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Authors: John Addiego

Island of Divine Music

BOOK: Island of Divine Music
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Divine Music

Divine Music


This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Unbridled Books
Denver, Colorado

Copyright © 2008 John Addiego

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Addiego, John.
The islands of divine music by / John Addiego.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-1-932961-54-6
1. Italians—United States—Fiction. 2. Italian Americans—Fiction.
3. Italian American families—Fiction. 4. Family—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3601.D46I85 2008

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Book Design by SH • CV

First Printing

The Family is the Country of the heart.


Divine Music



ome came from the bottom of the boot to find a new life when theirs was unbearable, and some whispered the word
over and over among their prayers and sought to present themselves new before God in a new world. Rosari left Southern Italy and set sail into the unknown for an additional reason: in order to escape prosecution for her prodigality.

Her father, Lazaro Cara, was a gentle man, and some would say he was too gentle. When his wife left him he gave up the chase after a week of weeping and lugging his children from village to village in the hilly south of Italy. Rosari’s mother was a beautiful woman with wildly sad eyes, with thick black curls which played across her cheeks even when she tried to keep them bound in a scarf. She dropped the wash in Rosari’s arms one day, put on her nicest dress, and left. Friends and family lent her father a jackass and a shotgun, but he looked silly holding the firearm in his arms like a baby wrapped in bunting. He wept, and Rosari and her older sister wept, and they walked from town to town with the jackass and ate
cold potatoes and handouts from strangers and milk from their nanny goat, then returned home.

Lazaro returned to his vocation, which was cutting the hair of the merchants and land barons and gossips in Reggio Calabria. Word came that his wife had run off with a man named Gulia. Then word was she’d dumped Gulia, or there had never been a Gulia, or that a fat butcher named Benedetti in Napoli, who already had a wife and seven children, was keeping her as a mistress, or that she had been seen among gypsies singing at a saint’s-day fair near Eboli. Then a cholera epidemic hit, and the stories about his wife got swept out the doorway with the hair and were replaced by stories of death.

The disease took the life of Rosari’s cousin Paolo and a newborn neighbor named Gino Emilio Ravetto. Lazaro had little work and less money, the village had more activity in the cemetery with its ornate crypts and sepulchres than it did in its piazza, so, two years after his wife had left them, he and Rosari and Claudia rode a freight train to Napoli, a crowded, filthy, dangerous place. Maybe they were going to beg her mother to come back from the butcher, Rosari thought, maybe they were looking for people who still cared about the condition of their hair, or maybe they were simply taking their grief to the open road as they had when her mother had left. They hopped onto the moving train and the father held his two girls and wept for miles along the steep and sooty coastline.

Every dark eye and flowing tress in the city made Rosari’s heart jump for want of her mother. Around the corner would come a young woman holding a basket filled with mushrooms or Swiss
chard, and for a moment the girl would think it was she. Through the window of the barbershop where her father snipped hair and she cleaned the floor and shined shoes she might see a woman’s profile, somebody in a black dress with a load of firewood balanced on her head, and Rosari would almost cry out,
Most of the time she kept her feelings to herself, and mostly because she didn’t want her father to get started and have him cry all over the head of some rich customer, but the keening for her mother overtook her now and then in the crowded apartment above the barbershop, and the fact that Claudia soon left them didn’t help.

Her sixteen-year-old sister was engaged to a Neapolitan stonemason within a month of their arrival. Plump, quiet, simple-minded Claudia got married and moved into her mother-in-law’s house the night of the wedding. Rosari, who had learned to read by age seven with the help of her father and the sisters at Santo Giovanni, her home church, lost herself in newspapers and books as a way to cope with the loss of her sister and the lost hope of finding their mother. She found many books to choose among in the big city, on racks in a tobacconist’s, in the houses of the merchants. The girl would run down the narrow streets, dodging carts and mules, and deliver clean linen to ladies who would lend her books about knights and damsels in distress. She was just eleven years old, a dark-skinned, scrawny girl with disheveled hair and her nose in a book, when Gratiano, a local criminal who liked a close shave and a shoe shine, studied her.

Debonair, articulate, yet hopelessly illiterate, Gratiano sat in the chair under Lazaro’s nimble fingers and watched the girl read a
book half as big as she was. She reads and writes? he asked the barber. At that time only one of every ten Neapolitans could read.

Smart as a whip, Lazaro replied.

If I could do that I’d learn English and go to America. And the girl thought of how she would marry this handsome man with the dark eyes and sail to America, where he would earn an honest living trading prosciutto or pelts with Indians, and she would read books in Italian and English to him and their three children.

The next morning, as she was carrying
pane rustico
from the baker’s, the criminal and his friend stopped her. They were seated on the sidewalk before a bar, each man holding a demitasse. Gratiano waved her over and introduced her to the large, bald man in a blue suit. My friend doesn’t believe you can write. Would you be so kind as to demonstrate? He handed her a fountain pen, such as she’d never seen before, and she wrote the words he dictated to her on a piece of butcher paper which enveloped a pig’s leg. Both men clapped their hands and slapped their knees enthusiastically. Gratiano placed three lire on the table and said he’d like to pay her to write a letter for him, provided she could keep it secret. Rosari set down her loaves and straightaway put the criminal’s words to pen on a piece of parchment:

Esteemed Sir,
it began,
Please excuse this intrusion into your private affairs. Financial difficulties, as well as recent illnesses in my family, have forced me into the position in which I find myself. My associate and I must come to your hotel this afternoon and kidnap you. Be entirely assured that no harm
will come to you, and that your freedom will be immediately reinstated once a ransom of five thousand lire, or the equivalent in your British pounds, has been transferred to you by wire from your most highly esteemed family in Great Britain. It is my greatest hope that, once I have received this money, you will continue your travels in the sunny South. Perhaps you will see the ruins at Pompeii? Of course, that is your affair, not mine. I only wish you the least inconvenience during this kidnap, as well as many happy returns to our beautiful city.

With Sincere Regrets and Fondest Hopes,
Mr. Z

She read it back to the criminals, and they leaned back in their chairs and closed their eyes, Gratiano sighing now and then while the bald man nodded and murmured words of praise. She didn’t understand some of the words she’d written, and she wondered how an Englishman might decipher their idiom, but the robust approval of the two men made her chest puff out in its baggy, hand-me-down dress. What a prodigy! Gratiano exclaimed. A genius, the bald man said, and he added two more lire to the three. But he didn’t like the Mr. Z part and wanted it changed to The Shadow. Gratiano said Mr. Z was fine since nobody’s name began with a Z, and he pinched the girl’s cheek and winked at her. Rosari’s face colored. She took her bread and money and ran back to her father, resolved to tell him nothing of the adventure.

There was constant talk of America in her neighborhood, particularly in the barbershop and the piazza. Cholera and malaria,
starvation and poverty, all manner of suffering were driving rural people to the crowded city or to caves in the mountains, and as they huddled before their fires they dreamed of America. The hill folk had used the ancient cave dwellings as goat stables for as long as anyone could remember, but now the goats were being eaten or turned out for miserable human families to reclaim. Rosari had seen them from the train, the little archways dug into pale limestone cliffs high above the coastline, the women in black shawls and head coverings squatting before them. In America there would be fresh air to prevent disease, work for good money, and open space to plant gardens and keep animals, people said. Lazaro, contrary to his neighbors, maintained that he was more apt to return to his hometown than to leave the country. Once the plague has passed, and all the rats have left the sinking ship, he told his daughter, we can return to our home. Perhaps your mother will come back to us, too, he added with a sniffle.

BOOK: Island of Divine Music
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