Friday, 21 November 2014

Italian Stories, Toni, Part one



Toni looked at the back of his mother's head as she turned to stir the risotto. He was filled with such tenderness that he was glad that she couldn't see, she would have broken down. He wanted to stroke her hair and hold her but knew that would alarm her. She would see it as a sign that he would not return.
His father burst into the room relieving the tension and bringing an atmosphere of normality as he sat at the table and poured himself some wine.

'So you're going then? Off to fight for a worthwhile cause, following the path of the great Roman emperors, conquering the world.'

Toni ignored the sarcasm in his father's voice. He joined him at the table, poured some wine and raised his glass.

'Lucio will be in my regiment. We're leaving next week. We're stopping at Tivoli and then on to Somalia where we'll be trained in artillery.'

His mother, Lucia,  slammed the saucepan of risotto on the table and served it out with her ladle beating on the bowls.

'Men have such short memories, it's all madness. All that suffering in the Great War was meant to end it all. It was terrible for me, going off on my own with a small boy, not knowing if I'd ever see my husband again, losing my brother, nothing to eat and making clothes out of old bits of material and never knowing when it would end.'

Toni and his father looked at her in astonishment, their spoons in mid air. She never talked about the Great War and seemed to pretend it have never happened. Lucia had grown up in the last years of the Belle Epoque before all illusions were swept away for ever. She had been the most elegant, sweet and dainty young woman, her head full of romance and deeply in love with her dashing husband, Filippo, who showed such promise as a brilliant Penal Lawyer. She had had to go away to Genoa to stay with distant relatives for the war years. Toni's father had stayed behind in their home in the North of Italy. His high standing in his profession meant he was needed there, he dealt with the toughest cases and the most hardened criminals. Filippo  was a handsome man and there were many women left behind seeking male company and a warm companion to comfort them amidst the harsh realities of life in war time. When Lucia and Toni returned the marriage was never the same again. 

Lucia  went back to the stove and brought out plates of polenta and salami. She handed round Filippo's favourite spinach with ham and cream and poured herself a small glass of wine.

'Well I'm glad that Lucio will be with you. He is so big and strong and will surely look after you. Though I can't think why he wants to leave that lovely girlfriend of his, Betti.'

Toni rolled his eyes.
'Oh mamma, you are funny, look don't worry, I'll look after myself. I'll be back soon with lots of interesting things to tell you.'

  Lucia breathed in deeply and went back to the kitchen to return bearing her speciality 'Tirami su' and setting it on the table with a flourish.

'Tuck in now, they won't have this in Somalia.'

 Toni was about to reply when he noticed his father's expression. He was looking at his mother with such love and a sort of regret. Toni could see  what might have been between them if the war hadn't got in the way. The moment passed and his father got up whistling an American yankee tune from the war, Over there, over there'.
He felt that his father was making fun of him and went to help his mother clear the table.
Toni had recently qualified as a lawyer, following in his father's footsteps. Instead of Penal law however he had decided to specialise in Civil Law. For once his father had supported him and they worked together in the same studio. Toni had always loved learning and finding things out. He had sailed through school and university with the greatest ease. His school friends had often teased him and called him a swot but it really was just what came naturally to him. Toni's excellent results gained him an award and a prize trip to The United States.He was fascinated by the American way of life, the democracy, the variety of races all working together and the efficiency. On his return he had found that his friends were all talking passionately about politics in a way that made him deeply uneasy but he went along with them for friendship's sake. Lucio had talked him into going off to fight for Italy in this African campaign but Toni wasn't looking forward to it at all. Part of him wanted the young girls to see him as more of a man and admire his strength instead of always being in awe of his academic brilliance.

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The station was completely overrun with young men in uniform trying to find their groups. Toni soon spotted Lucio, smart in his brand new kit and his hair full of Brilcream. He went over to him and was soon joined by a few more friends from university smoking their free cigarettes.

They were told to get in the second carriage.




The whistle blew and Toni leaned out of the window to wave to the people who had come to see them off. 
Toni felt sick but pulled his cigarette packet out and tried to stop his fingers from shaking as he lit  one.They were on their way, there was no going back.

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The train stopped in Tivoli and they were taken to accommodation and told their training would begin the next day. The training was tough and  Toni was relieved when they were told they were going on a sightseeing trip to the Villa Adriana. Lucio had already seen it and was enthusiastic.
'You'll love it Toni, a brain box like you. All I can remember is that it was built between 118 and 138 BC by the emperor Hadrian.'

The villa Adriana was indeed magnificent. Toni wandered around taking photographs and imagining himself as an emperor creating such a beautiful place. The layout of the rooms could still be seen and it was evident that Hadrian had a great love of architecture. There was even a room that looked as though it had been specially designed for romance. It was at this moment that Toni decide to grow a moustache. He would go back home as a conqueror and an emperor.
While they were at Tivoli letters started arriving from home. Lucio quickly gathered a whole pile from Betti, all scented and sealed with hearts. He told Toni they were full of passion and her undying love for him. Toni felt embarrassed about his letters. They were also full of passion and undying love but they were from his mother. Luckily they weren't scented.
Up until the visit to Villa Adriana, apart from the training Toni and Lucio had almost felt like tourists.
'Italy is such a beautiful country. Everywhere you look there is something,' Lucio was reading a guide book and started talking about studying Archeology when they came home.
'Well the Romans certainly did all the hard work for us,' Toni grinned at his friend.
'I think you'd be interested in the Etruscans Lucio, I'll lend you a book about the Necropolis at Tarquinia.
Their conversation was interrupted by a shout from a young skinny boy from Milan.
'We're off lads. They're sending us to Maddaloni tomorrow ready to embark for Somalia next week.'
All thoughts of studying and home were put aside, they were on their way.
Maddaloni was a lovely town built on a hill near Caserta, from there they were taken to Naples and marched onto their ship.
As they left the port, Toni looked at the spectacular view of Vesuvius in the distance. Lucio came up to him looking nervous.
'Well Toni, this is it, no going back now. We're following the steps of our forefathers, Hadrian and Caesar.'
Toni thought how his father would laugh if he heard that.
he took one last look at his homeland laying there before him in the setting sun and followed Lucio to their bunks.


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