Saturday, November 26, 2011

I primi sei capitoli del mio manoscritto compressi in un raccontino piccino piccino (Italian-English)

Era solo un caffè a casa sua. Niente di fuori dal normale. Come il thè alla mela in Turchia, a Napoli il caffè si sorseggiava tutto il giorno. E poi io lo avevo incontrato solo due volte.

La prima volta era stata a una delle nostre feste universitarie. Bruno, un nome pesante e antico come un sasso. Non afferrai il nome lungo e poco memorabile del suo paese collinare nell’Avellinese. Lui invece pronunciò il mio nome con una precisione che tradì il fatto che si era già esercitato nel dirlo. E chissà come sapeva che neppure io ero di Napoli, un fatto che io stessa spesso dimenticavo. Con la camicia ben infilata nei pantaloni, Bruno non assomigliava per niente ai miei compagni dell’Orientale, i quali nascondevano le proprie origini privilegiate dietro treccine rasta e giacche scamosciate a brandelli. Se ne stava là senza parole, un punto immobile al centro del vortice della festa, uno sconosciuto in attesa della mia approvazione. Io lo osservavo allo stesso modo in cui vedevo l’amore, come un enigma linguistico. Mi regalò una cassetta mista prima di infilare le mani tremanti in tasca e avviarsi verso casa.

Ma dove era poi casa sua? Ero disorientata, nonostante mi trovassi ancora all’interno del mio quartiere di adozione, i Quartieri Spagnoli. Non osavo alzare lo sguardo dall’acciottalato di pietra lavica, basoli scivolosi ma sfregiati che mi ricordavano sempre delle grosse caramelle succhiate. Non volevo lasciar vedere a quelli del posto – i pescivendoli, i venditori di sigarette di contrabbando – che mi ero persa. Proprio come voleva quella simmetria reticolare dei vicoletti, l’antica caserma spagnola era riuscita a confondermi.

Voltai a sinistra e sotto un balcone mi appoggiai contro un manifesto scrostato. Feci un respiro profondo, un misto familiare di smog e di polipo fresco, e spiegai ancora una volta il pezzetto di carta con dentro la sua grafia inaspettatamente eccentrica.

Via De Deo, 33. Franceschi.

Bruno Franceschi. La seconda volta che lo incontrai, lo scirocco era già arrivato in città – senza preavviso, direzione o rumore. Spingendosi fitto e caldo giù per gli stretti condotti dei Quartieri, si stringeva quasi con indecenza contro qualunque cosa incontrasse. Mentre cenavamo all’aperto sulla terrazza di alcuni amici, il vento ci avvolgeva in un caldo abbraccio senza affetto. Bruno era seduto di fronte, separato da me solo da qualche bicchiere di vino e un piatto di bucatini. Seppi che studiava geologia. Quella iniezione di concretezza mi fece momentaneamente dubitare la saggezza di seguire corsi così inafferrabili come il sanscrito, il bulgaro, la glottologia, la semiologia. Qualcuno gli domandò del Vesuvio, e lui rispose che era uno dei vulcani più imprevedibili del pianeta. Anche il vento per un attimo si arrestò mentre tutti guardavamo aldilà della baia verso quell’ombra cinese sullo sfondo di un cielo notturno stranamente elettrificato, come se solo in quel momento ci fossimo resi conto della bellezza e della potenza del vulcano. Mi voltai verso Bruno e fui colpita dalla stessa epifania. Lui tirò fuori una Malboro. “Sono Light,” mi disse come per giustificarsi. Poi il vento sahariano aprì la sua camicia. Mi giunse il profumo silvestre della sua colonia insieme a un’occhiata rubata di un pendente: un sole d’argento? Subito distolsi lo sguardo, come colta in un atto di trasgressione, anche se era stata l’anarchia dello scirocco a commetterlo.

“Uè, stuzzicadenti!” sbraitò una ragazzina in mezzo alla strada, risvegliandomi dai pensieri. Com’era frustrante dare sempre così nell’occhio quando il mio cuore era chiaramente napoletano. E poi il subbuglio dello scirocco tendeva a livellare tutte quelle banali differenze. Dal rifugio del balcone, scorsi la placca stradale: Via De Deo. Sorrisi di sollievo. Potevo sempre contare su di Napoli, alla fine.

Mentre salivo il ripido vicolo sotto una ragnatela di panni stesi, i muscoli delle cosce mi si contrassero. Ero accompagnata dal ronzio di Vespe e da donne che trascinavano buste della spesa e bambini svogliati. Venticinque. Ventinove. Il cuore mi martellava nel petto, ma poteva pure essere colpa della pendenza.

Sotto al grosso cancello di ferro al numero trentatre, mi fermai, fissando il pulsante col cognome Franceschi. Era solo un caffè, ma mi sembrava di stare sull’orlo di un abisso. Sentivo lo scirocco che solcava le sue dita carnose tra i miei capelli mentre lentamente pascolava l’estate su dall’Africa. In quella promessa di calore c’era una sete che non aveva nome, una vaga consapevolezza di suprema impotenza a cui non potevo – o forse non volevo – resistere.

Suonai il citofono.

“Ultimo piano,” arrivò una voce profonda. Il cancello si aprì e varcai la soglia.

Racconto scritto per partecipare a un'iniziativa della Lavazza. Revisione di Carolina di http://theitaliangirlfriend.blogspot.com/. Per la versione inglese vedi l'articolo precedente (NB: quella inglese e' scritta in terza persona).

This is a story written to enter into a Lavazza competition. Editing by Carolina from http://theitaliangirlfriend.blogspot.com/. For the English version, see previous post (please note, however, that the English story is in the third person).

Friday, November 18, 2011

The first six chapters of my book stuffed into one tiny little story

It was only a coffee at his place. No big deal. Like apple tea in Turkey, coffee in Naples was sipped all day long. Besides, she’d only ever seen him twice.

The first time she met him was at one of their university parties. Bruno, a name heavy and ancient like a rock. She didn’t catch the long and forgettable name of his village in the province of Avellino. He pronounced her own name with a succinctness that betrayed that he’d practiced it beforehand. And somehow he knew she wasn’t from Naples either, something she had almost forgotten herself. With his shirt tucked in, Bruno looked nothing like her fellow language students from the Oriental Institute, who hid their upbringing behind dreads and tattered suede jackets. In the still center of that whirling party, he stood there at a loss for words, a stranger waiting for her approval. She looked back at him the same way she looked at love, like a linguistic puzzle. He handed her a cassette tape of mixed music, before shoving his trembling hands in his pockets and heading home.

But where was his home anyway? She was disoriented, despite being still within her adopted neighborhood, the Quartieri Spagnoli. She didn’t look up, instead keeping her gaze glued to the slippery but pockmarked cobblestones, which always reminded her of large sucked candies. She didn’t want any of the locals – the fishmongers, the contraband cigarette sellers - to see she was lost. Just as they were designed to do, the symmetrical grid-like lines of the ancient Spanish military barracks had succeeded in confusing her.

She veered left and leaned against a peeling poster under a balcony. She took a deep breath, a familiar fusion of car exhaust and fresh octopus, and once again unfolded the piece of paper with his unexpectedly eccentric handwriting.

Via De Deo, 33. Franceschi.

Bruno Franceschi. The second time she saw him, the scirocco had already arrived in the city – without warning, direction or sound. Rolling thick and hot like a mudslide through the deep shafts of the Quartieri, it pressed itself almost indecently against everything in its path. As they all dined out on her friends’ rooftop, the wind wrapped them in its warm affectionless embrace. Bruno sat opposite her, separated only by a few glasses of wine and a plate of bucatini. He was a geology major, she learned. That injection of earthiness made her momentarily question the wisdom of studying such elusive subjects like Sanskrit, Bulgarian, glottology, semiotics. Someone asked him about Vesuvius and he answered that it was one of the most volatile volcanoes on the planet. Even the wind went still for a moment as they all looked out across the bay at that shadow puppet against the strangely electrified air, as if noticing the volcano’s power and beauty for the very first time. She looked over at Bruno and had the same epiphany. He pulled out a Marlboro. “They’re Lights,” he said to her apologetically. Then the Saharan wind pushed open his shirt. She could smell the cool forest of his cologne as she stole a peek at a pendant: a silver sun? She looked away, catching herself in some act of transgression, though it was the lawlessness of the scirocco that had been to blame.

“Hey, toothpick!” called out a young girl on the street, rousing her from her thoughts. How maddening it was to always stand out like that, when her heart was unmistakably Neapolitan. Besides, the anarchy of the scirocco tended to blow away all those trivialities. From the relative shelter of the balcony, she looked up at the street sign. Via De Deo. She smiled with relief. Naples always came through for her in the end.

As she climbed the steep street under a spiderweb of laundry, her thighs tensed up. Men on Vespas buzzed past, and women dragged up shopping bags and uncooperative children. Twenty-five. Twenty-nine. Her heart hammered in her chest, though it might have just been the incline.

At the big iron gate at number thirty-three, she paused, staring at the button labeled “Franceschi”. It was just a coffee, but somehow it felt as if she were standing on the edge of an abyss. She could feel the scirocco ploughing its fat fingers through her hair as it slowly shepherded the summer up from Africa. In that promise of heat was an ache that had no name, an ultimate reminder of powerlessness that she couldn’t – or didn’t want to – contain.

She pressed the button.

“Top floor,” came a deep voice. The gate clicked open and she stepped over the threshold.

(I wrote this to enter into an Italian competition once I translate it. I'll tell you more about that later! In the meantime, what do you think of this piece that I've tentatively titled "The Beginning of Something"? Can it stand on its own as a short story?)

Friday, November 4, 2011

My best query letter ever (a.k.a. the “it’s just business” query letter)

Dear Prospective Literary Agent

Since you are interested in memoirs, I hope you will be intrigued by my book, Lost in the Spanish Quarter, a memoir set in one of Italy’s most enigmatic cities, Naples.

As an American who discovered a loophole to gain access to a free college education in Naples, for years I roomed in the city’s most dangerous central-city ghetto, the Spanish Quarter, along with a tight-knit circle of Italian university friends. There I developed a fascination with the port city locally known as Napoli – with its volatile volcano, Saharan scirocco, underground passageways and New Years’ skies that rained festively with old crockery and washing machines. It was in this setting that I also developed an all-consuming love affair with Elio, a geology student from a local farm. Our seemingly flawless relationship, however, began to buckle under the lack of future prospects the city offered as well as its shootings, earthquakes and crashing ceilings. At the same time, Elio himself began to cave under the pressure of his domineering peasant mother and a spontaneously collapsed lung. The heartbreak drove me into self-imposed exile on the other side of the globe, New Zealand. A few years later, however, a series of heartfelt emails between me and Elio start to explore the true reasons behind our break-up and the possibility of forgiveness. The love letters – translated from the Italian and interspersed throughout the narrative – eventually offer us a second chance of a return not only to each other, but also to Naples.

Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, with 4 million annual tourists from the U.S. alone and nearly another 4 million from the Commonwealth (according to Italy’s tourism agency, ENIT). While the Naples region ranks high among international visitors, most skirt the city itself due to its reputation for organized crime and mountains of trash. Many, therefore, miss out on not only Europe’s largest historic center, but also its vibrant people with their ancient culture, cryptic customs and impenetrable dialect.

My memoir is an insider’s look into life and cross-cultural love in a much-feared and little-understood Italian city. It’s a darker version of memoirs like A Thousand Days in Venice for travellers who want to venture beyond the conventional sun-drenched concepts of Italy. Akin to a younger woman’s Eat Pray Love, I believe my memoir will appeal predominantly to single women searching for true love, fulfillment and a place to call home.

Originally from Washington D.C., I spent over a decade growing up in Naples, where I earned a Masters degree with honors in foreign languages and literature. I now live in Auckland, where I teach English, Italian, interpreting and academic writing at a polytechnic and play an active part in the local Italian community. I am also a translator, proofreader and editor for two Italian academic journals.

I am seeking an agent with literary tastes who is ready to push the boundaries of what Italian memoirs are supposed to be. I hope the attached synopsis will whet your appetite. I appreciate your time in considering my query.

Sincerely,

Heddi Goodrich

(Dear reader, what do you think of my latest attempt at snagging an agent? Any feedback before I send it out would be most welcome!)