Friday, December 16, 2011


I recall that during our final afternoon in Locri mom and I stopped into a bakery to pick up desert for everyone coming to dinner that night.  Mom mentioned in a whisper that the bakery was a well-known mafia hangout; I couldn’t really tell since a lot of people down here look like mobsters.  Besides, I didn’t care because everything looked so good.  Like kids in a candy store, mom and I looked at everything and tried to narrow down our selections; ultimately we chose ice cream, a cake and pastries.
Walking back to the car arm in arm, smiles on our faces and laughing about the fact that all the locals seemed to be looking at us, mom stopped turned to me and said “Thank you John”.  “No, mom” I said, “thank you”.
Thanks for reading.

9/15/11 Departure: Transition Complete

It was yet another horrible night of sleep for all the same reasons as before as well as the anxiety of going home and leaving family and friends behind until next time.  It’s the double edged sword of the family vacation.
On the way out of Locri and into the neighbouring town of Siderno I finally passed my Italian driving test by running a red light in the most blatant fashion.  Unfortunately, my success here certainly means that my good driving habits back home have been compromised.  I’ll probably lose my license when I get home.
With my imaginary Italian driver’s license (“patente”) in hand, mom had no reason to complain about my driving during our final high speed highway excursion.  Nobody made a sound as I edged north of 165 km/h, probably because I was still being passed by people who were really in a hurry.
What greeted us at the departures gate in of the Lamezia airport was chaos, pure and simple.  There were no lines, lots of shouting, plenty of pushing and not a lot of space.  I took a look around; were they filming an episode of The Sopranos here?
Unbelievably, there was no bar in the departures lounge.  I had to ask: what kind of second rate operation are they running here?  For obvious reasons I had to forego my usual pre-flight drinking routine.  Instead, I stayed awake and caught up on this journal stopping every now and then to give my gnarled fingers a rest.  Two hours left until we touch down.  I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

9/14/11 Random Photos #16

Menefreghisti at work

Unfortunately, this is not unique


Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead

A example of a Lemmy Lemon - warts and all

Dad, Emilia, Lidia and Pasquale

The view from Lidia's rooftop

9/14/11 Wine and Pasta: Questioned and Questionable

We gathered for one final dinner, but first the ladies made pasta di casa (“house pasta”) for the coming week.  Mom insisted that I would be good at it, but kneading the big ball of dough was as far as I got.  I blame it on my hands being fucked up from all this writing, but it could also be because I lack the ability to exert the delicate pressure needed for rolling noodles; subtlety has never been one of my strong points.  Either way, it wasn’t working out and I dismissed myself before it got embarrassing.  Truthfully, I blame it on the table; it was too low.  Regardless, my pasta making skills are questionable at best.

Anna shows her expertise

Working late into the evening

The product

Questioned was dad’s decision to buy wine for our dinner.  Store bought wine?  Perish the thought!  Among the wine drinkers, Rocco was the lone holdout, referring to the old standby argument that he doesn’t like store bought wine because of the conservanti (“preservatives”).  You know what I think about that.

L'Ultima Cena - The Last Supper

9/14/11 Some Things Can’t be Fixed; Some Things Won’t be Fixed

I returned to Lidia’s house to pick up my parents.  Dad was outside with Pasquale and both of them noticed that I was still smiling.  “I’m glad you made it back in one piece” said dad, knowing full well what I had been up to.  Mom called me over and asked me to take a picture of the spot where my zio Francesco used to serenade my zia Cristina; they called it il ponte  (“the bridge”).  Mom pointed out a piece of concrete that was broken and said that it had been that way for as long as she can remember, at least fifty-five years.  The concrete that had once broken off the top and now rested on the ground had never been moved and il ponte had never been repaired.  Why bother at this point?

Mom on il ponte

While taking the pictures, I heard someone calling for my mother over my shoulder.  It was Stella, another cousin of my mother’s and possibly the crudest woman on the planet.  Stella had moved to Halifax with her family when she was an infant but returned by the age of four or five, nobody can quite remember.  When talking about her family she said that she was one of five children, but that one of her siblings was killed at birth by the doctors because it was born with a horse’s head.  Seriously?  Even I can’t make this stuff up.  Even though the “horse head” was likely a severe birth defect, the power of folklore keeps the “horse head baby” story alive.

Stella and mom

When my mother asked Stella if she remembered any English, she replied “Si! you fuck off!” with a thich southern Italian accent.  The conversation proceeded so fast and in a dialect so pronounced that even my mother had a hard time keeping up.  Other topics included: Stella’s greying hair and the crude and unnecessary admission that the “curtains matched the carpet” so to speak; and that after we left she would touch herself for good luck because she had been paid a compliment which is an excuse popular among men who just want to “rearrange” things.  Stella was a sailor and a trucker all rolled into one and mom insists Stella’s been this way for as long as she can remember; just like il ponte.
Some things can’t be fixed; some things won’t be fixed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

9/14/11 From Bad Decisions Come Good Stories

I had reached the canopy of Zomarro a lot quicker than I had the other day when Joe was leading the way.  I hate to admit it, but my attempt at a handbrake turn to switch direction 180 style failed miserably.  That’s what happens when you showboat for the camera.  On the way back down the hillside I saw a dirt path that I first noticed the other day on the way to lunch.  What could be down there?  It looked a little rough but reasonably well-travelled.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained I reasoned and made my way slowly down the road in the rental car we were relying on to get to the airport the next morning.  Yet another checkmark in my long history of good decisions.
I had taken the trail as far as I wanted to go, but now there was nowhere to turn around.  As good as I am at reversing (let’s ignore the parking lot bump in Gerace) I didn’t think it was wise to attempt it here.  In finding a spot to turn around that wouldn’t destroy the car I became unsure of my direction, not quite disoriented, but unsure nonetheless.  I had entered on a downslope, so the one of the two paths uphill paths available had to be the right one.  I chose correctly, and soon enough I was back on my racetrack.

Passing the excavator yet again I put the pedal to the floor.  The descent would be faster as gravity helped make up for the car’s seemingly inadequate power output.  The descent was rapid indeed and I was on a mission.  Unlike the fear that I’ve experienced while on my motorcycle at the racetrack, I wasn’t scared at any point; after all, I had metal, glass, a seatbelt and airbags to save me.  Sometimes when pushing hard on the bike at the track you get the slightest disconcerting feeling that the front end is washing out, but in reality the grip is there; you could push a lot harder if you really wanted to.  More often than not what’s really happening is that you’re running out of confidence.  Or as the correct response to the question “Why did you crash?” goes… “I ran out of talent”.  And so when I felt the car run slightly wide and drift into the oncoming lane while exiting a tight corner, an oncoming lane occupied by another car, I knew that I was pushing hard.  Perhaps too hard; but as they say, bad decisions make good stories and this chapter of the trip, the mountain racing chapter, was over.

9/14/11 My Act of Terrorism

I must apologize to the residents of Locri and its surrounding towns.  Sincerely, I apologize.  But really, I’m powerless against this type of thing: lightly travelled twisty mountain roads.  They’re like drugs for me.  A short distance away from Lidia’s house and out of eyesight, I strapped a camera to the car, switched off the traction control and drove it like I stole it.  Which also meant that I would drive responsibly in populated areas so as not to attract the attention of either the residents or the polizia stradale.  But who was I kidding?  I had a camera mounted to the driver’s side window; my intentions were obvious to the blind.
The video evidence speaks for itself and causes me to wonder what the statute of limitations is on driving offences in Calabria.  Corner after corner, apex after apex, my grin grew steadily until it hurt.  I ran wide when it was safe using as much of the road as possible to maintain my speed; this road was truly my racetrack.  If this road was located in Canada, the fun police would be lurking around every corner trying to bust you.  Here, there was nobody.  Finally something positive comes out of the cesspool of the menefreghisti (“I don’t cares”).
My progress was halted briefly when I came across a road crew.  The excavator had its arm extended over the open lane of traffic.  I stopped to allow the operator to clear the way, but he kept working.  The signal man waved me through even though the excavator had not yet moved out of the way.  I continued to wait and the signal man waved me through again, and so I proceeded right under the excavators arm.  This was normal here, but I had displayed hesitation, which in your Italian driving test is cause for an automatic “fail”.  My parents would be ashamed of this poor grade; I vowed to make it up to them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

9/14/11 Free Mornings and Dramatic Exits

It was a completely free morning; no family to visit, no formal lunches, no obligations of any kind.  Finally on the last full day, a vacation had started.
Once again, I headed for the beach.  I had enjoyed myself so much there that it was hard to stay away.  Maria and her daughter Anna kept saying that I had come at the wrong time of the year if the beach is what I enjoyed.  They said I should have come in August when there was plenty of action there.  But they soon understood that a calm beach is exactly what I wanted.  I couldn’t bear to spend a whole week laying in the sun, but a few hours each day?  I could live with that.
Essentially deserted is the way I found it save for a few members of the Italian version of the Joy Luck Club who were walking in the water so as not to stress their arthritic knees.  This time by the sea would be my calm before the storm…my prep time.

Looking south: nobody

Looking north: still nobody

 After lunch I took my leave; grabbing my camera I said only four words: “I have to go”.  My dramatic exit was dashed when my mother said “can you drop us off at Lidia’s first?”
I’ve always liked the dramatic exit, like leaving through a window and down a fire escape.  Not that I get to do that much, if ever.  Or the endings to phone calls in movies and on television; I’ve always liked how they never say goodbye, they just hang up.  Me putting on my sunglasses and saying “I have to go” was my attempt at the window and fire escape exit, only in my anticlimactic television show my mother stops me and says “don’t forget, we need milk and bread”.

Monday, December 12, 2011

9/13/11 Learning to Park

My conversion to Italian driver is almost complete.  With space for parking at a premium I have embraced the small town Italian tradition of parking the car wherever it fits; even if that means that half the car is sticking out in the street.  Mind you, none of this would work in the North where designated parking spots and parking meters have begun to make an appearance.  Not so in the South; here it remains a free for all.  Here, it's not just parking rules that are lax, they’re reluctant to enforce many rules of the road, running stop signs and red lights among them.  Who would have the balls to enforce parking rules?

9/13/11 Tomatoes and Lying Italian Immigrants

I’ve eaten tomatoes in each city we’ve visited from North to South, including the one hour stop in Firenze and I can tell you without hesitation that the tomatoes I grow in my own garden blow everything here out of the water.  My parents agree; every tomato we’ve eaten has been substandard.  So the next time an Italian immigrant starts talking about how the tomatoes “back home” were better feel free to look at them with a distrusting and suspicious eye.  You may excuse them as being sentimentalists or even historical revisionists motivated by passion, but I see them as nothing more than a bunch of liars.
Now, if the same person were to tell you that the ice cream is better, know this: they speak the truth.

9/13/11 Blue Eyed Enforcer

My parents dropped me off at the beach for a couple of hours while they visited yet more family members.  Dropped off at the beach by my parents; I felt like a teenager again.  Which reminds me of the night we arrived here in Locri.  Maria had offered to make up a second bed in my parents' room so I could be close to them.  Mom politely declined on my behalf.
Today, instead of naked seniors, I found scared seniors.  Two “robust” women asked me to help them out of the ocean since they were afraid they might fall over and get hurt.  These were tough looking women who even the police wouldn’t mess with; I dare not refuse their request.  I half expected them to ask me if I could teach their grand-daughters to swim.
Once again time on the beach passed quickly and soon enough my father had come to collect me.  Mom’s cousin Erico and his wife, who mom and dad had been visiting, insisted that I be brought to meet them.  On the way there mom told me a story about Erico, ever the charmer.  When asked by people from “America” (Canadians included in the general category, Mexicans too I suppose) if he knows of any nice Italian boys for their girls back home, Erico always pulls out a picture of him taken at the beach when he was thirty or so (that's fifty years ago).  With his crystal blue eyes and lean physique, Erico claims that he has more girlfriends than he can count in “America”.  As soon as I met him I said “look at those beautiful blue eyes!”  He grabbed me and hugged me like I had known him all my life.
Erico told me about a time when he was recently enlisted to collect some money for a friend.  He showed up at the debtor’s house, charming personality and crystal blue eyes included.  When he was dismissed by the debtor who dismissed him as a weak old man, Erico flashed his pistol which was neatly tucked into his jacket.  Needless to say, the money was delivered within two hours.  It seems as though nobody is willing to fuck with a charming old guy who has been charged with settling a score.  There aren’t many things more dangerous than an old guy with something to prove and nothing to lose.  Fuck Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, they should make a movie about this guy!

9/13/11 Trouble in the Henhouse

Maria didn’t need to kill any of the chickens for me, a night time intruder had taken care of the job.  The morning light revealed a bloodbath.  My dad suspects it was a weasel because of the cause of death…exsanguination.  In true rural fashion, Maria was dismissive.  “There were too many of them to take care of anyway” she said.  Unfortunately for me, the loudest one remained, the rooster.  What kind of man leaves his women to be killed by a lowly rodent?  Rooster, I label you “coward”.

Friday, December 9, 2011

9/12/11 Random Photos #15

A great start to the day

Construction in miniature

Long forgotten graves of the unknown

Looking down on Gerace

Thirsty Cat

The door to San Nicola

Moon over Locri


9/12/11 Mountain Blast: No Seniors Allowed

I told my parents I was going for a “drive”.  They knew exactly what I was up to.  Once again the Ford’s small motor was called to action.  It was a quick drive up into the hills, but I quickly caught up with some traffic.  Better to pull over for a while and create some space.  Five minutes later, just as I was about to pull out, a cop car passed by.  Mission aborted.  My blast along these twisty roads had lasted less than five minutes.
Rather than get busted by the Polizia Stradale, I took advantage of the light at dusk and returned to Gerace to take some photos.  While snapping shots of an abandoned church an old woman peeked out of her second floor window and gave me a brief history.  Chiesa di San Nicola (the church of St. Nicholas) had been abandoned for a long time because there is no money to fix the crumbling interior; a familiar story.  The woman offering the story was a mystery.  While she was eager to talk, she remained hidden and never revealed her whole face.  The window sill blocked out anything below the bridge of her nose.

9/12/11 Finding Your Dead II: Family Secrets

Mom had enlisted Lidia to help us find my grandfather’s tomb; she knew exactly where it was.  Arriving at the cemetery we found the groundkeeper precisely where we had left him, leaning up against the gate smoking without a care in the world.  He may have been the coolest guy to walk the planet, or the laziest; it was hard to decide.  I eventually settled on “laziest” since everyone knows that Steve McQueen was the coolest.

Lidia easily found the tomb in roughly the same area that we had searched in a couple of days ago.  But it wasn’t as mom had remembered it.  Instead of dark marble, it was white with dark veins.  Mom shed tears as she paid her respects.  She was so young when her father died; the memories are few, but strong.  When my grandmother would try and discipline my mom, my grandfather would always stop her.  Mom was his precious little “papuzzella” (ladybug); the only girl in the family and the youngest of his eight children.  He saw her as a gift and he let her get away with anything.
But since my grandfather wasn't around all the time, mom still received her fair share of discipline courtesy of her mother and brothers.  My grandfather was a truck driver and spent many days on the road.  His occupation may be connected in some way to the mystery of the light at his tomb.  The small light by his photograph always stays lit.  The cemetery charges a fee for this but nobody from my immediate family has been paying the bill.  If not them, then who?  As a truck driver who spent a lot of time away from home, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that my grandfather had other relationships over the years.  With eight children to his credit, he certainly didn’t lack of virility.  Mom doesn’t dismiss the idea, and without actually admitting it she knows there may be some substance to it.

The light that fuels the mystery

The truth of the matter is that if someone wanted to find out who was paying for the light, they could.  All it would take would be some properly placed questions involving in no way shape or form the groundskeeper.  But such is the power of mystery.  Better to believe that there is some unknown person out there that loves him enough to keep the lamp lit than to believe the alternative…that it’s just a clerical error.  A clerical error that endures for fifty-five years?  Unlikely.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

9/12/11 Parking Lot Bump and the Road to Discovery

Since my parents and I were slightly ahead of schedule for lunch with cousin Pietro and company, we drove up to the piazza in Gerace to have an espresso.  The piazza was packed and there weren’t any parking spots.  I put the car in reverse and promptly backed into a car that seemingly came out of nowhere… I know; my fault.  The young man got out of his car and without even stopping to look, walked away while telling me “non e niente” (it’s nothing).  And he was right; it was nothing.  On these confined streets I hadn’t gone fast enough to do any damage.  The townsfolk were seated on their bench like a bunch of NASCAR fans waiting for the next accident.  I had to wonder how many times a day this scene plays out.
After our espresso we met with Pietro, Teresa and Joe.  Pietro had chosen a restaurant up in the hills about a half hour drive away; I let Joe lead the way.  He was making pretty good progress and I didn’t hear any complaints from my parents.  Apparently, if a responsible guy like Joe could drive like this, so could I.  But if I were to drive at the same pace alone with my parents, I would have been called a lunatic in a hurry.  I’d be back on this road without them to do some damage.

Lunch with Teresa, Peter and Joe

9/12/11 Revelling in Nothing

Snap decision time; I was going to the beach for a couple of hours while my parents made another round of visits.  Once again the beach was empty except for some seniors, some of the women topless (shudder!).  I averted my eyes and walked in the opposite direction eventually finding a secluded spot where the only sound was that of the waves.  The water was clear, warm and calm; I could have floated in it for hours.  With my ears submerged, I could hear the faint tinkle of stones on the shore bumping into each other with every new wave.  Over and over again that sound represented the gradual grinding of rough rocks into impossibly smooth stones.
My original plan was to write while sitting on the beach, but finally having the chance to relax and do nothing proved too enticing.  The hours passed peacefully.