Monday, August 3, 2015

Extended Geographies of the Heart

Many of you knew me as a walker of Manhattan's upper Broadway streets. I had geographies of the heart there, from my flanneur Hudson river stroller self where I gazed upon the lovers and let the Hudson River carry my gaze back to the deeper histories of Manhatta as my Bard, Whitman, sang, to the shop keepers who waved as I walked by, to my 215 neighbors, all trying to make sense of the changes so quickly blotting out the old possibilities. Now I want to share with you some of my friends here, on our little Avenue, Fitzgibbon, which only lasts for a block but oh what joys I have found here. 

Anna, the wife of Vincenzo, and Virginia, the mother of Ruby, Felix and Alexander. You have met them both before here in these journals, Anna from Calabria, who came to Fitzgibbon Avenue 45 years ago, working in the textile factories, Vincenzo working as a plasterer since he was a young boy. Virginia's family made the journey from Sicily. Che belle! They have brought me a language, a way of life, the wonder of giving welcome, quickly, deeply.

Vincenzo and Anna, our next door neighbors, making their salamis in their garage. We Calabresians make everything, says Anna with pride. Bread and pizzas in the wood burning oven Vincenzo built all those years ago.  Anna at our door, with her bread still warm wrapped in a kitchen towel--you alright,  Di at work?she asks. How did we come into each other's ken? 

I have learned from Anna--our preserved lemons for friends, I have learned how to cure the olives from our tree. La Professoressa recalls her grandmother's way on the farm. For so long I walked the concrete sidewalks, now before dinner I dash out into the garden to pluck rosemary, dill, cilantro,  oregano, Vietnamese mint. And still I see the curve of the Hudson.

Last night, La Professoressa and I were invited across the street to send dear Ruby--remember, she was ten when we first started working together on her writing,  now our darling young woman going off for her senior dance. Ruby, a little anxious, posing for her mom and aunt. Today she rushes over to talk about Act 3, scenes 7 and 8 from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, relaxed and laughing, a girl again.

I spend a long time speaking with Maria, Ruby's Nona,  and we cry and laugh--two old women feeling so deeply the wonders of youth and our worries for them.

The generosity of all, the sharing of a rite of passage in two languages. I have seen Ruby grow up and I whisper in her ear, remember, Virginia Woolf, remember our Shakespeare, remember your Homer, your Dante. Ruby, one part of her imagination in Sicily, the other in Macedonia, her father's homeland.

At work, at our dining room table, our desk, the next day. Ms Ruby who will enter new geographies soon.

A little further down the street, the home of Jenny and Colin who together staffed a Uniting Church for many years, so far from my Bronx beginnings, a minister and his wife.

A cold, rainy night with many health worries in the air, but La Professoressa and I have been invited for a dinner and then after, in front of the fire, Colin will play his new rescued cello, Emma, while Jenny accompanies him on the piano.
Colin with Emma at his feet, both resting after Scottish airs have filled the room.
With their daughter present and a niece, whole familial and dedicated histories fill the room. The curtains drawn to keep out the cold, but what you do not see is the wood burning fire flooding heat into the room, golden and warm, like the long lines of the cello.

Life buffets, but when one pauses and does not look for sameness, songs, gifts of new times, touch the heart.

And then, not on Fitzgibbon, but a friendship that has come to me here. La Professoressa and I celebrating Debolina's birthday with Oishik, her partner. Along another river, the Melbourne Yarra, with another geography in our hearts, Delhi.

Just two days ago, Alexander, 13 years old, recovering from facial surgery, comes tapping at our door. He has watched Ruby carry her writing to me for a decade--can that be?--and now he comes and for three hours we write together his story of when The Zebras, his neighborhood soccer team, on which he plays, went from being last on the ladder to winning the final game. Words do not come easy to Alexander and he is in pain, but he gives all. When he leaves, a sweetness beyond words, takes form in me. He leaves happier then when he entered and he has a story for the world.

Finally, my friend Tin, with whom I have been exchanging letters so he can practice his growing English vocabulary, writes to tell me he will be leaving both Vietnam and Australia and going to America to rejoin his parents and to follow "his dreams." He will stop by at 4 Fitzgibbon to say good-bye before he leaves. I have so enjoyed his journey of language and experience, this calm burdened young man with so many borders to cross, already a teacher in Vietnam,but pushing further in his engineering skills. I have come to know some of his lonelinesses, again gifts of  life's touching, and much of his victories of persistence. I know to all on this street, in this microcosmic new footpath, I will have to say good-bye, but our words have carried attention and care, difference to difference, travelers all.

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