The Professor in his cluttered study yesterday was in particularly good form. He stood at the window, then turned. His expression was solemn. “To be is to do—Socrates,” he intoned. “To do is to be—Descartes. To be or not to be—Shakespeare. Do be do be doooo—Sinatra.”
“Jesus, please stop,” I said grinning.
“All right. Where were we?”
“D.H. Lawrence. The Italian adoration of children.”
“Yes, thank you. As much as Lawrence despises Italy, I despise Lawrence. It might have something to do with his being the sort of Englishman who always keeps a fireplace poker up his ass. But let’s not go down that road.”
“You’d think that Lawrence would have found something to admire about this country, since he wrote so much about it.”
“Don’t ever underestimate that self-absorbed fop’s capacity for contempt. Wait a second.”
The Professor pulled a paperback off the shelf, flipped the pages.
“I quote from Sea and Sardinia. ‘This inordinate Italian amiable patience with their young monkeys is astonishing. It makes the monkeys more monkey-like, and self-conscious, incredibly, so that a baby has all the tricks of a Babylonian harlot, making eyes and trying new pranks. Till at last one sees the southern Holy Family as an unholy triad of imbecility.’”
“Maybe he was just trying to be funny,” I said.
“Possibly, but not likely. This is pure rage. Like that of a man with unresolved father issues. What do they say? If you don’t bury your pain, you’re condemned to live in its shadow.”
Later, we walked along the main road of the village on our way to lunch at La Tanaia. The tourists had arrived with their still cameras, video cams, straw hats, sunglasses and sunburns. Young women, a lot of them, weaved their perambulators through the crowd. Their babies were uniformly plump and serenely content, with dummies stuck firmly in their little mouths.
“The true reverence children enjoy here is unmistakable,” the Professor said. “They all grow up knowing they belong. It makes me envious. But then, there’s a down side to being adored.”
“And what’s that?”
“It hurts so much when it stops.”
I thought of Vittoria’s childhood in Buonopane. How her father indulged her, adored her, made her believe she was special. And how she must have felt when he finally said no.
“Belonging extends beyond childhood,” the Professor said. “For example, my landlord Ernesto. He has a good friend named Peppino, who lives in Monterone. As it happens the wives of Ernesto and Peppino gave birth on the same week. One had a boy, and the other a girl. Now, James, just guess who will be married at St. Vito some 20 years from now?”