journal

tom stack

December 11, 2019 2019, diario/journal, in memorium

Tuesday, September 26, 1950
Saturday, September 16, 2017

I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls

Kathi – my friend Tom’s wife – moved back to Pittsburgh back in September and today, we spent the morning walking through Phipps Conservatory. The Winter Flower show was beautifully pretty.
And talking with someone who lived with and loved a dear friend was a restorative experience.

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets

I wanted to know about Tom’s end-of-life and Kathi was amazingly generous and honest.

Tom died two years ago and I’ve been trying to write an in memorium for him ever since. I think today, after spending the time with Kathi, I can write about Tom.

My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away

Tom and I were friends from our time at the Novitiate in Narragansett. The friendship was forged in the winter of 1968/69. One of my favorite memories of that time is of a bunch of us going out walking, after a huge snowstorm, through the fairways of the golf-course that surrounded the Novitiate property. I got stuck in a snow-drift and Tom lay down flat on the surrounding snow and reached over to pull me out of the mound. (who knew that a kid from Queens, could conquer 10 feet of snow.)

John J. Greeley

August 10, 2019 2019, diario/journal, in memorium

John J. Greeley

Monday, October 7, 1929
Saturday, August 10, 2019

During my year at the Novitiate in Narragansett – 1968/1969 – John Greeley was our theology teacher. And he was funny, dynamic, smart, subtle – amazing. He introduced us to the study of scripture. And what Greeley did, that was severely left for the time, was present the Old and New Testaments as archives to learn from, to understand. He was our resident scholar and the bible our research lab. (John never suggested that these testaments were recipes or guidelines for a good Catholic life.)

John had us work from The Jerusalem Bible, the first Catholic bible translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, rather than from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. (One of the postulants who left the Novitiate shortly after we got there in June of 1968, deeded me his copy of The Jerusalem Bible. His nickname – Pini, written in ballpoint – is still scrawled on the inside front-cover.)

The Jerusalem Bible became our textbook; we wrote in the margins; we folded corners, we stored our notes among the verses … Greeley opened up a window into the study of scripture that I never knew existed. And because of John, the love and study of these ancient texts has stayed with me.

Obituary

John J. Greeley S.T.D., 89, of Middletown, Rhode Island, passed away at Newport Hospital on August 10, 2019.

John was born in New York, NY to the late Arthur L. Greeley and Mary F. (Fogarty) Greeley. He was the husband to Mary Louise (Ide) Greeley, PhD.

After John had graduated from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in New York, NY, he entered the Novitiate of The St. John Baptist De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools. John received his Bachelor of Arts at The Catholic University of America and moved on to receive his Master’s degree at Manhattan College. He received his licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) and went on to complete his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) both at The Catholic University of America.

In 1979, he received his dispensation from the Pope to leave the Christian Brothers. In January of 1980, he was hired by Salve Regina University as chair and professor of Religious Studies. John assisted in the Roman Catholic Initiation of Adults Program (RCIA) at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport for many years. He also helped with Troop 1 Portsmouth Boy Scouts.

John is survived by his loving wife, Mary Louise Greeley, their son, John J. Greeley Jr., of Somerville MA.

Besides his parents, he was predeceased by his three brothers, James Greeley, Arthur Greeley, and his twin brother, Charles Greeley.

Toni Morrison

August 5, 2019 2019, diario/journal, in memorium

Toni Morrison

Wednesday, February 18, 1931 – Monday, August 5, 2019

We die. That may be the meaning of life.
But we do language.
That may be the measure of our lives.

Excerpts from the Nobel Lecture – December 7, 1993 1

Thank you. My sincere thanks to the Swedish Academy and thank you all for this very warm welcome.

Fiction has never been entertainment for me. It has been the work I have done for most of my adult life.

I believe that one of the principal ways in which we acquire, hold and digest information is via narrative. So, I hope you will understand when the remarks I make begin with what I believe to be the first sentence of our childhood that we all remember, the phrase “once upon a time.”


“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise.” Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.”

In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question.

Speculation on what (other than its own frail body) that bird-in-the-hand might signify has always been attractive to me, but especially so now thinking, as I have been, about the work I do that has brought me to this company. So I choose to read the bird as language and the woman as a practiced writer. She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency – as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: “Is it living or dead?” is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will. She believes that if the bird in the hands of her visitors is dead the custodians are responsible for the corpse. For her a dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis. Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences. Official language smitheryed to sanction ignorance and preserve privilege is a suit of armor polished to shocking glitter, a husk from which the knight departed long ago. Yet there it is: dumb, predatory, sentimental. Exciting reverence in schoolchildren, providing shelter for despots, summoning false memories of stability, harmony among the public.

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheekit must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

The old woman is keenly aware that no intellectual mercenary, nor insatiable dictator, no paid-for politician or demagogue; no counterfeit journalist would be persuaded by her thoughts. There is and will be rousing language to keep citizens armed and arming; slaughtered and slaughtering in the malls, courthouses, post offices, playgrounds, bedrooms and boulevards; stirring, memorializing language to mask the pity and waste of needless death. There will be more diplomatic language to countenance rape, torture, assassination. There is and will be more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like paté-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words; there will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; language glamorized to thrill the dissatisfied and bereft into assaulting their neighbors; arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness.

Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life.

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

1 Toni Morrison Nobel Lecture – The Nobel Prize

all souls – 2018


all souls – 2018

 

Helena McCaig

Sunday, January 21

Aged 75

(My cousin Rose’s mother-in-law)

Derryll McCaig

Friday, May 11

Aged 56

(My cousin Rose’s brother-in-law)

Hin Tan

Saturday, August 11

Aged 64

(My friend Carlo’s partner)

Ciccio Zinga

Thursday, September 6

Aged 92

(My father)


 

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them.


 

tree-of-life


 

once the cursed have been silenced
and sentenced to blistering flames

 call thou me with the blessed 1

 
 
1 The Dies irae – verse 16
   Confutatis maledictis
   Flammis acribus addictis
   Voca me cum benedictis

fading-light

now in the fading light of day 1

maker of all to you we pray
that with thy wonted favor thou
wouldst be our guard and keeper now

from evil dreams defend out eyes
from nightly fears and fantasies
tread underfoot our ghostly foe
that no pollution we may know

 

now in the fading light of day 2

maker of all to you we pray
that in your ever watchful love
you’ll guide and keep us from above

help and defend us through the night
danger and terror put to flight
never let evil have its way
preserve us for another day

 
1 Opening Hymn, Compline (Liturgy of the Hours – Official Public Prayer Life of the Church)
2 Modern, Catholic Version

mussolini

 

proof of heaven

By April 1945, the Allies had landed in Southern Italy; Mussolini was losing his grip on the country; and the Third Reich was considering surrender.

In late April, Benito Mussolini his mistress Claretta Petacci together with other Fascist leaders joined a German convoy fleeing Italy. A group of local communist partisans attacked the convoy and forced it to halt. In all, over fifty fascist leaders and their families were found in the convoy and arrested. On Saturday, April 28, 1945, Mussolini and Petacci were executed by Walter Audisio an Italian partisan, in the small village of Giulino de Mezzegra, 80 kilometers north of Milan.

The next day, the bodies of Mussolini and Petacci were brought to Piazzale Loreto in Milan, the scene of a mass execution of partisans the year before. The corpses were beaten and urinated upon and left to hang upside down from a rusty beam outside a gas station on the north-west corner of the square. (Petacci had not been wearing any underwear and a group of old women rearranged her skirt to preserve her modesty.) People surged around, desperate to get a look, to laugh at and spit upon the bodies, wanting to make sure that Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for 23 years, was dead.

north-park1

hiking north park – lake shore drivetrek – 4
click to read the hiking posts

 

As the cloud-cover leached the reds and yellows from the turning leaves, chilly rains shellacked the tree trunks and branches black. Whenever I’m out in this ashen miasma, I think:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

And given that in Catholic lore November is the month of the dead – Frances, Norma, Tom and Joe – Shakespeare’s quote adds an emotional dimension to this sunless day.

Rather than hide indoors, I decided to explore the lake-trail in North Park. The artificial lake covers over 75 acres and because I’ve never walked this trail, I used the solid portion on the southern shore; I walked to a 1¼ mile-marker and turned around. The hike was 2.8 miles. On the map, it’s the blue line; I started in the bottom left corner, 1600 feet before the beginning of the marked trail on Lake Shore Drive. Afterwards, to better understand the whole of the lake route, I drove the perimeter road. From where I parked, it’s a 5 mile trek around the lake.

Tomorrow morning, I’m gonna walk Walter Road; it’s the road on the left-hand side of the map. It has some elevation, going from 968 feet at the bottom to 1,158 feet at the top. In contrast, Lake Shore Drive is a set of low rolling hills. And next week, I’ll do the entire 5 miles around the lake.

While walking, I’ve taken to listening to music (franchino would chide me, insisting that i’m missing the natural sounds, the world around me). On my own, with my camera on my shoulder, it’s amazingly peaceful listening to music and walking. The road-noise is silenced by Tracy Chapman’s repetitions in Stand By Me and Dylan’s longings in If You See Her Say Hello. And then, I look up and there on the hillside is a deer snacking on the green grass. What else can I ask for?

frances

August 9, 2017 2017, diario/journal, in memorium

frances elizabeth thorman

 

Born – Sunday, August 17th, 1930     Died – Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

The first time I met Frances and Tim Thorman was in the spring of 1989 at a great restaurant – Oro – in downtown Toronto. Jo’ and Dave were getting married in June and this was the first time the two families were meeting. (Interesting that I was the only other sibling there. Guess I was there to help my parents navigate the meet-and-greet and to help translate the menu.)

The next time I saw Frances was at the back of St. Veronica’s Church, in Sault Ste Marie, waiting to go down the isle at Jo’ and Dave’s wedding. I remember her comment about having reached an age where her oldest was getting married. “I never saw myself as the mother of a groom, that’s for old women.” We laughed.

At the service on Saturday, Dave and Bridget remembered their mom’s life. A recurring theme of the speech was Frances’ belief in the importance and power of family; her belief in the importance of transformation and of moving forward regardless what life hands you. That idea got me thinking of how Frances and Tim, how my parents, how the parents of most of the people sitting in that small chapel were and are part of a generation that created modern Canada. A generation of adults that worked hard; that worked long hours so that their children could have a better life in a new country.

Frances and her generation were pioneers building a new land for their children; determined pioneers, moral upright pioneers. And all of us sitting there honored her hard work, her determination her strength. We are who we are, because Frances and her generation made sure to raise children who could continue the hard work she and her group started. We are who we are, because Frances and her generation sacrificed to make a better world for us sitting there at her memorial service.

vigil-2

 

where are you going
can you take me with you
for my hand is cold
and needs warmth
where are you going

far beyond where the horizon lies
and the land sinks into mellow blueness

oh please, take me with you
let me skip the road with you
i can dare myself

i’ll put a pebble in my shoe
and watch me walk
i can walk, i can walk

i shall call the pebble dare
we will talk, we will talk together
we will talk about walking

dare shall be carried
and when we both have had enough
i will take him from my shoe, singing
meet your new road

then i’ll take your hand
finally glad
that you are here
by my side1


nu garofalu russu 2

1  By My Side – Godspell (modified lyrics) In the play, the haunting lyrics are sung by the Magdalene watching the man, who has just forgiven her, go off to be arrested and crucified.
 
2  The title is again in dialect. My mom and dad and others of their generation would say, è nu garofalu russu – it’s a red carnation. Standard Italian sanitizes it to è un garofano rosso. Sorry, the old Calabrese is less fussy, less flat; the dialect is robust, guttural.
 


In western society, carnations are common at funerals and cemeteries; the image, with its deep reds, compliments the sentiment of the lyrics. (In Italy, chrysanthemum are the flowers of the dead.)

I garofali russi are in my backyard, and I shot the image with a 40mm micro lens.
 

vigil-1

we plow the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land
but it is fed and watered
by god’s almighty hand

he sends the snow in winter
the warmth to swell the grain
the breezes and the sunshine
and the soft refreshing rain

all good gifts

we thank thee then
for all things bright and good
the seedtime and the harvest
our life, our health, our food

no gifts have we to offer
for all thy love imparts
but that which you desire
our humble thankful hearts1


nu cocci e granu 2

1  All Good Gifts – Godspell (modified lyrics – I tried to de-god them, but had to leave in one reference.)
In the play, the song and the scene portray the ultimate hippie stereotypes – the cast holds hands and dances around the actor singing the simple song; and as they get to the end-chorus, they lift the singer up and out of their closed circle.

2  The title is in dialect. My parents would often talk about the post-war years in Calabria as a time when, ud aviamu mancu nu coccio e granu – we didn’t even have a grain of wheat. Standard Italian flattens the phrase to – non avevamo nemmeno un seme di grano – removing all the emphatic guttural sounds of the dialect. Sorry, the old Calabrese, using a double negative, drives home the dire straits of a people on the verge of starvation. The old Calabrese captures the desperation of a people mired in feudalism and then abandoned by the same patroni – landowners – who had subjugated them.


The Winnabago Indian woman, holding the pannier and carrying her two children, is the Frank Lloyd Wright Nakoma statue in my backyard. (I shot the image from my second floor porch and the yellow haze, in the top right corner, is an out of focus white lilac blossom.)

The sculpture represents both the sentiment of the song and the tragedy of nurturing children during periods of deprivation.

sirianni

February 28, 2016 diario/journal, in memorium

mary sirianni

          Mary died Sunday, February 28, 2016.

naccaratocropIn the spring of 1963, when my family mover to Turner Avenue, our neighbors were the Siriannis – Concetta and Frank and their two kids Mary and Gino. Mary was 2 years old when we moved to Turner Avenue and Gino was a newborn. The two families became friends. And it was common for both families to visit back and forth.

Also living with the Siriannis was Frank’s mother – Za Maria – an old Italian lady who had left Calabria to come live with her son in frigid Northern Ontario. She always wore black.

I remember Mary as a little girl. The young all used Anglicized names. (I became MAY-RIO. And in Canada, my name is still pronounced with the long-A sound.) We discarded the Italian names faster than you could blink. Also, back then she was Mary Sirianni. I even remember baby-sitting her. She was a happy child who would laugh and never give me any trouble.

Five years after moving to Turner Avenue, I left Canada. Soon after the Siriannis also moved from Turner to a new subdivision. But the two families stayed friends. I never saw Mary again not as a teenager not as an adult.

Last week, my mother told me that Mary had been hospitalized with pneumonia, but because of her compromised immune system, Mary had had bone-cancer, the pneumonia put her into a comma from which she never woke up. The image on the left is from the SOOTODAY.com Obituary page.

Mary looks a lot like her dad in the picture. And the obituary attests to a life full of children, grandchildren and a large extended family. It’s wonderful to know that Mary had built a life for herself. To the little girl I once baby-sat, good-bye. You leave behind a group of people who will always remember you.

armistice

November 11, 2015 diario/journal, in memorium

Toronto2015 026

armistice day – toronto

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

I was having lunch with friends on Church Street and because I wasn’t familiar with the area, I decided to go early and walked the streets around Church-and-Bloor. The Manufactures Life Insurance Company (Manulife) had two banners – Lest We Forget, N’oublion pas – hanging from its colonnade and the lawn was filled with small Canadian flags. (One of the images in the slide-show is of the flags on the lawn.)

The motif is derived from the display – Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red – featuring 888,246 ceramic poppies, one flower for each British or Colonial soldiers killed during World War I. The poppies were planted on the lawns around the Tower of London. Armistice Day is a great celebration in Canada. (Evidence of both its British and European legacies.) Canadians everywhere wears poppy lapel-pins and there is a commemoration that all churches and governments participate in at 11:00. (As Seane and I were walking through the streets of old Kingston, I was looking for a poppy lapel-pin. Well, I found one to wear, but lost it taking my camera case off my shoulders.)

In America, World War I has lost its significance. (For years I tried to find a good, modern book about WWI that teenagers would like to read. No luck.) In Europe the Great War still looms large. In Italy, every village, town or city has a WWI memorial. Aprigliano has a WWI monument in its main piazza. (I shoot every memorial I see, because I want to do both a Photo Essay and a Gallery with the images.)

The above image and the flag image in the slide-show were taken with my iPhone. (It was raining when I got downtown and I wasn’t willing to walk around with my cameras.) I’m surprised by the quality of the images.

14-years

fourteen years ago

          Jo’ died Saturday, June 30, 2001 at 9:30 am.

Jo'My trip to Toronto this year was awkward. I’ve avoided heading up at this time of year, but I had forgotten why. And because of my busy schedule this spring, late June was my only option to go up and visit with Frank-and-Norma, Joe, Mary-Domenic-and-the-kids, Renato-and-Gina. But it wasn’t until I crossed I-80 that I realized why it felt so awkward. Fourteen years ago – Friday, June 29, 2001, I drove up and found my sister at the end of her life. By 9:30 the next morning she was dead. Dave was helping her out of bed and she died in his arms. (The grave marker doesn’t have the Saturday, June 30th date.)

So there I was driving up on June 29 just like I did fourteen years ago. And on the 30th, I visited the cemetery. The image on the left is from that visit. (I’ll have to tell my mother that I went up. I’ll make sure to explain that the time was a coincidence and not because it was the 14th anniversary of Jo’ death. I have to make that clear otherwise, she’ll think I planned it and I hadn’t.)

Fourteen years ago we all went to Mary-and-Domenic’s and Dave lit fireworks over the suburban houses. Mafalda, being the Calabrian that she’ll always be, was incensed – his wife, her daughter, had died the day before, and he was shooting off firecrackers. Needless to say the picnic was a very subdued affair. (I had driven back to Pittsburgh on the 30th to get my Armani and driven back to Toronto the next day. Remember, I left Toronto after the coroner had signed off on the death-notice and we had gotten the funeral arrangements set up so my mind wasn’t too balanced. I-80 was how I knew I was near home.)

Fourteen years later and both of the kids were absent from the Canada Day celebration. Dave is re-married and at the celebration, at his new house, no one mentioned the life-altering event that we all went through all those years ago. Everyone at the 2015 Canada Day picnic, except for Isabel and Clay, were present 14 years ago. (Why didn’t I make reference to Jo’s death? I probably couldn’t pull it off without tears.)
 

charlie

January 8, 2015 diario/journal, in memorium

 
Satire Solidarity

Stéphane Charbonnier     Aug. 21, 1967 – Jan. 7, 2015
killed – 8 journalists, 2 police officers, 1 maintenance worker, 1 visitor

Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

gurl

November 2, 2014 diario/journal, in memorium

born: june 17, 2004 – died: october 16, 2014

GurlAfter almost 25 years I am without a dog.

Two weeks ago, the dog woke me up in the middle of the night hyper-ventilating. I took her downstairs hoping to calm her down, but after an hour and no luck, I called the emergency clinic and took her in. Once there, the vet did an examination and found that she was getting no oxygen into her lungs and after a consultation, because the vet could not get her stabilized, I made the decision to put the dog down. Gurl died of congestive heart-failure.

Gurl came to us from the same breeder that we got Bilby from. We went to Columbus to visit with the puppies (I remember the roads around Columbus being slick with slush and at that time I had no GPS and had to rely on directions printed from MapQuest.) and Gurl made her way onto my lap and insisted on getting petted. That guaranteed the sale.

Gurl was the smartest animal we’ve had and very bossy. She knew when it was time to get up, have breakfast, have dinner and go to bed for the day. Her herding instincts were well developed and she insisted and insisted.

Naming this female was a not easy, we could not come up with a name that fit, so we just kept referring to her as the girl. The name stuck. And to make it more formal rather than a default, we spelled it G U R L.

Gurl came to live with us on Thursday, December 30, 2004.

bilby

born: june 20, 2003 – died: july 09, 2014

In the last two months, Bilby had lost 25% of his weight; he was skin and bones. We took him in to see the vet and she diagnosed severe diabetes to the point where he was toxic and days, if not hours, away from being very sick. After going through the options – flushing out his system and then beginning an insulin regiment. The flush would require a hospital stay and the insulin would be twice a day. Neither of the options would guarantee that he would live either pain-free or diabetes stable and we were also looking at frequent vet consultations and visits. Given these options and outcomes, we decided that the best thing to do was put him down before he became severely ill.

bilby-BI wasn’t willing to watch him die, so the vet took him from the examination room and we waited until she came back and told us he was gone. (Si ne iutu.) Of the five schnauzers, he had the best disposition. He was friendly and very social.

We got Bilby from a breeder who lived in Columbus, Ohio. The woman who grooms the dogs told me about a breeder she knew that was looking to place two females. (The females were done with their breeding and needed to be placed out of the house.) The dogs would be free. I called the breeder and made arrangements for her to come up to Pittsburgh and show us the females. We also called two friends – Margie and her sister – who were also looking for a dog. The breeder knew she was coming up and had the potential to place both animals.

When she came into the house, she brought one of the females and this 6 month old male puppy. The puppy had this great disposition and I decided that I’d rather have the puppy than a grown dog. Our friends took the female. The breeder placed one her females and made a sale, not a bad trip. (None of us saw the second female.)

Bibly came to live with us on Sunday, December 21, 2003.

memorial-day

day of remembrance

may25 042AAfter a dinner of spaghetti with clam sauce, a group of us went walking. The fading sunlight was supple and golden and I caught it in at least one image. (left to right – Civil-War house, parish-house, steeple of Calvary Methodist, roof of Emmanuel Episcopal, gate-house and entrance into parish-house.)

Memorial Day has become the official day of remembrance for those Americans who died in combat. At cemeteries across the country, the grave-markers of fallen soldiers are decorated with small flags. And families visit these grave-sites on this last Monday of May. Washington DC is full of veterans remembering their fellow soldiers who did not make it out alive. (I’ve added this post to the in memorium category.)

November 11 with its commemoration of The Great War is a European memorial; it never took root here in the western hemisphere. Modern America has enough of its own war casualties to remember and commemorate; we do not need to go back to the events of the early 20th century to remember our young men and women who died for their country.
 

I believe there are many similarities between 2014 America and the twilight of empires of 1914 Europe.

renato

March 4, 2014 diario/journal, in memorium

i confess to almighty god, to blessed mary

Renato3Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kids I grew up with. Renato was one of the Musso children. The photo on the left was taken in 1964. (left-to-right — Ciccio Zinga, the Sirianni – Connie and Frank, Renato holding my sister Jo’, Saveria Musso, Mario and Frank Musso.) The Musso family had recently arrived from Aprigliano. They were from La Grupa the neighborhood that my dad was from. They were his friends, but in Sault Ste Marie they became part of my extended family.

Shortly after their arrival, Lena, the oldest of the Musso children, was engaged and getting ready to marry. Renato immediately went off to work. (He and my dad got along real well. They were young men in a foreign land working construction.) Frank and I were in school. I was at St. Theresa and Frank was at St. Joseph.

Frank Musso and I looked up to Renato, he was the big brother interacting with the world. We would follow him around, listening to his stories; eyes big with wonder. He was the bridge between the world I had left behind and the brave new world that was Canada. He had left the childhood of the school-house behind and was out there in the world of work, in the world of English speaking people. When he came home after a long day, Frank and I listened to his stories. (We followed him around every chance.) He would come home, go up to his room to change out of his work-clothes and we followed hoping for a story. And he would tell us what it was like out there, in those places where we couldn’t go. School seemed so tame, so ordinary compared to his adventures in the adult world. I envied his experiences, his privileged position at the kitchen table. I envied his apprenticeship with my dad, his camaraderie with Ciccio, their easy laugh.

Renato2In the last couple of months, I’ve touched base again with Frank Musso, Marisa Sanguinetti and Joe Sanguinetti. We coalesced around the death of Armante Sanguinetti, Marisa’s and Joe’s dad. And today, I went looking for the image I shot of Renato’s grave-marker.

I look at the image on the right and I’m shocked, truly disturbed. He was only 2 years older than me. And at 47, he died of an inoperable, cancerous brain tumor. What the … What am I supposed to do with the big brother memories? How do I understand that he had to be a grown-up while I got to sit in a classroom and draw in my notebook? How do I re-align the remembrances? How do I find empathy for the young man who never got to grow his hair long, never got to go to Uni, never got to sneak a joint?
How can I envy his camaraderie with my dad, their easy laugh?

sanguinetti

December 24, 2013 christmas, diario/journal, in memorium

cump’armunte

 

When we came to Sault Ste Marie, there were two families from Aprigliano that my parents were close with, the Belsitos and the Sanguinettis. Cum’amulia e cump’armunte Sanguinetti lived on James Street the old, immigrant neighborhood next to the steel-mill in the west end. And I remember us visiting them in the tall house with the narrow driveway. The Sanguinetti family was Armando, Amalia, Marisa and Joe. I babysat Joe when he was still a child in the crib. I associate the babysitting with reading Burroughs’ Tarzan. It was a thick, hard-cover book. And while Joe slept, I read.

sanguinetti2My parents baptized Joe, establishing a formal connection between the Zingas and the Sanguinettis. The thumbnail was taken at Joe’s baptism. Left to right – priest, Mafalda holding Joe, Ciccio holding a candle and Connie. (It’s one of my favorite images of Mafalda.)

In June of 72, I met Marisa and Joe in Aprigliano and we spent a month hanging out. They were visiting their grandparents, and I was visiting za teresina e zu milio. It was a vacation for me while I waited for classes, at the University at Perugia, to start – Junior Year Abroad. The best memory from this time is of Joe and I going cherry-picking. We went to the orchards below Portosalvo, climbed the trees and filled a panier with plump red cherries. We were very proud of our efforts, but when we got back to Joe’s grandparents, cum’amulia split the cherries to make sure they were edible and found tiny white worms in all of them. (Joe and I had eaten our fill while picking. Thank God for those strong stomach acids.)
 
From the three couples, the Belsitos, the Sanguinettis and the Zingas, only 3 remain – Amalia Sanguinetti, Ciccio and Mafalda Zinga. Cump’armunte died Tuesday evening December 24, 2013 – Christmas Eve.

sanguinettiI always liked cump’armunte. He was the only friend of my parents’ who interacted with me beyond the standard Hello, how are you. He once told me about a run-in he had had with a priest when he was a kid. His disgust played right into my own disgruntled attitude with Mother Church. Other times, we would sit and talk about all that was wrong with Calabria with our beloved Aprigliano. In later years, we would compare notes on the state of modern Italy. He would get out his fact-book on Aprigliano, and I would bring my recent experiences, and we would talk about how them there Apriglianese weren’t making good decisions. If they would just listen to us, after all we had all the answers. I really liked his brash approach, his take-no-prisoners stance.

I did not go visit him those last days in the hospice. I wanted to remember the firebrand, the iconoclast who had been a role-model for a bright kid afraid to let anyone know he was smart. I did not want my last memory of this wonderful man to be that of a cadaver desiccated by cancer. He did not suffer fools gladly and yet he interacted with me.

I am glad to have known him.The titles and italics are in old Apriglianese, our dialect.

camelot

November 22, 2013 8th grade, diario/journal, in memorium

sons of the great or sons unknown

 

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was sitting in my 8th grade classroom at St. Veronica’s when Sister Drusilla came in to announce that the president of the United States had been shot. This was the Catholic president of the United States and as a Catholic Canadian the news was shocking.

ClassroomIt was my first year at St. Veronica’s. (My family had bought a house in the West-end; we had left my grandparents’ to live on our own.) The classroom, compared to the one I came from, was old fashioned. We had wooden desks with holes in the upper right hand corner for ink-wells. And filling them was the jobs of the “good” kids. There was a piano in the room and Sister Drusilla taught us to sing while sitting on its long bench. (Our music book had Santa Lucia in it. Well, the English version of the Neapolitan song.) Above the piano was a bulletin board and Frank’s birdhouses, that he build for his Science project, hung there. That Friday, we had one of the itinerant teachers and Sister Drusilla kept coming in from her office to give us the latest news on the President. When she came in to tell us that he had died, I remember looking up at the black-framed, round, analogue clock and saw that it was a-quarter-to-four. (In those days no one said, 3:45.) Sister Drusilla’s announcement seemed to suggest that even though one of our own had finally made it, they had killed him. Was she suggesting that the American president was like Jesus?

Frank and I went home that afternoon confused by the day’s events, but knowing something important had happened. And even though we lived in a small town in Northern Ontario, we were somehow part of it.

Five years later, I would leave Sault Ste Marie and Canada forever and make my way to the land of President Kennedy, to a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering.

la dolorosa

November 2, 2013 diario/journal, in memorium

all souls – 2013

Monn-Aug12 156
 
This is a variation of the classic Dolorosa – black-draped, gold-trimmed and mourning madonna. Most renditions represent Mary as distraught, forlorn as any mother would appear witnessing the crucifixion and death of her son. The rendition I remember best is –
La Dolorosa in Santo Stefano in Aprigliano.

I found this Mary in a small chapel in one of the hill-top towns on the opposite ridge from Earle-and-Suzanne’s. (The sun burst is really the background of the altar crucifix, but I like the image better without the cross and instead a hint of hope from the rays behind her.) The black drapery has given way to a dark blue cloak and the ringing hands, usually down below the waist, are up in prayer and supplication. (I also like the elongated neck and purple under-garment.)

This afternoon, in flipping through channels, the Mass on EWTN had the celebrant wearing black vestments. An old custom that has since given way to white, to remind the living of the joys of heaven in the life here after.

This year, the feast day is a time of remembrances.

your big eyes

March 19, 2013 diario/journal, in memorium

your big eyes

My sister Jo’ was born on Tuesday, March 19, 1963. She died Saturday, June 30, 2001 at 9:30 am. Were she still alive, she would be celebrating her 50th birthday today.      Happy birthday kid.

Thormans079

(So what image do I use for this posting? There are many pictures from back in the Sixties when we were all kids in Sault Ste Marie, to images taken three and four months before she died. As you can see, I went with her wedding picture from 1989; the picture with the big hair; the picture with her big eyes.)

On Friday June 29, I drove up for the weekend and got to the house on Arkendo around five. My parents and aunt were also visiting. It had been three weeks since my last trip and what I saw scared me. The cancer had eaten her body. She was skeletal; her big eyes were sunken, clouded; her skin pallid; her speech slurred. She couldn’t feed herself. I sat with her and helped her with the broth. After the simple meal, she tired quickly and Dave and I carefully got her to bed. (We had moved her bed to the first floor, to the dining room.)
I spent the rest of the evening on the couch with the kids – three lost souls wrapped around each other.

Next morning Dave, Ciccio and I were in the front-yard planting a peony. Dave went in to help Jo’ with breakfast. Shortly after, my aunt came down opened the door and told us that Jo’ had died. My dad and I went into the silent house and up to the dining room. I walked to the bed, gently closed her eyes and kissed her.

Last night, we had had one last visit.            She had waited for me.            I miss her.

all souls – 2012

November 2, 2012 diario/journal, in memorium

all souls – 2012

I’m trying to continue the commemoration of this most solemn of days. In Italian it is identified as Commemorazione dei Defunti. In my Italian elementary reader, the story for November 2 is about a dad explaining to his children the culture of the dead. The feast required us all to make a pilgrimage to the cemetery.

This summer in the mountains of Le Marche I shot a cemetery that was no longer in use. (The farm families have abandoned the rural cemeteries and have started to bury their loved ones in the more modern, bigger cemeteries on the outskirts of the towns that the farms surround.) The small chapel on the left was holy in its simplicity. It had been deconsecrated, but the silence evoked the stillness, the sanctity of the campo santo. (The common term for cemetery is Camposanto, or Campo Santo – holy field. It’s an ancient term suggesting that Christian cemeteries were originally built on soil from Golgotha brought back to Italy by the Crusaders.)

My first cemetery experience outside of Aprigliano was my grandmother dying in Sault Ste Marie. (When you move to a new country the young immigrate. And for almost 20 years no one in my family died. My grandparents were in their 60’s, my parents in their 40’s and then we the kids were next. All the old family members were back in Calabria and even though my parents would tell us when someone died, I had started to forget who many of these people were and someone dying back in Calabria was such a distant occurrence that I could forget its impact.) I remember the holding chapel where we left my grandmother’s coffin. It was a damp moldy space. I don’t know why we did not have a grave-side ceremony. The holding chapel was nothing like the one in the pic.

This November 2, I remember Salvatore DeFazio. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine.

salvatore

salvatore de fazio

Salvatore De Fazio
Sam was my mother’s cousin. (His mother and my maternal grandfather – Eugenio Perri – were sister and brother.) He died today after a two year bout with cancer.

In the picture, he is in the front row, seated on the far left. (Seated – Salvatore, me, Mafalda, Connie and Ciccio.) As a matter of fact, Salvatore gave me this picture. Our copy is lost somewhere in my parents’ house in Sault Ste Marie.

Salvatore’s family is from Corte. His mother was a Perri. My parents lived in Corte after getting married and it’s the neighborhood where I was born. (Our house was next door to Salvatore’s family.) My mother favored her father’s side of the family and many of her best friends are from that branch. (My grandmother’s family is from Santo Stefano – the neighborhood up the hill. And her family house was in that parish, so that when they left for Canada, my parents inherited the house and we moved up the hill. But all my favorite relatives were down in Corte and I constantly went up and down the hillside visiting.)

Salvatore left Aprigliano at the same time we did; we traveled to the new world together. Salvatore was there that first night when I ate-up all my soup only to throw it up into the bowl I had just emptied. He was there below deck as I stood and stared at the Orthodox priest and his wife. He was there as Mafalda hid Connie’s chickenpox from the authorities in Halifax. He was there with me as I leaned out the train window and saw a priest in his cassock crossing the rails in the Montreal train-yard. But then he left, taking a south-bound train to St. Catherines. We headed north to my grandparents and Sault Ste Marie.

In Memorium
A couple of hours ago, Mafalda called me to tell me that Sam had died. (I knew Salvatore was very ill. I chose not to go visit him back in October, because I didn’t want to see him dying.) I was in DC, at a bowling alley, with my 10th graders when my phone rang. I stepped into the night into the rain and listened as Mafalda cried. Mafalda’s best friends were from this side of the family, and I too liked this branch, in fact Salvatore was one of my favorites. (From this favorite branch, only Maria Lucente is left in Corte and I always visit with her when I’m in Calabria. BTW, the room she is in, is my parents’ first apartment and I was born in this room.)

Among the extended family, in Canada, Sam is known for his amazing fig-trees. And the fig-trees that grow in my backyard, that grow in Rick and Sarah’s backyard, that grow in Rose and Derrick’s backyard are from Sam’s garden in St. Catherines. (The original cuttings come from the mature trees on his family’s land in Corte.) Mine is a white fig, Sam’s favorite.

Sam, I’ll always think of you, of Corte, of the boat, of the ocean we crossed all those years ago when I look at the fig-trees.

we called him sam

December 24, 2011 diario/journal, in memorium

we called him sam

Thurs  007aA visit to the parents now includes a trip to the cemetery. Let me say it this way, my mom and I go to the cemetery. We begin at my grandparents’ grave and then go visit all the people I knew when I was growing up in the Soo.

In the last couple of years the trip has included a visit to Sam’s grave. Sam is Frank’s brother and we all grew up together. (In my head, I can still hear his mother, her distinctive pitch, calling “Satu” – the old Calabrese diminutive and endearment for Salvatore.) Frank and I had given up the old words. We traded them for assimilation into the new Canada. We called him Sam.

I didn’t do well in the hyper-hockey environment of 1960’s Sault Ste Marie and Sam didn’t play hockey because he was crippled by polio. I was his brother’s friend; I was 3 years older than him; I was another immigrant; I was another Calabrese. Sam and I got along. He had an amazing sense of humor and could make me laugh or embarrass me with his observations. All of us would be sitting on the floor in his parents’ living-room on Carufel Avenue, watching TV and he would make a comment that had me laughing out loud; that had me speechless; that had me sweating with embarrassment. It was never anything crude; it was never anything cruel. He just knew how to hit the right nerve, suggest the right nuance, play the right ambiguity.

I wish I had known him as a grown up, because now I could appreciate his nuances, his ambiguities. Now, I could give him a run for his money and we could laugh … even louder.

all souls – 2011

November 2, 2011 diario/journal, in memorium

all souls – 2011

This the 10th year anniversary of the attack on New York City. This is the 10th year anniversary of Jo’s death. The image with this post is of another young person who died at an early age. The memories for this post are of the funerals in Aprigliano.

One – I am walking down to Corte and passing a house where the family and friends were sitting around a coffin. A woman had died. The coffin was in the middle of the room, shrouded with a black lace covering. Around the coffin were tall candle holders and the candles in them were all lit. Around this were chairs and people saying the Rosary. Whenever I’m in Aprigliano I walk by this same house. It is now empty, abandoned.

Two – The coffin would be taken from the home of the deceased to the church for the Mass of the Dead. My friends and I are running through the side-alleys to watch the procession from the home to the church. It was about catching a glimpse of the procession.

Three – A baby died and for the first time I saw a baby-size coffin. It wasn’t black; it had gold slats on top. The child’s mom walked behind the coffin crying. It was a sunny day and they were taking the coffin to the cemetery. The mom was a Belsito. That image is still in my head. I can picture the woman on the road leading from Santo Stefano towards Guarno and then onto the cemetery.

my grandmother

June 11, 2011 diario/journal, in memorium

my grandmother

C-Capi

My paternal grandmother – Concetta Capisciolto – died 70 years ago today. The pic on the left is the only one we have. It’s always been in my parents’ house. It’s one of the items that travelled across the Atlantic with us.

It’s the Capisciolto side of the family that still has land in Aprigliano. It’s the Capisciolti that were large land-owners and farmers in the Santo Stefano parish. And when they migrated, they contributed to emptying the parish. Today, the Capisciolti are spread across the globe from Canada, to Argentina, to Australia. Aurelio and his sister Emilia are the last of the family in Aprigliano.

My cousin Aurelio who in his 70’s still runs a heard of goats and makes market quality goat-cheese and ricotta. The last time I saw him, he went on and on about how I look like ‘Ciccio’ his favorite cousin and my dad. My cousin Emilia returned to Aprigliano after many years in Toronto. When her husband became ill, they left Canada and returned to their land in Calabria.

My grandmother married outside of her social and economic group when she married my grandfather – Francesco Zinga. (The Zingas were sharecroppers.) My grandfather died soon after his son was born and Concetta was given to her husband’s next unmarried brother as his wife. Concetta died some three years after her second marriage.

When Concetta died, her family took her body and buried her in the family plot. Her grave is still there. On the west side is Concetta and on the east side is her sister Teresina. (There is no grave for my paternal grandfather. The sharecropper Zingas had no money for a fancy tomb.)

all souls – 2010

November 2, 2010 diario/journal, in memorium

all souls – 2010

This date is so tied to my memories of Aprigliano. (This summer we didn’t go back to Italy. The uncertain economy is scaring everyone.) I’ll write of another memory associated with that long ago time. (I’m not sure what image to use with this post, but given that last year I used an image from 2006 I have an open field.) I decided to go with a pic of La Dolorosa. We lived in Santo Stefano; the parish at the top of the hill; the parish with the largest of the church of the hillside neighborhoods. (Saint Stephen is a common saint throughout Italy. And there are many churches and parishes named for him.) Our church was also the church of La Madonna di Porto Salvo and her feast-day was a great celebration in Aprigliano.

In the sanctuary, there were three statues – Santo Stefano in the middle, San Francesco di Paola on the right and La Dolorosa on the left. La Dolorosa is Mary represented as she would have been at the foot of the cross watching her son nailed to the wood. Most statues of the mourning mother represent her in back attire with her hands together and looking up. This statue is one of the best in the collection of such representations. (This particular representation has gone out of style in modern-day Italy. It was most popular during the interwar period – the 1920’s and the 1930’s.) I’ve always liked this representation of Mary, it’s the most human; it’s the most accessible. And it fits the Italian character perfectly. (I don’t know if Mary as the mourning mother is represented in any other European Catholic culture as pervasively as she is in Italy.)

This statue is tied to those that have died. It was a perpetual reminder of the dead. (In the modern world, remembering the dead is not cool. The media tells us to forget our loved ones that have died and to go shopping.) Many of the women of Aprigliano saw this statue as representing their lot in life, a life that after The Great War had them associating with the sentiments the statue evoked. Many of my relatives had died in The Great War. My aunt Teresina’s husband never came back from the war; my grandfather’s oldest brothers were lost in that massacre. Where I never knew these people, may parents did. And I take my attraction to this representation of a grieving mother from them.

all souls – 2009

November 2, 2009 diario/journal, in memorium

all souls – 20091st entry – in memorium

November the Second has always been a melancholy day. My first memory of this Day of the Dead is going with my family to the cemetery in Aprigliano. I was with my parents and someone gave us a ride. As a little kid, the ride felt long. On the way, I remember seeing a road-side memorium and I remember the tall cypress trees that ringed the cemetery. (The trees have been such an enduring memory that at one point I tried to plant a cypress in my backyard. The grower at the greenhouse discouraged me, saying this part of the country did not have the right climate for cypress. Pittsburgh is too wet for this genus of tree.)

The other thing I remember from this long ago time is the Famiglia Martini Ferrari monument. It was the most notable grave site in a country cemetery. All my relatives were in small brick-and-mortar graves. I’ve kept this image, of a woman reclining with a set of books as her pillow, in my mind all my years. And when I was back in Aprigliano in 2006 and we had our own car and we could go to the cemetery, this is one of the first graves I went looking for. I also discovered that the cemetery in my mind was now the “old section.” There is some creeping of the new in the back of the monument. Cinder blocks were not in use back in the early 50’s for mausoleums. In memory it stood alone dwarfing everything around it.

Rose took this shot. It was before I began to pay attention to photography.

The monument in my mind is all white marble, there is no staining, no water puddles on the top.