August 26th, 2002


Angel Innocent CU

“So tell me. What do you think?”
“It’s pretty, and charming, and sweet, but this statue is NOT art.”
“Whoa! What’s wrong with you, James? It’s everything art should be.”
“It’s incomplete. Therefore false.”
“What’s missing, then?”
“The other half of life’s duality.”
“Uh-huh. Only intellectuals come up with that kind of cynical, complicated crap.”
“Listen: It’s dangerous to believe that everything in the world is good and safe. That a little angel will always be there to protect you from evil.”
“Oh, come on. You gotta have a little faith.”
“How old is your daughter?”
“Is she dating?”
“No way!”
“I rest my case.”

Sylvia once asked me what I found so appealing about Vittoria. I replied there were many things. Her devilish eagerness to get into mischief, for one. And her humor. Intelligence. Creativity. Curiosity. But above all it was her guilelessness that captivated me. I kept testing it, to see if it were just an act. I couldn’t believe she could be so…what? Innocent. Sweet. Doe-like. But it was authentic. A quality I’d never before encountered.

Such a girl is easily exploited, no?


Raffaelina is Sad

When I awoke from a deep sleep I recalled my encounter three years ago near the Spring of Nitrodi with an old woman named Raffaelina. She sang a song in a dialect that was rarely heard on Ischia.

I clearly remembered that song. It was about a devilish little girl who brought her father joy, but too often made him clench his teeth in frustration. One day his little girl disappeared. He and the rest of the villagers looked everywhere, but could not find her. He was consumed with grief because she might have fallen into the sea, and swept away. But, three days later, the little girl reappeared. She had merely been hiding.

The song concluded with her father musing, “What do you do with a girl like that?”

Then came a flash of a thought: Perhaps if I went back to the ancient spring Raffaelina would still be there. She might know something about my Vittoria, where she actually came from, who she really was.

I got on the bus. It’s about a 45 minute ride from Forio to Buonopane. On the way, three men in casual civilian dress came onboard. They positioned themselves at the vehicle’s three doors. Then they pulled out their identification cards, and asked passengers to show their validated tickets.

Now, a game many Ischians like to play is to see how many free bus rides they can get. The trick is to check out all the passengers and try to figure out if any of them are SEPTA workers in mufti. If you spot one, you just stick your ticket into the orange box on a post to get it date & time stamped.

One of the SEPTA agents was a tall, deeply tanned muscular guy in a soft white polo shirt, bleached jeans. On his handsome face was a moustache, and Gucci sunglasses. He asked two teenaged girls to show him their tickets. They did. The agent inspected them closely, shook his head, and pointed to the orange box. Get your tickets punched, he said. The girls giggled nervously. He said watch it, I might not be so lenient next time.

But three gangly boys in their new 200 Euro sneakers and smart designer outfits with the Nike swoosh emblazoned all over them didn’t do as well. They searched their pockets, came up empty. The SEPTA agent told them the fine was 40 Euros. Each. The boys—with stricken looks on their faces—got out their wallets and extracted 50 Euro notes. The SEPTA agent took the money, gave them change, and wrote them all receipts.

The rest of us—law-abiding validated ticket holders—watched the boys’ public humiliation, then turned to the windows. The sun shines, and God smiles down upon us. Ah, righteousness!

I descended the steep steps down to the Nitrodi spring. And there Raffaelina was, as before, sitting on a stone ledge. She recognized me.
“Signora,” I said, “do you remember the song you sang me about the little girl who ran away from her father?
“Si!” Raffaelina replied.
“As it happens, I know a girl who ran away, as your song described. Now the poor girl has just learned that she was adopted. Her name is Vittoria. Do you know anything about her?”

Raffaelina turned away. “I am sorry,” she whispered. “I can not help you.”

Turning Away

A week passed. Then, two, three.
A month.
In my last conversation with Francesca I said, “Why don’t you call the police?”
She laughed. “And what will they do for us?”
“They'll look for her.”
“They will do nothing!” she shouted. “Nothing. Which is why we don’t ever call them.”
“How long do your parents expect to stay there at the house?”
“Until she comes back. Or forever.”
“And you?”
“I will wait.”

Sylvia and the professor tried to comfort me. It was their intent that mattered, the rest were mere words. They all amounted to the same thing. All we can do, they said, is accept whatever is put before us. There’s a reason for everything. Sometimes we find out what the reason is, other times we do not.

Uh-huh. Right. That really helps.

I thought of going to Ventotene, that little sliver I see each morning resting on the sea’s horizon. Vittoria said it was on that isolated island that many of her family’s secrets were kept. I could poke around, ask some questions.

Vittoria might suddenly appear on a dark street, and we’ll embrace, and…

I did not come to spend three years in Forio and end up knowing less than when I started. This ridiculous fact made me furious. And I still am. This can’t be the end of it. It just can’t.

Then it came to me. Not all at once, but a little at a time.

When I arrived three years ago, didn’t an old woman put the great metaphor right before me? Didn’t she give me the “meaning,” the simple explanation that fits all the facts? It’s all I will ever need to know:

She sings.
She smiles.
Then she turns away.

* * *