July 14th, 2002

Quoth The Raven

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In Trieste I walked numbly through the Theresian Quarter, along the Grand Canal. Small boats were parked on both sides along its entire length. I passed the allegorical statues on the balustrade of Palazzo Carciotti, then began a long hike up to the top of the Capitoline Hill.

I had to keep moving. I did not want to think.

From that elevation I looked down at the entire city and its crowded, ubiquitious red tile roofs. Up in a tree I saw a raven. It cawed several times urgently, impatiently. Then flew away.

I wandered around some ruins of Roman columns, and the Baptistery of St. John, and the small church of San Michele al Carnale, with its gothic double sunburst rose window and sandstone bas-reliefs that originally depicted pagan Roman figures, but were later modified by the Catholic Church to conform to more saintly conceptions.

They say when you hear a raven’s call you must stop and listen carefully, because it is an important message that needs to be deciphered. But I didn’t want to hear any more messages. I’d had enough that day.

I trudged back down the hill. I encountered the 1st Century Roman amphitheatre, a gift to the city from Quintus Petronius Modestus. The stacked curved seats of the amphitheater were overgrown with tall grass and yellow dandelions. I sat at stage center. I heard a bell from a nearby church tolling. A gray cat ambled by, along a low wall that traversed the length of the stage.

Earlier that morning, at a cyber cafe, I read an e-mail I thought was from Vittoria. But it was from someone named Nina, who claimed to be her cousin. Nina had some really bad news. Vittoria, she wrote, had been in an auto accident and was in the hospital. “She’s paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors say she will never walk again.”

I read the post five times, as if continued reading would somehow alter what it said. Then I put the cursor on compose mail. “Nina,” I wrote, “for God’s sake please send me more details. Where did the accident happen? What’s the name and location of the hospital? Did she ask you to notify me? Please reply as soon as possible.”

When I got back to the hotel I dialed Vittoria’s number. It kept ringing. Someone had turned off the answering machine. I lay down on the bed, forearm over my eyes. Obviously I’d have to cut my Trieste excursion short. Book a flight to New York.


The raven’s cawing echoed in my head. I didn’t believe in superstitious nonsense, but at the moment I was powerless, frustrated, anxious. I needed to do something. Anything.

I concentrated. It was caw-caw-caw-CAW. Repeated three times. That’s twelve. What does it mean? The only thing that popped into my mind a half hour later was a single word:


Which told me to wait.

And a few days later, it all came out. The e-mail was phoney. Vittoria had sent it. She had her reasons, she said on the phone. Good ones.

“For instance?” I asked, trying not to shout.
“Um, because I was angry at you.”
“For what?”
“For abandoning me.”
“But you were the one who said I should go to Ischia, because it’s a perfect place for an artist.”
“Yes, but not forever.”
“You had me worried sick, you know that?”
“I also thought that you’d come back to New York right away. I missed you so much.”
“Oh, I see. You want us to just resume the status quo. You married, and me on the side.”
“It’s not like that, and you know it.”
“But I can’t do that anymore.”
“Why not?”
I groaned.
What in hell was I going to do with that girl?


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I’ve seen that white, stripped-tailed cat before. Creeping around, growling at Old Yellow. This has been Old Yellow’s territory for a long time, but the ursurper sees an opportunity. Yes, I know. It’s the natural order of things for the old to be vanquished by the young, but I don’t like it. Why doesn’t Whitey find some unoccupied turf?

But Whitey is aggressive, and persistent. Old yellow by contrast seems uncertain, hesitant to put up a defense. Well, all right. He’s slowing down. What’s more, he’s probably ill. The other day when I put down his bowl I caught a whiff of him. Very foul odor, like he’d been rolling around in a dead carcass. He eats, but slowly and with less enthusiasm than usual.

I hope he gets over it soon. Meanwhile, just a minute ago I pitched at Whitey a hard, unripened pear from the tree in the courtyard. The little prick stood his ground. Gave me a contemptuous look.