It is a beautiful evening.
Venus is in a serene sky, its familiar shining oval helps one orientate oneself, even from ten thousand miles away.
When I look up at it I know exactly how my quiet street in Cape Town is orientated.
Let’s take a passegiata, he says and have a cafe …Nonno has a way of creating something out of nothing, all I have to do is walk along and let each moment unfold.
So we take a walk, to the long standing bar behind which is the little cemetery where those from the village who died in the Great War on opposite sides are buried and remembered.
This is Hemingway country, as unlikely as it seems, where he fell in love during the war, as an ambulance driver, and whilst wounded and recovering in a military hospital room, inspired his ward room companion, Villard to write his book Hemingway In Love And War.
This is probably where some of the most profound influences that shaped the writer that Hemingway became took place.
No one really seems to be able to provide a defining explanation of why such slaughter took place, but in this little village some were pro Austria, others were pro Italy.
My grandfather came back from Brazil and ended up in Austrian uniform in the Carpathians, far away. The Austrians understood that the locals in their uniforms had to be sent elsewhere to fight … there is a sense of civility in that.
To my left is an old frame with the large photograph of a young girl … my grandfather came back with that and never talked about it.
Out of respect to him it remains hanging.
I wonder if he looked up at Venus in a serene moment in the Carpathians and orientated his Brazilian village in his mind, his Friulan village … ?
There are a few bicycles on the street, far more than in Lakeside.
Yet Nonno thinks it is deserted, not like the old days …
Over there are the window bars I made, he says, and there is the casing for the outside light, and there is that when I was with etc etc …
Every house and property has a story to it …
The blacksmith was one of the most useful artisans of those times, they would all become hard of hearing just like he has, the damage done by the hammers pounding the iron …
Earlier in the day we had met a lady in a shop, they spoke in Friulan but I understand just about every word, and if not I derive it from the emotion it is delivered with.
She looked a decade or two younger than she actually was, a handsome woman …
We used to do a lot of work for one of the counts he explains to me afterwards.
A jovial fellow who would insist that the pane, vino and salame would be consumed with the delivery of the work.
There was this incredibly beautiful maid there he recalls.
And she fell pregnant and the boy who was the father would not marry her. Now how stupid was that, Nonno exclaims. Such a beautiful girl …
And then another war came, and an Italian soldier from somewhere else, and this one did marry her, adopted the illegitimate boy, and had a girl too …
She is the mother of the other woman in the other shop who hugged and kissed me when we arrived back from Africa, he adds.
This man is a walking memory of so much but it is impossible to record it all, trace it all, link it back … the best one can do is hang onto the romantic bits, and find some way to capture some essence of what was.
At the bar, the daughter of the bar owner is about to finish her shift. Her mother arrives with a little white dog, and there ensues another oral geneology, names and events that appear out of nowhere, how does a 93 year old remember so much with so much detail.
Walking on to the piazza we meet a young man on a bicyle. He is the son of another man he knows, and there is yet more discussion …
All I can do is absorb some superficial sense of it all, and contemplate that limpid night sky above, the half moon that has come out to make it even more ridiculously beautiful.
There is not a breath of wind, just the quaint homes alongside us as we walk, and the memories that spill out at every step he takes.
It is clear he misses all those people, how they would all be out and about, loud and cheerful, noisy and argumentative, but out and about …
And yet there are a few, they nod as they cycle by, greet …
We will go back past his friend’s house, a friend who passed away recently whilst he was away.
But before that we stop off at cousins.
Oddly she works for a firm that was purchased by some South African holding group that is invisible, yet massive.
I had never heard of them until you asked me to find out about them, I said to her.
They are like a sort of Ikea, she thinks, sort of but not really … a real mystery to both of us.
I had never heard of Ikea until a year or so ago, I tell her.
That is really ridiculous, hey?
And then I tell her about Rodriguez, and Sugarman. It is amazing how something so well known in one part of the world is unknown elsewhere.
They have never heard of him, or of the Oscar winning documentary.
That at least is understandable, why on earth would they have!?
We are in a land of saints by the myriads here and I describe Rodriguez as a modern day saint.
His songs and his persona are so incredible that when people from all over the world, from all sorts of cultures and creeds come across him, many feel compelled to visit the web site and leave a message.
They are overwhelmed by his humility, by the purity of his soul.
I have spent some time telling the whole remarkable story, it is getting late.
We walk back through the village on our circular route, past the house of the dear friend who had passed away, the half moon watching us …
It is bittersweet, this little old man alongside me who remembers so much, in such detail, and as beautiful as these streets and the houses along them are, to him they seem so empty … and so, so silent …
Copyright G. Rigotti 2015