Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village. The Garibaldi statue. Until now I had never given it more than a glance, and hadn’t known any of the man’s history. But after nine years in Italy, well, the associations now are rich.
I was stranded in Naples one evening because the last ferry for Ischia had departed, so I walked from Porto Beverello up Corso Umberto to the piazza near the entrance of Napoli Centrale train station. There on a tall column was a weathered bronze statue of Garibaldi and on the adjoining Via P. Stanislao Mancini was a hotel named after the great man. I checked in.
I awoke around 0300 to the shouts of a woman. I went to the window. It was a hooker in an argument with a cab driver. In the harsh greenish-yellow flood of the streetlights I saw her clearly. She had on a tight black skirt, spike heels, and a shiny red jacket. Her hair was jet black. Her face was a pale white, with bright red lipstick and thick, black eye makeup. At that hour the traffic was nearly as heavy as daytime. A rush of tires, honks of horns, rise and fall of sirens, the annoying buzz of motorinos and three-wheeled Apes. She kept shouting, and the cabbie returned her curses.
Inexplicably that scene from my open second floor window elicited the most powerful surge of loneliness and alienation I’d ever experienced. I felt the full weight of my status as a foreigner, an exile, an expatriate. Newly arrived in that strange country, I was largely ignorant of its language, and its history. My connection to America had been cut cleanly, permanently. I had no plans to ever return. And down there, a hooker was spewing curses.
The cabbie moved on, and she walked to the corner of a building and stood, hands on hips, looking up and down the street.
A few days after that bleak experience I was granted an interview with an English speaking vineyard owner in Forio. He spoke for two hours in to my tape recorder. I transcribed the entire conversation.
“We have in our family history a bit of Spanish, a bit of piratical, a bit of the Bourbons,” he said. “As for the people connected with this dynasty, it was mostly men who, having arrived here to conquer the land, would ‘conquer’ our females as well either by raping them or by marrying them …you know, the typical manners of conquistadors. A scholar here in Ischia analyzed all this historical information in a book in which he stated, among other things, that Garibaldi left from Casamicciola.”
For some reason that now escapes me, I didn’t ask him to elaborate on Garibaldi.