wine, of which we drank many glasses, and, by the time the meal was over, we were all a bit tipsy, and by then, had become fast friends.
I liked Gaetano. He was a spirited young man, and now, as I look back and see him then, on that first day of what was to be the beginning of our long friendship, it is hard for me (still) to reconcile what happend to him and how he wasted away, finally dying by his own hand five or so years after the horrid accident which not only robbed him of his limbs and one eye, but also his will to live, his will to paint, although he did make a few pencil sketches those last few years, but nothing as vibrant as the works he showed me the week I stayed with him and Adriana and the works he created up until the time of the accident.
Outside, in the back of the house, he had hung a large canvas awning to protect him from the fierce Spanish sun, set up his easel and there he painted sublimely, every day, from early morning, only stopping to eat and for a siesta, then back he would go until sunset, when the light of day was no more and he would lay down his brushes in wholesome exhaustion, then go for a long, solitary walk.
In this room hang four paintings by Gaetano Visconti: one of Adriana in the costume of a 15th Century Spanish noblewoman which he did from memory that summer in Aldealengua after Adriana and I had left; the second is a portrait of Silvia I'd asked him to paint. She'd been reluctant to sit for him because she was so busy reading for her final medical examinations, so he simply painted her reading medical texts; but he did manage to capture her delicate features, and, at the same time, her very serious intentions as a medical student. The third is a land and seascape of Corfu, where the four of us went after Silvia's successful completion of medical school. The fourth is a bizarre painting in almost cubistic manner with dismembered limbs and heads and, frighteningly enough, a single eye painted almost as an afterthought in the upper left hand corner. I say an afterthought because I went to visit him in his studio on the day he'd finished this bizarre work, and he'd announced to me its completion. I scrutinized it carefully and upon that viewing, and remember no eye, so I know he painted it in afterwards--and three weeks later he and Silvia, while driving in their car across an unguarded railroad crossing, were struck by the train, and it is only by the grace of God that they were not killed outright. Somehow he had prophetically painted the loss of his legs and his eye. A collector offered me quite a large sum of money for this painting, but I will never part with it and have it written in my will that after I am dead the painting shall be destroyed.
Adriana and I left Gaetano and, promising to meet him in Bologna at then end of the summer, we traveled to Valladolid, thence to Pamplona, where we stayed for only one day because we were both anxious to visit Barcelona and Andorra, where Adriana had friends.
We had never discussed traveling together; as we waved to Gaetano on our way to Salamanca, it was unspoken, but understood between us, that we would stay together. She was just beginning her long and successful career as a photographer and every where we went she had her camera ready and I was there to hand her a lense or a filter, fresh roll of film or set up her tripod if need. I really didn't mind, for by the time we left Pamplona, I was so head over heels in love with her that I was determined to be at her side, in any capacity, for the rest of my life.But my father's ill health changed that romantic, youthful fantasy.
Weary, but exhilarated, awash in this fresh love--which was my first adult love--after my escapade with cousin Silvia--we crossed over into Italy, via Nice and spent our first night together in Genoa, Italy. Up until that time, whenever we'd checked into a hotel or pension, we always took separate rooms; but in Genoa, when we stood at the front desk of a three star hotel near the water, she simply asked for a letto matrimoniale, double bed. I was pleasantly shocked at this unexpected move on her part. The clerk, intuiting we were not married, raised his eyebrows and was (I knew by the expression on his face) about to become morally insolent, as Italian hotel clerks could be in those days toward unmarried couples wishing the same room. But before he could open his mouth Adriana looked him coldly in the eyes and said: "You will give us a room as I have asked--and that's the end of it. Is that clear?" The force of the tone of her voice and the cold, undaunted stare of her eyes upset the clerk so much that he was left speechless and, as he handed over the key (to a lovely room), his hand trembled. Adriana was one of the kindest women (along with my mother, Silvia and my saintly grandmother) I'd ever known; but there was a part of her which was biting, cruel, commanding; and when this part of her came to the fore, I pitied anyone on the receiving end of her outspokenness.
That same night, after we had eaten, strolled about and called Silvia in Bologna to let her know we were in Italy, we returned to our room, and after refreshing baths, we stood in our robes, in the dark with the balcony doors open to the vast port of Genoa. We could see the ships in the harbor, and she spoke in a low, dreamy voice about how she would travel the world over and become a famous photographer. As we stood there, we held hands--almost timidly--for in spite of her forwardness, there was always a shyness in her which always preceded our love making, which always endeared her to me.
By that time I was no longer a virgin, having had several experiences during my undergraduate years. But nothing like that night, the first of many unforgettable nights, that we lay in passionate love until almost dawn, and slept until the late afternoon and without ever getting out of bed we made love again and again until we were utterly exhausted sexually.
There is a photograph of myself which Adriana took on our last day in Genoa. It sits on top of the harpsichord inside a silver frame. Every time I look at it I smile, for there are dark circles under my eyes and fatigue is written all over my face; nonetheless, it was a well-earned, joyous fatigue which would be repeated until a telegram recalled me back to New Mexico in October of that year, and I had to leave behind my beloved Adriana, my sweet Silvia, who was madly in love with Gaetano, whose summer in Spain proved to be a most prolific time, and with the works he'd produced that season, a shrewd gallery owner introduced him to the public, and his claim to a niche in the art world was made for him; and a few years later, he was a most sought after painter. But his talent was true and no one could deny his genius.
Father was very ill. He had double pneumonia, compounded by a recurrence of some tropical malady (which manifested itself every few years) he had contracted in his own youth while working in New Guinea, which no medical doctor had ever been able to identify, but it, nevertheless, affected his liver in a similar fashion as does hepatitis. I kissed my beloved goodbye, and with tears in our eyes, promised to write everyday--which we did not do--and further promised to re-unite as soon as possible.
My mother, along with our family doctor, expected my father to die and by all indications there was no reason to doubt otherwise. But on my first visit with him at the hospital in Santa Fe, weak and feverish that he was, he told me: "Don't cry. I'm not going to die; only those who have no good reason to stay alive die--and I have every reason to live." Weak-voiced that he was, I found so much strength in his words that I wiped my eyes and had an instantaneous change of attitude, for my father's words were so re-assuring that there was no doubt in my mind about his recovery and subsequent discharge from the hospital--which came to pass. By the end of November of that year, he was released from the hospital and I drove him home, where he recuperated that whole winter, and I took over his business, getting my first taste of the architect's life. I had chosen architecture more out of love for my father, a fine architect, rather than any innate talent of my own. I followed architecture because, frankly, it was the only thing I had had any training in.
During his recuperation. my father would sit at my side at the drawing table and dictate his ideas; I acted solely as his draftsman; but because he was such a generously magnanimous man, he insisted my name be on the plans as well. True, I did have ideas of my own which he either approved or modified, but, in the main, it was his words which I merely translated into lines and dimensions.
For the first weeks of my return, while father was still in the hospital, I wrote to Adriana (almost) everyday; and she answered my letters. But when father came home and I started in earnest to run the business, I found little time (or inclination) to write to her daily, and by and by my letters dwindled to once a week, then once in a fortnight and so on. And it seemed that my passion, too, for Adriana, was cooling, and I felt not a little guilty and wretched because of these diminishing feelings. Silvia was the one who alerted me, telling me in one of her long letters that, Adriana was positively humiliated one day and outraged the next because my letters were not arriving. "You had better write to her and do it soon, otherwise I am convinced in her present state of disequilibrium, she will lose her spirit and do something drastic. You cannot imagine how much she loves you and feels (almost) cheated and abandoned by your infrequent and sporadic correspondence. Write quickly, lest you lose the deepest love of your life--even deeper than mine."
Silvia's letter left me feeling dishonorable and confused. I moped about for days. My mother, taking cognizance of my behavior, came to my room late one night, a rather unusual thing for her to do and, after a few minutes of small talk, asked me why I had been so down at the mouth most of the week. I'd not said anything about Adriana to my family. When I'd recounted my summer sojourn I intentionally left out Adriana--except for our initial meeting. I was most hesitant in saying I had fallen passionately in love with her and had had an affair with her that summer and the weeks subsequent to my emergency return home.
Being the kind and sensitive woman she was, I could not hide the reason for my depression, so I opened to mother, leaving out, of course, the intimate side of our romance; but my mother, wise soul that she was, did not need to hear from my lips what I had omitted. She frowned (at first) but the frown passed, for my mother was a true romantic and could understand what I was going through. Nonetheless, she looked at this with a woman's heart, and even though she loved me, she told me that if indeed my sentiments had cooled, then the only thing I could do was write to Adriana and tell her. "You can't let that girl go on thinking you love her while the contrary obtains." Her matter-of-factness was jolting. "Write to her tonight. Do not bring your integrity into disgrace. But if in your heart you rediscover your love is sincere, then the only honorable thing you can do is ask her to marry you. I understand a young heart; it is easily excited and easily cooled; but somewhere in between these extremes, there are true and deep sentiments--the ones which brought you two together in the first place. God does not bring people together out of whimsy. Adriana is in Italy, you in New Mexico--distance and time and space can make you think your love has waned, but, at bottom, the initial love is still there." With those sage words, she kissed me on the forehead, bade me good night and left.
After mother had gone, I was in a worse state than before. Her words had not only called into question my integrity, but, also, made me question my original sentiments. I went to my father's studio land sat at the drawing table, pen in hand, with a large cup of coffee laced with brandy. I closed my eyes and had an internal conversation with my conscience. After much internal dialogue and many sips of my brandy-laced coffee, I came to the conclusion that yes! I loved Adriana Visconti with all my heart and all my soul. That realization, I guess, was my first genuine step toward maturity. I started my letter--which Adriana kept for many years and gave it back to me shortly before her death.
"My Beloved Adriana,
"I can imagine the agony my cruel silence has caused you. Forgive me, forgive me--I have been in turmoil. It is now 3:00 A.M. I am alone in my father's studio, surrounded by quietude, my mind is clear, my heart open; and from this open heart pours forth love for you, my darling, love as great as the mountains, as gentle as a spring meadow filled with the songs of larks and golden sunshine.
"We met, we fell in love, we gave of ourselves willingly, unselfishly. Then, because of my father's ill health, I was torn from your arms. My abrupt departure and the expected death of my father numbed me, shocked me and, in spite of my promise to write you everyday, my letters became less and less frequent until, I'm sure, you now feel that I have abandoned you. Not true.
"It is with the deepest love a man can have for a woman that, I now ask you to marry me and be my wife, and come to America and share your life with me as I will share mine with you--so long as we draw breath.
"I await your answer. Until then, know that my silence notwithstanding, the love which I felt for you, that lucky day we first met, lives and grows in my heart.
"I love you, I need you, I adore you, I love you forever!
After Adriana died, I reread that letter of my youth and wept, for when I wrote it I meant every word of it, and I truly believed she would accept my ardent proposal of marriage and that we would marry and live out our days, much as my parents had, creating a life (eventually) of domestic tranquility, filled with children and the settled atmosphere of married life.
Having stayed up all night and feeling purified (so to speak), I addressed the envelope, sealed it and drove the twenty miles to the post office in Santa Fe and waited anxiously for it to open.
Happily I awaited her immediate reply. I went about my work a new man, renewed in love, devotion and commitment. I daydreamed a lot about the two of us roaming the mesas and the mountains. I daydreamed us through two joyful pregnancies producing one boy and one girl.
By now it was spring and my father, having regained his strength, re-assumed his position as principal, but asked me to stay on as his bona fide apprentice, which, convinced I would soon be married, I accepted and fell into the routine with determination to do my best.
But no answer came from Adriana and I began to fret. I wrote a brief, second letter and waited; still no answer. Then I became concerned, so I wrote to Silvia, explaining the contents of my first letter to Adriana, and so on, and asking her to intercede on my behalf. It was while I awaited an answer from Silvia that I received a reply from Adriana--a letter with a Turkish postmark. Adriana was in Edirne, and she wrote:
"Your letters were forwarded to me here in Edirne by Silvia. As I write this, I am sitting on the banks of the Maritsa river watching it flow towards the Aegean Sea, wishing that I could flow, as easily as does this river to you, adorato mio.
"How your letter thrilled me and made me weep knowing of your deep and precious love for me--which I have never doubted (oh, in my own silly way I did--but, as you know, I can be silly at times and for this I must in turn ask, also, for your forgiveness. Forgive me my fickleness). In such a tender you have asked me to be your wife and for us to share our lives, as you wrote, "...so long as we draw breath." Can you imagine how deeply touched I was by that sentence? Oh, my precious lover, how willingly I would fly to you and give you all that a good wife could give to a husband; alas, I do not think I would make a good wife, not even a mediocre one. I will love you and you alone, until the end of time, but I cannot marry you. I had a few chances to marry, but I turned them all down with no regrets. And why, though we love one another so deeply, do I say no to your proposal? I say no because I do not want, frankly, the responsibilities of a wife--and perhaps those of a mother. I have chosen my career and very bluntly, I won't have anything impinge on it. I will love you, I will honor you, I will never love another man so long as I live, but I cannot, in good conscience marry you. If you desire a wife and family and all that goes with them, then forget me, expunge me from your heart, destroy my letters, rip up my photographs, for I do not wish you to think I might someday change my mind. Excuse my adamancy--but I must be true to myself and, above all, true to our love, which love I have never felt for any man before.
"If you can accept me as I am, then love me as I am.
"Now on to other things. I am in Turkey on an assignment I could not pass up. When I am finished here, I shall return to Bologna and there is the possibility of my being sent to the Far East, perhaps Japan. This is the beginning for me--I have been waiting a long time for a chance to demonstrate my photo-aesthetic skills.
"Please understand my motives and my heart.
"When you answer this, send your letter c/o Silvia. I have given up my apartment and will be staying with her until my next assignment.
"You are in my thoughts night and day--and I long for your touch in love, your closeness...
"With all my heart,
The depth of honesty and the beauty of her letter notwithstanding, I was devastated. I could barely handle the business, my sleep was disturbed, my daydream of marital bliss fragmented into a hundred pieces, my fantasy children evaporated, my life, I thought , was ruined.
During that brief interval of deluded, prenuptial happiness I had been living, I had announced to my family that I'd sent a letter of proposal to Adriana. My mother was pleased; my father, amused, but my grandmother, always honest and blunt took me aside and said, "Sometimes life can be cruel. Don't lose heart if she says no."
When the blow came, my mother, to whom I showed the letter, wept, saying she had never read such honesty; my father, who never let anything disturb his equilibrium, simply shrugged his shoulders and remarked, "Che sera', sera' and went back to his designing a dormitory for a university; and grandmamma shook her head and told me to find myself a local girl--if I was serious about marriage and forget signorina Visconti.
Youth is never philosophical or practical; youth is immediate and impetuous. If she would not marry me, then I would go to wherever she was--wife or no. I, therefore, pulled myself out of my doldrums and resolved to go to Adriana; but once again fate would have me do otherwise: I was now twenty-two years old and had had an exemption from military service because of my university studies and the gravity of my father's illness; but now the army was calling me for two years of active service--I tried to avoid it; but the handwriting was on the wall; and it was with a great deal of reluctance that I left my dear parents and grandmother--and my cancelled dream of returning to Adriana.
My military service was uneventful--to say the least, but it did give me time to slow my impulses down regarding my desire to follow Adriana, who had (by the time I had finished basic training and was sent to Signal Corps school in New jersey) gone to Japan, thence to Manila, Djakarta, Singapore, Bangkok, Mazar-al-Sharif and Teheran on assignment for a prestigious Italian oriental art magazine, which demanded only quality photographs of objets d'arte oriental. She sent me exotic postcards, long letters, copies of photographs and presents. And I, assigned to a signal company in Georgia, answered her long letters, which I wrote almost on a daily basis--because I was so bored with military life and writing to my beloved was my sole escape from boredom. Naturally, my sweet Silvia was in constant communication with me, relating news of her medical studies and her deepening love for Gaetano, whom, she lamented, spent more time in his studio than he did with her.
The day of my long-awaited discharge came, and I did not hesitate to leave Georgia as quickly as I could. I flew directly to Washington, D.C, renewed my passport, then flew to New Mexico for a brief re-union with my family. I had saved most of my army pay, and, with additional funds from my father, who was always willing to give me money for travel, I said goodbye to them and flew back across the United States, across the Atlantic to my lover who awaited me in Bologna.
Re-united once again, our lives were a supreme joy. our love was strong. We had been true to each other and that was important. For all the years, thereafter, we were lovers, each felt loved and fulfilled by the other. After our initial euphoria, we rented an apartment and lived together in Bologna. I worked off and on as a draftsman or designer, but in the main, Adriana, who by then had become well-known and important, always managed to get me a job as her paid assistant, so I went with her all over Europe, Asia and once to Egypt and the Spanish Sahara (as it was called in those days) on various assignments. On our way back from North Africa, Adriana, who was usually in good health, felt sick all the way home. Her sickness, we discovered was not a sickness at all: she was pregnant!
Aside from petty lover's spats, we never fought. Our spirits were most congenial and in harmony; but the question of this pregnancy became such a heated issue, that it almost drove us apart. I tried to convince her to marry me, have the baby and for us to settle down; and she reminded me of her letter from Edirne and that stopped me from perusing the matter. But she was, above all, a sensitive woman and she suffered and struggled with her conscience over this matter. Ultimately, the issue was settled by nature--or, perhaps, the strong will of a determined woman. Adriana awoke one morning with a low grade fever which, over the next few days got worse; the intensity of the fever rose to the point where she almost convulsed, and a few hours later, a kindly woman doctor, one of Silvia's teachers, informed me that Adriana had miscarried.
I broke down and wept, for I had wanted that baby. Silvia and Gaetano tried to console me, but I was inconsolable; the loss of our child (as I understood the matter) was harder on me emotionally than the (later) deaths of my parents and grandmother. Nevertheless, I survived. I stayed by her bedside from the time she was allowed visitors until the day she was discharged, and I took her home and cared for her as tenderly as possible. We both cried, holding each other in the night, for we both felt the loss deeply.
That summer Silvia became a full-fledged physician, and the four of us went to Corfu. So there we were: Silvia, resting from her intense years of medical studies, my beloved Adriana recovering from her recent fever and miscarriage, and I from the emotional drain and strain I had gone through. Really, Gaetano was the only non-convalescent,
as it were, and he walked about with his wide straw hat, Roman-like sandals and his sketch book. He was genuinely happy; his works were accepted, he was well-off financially, he was at a terrifically creative peak; he seemed never to tire. I saw him work from sunrise to sunset, much as he had done in Spain, under an improvised canvas awning, patiently painting or drawing and fulfilling his artistic destiny.
Adriana loved to eat fish. So early in the morning, when Gaetano awoke to begin his day, he and I would walk together to the beach, he with his sketch book and I with rod and reel; he would plant himself in a spot and draw, and I would cast out my line and wait patiently for the fish to bite. During one of those serene mornings, Gaetano stayed close by and told me that now that he was established and Silvia was finished with medical school, they would marry and asked if I would be his best man. I was genuinely happy for him and embraced him. He then told me he wanted to go to America and paint there for a few years and also so that Silvia could take the foreign doctor's examination in order to practice medicine in the United States. He further suggested that the four of us, who had become so very fond of each other, could live nearby and continue our friendship. As he spoke I knew, too, in my heart, that I wanted to go back to the states, back to New Mexico, for I was weary of Europe and of traveling.
The fishing went well that morning; and when we returned from the beach with the catch, we found the women up and preparing morning coffee. Adriana smiled at the three fish I presented to her and she asked, "Can one catch such fish in New Mexico?" At first I was puzzled by her question, but one look from Silvia, whose mind, I think I could almost read, told me that she had spoken to Adriana--that very morning about leaving Italy and returning to America. They had "conspired," Silvia and Gaetano, to speak to us at the same time, but separately, of course. And I answered her: "Not quite the same, but good tasting, nonetheless." "Good," she replied, "I will apply for a visa, and you will take me to your New Mexico and catch such fish for me."
Suddenly the atmosphere was charged with the electricity of celebration. Forgetting the coffee, forgetting the fish, we gathered together in a circle, our arms on each other's shoulders. We danced a spontaneous dance of joy, all joined in a common theme: the continuation of our friendship and our leaving to go to America.
We arrived in New York full of mirth, for me it was a treat to be back in my own country. Silvia, for reasons of licensing, had to stay in New York. Gaetano, with many admirers in Manhattan, lost no time in renting a studio and establishing himself. I bought a car, and with our possessions in the trunk and the back seat, we bid adieu to our friends, and via a circuitous route, made our way to New Mexico.
I had written to my parents saying I was returning--returning with Adriana and that we would live in Santa Fe'; but my mother and father insisted we stay with them for a little while, at least. I discussed this with Adriana, who saw no reason to refuse, so, after a few days in New Orleans, we drove straight to New Mexico, arriving the morning of my father's birthday, which proved to be his last day on earth, for sometime during the night he died in his sleep.
Mother had arranged a welcome home party for us and, of course, his birthday party as well, having invited a few of his close friends and former colleagues. I was so happy to be home for his birthday, and I drank many glasses of wine toasting his good health and long life.
My mother's reception of Adriana was warm, friendly and gracious, and she whispered to me, "Now that she's here, maybe she'll say yes if you propose again." I just looked at my mother in silence and shook my head. I wanted to tell her about the miscarriage and the heated scenes we'd had; but the festive time did not permit, and she accepted my silence and never gain broached the subject.
I have in this room, on this very desk, a last picture of my father and I taken by Adriana on the night of his last birthday. We are seated together, holding up our wine glasses in posed toast; he is smiling, and to look at this picture of him it seems impossible that a man seemingly in good health would die that very night. But die he did, and we were diminished in spirit because of his passing.
My father, never having been an ostentatious person, had left instructions for a simple funeral and, if possible, no mourning. Aunt Fioretta came for the funeral. The shock of her brother's passing left her devastated, and my own bereaved mother, who needed consolation herself, proved to be the consoler to her grief-stricken sister-in-law. Silvia and Gaetano came; but our re-union was clouded by the circumstances. However, after a few days, Gaetano and I went off by ourselves, and I showed him the countryside and he fell in love with the land, but most of all with the drama of the light and the clarity of the atmosphere and the blue sky; and he made up his mind, firmly, then and there, that he and Silvia would return and take up permanent residence as soon as her licensing was complete.
The house, though filled with family and friends, seemed empty to me and when propriety permitted, I would go off to my father's studio and sigh for the loss of him. When guests were gone and friends no longer called, mother announced, one night after dinner, that she needed to get away and had decided to take grandmother and go to Italy for a month or two and stay in her hometown to recoup her spirit and visit relatives. "I leave the care of the house and the business in your hands, Corrado. Take care of both." A week later she was gone, first to Chicago to see Aunt Fioretta, whom mother convinced to join her and her mother in Italy.
Adriana and I were alone. We were accustomed to each other's ways and were comfortable with each's habits and routines. I did what I could for the business, but without father, I had no heart for it. Every morning I went to his former studio and every morning I did less and less until I knew if I did not hire someone nothing would get done. Contacting a semi-retired architect friend of my late father, a Mr.Barton, and explaining my state of mind, he agreed to come every day and fill in. He was a creative man and was able to complete a commission my father had been working on, and I took care of the paperwork and logistics, and so on. I felt better with an experienced professional at the helm, and I fell into my subordinate position with ease.
But I began to notice a certain nervousness about Adriana and an irritability which sometimes bordered on discontent. One day I awoke and she was gone. I found her note on the breakfast table: "Darling, Forgive me, but if I don't go away for a few days, I shall surely go mad. I will not be far and do not worry--as I know you will. I think your father's spirit has affected my psyche--I seem to see him in my mind's eye every minute of the day. It's uncanny. I knew him only a few hours. How can this be? Be with my love. Adriana."
I sighed and had my morning coffee as usual. Fortunately it was a Saturday and Mr. Barton did not work the weekends, so I was able to be alone with my sadness caused by Adriana's most sudden withdrawal. I moped about, I listened to some music, but soon lost interest; I tried reading, but that did no good, either.
The day being one of those clear, crisp, sharp autumn days which New Mexico is famous for, I put on my hiking boots, donned a warm jacket and set out for a walk in the hills. A few hours in nature put me at ease and lifted my spirits. At one place, protected from the wind, I made a circle of stones, gathered dead pinon and cedar branches and made a fire. Fire has always had a soothing effect on me, and as I stared into the fire I had to admit that, really, there was nothing so terribly bad in my life, that aside from father's death, all was well--Adriana's departure, notwithstanding. Yet when I began to think about her, I had to admit that in an inexplicable way, I was glad she was gone. That admission startled me. How could I think such a thing about the woman I'd pledged myself to? Incredible as it was, I felt it was true. Was I falling out of love with her? Was that possible? And all the calm I had been feeling at the fire disappeared and I buried my face in my hands and wept, for I truly thought love had gone out of my life. The fire burned to coals, the day was ending. Smothering the fire, I made my way toward home feeling positively wretched.
A week later Adriana returned; and in the days she had been gone, I fortified myself--mainly with brandy--to what I must do. I convinced myself she had tired of me and I of her. There was, therefore, only one thing to do: break off, get her out of my life and settle down, engross myself in the business and forget her. I rehearsed my lines every night--oh, I was so good an actor loving the sound of his own voice. I heard the car, looked out the window and saw Adriana alight, but it was an Adriana I hardly recognized. Her long hair was gone; her hair was now cut short, just below her ears. She was dressed in a ruby-colored velvet blouse and an ankle length black skirt with a silver conch belt around her waist, the dress common to Navajo women. Seeing her dressed in this manner, I guessed where she had been. She came into the house, and in her silver bell voice called out in Italian, "Tesoro mio, dove sai?" that is to say, My treasure, where are you? Upon hearing those words, all my resolves melted like so much snow falling into a fire, and I ran to her, tears in my eyes. When we embraced, I felt an intensity from her I had never felt before. She covered my face with a hundred kisses which I returned. We were crying and kissing and uttering those endearments which lovers say to one another after an argument or misunderstan-
I was overcome with emotion. Her return and her display of (continued) affection for me made me realize that those words I had rehearsed were so much rot, and now I would not have to say them, for I knew how deeply I truly loved her and how deeply she loved me and that no matter what she had done, or might ever do again, I was bound to her for life and she to me.
We disengaged and, stepping back from one another, looking at each other's tear-stained faces, it seemed I was seeing her for the first time. She looked absolutely stunning with her new hair style and unusual clothes. "How beautiful you look," I said; and with those simple words her face lit up and she smiled one of her girl-like smiles which filled my spirit with joy. "Do you really think so? I was so afraid you wouldn't approve of my having cut off my long hair."
"I adore you, Adriana--with or without long hair--do what you wish, but never leave me again. I had convinced myself you had forsaken me." She lowered her eyes, something completely out of character, and I knew I had been correct and a moment later she confirmed my previous thoughts. "When I left here a week ago, it was to shake off the mourning of this house. You can't imagine how I was effected. I stayed the night in Albuquerque, and when I awoke the next day, I was convinced myself, that I would leave you," she said in a low, repentive voice. "What made you change your mind?" I asked. "You'll never believe me," she answered.
"Yes I will." She looked at me with a very serious look, paused a moment for breath, then spoke: "Your father." What on earth did she mean, I asked, puzzled by her response? "I kept seeing him and hearing his voice saying, 'Go back, go back.' I fled Albuquerque almost in a panic and drove to the Indian country. Along the road a truck with a Navajo family had broken down. I stopped to see if I could help. I drove them many, many miles over rough roads, I thought the car would break an axle. It was night by the time we reached their hogan. Except for directions, I hadn't exchanged ten words with them during the entire ride. They prepared food, we ate, then we slept. In the morning, the grandmother motioned for me to step outside with her. Once outside, she pointed to the road and said, 'Go back, go back, he needs you.' But as she spoke those words I shuddered, for her voice--it was the voice of your father!"
We never spoke of the incident again. My spirits revived, I threw myself into the business and by the time mother and grandmamma returned, two months later, Adriana and I were the happiest we'd ever been. Mother had recovered, the house was at peace and I was beginning to truly enjoy being an architect. The ideas came in floods and I was at the drawing table day and night, so much so that mother began to worry that I was neglecting Adriana and she said so, suggesting that we now find a place of our own, and that we close father's business and that I open my own. I told Adriana who concurred, and so we moved to Santa Fe'. Father had left me a considerable inheritance and with it I bought a house, added a large room for my drawing studio and another room for Adriana's own studio and darkroom.
The following year Silvia and Gaetano moved to New Mexico and in a small, private ceremony were married. After their honeymoon, my sweet cousin was in practice and Gaetano, filled with the energy of a dynamo, opened his own studio and life went on happily for all of us. Periodically Adriana would go off on assignments and when my own affairs would permit, I would go with her--ever her willing assistant. It seemed happiness, for the four of us would go on forever. But life, being the capricious mistress she can be at times, worked otherwise.
Adriana had gone to the Yucatan to shoot pictures of the Mayan ruins for one of a series of books on ancient civilizations, starting with the Maya. She went off happy to have been chosen. Because of an important commission, I could not follow, and Silvia, never having taken a vacation since starting her practice, decided she wanted to travel to see northern New Mexico, and, of course, Gaetano would go with her. We all went with Adriana to the airport, then I waved goodbye to Silvia and Gaetano, who drove off to points north, and I returned home to Santa Fe' and to the drawing board.
A week later, at 2:00 A.M., I was awakened by the telephone. As I walked to the phone I had the wishful image of Adriana calling me from someplace in the Yucatan; but my wishful fantasy came to an abrupt end when the caller on the other end introduced himself as a State Policeman calling from Springer, New Mexico, explaining that Silvia and Gaetano's car had been struck by a freight train and neither of them was expected to live!
I was stunned. Trembling as a leaf in the wind I was barely able to write down the name of the town and the hospital. For a few minutes after I hung up I didn't know what to do. I stood at the telephone staring down at the scribbled information half wondering whose handwriting it was. Suddenly I burst into tears and fell prostrate on the floor in a paroxysm of weeping and moaning. Eventually regaining my sense I had enough presence of mind to call my mother and give her the grim news, further instructing her to call Aunt Fioretta and await her arrival, while I drove to Springer to be with Silvia and Gaetano.
The surgeons, as I was told later, had no choice in amputating Gaetano's legs, there was hardly anything left of them; and his eye had been left at the scene of the accident. Silvia's ribs, everyone of them, had been cracked or broken, her left lung had been punctured, her pelvis and right arm broken; she had internal injuries, and her skull had been fractured, and she lay in a coma for more days than I care to remember. I was able to get a message to Adriana via the book publisher, and she flew up from Mexico as soon as she could. Mother and Aunt Fioretta came to the hospital everyday and recited their rosaries over and over again, each woman at one or the other's bedside, and Adriana and I prayed in our own way. Waiting can be cruel; and everyday we waited for them to die; but they survived, but, perhaps, in the long run, it would have been better if God had taken them, for life (for all of us) afterwards, was never the same.
Gaetano, although the doctors said otherwise, never recovered, and neither did Silvia, who gave up her medical practice to stay with Gaetano, who seemed to be in a daze most of the time. I visited him as often as I could; but nothing from our past relationship remained. He was different--not only in body--but, also, in mind. He would flare up at the slightest thing or grow morose and mute for days, and no amount of tenderness from either Silvia, Adriana or myself, seemed to help.
Five years later his tragedy finally ended. I still have his suicide note; it is part of this room, hidden that it is in my files. "MY Dear One, Forgive me my departure from this valley of tears--but it seems I have been half dead these past five years and I am only making final what should have been. God forgive me. And you, beloved Silvia, forgive me.
We buried him next to my father. Silvia's mourning never ended, and Adriana gave up photography for an entire year. The suicide of her stepbrother was the severest shock ever. She stayed by my side all the time. I tried to counsel her to take up her art, but she would only shake her head and ask me to change the subject; and so, after a while I let her be. Silvia, my poor, sweet Silvia--how my heart ached for her. She declined my invitation to move in with us and, instead, stayed in the house where she and Gaetano had lived in both joy and sorrow. I encouraged her to sell that house and move; but, like Adriana, she would shake her head and ask me to change the subject.
Adriana never re-assumed her career. She, instead, took up weaving, sold all of her photographic equipment and supplies, asked me to enlarge her former studio-darkroom and to put in several skylights, which I did. She found a teacher, bought a loom and for the rest of her days sat, like a patient Penelope, weaving hour after hour. Her entire demeanor changed; she became quieter, more spiritual, and ate simple foods and eventually wore only clothes made from the cloth she wove. She and Silvia became closer than they had ever been, so much so that at times I felt excluded from their company. They would visit one another and sit, drinking tea or wine and speak in soft voices, or, arm in arm, they would stroll about not ever speaking.
First grandmother passed away. She had been in ill health and her passing had been expected. Silvia was with her when she died. At the funeral, I noticed there was an almost beatific smile on Silvia's face, as if she knew something which had brought her great happiness--but could not share it with us. Two years later, mother was gone. Like my father, she died in her sleep. Four gravestones, all in a row were now part of my legacy. Mother, father, grandmother and Gaetano. People dear and important to me were gone...gone. But I had the consolation of my beloved Adriana and Silvia, withdrawn as she had become,notwith- standing.
Silvia went away for two weeks, saying she was going to Carmel, California, never saying why; but I was pleased to see her go, thinking a last she would leave her mourning behind and, perhaps, take up her medical practice again. However, when she returned, she told us that for more than a year she had been in communication with the Mother Superior of the Carmelites, near Carmel, and that her trip had been to discuss her incloister. I pleaded with her to change her mind; but all the time I spoke she had that enigmatic and beatific smile on her face which I had observed at grandmamma's funeral.
Before she left, she gave me all of my letters to her--even those we had written in our youth; she gave me (back) the harpsichord father had so generously given to her and which she had taken with her every place she'd lived; she gave me photographs, unpublished manuscripts, music books and all of Gaetano's paintings, and to Adriana, she gave all of her jewelry, which amounted to a small fortune. She sold her house and all that was left in it, and gave the money to the church.
On the 25th of July, we drove her to the airport. She asked us not to wait, but to simply drop her off at the terminal. We complied with her wish, and, dropping her off, we hugged her and kissed her in farewell, for we knew we would never ever see her again.
Adriana was my all; and had she not been so devoted to me I think I would have been the most miserable of men. It was she who suggested we sell our house and move back to the family home. I didn't care where I lived. So we sold, re-opened the family house which had been closed since mother's death, hired some landscapers to clear the weeds and to plant flowers.
I needed a room to store my mementos and choose my grandmother's former room, a large, airy place awash with light. Little by little I filled it with books, paintings, photographs and the harpsichord. I often likened it to a miniature museum and I its curator.
Now I see it more as a tomb and Adriana and I its sole occupants, for on a specially built stand sits a copy of an Etruscan funerary urn in which rest her ashes. One day she packed all of her worldly possessions--except the loom--into boxes. When I asked her why, she gave me one of her enigmatic smiles and said, "I'm going away." When I raised my eyebrows in surprise, she embraced me and added in her still silver bell voice, but now an octave lower, "But not very far, just over there," and she pointed to the sunset.
She died at her loom. She'd been working on a last piece: a design depicting a labyrinth, and in the center of the labyrinth she'd woven in the words, "Everything dies in mystery."
I use the cloth as a lap rug to keep her love next to me and to remind me of my own mystery to come.
705 VAllejo St. NO.6a room full of memories
icine, heal the sick, deliver healthy babies and find a cure for a half dozen incurable maladies. That was the summer that we declared our love for one another. Until that season, long ago, we had never said anything, never touched each other except in cousinly embraces and kisses on the cheek as is common in Italian families. But, oh, that summer, while hiking in the mountains, unable to contain myself, I blurted out, "Silvia, I love you an