When Vittoria was an infant, Nonna looked deep into her eyes and said, "This one will be a handful."
They lived in Buonopane, a small village on the steep slopes of the southern part of the island, overlooking the immense black rock of Sant Angelo and its harbor where fishing boats bobbed in the water.
Not too far from their villa was the ancient hot spring of Nitrodi, where Etruscans, Greeks and Romans came for cures. Her father's terraced vineyards were a half a kilometer below the spring, accessible only by a narrow path through wild grasses, violets, and bright yellow sorrel. Stands of cane that looked like cornstalks--but were two, three times taller--rustled on the slopes.
All the dirt roads and footpaths of Buonopane and surrounding areas of the Barano region were steep, narrow, winding, and extremely dangerous. A misstep, and you would plunge down hundreds of meters to rocks at the bottom of vertical cliffs.
Which is why Giovanni, Vittoria's father, refused to buy her a bicycle. She pleaded, but he would not change his mind. "Too dangerous for a little girl," he said. But her brother Giacomo, hardly a year older, raced like a maniac down those steep, curving roads. Why wasn't it too dangerous for him? Vittoria was so angry at her father that she ran off to a remote part of the vineyard, and in a crumbling old stone shed found an empty wine barrel, where she hid.
Alfredo, a school mate, had agreed to bring her bread and cheese and small bottles of mineral water. Each day he whispered news of the great distress of her father and mother and brothers, and the rest of them, and the alarm that had spread over the entire island. Everyone was looking for her, all the farmers and stonemasons and shopkeepers. Even fishermen in their boats studied the rock-lined shore.
After three days Vittoria decided it was time to reappear. She expected to be punished, locked in her room for weeks, or worse. But no. After all, she was alive! Everyone had thought she was dead.
At first her father's weeping frightened her. But then later that night, in the darkness of her room, she smiled.