August 5th, 2002

A Twin Sister?

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If you are the first to arrive in the morning at the bay of Sorgeto you pile rocks to form a pool next to the shore’s boiling thermal spring. You sit or lie in the middle where you feel heat on one side of your body and cool sea surges on the other. You look up through the faint wisps of rising steam at the sheer sedimentary cliffs far above.

Sylvia tells me that since I visit this place so often I ought to fix her famous Pollo Fumarole. Here’s how to make it, she says. At home sprinkle salt, pepper and rosemary on a chicken. Wrap it up in several layers of thick foil. When you get there, put the package directly over the steaming rocks, let it sit for an hour and thirty minutes. A bottle of chablis will make it even better.

Then take a nap in the warm sun, she says. You will have happy dreams.

Yesterday afternoon at that strange place I took a nap, but since I had no chicken I had no dreams, happy or otherwise. But I thought a lot about—who else?—that girl of mine.

A few weeks before her father took her off to Italy to lock her up in a monastery, Vittoria told me a rather incredible story. About a twin sister. Her name was Rosa, she said, and her father disowned her.
“A twin sister?”
“Yes. Only 15 minutes older than me.”
“Why did your father disown her?’
“Because she disgraced the family.”
“She had a boyfriend against my father’s wishes. And she got pregnant.”

Vittoria knew I wasn’t buying the twin sister story, so she dropped it.

And then a couple months later, when I was trying to get the Italian Consul to help me track down the monastery where Vittoria was being confined, I got a telephone call.

“Is this James Stephens?”
“You don’t know me, but my name is Rosa," a familiar voice said. "I’m trying to locate my sister, Vittoria.”
I have no idea why, but I believed Rosa was authentic. She said she’d heard about me from a cousin, and she had a lot of questions. Where did I meet Vittoria? How long had we been together? I told her the whole convoluted and improbable story, from the beginning.

“So what are your true feelings for her?” Rosa asked.
I thought a moment. Then I said, “Right before she left she asked me the same question.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“I said that for her I was probably more a bridge than a destination.”
“How cruel!”
“Yes, it was. I’m sorry that I said it.”
“Come on. Tell me.”
“Because I love her.”
“Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Vittoria said.