Coming over I was wondering about the bear … last time I was up in that fairy land, the day before we left, a bear had been sighted.
Orso bruno they call it here, the brown bear.
Was it still there … were there others too?
The phone rang, “Pronto” I replied.
Pronto translates as “I am ready …”, it fascinates me that you would say that when you answer the phone!
Will you come to supper tonight, she asks? It is my cousin.
Yes, certainly, I reply.
One of the boys is down from the mountain village, I will come and get you, she says.
I reply that it is okay, we can walk or cycle.
No, no, we will come and pick you up, she insists.
The mountain village is where the paternal line originates from, the first one of ‘us’ having arrived up there in the late 1400′s, it is all recorded in the church books.
Diaz had only rounded the Cape of Good Hope about a decade before.
It would be more than a century and a half later before Jan van Riebeeck setup the Dutch East India Colony at the Cape Of Good Hope.
The scale of Time is different here …
So there we were waiting as my cousin arrived.
We will be eating Moroccan couscous tonight she says.
In the land of pizza, pasta, salami, mortadella, prosciutto crudo, and a myriad cheeses this will be different.
Nonno manages to have a million conversations in the short drive.
When we arrive we find that her husband seems not to have aged a single day in the past decade … he will never age.
The boy from the mountains is now a mature 30 something, grown up since the days when it was all about muscles and girls. Now he is into wine making as a career … his longtime girlfriend clearly adores him.
Unbelievably they were talking about the bear … there was an attack, a jogger, trail runner type like I used to be, the bear attacked him.
In False Bay we have Great Whites who have swallowed unfortunate swimmers whole, on the Muizenberg/Kalk Bay mountains the puff adder that bit me … and here is the thing, this is just what it is, the yin and yang of Life, the bears are coming back and sooner or later it would have been inevitable; in the fullness of Life there is risk …
There are also cinghiali now too, wild boars, coming back … in the Julian Alps close by, along with the bears, they tell me.
Much of the world is becoming increasingly Green sensitive … it may be too late, hopefully we are just in time to avoid Apocalypse.
Is climate change man made or natural? The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of plastic, is reputed to be the size of Texas … ! The significant capacity that we have to make a mess of the Planet should not be under estimated.
It is great to be back, the same wooden table out in the back, where Summer and wine and everything nice seeped into us over endless hours celebrating Life.
My cousin’s husband celebrates Life in every moment, no wonder he never ages.
There are kids everywhere, noisy ones just like they should be, the kids I knew are now parents even if they will forever still be the kids I knew.
It starts spotting with raindrops so we move inside, a glass of spumante and a variety of tit bits later.
The noise gets louder, and my cousin’s husband proudly announces the wine that he has kept from a decade ago … the boy from the mountain had given him a bottle, back then when muscles and girls in the plural were still very important for him, a big beautiful heavy bottle, filled with a blend of Cabernet and Merlot.
How does a decade old wine taste as if it is merely a year or two … it is unbelievably wonderful, superb!
One has to dig deep in the language reservoirs when you have not been speaking it daily. A week later my tongue is slowly re-finding some of its forgotten ways, but some English translations are way off.
I mean, a chiavetta (key) for a USB 3G or whatever card!? I would have used the word scheda (card) but that would have drawn blank looks.
The couscous is light, as light as a feather … so this is what it should taste like!?
The Moroccan who made it will come by later, they explain. It is Ramadan.
If it was noisy before, it is noisier now, and getting noisier.
Eventually we wander back to the bear story, what to do about the bears, as the Moroccan arrives to loud greetings.
Within seconds she is part of the group at the dinner table. She gently abstains from wine.
My cousin’s husband reminds us it is not just about the bear though. He was out a funghi, picking mushrooms, and he has a story about that.
Italians have a passion for mushrooms, the city dwellers invade the rural places and drive the locals crazy, the locals disappear into the countryside and the mountains, and drive those locals crazy.
My cousin’s husband loves the mountains for the funghi, they tease him that he only ever goes to the one mountain so it is singular, and he agrees – but in one fell swoop he can pick so many!?
However, he was out in the countryside nearby, picking mushrooms, when he saw a deer.
It was a beautiful sight, so he watched and watched as the deer circled him from a distance.
After a while he felt that he had celebrated this enough and began to walk back with his basket of mushrooms.
Suddenly he saw the deer alongside, on the other side of a row of trees, keeping abreast.
How odd he thought. How really strange!
Surely not … ?
Then suddenly the deer darted off ahead of him, swung around to face him, and charged!
His only defense was the bag of mushrooms, mushrooms spilled everywhere and the deer turned away, to prepare for another charge.
He saw a fallen branch, this surely was absurd!
As the deer charged again he grabbed at the fallen branch, but the other five sixths of it was buried deep.
Too late, he was struck and all akimbo – with the deer tangled up in his legs!.
All that he could do was hold the deer’s neck in between his legs and squeeze as tight as he could!
And here is another thing, as bruised and bleeding as he now was, he squeezed only until it seemed that the deer was almost done, then let him go …
The deer got up, dazed, and ran off.
A rabies injection later (was that not the reason for the crazed deer ?), he discovers that it had been held in captivity, its horns then sawn off and let back into the wild.
Apparently it charged the daily bucket of food and was no longer tenable.
It was all I could do to regain my composure, even my ears hurt from the laughter around the table as the story was told, never mind my sides.
The food kept coming, and we lost complete track of this magical evening.
Your dad (my uncle) crossed the Med more than a hundred times during the war, I said to my cousin. She nodded …
Her husband’s father had fought in half a dozen naval battles and survived.
After 8th September he was south of Anzio and stayed south until it was all over.
Nonno had the last tank of his division at Anzio … draw large white circles on the vehicles Radio Londra urged, so that the Allies would not bomb the Italians.
However, someone at Radio Londra seemed to find the wrong words in the broadcasts and described the Mare Nostrum as now being a Lago Brittanico.
The next day, his division, offended by Radio Londra’s reduction of the ancient Med to a mere pond, packed up and went home … which is perhaps why I am here now … thank God the Italians get offended easily!
The Moroccan asks how far Cape Town is? About eleven hours direct flight if there was one I reply.
She says only four and a half to Morocco … but her mother is sick, and that makes it longer.
Around this table we are the two stranieri.
Yet she is much further away from her original Life than I am.
I can place myself somewhat in her shoes here this evening … offspring of immigrants from the times when going home was a month at sea … we were raised ‘as of the Motherland’ but it is not as simple as that, the Madre Terra is a long way from our youth.
The offspring, first generation, are hybrids.
One eventually makes peace with this, the hybridization of one’s self, one has to accept there is a noun that one fundamentally is … and there are the adjectives, attributes, major ones, that sculpt you into the specific hybrid instance you are: an Italian English speaking South African is what I am … and, I know now, always will be.
It is good, even if it has taken me a lifetime to figure it all out.
But I must say that I feel clumsy that it took me so long, embarrassed even.
After all, is that not the experience of the offspring of myriads of migrants. To figure out who they actually are?
Across the table from me, she will always be Moroccan … but increasingly, over time, happily an Italian one too!
She looks after the two old sisters close by, one of them a dear friend of Nonno.
The other sister would not open the door the last time Nonno arrived – the old are old and they can have funny ways. Perhaps she once had a crush over his blue eyes, but the sister gets more of the attention? Who knows what memory influenced the closed door.
Do come around, and she will open the door, the Moroccan tells Nonno. She is enchanted by the energy of this old man, the blue eyes, and his fresh smooth unwrinkled face.
As the evening went by, the kids got tired, so did their parents, and the dinner party began to get less noisy as different couples and kids said their goodbyes.
My cousin’s husband drove us back, dropping off the Moroccan who was on the way.
Do not forget to come and knock on the door, she tells Nonno, with a smile. Even the old tyrant of a sister has finally met her match!
And here is the last thing I have to say:
there was all that noise, that laughter, that desire to find a way to deal with the bear in a way that we could all co-exist, the compassion to fight just enough to send the deer off on its way, and in all of this the welcoming of a stranger from another country, another creed, as if she had been one of them all her life … so welcome that she could comfortably conspire to not have the old sister have her way always …
… now all of that is almost impossible to analyze, dissect and explain …
But, one thing though I can say is for sure:
when the Light of Humanity shines it can shine brighter than the brightest star.