Jun 2009

Writing News from Mareno

The tenuous-no-simpering arrival of spring has quite suddenly transformed into Summer, like a blow to the head with a large, soft overheated hammer. I am back to dodging the sun, skipping from shadow to shadow while crossing the baked town in the hopes of remaining un-melted. Yet, I seem to survive year after year, but I don’t know how…and sit down once again to find a story in it all.

My mother Cynthia reads my stories, but only after she has cajoled me into printing them out for her. She just does not want to mess with her computer. Listening to her describe the process, I don’t blame her. In order to do such a thing she must apparently climb under the table and flip some kind of switch, wait a period of time for the thing to “warm up” and then the keys do not correctly respond to her commands but, once warmed up, take on a life of their own, spitting microscopic gibberish upon the screen. All this goes on in a room the size of a closet…which is in fact a closet, with a row of dresses framing the monitor. Not wanting to wish this horror on anyone, I print out the stories for her.

After years of this, I have finally taken a grown-up step and, ostensibly for my mother, compiled the first year of my stories and recipes (2006-2007) and published them. The book is titled
Stories from Italy, News of Mareno. Not terribly original, I know, but simple, to the point and poised for sequels. With a full color cover, drawings, 167 nicely bound pages and a tempting low price, it is an appealing little book, truly created for those people who read my stories here. Should anyone buy one, I’ll even happily autograph your copy if I run into you. To do such a thing, look on the “published work” page where Luciano has placed a handy-dandy “Buy now” button from the publisher, www.lulu.com. The book can also be found on Amazon…imagine that?

And it’s much easier to read than climbing under a table.


This year I have stumbled upon another writer in the form of my student Sabrina and she has graciously allowed me to practice my skills on teaching creative writing on her. As my guinea pig, she has not only gamely endured odd assignments that sometimes pop into my head moments before she arrives, but attacks them with a ferociousness that leaves me feeling both honored and cowed. Sabrina has written a story from the point of view of a 65 year-old barfly, a 9 year old child and as her best friend. She has listened to a cassette of an elderly South Caroline gentleman, complete with thick accent, telling ghost stories, transcribed all his tales and then wrote her own. When handing me assignments she will sometimes curl her lip with distaste,” I hated that” or grin large and wide over something she feels good about. We have had long discussions about words and the often delicate veils of differences in meanings, something we both love.

As an end of the year project, and to thank her for her enthusiasm, I would like to post a few of her pieces here. What follows is a story, a result of the Southern storyteller assignment, that follows the theme of the site: Italy and the characters who live here.

The Way of Bread
Sabrina Segato

May 20, 2009

Agnes had always been a spell-binding story-teller.
In spring, we would spend most our afternoons walking in the woods around our village, looking for mulberry tree leaves for our silkworms.
Ours must have been regarded as a quirky match: an old woman, deep in her eighties, a witch-like character, and a girl about six, tiny and graceful; the two of us always together and surprisingly having a great time.

The afternoon when we walked up to S. Maria di Paninsacco, Agnes was on a particularly joking mood. As we entered the wood, following the track leading to the top of the hill where the sanctuary rested, she looked grim and disquieting.

“Beware of the duke’s dogs, my darling” she said whispering and ending the sentence with an ominous sneer. “They’re still here, hiding behind the trees and in the deep caves, still craving tender flesh and warm, sweet blood.”

As Agnes started telling the story she staged the drama, her appearance adding much to the atmosphere of the story. Indeed, she was dressed in rags and wore shapeless slippers, had dishevelled hair, thin lips hiding toothless gums and an upper lip streaked with long, dark and fluffy moustache.

“Listen to me, deary, here is a scary story.” And in saying this, she plunged into the darkness of an ageless past.

“The duke living up on that hill had a gorgeous, sweet daughter whose mother was found mysteriously stabbed in the heart, floating on the lake we’ve just passed. After that, the little daughter had grown restless and could no longer bear being confined in the castle with her overbearing, draconian father.

She had never been allowed to go beyond the precincts of the castle till, one evening, her father being drunk in bed, she wrapped herself up in her tabard and walked down the track to the village.”

“It was this same track we’re treading now, my dear,” Agnes whispered. Then she went on.

“Her sensitive heart was deeply affected by the poverty of the people living there. No sooner did she realize that the riches her father squandered came from the wild taxation he levied on them, than she set on helping her fellow-citizens and making up for her father’s injustices. She took to walking every night to the village toting a bag full of bread she stole from her kitchen; occasionally, she would steal also silverware or other valuable items.

It was not long before a servant working at the castle discovered her secret and, in the attempt to win his favour, told the duke and decided her fate. The duke flew into a rage. ‘How long has she been cheating me?” he screamed. ‘I knew it, I knew it, she took after her mother, a rebel, and she’s just like her. And, like her, she’ll pay the price!’

That same night the duke feigned sleep and as soon as he heard the latch click, he stood up and followed his daughter in the distance, but not before freeing his starving watchdogs and setting them upon her. When he reached the spot where she lay dying, the sight was dire but with her last breath she begged God to save her father’s soul. The duke’s rage drained away leaving him emptied of any strength and purpose.

Before piercing his own heart, he had his castle pulled down and a sanctuary erected in memory of his late daughter. His last will was to name the sanctuary after the bag full of bread his daughter had been carrying to the village every night for months on end. Her soul still inhabits these woods and chases after the ghosts of her father’s dogs, which are as ravenous and bloodthirsty as ever.”

Agnes came back to me with a broad, unadorned smile. She knew she had conquered me and let her story sink in. We walked up to the top of the hill in silence while I mused on the wonders of Agnes’s imagination.