Chapter 2 – Exploring the House

Did this old Mulberry tree outside of the door of my grandmother’s house greet her in the morning?

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I thought that if I ever did 
a photo essay or wrote a book,
that it would come from someplace exotic.

Thus, I followed my mentor Warren Wells’ example and I traveled to China.
I made connections in India, Indonesia, Philippines and Pakistan.
I was inspired.

But here in Italy I am touched deep inside.
Here tears of joy and sadness appear without warning
from simple sights and smells.

I first wrote that “the tears came for no apparent reason” but
I was avoiding saying that they came for deep seated reasons
that are trapped in the depths of my being,
buried both by my own doing and,
by generations of influence from this strange but familiar place.

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Most modern day Cosenzans have a view from their balconies of the hill villages of their families

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Teresa and Vittorio picked us up at the Coszena train station.
She was my grandmother’s sister’s daughter … no matter,  family.

They took us to their home, an apartment on the fifth floor
of a multitude of  apartment buildings where most Cosenzans now live.

Everyone has a view of the villages in the hills from which they came.
Teresa’s view was of San Pietro in Guarano, the village nearest to our family’s farm.

I stood for a very long time on Teresa’s apartment balcony, drinking Vittorio’s home-made wine
while watching the ancient stone and stucco village turn from tan to shimmering gold in the setting sun.

I often look up into hills and mountains and want to be there.
I seldom look down from hills and mountains and want the same.
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Peppers in pots on the balcony also have a distant view of their hill farm origins

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In the hills,
peppers grow
in gardens.
In the city,
they grow
on apartment balconies.
Vittorio grows peppers.
He has a pantry full
of chili pepper powder,
home-made wine
and other stores.

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Making Gnocchi

Gnocchi is hand-made
potato pasta.
It has an entirely different
texture than wheat pasta.
Teresa makes her gnocchi
from scratch.
My father smiled when
he saw these pictures.
He said, “Ma used
to make these.”
My father calls
his mother, “Ma.”

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Making Gnocchi includes lots of talk and arm waving

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In the kitchen there is
as much talking
as cooking,
as much arm waving
as stirring.

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It could have been the family 100 years ago, or yesterday in Lorain

I long to be in the hills,
but first we must eat.
It is the Italian way.
As the oldest grandchild
I am placed at the head of the table.
It smells like my grandmother’s kitchen here.
I am transported back.
Its the fresh olive and other oils I think.

But still, I long to be in the hills.
This apartment is far away from the hill villages
and from my grandparent’s suburban home in Ohio.
Yet, take away the electric lights
and a few other modern things,
and this could be dinner by the fire
in my great-grandparent’s house.

I love these people,
even though we never met before.
I can see that they are family.
But still, I long to be in the hills.
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A storm looms in the hills

A storm looms in the hills.
I have never been afraid of storms.
Many who grow up in Italian families are not.

They realize that behind the noise and thunder of storms,
natural and of the family type,
is the stuff of life, rain
and sometimes, tears.

Yes, too much rain
can damage,
even destroy.
So you learn to
let the rain roll off ,
bend with the wind,
and wait for the storm to pass.

You learn that storms
and their rains
eventually
bring forth a rich nourishing bloom.

And you learn that
so long as the lightning keeps its distance,
thunder is just a dramatic, but empty noise,

In an Italian family
I learned how to weather
the wind, rain and thunder..
It is how I survived.
So today, I don’t mind getting wind blown and wet,
and anyway, I am finally in the hills.

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The Napoli House

And there it is, the house of my great grandparents, Michelle and Louisa Napoli.
It is the house where my grandmother Caterina lived as a girl.
It is the farm where she and my grandfather Eugene lived as newly weds.
On this steep, rocky hillside, my father was born.

There are sheep, olive trees, fig trees and the smell of wild fennel in the air.
It is a beautiful and gentle place as nature tries to reclaim it.
But it still resonates with the intensity of life, birth, anger, joy, work, love, pain,
confusion, striving, longing, cooking, sharing, arm waving, laughing, crying
… I must step back for a moment.

The house of my parents was intense as this one must have been.
But we only had six siblings.
There were three generations here.

Then I imagine what it might have been like
in the middle of the night
with everyone sleeping,
the embers of the day glowing in the fireplace.

I begin to understand why
night has always been my time.

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There was a ghostly pastel light in the house

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Inside the house
the light is filtered
by centuries of dust
creating a soft, pastel glow.

It is almost as if the house
was made of nothing
but light and color.
Its physical presence
long gone …
it has become
a beautiful ghost.

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My Grandfather’s coat?

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There is a coat
hanging by the door.
It could have been there
for fifty years or more.
It might have been
my grandfather’s coat.
I wish I would have thought
to see what was in the pockets.

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The Imbrogno farm

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Down the hill from the Napoli house
is the Imbrogno house.
My grandmother, Caterina Napoli,
would ride her horse down the hill
towards the Imbrogno house.
My grandfather, Eugene Imbrogno,
would find an excuse to go out into the fields.
That is how they would meet
and flirt.

Flirting grandparents?
Yet another new thought to absorb.

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The Imbrogno house

There is an ancient olive tree
in front of the Imbrogno house.
The yard is full of abandoned things,
overgrown plants, the remains of tools,
and collapsed structures.

As with the Napoli house,
I am flooded with images and impressions.

I am struck with the peaceful coexistence and mingling
of the immediate Imbrogno past
with those who came long before.

All of our very different legacies
share this very same place.

Where did Doug go?
No matter, he often disappears.
Struggling ’round a brushy corner of the house
I find him,
sitting still,
meditating
on a high wall,
overlooking the garden and front approach to the house.
I wonder if he sees anything that I have missed?

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Inside the Imbrogno house

The house is locked up
but I find a way inside.

There is an intensity here
that fills the space completely.

While the Napoli house
had many small fireplaces
in a very large home,
the Imbrogno house has
two large fireplaces in a much smaller place.

Day and night
many small fires
burned in the Napoli home.
A few very large fires
burned here

Our family bonds were born in the Napoli house,
Our passion was born here.

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Inside the Imbrogno house

There was an old trunk in the corner.
Did one similar accompany the Imbrogno’s
on their journey to America?

Even when these things, and this place was new,
the colors and textures were earthy and worn.

My grandparent’s house in Lorain
was very different.
It was so clean and new.

The image of my grandmother’s brand new couch
slip covered in clear plastic
like they did in the 50’s and 60’s
comes to mind,
along with the shimmering aluminum Christmas tree
with the rotating colored light at its base.

I suppose that these things too
had their roots here … somewhere.

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My Great Grandfather’s house

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In the middle of the valley,
between the Napoli House and the Imbrogno house
is my great great grandfather and grandmother Napoli’s house.
That is four generations back for me,
five for my children and
six for my grandchildren.
Roberto thought that the house
was more than five hundred years old.

Here the words begin to fail.
As you move back through the generations
the spirits get harder and harder to hear.

When you hear clear voices,
prose often results.

When the voices get more distant,
you turn to poetry.

When they fade even further,
you are left with feelings
which are difficult enough to grasp yourself,
let alone be transformed into words or images
that are meaningful to others.

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Approaching my Great Grandfather’s long abandoned house

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The old Napoli house was surrounded by a wall of bramble.
For a while I wondered if some distant spirit
didn’t want us to go there.

Great Uncle Alberto once lived in the house.
He was different.
On the wall he had posters of Farrah Faucet,
an unidentified naked women
and Mussolini.

He once had a dream
that there was hidden treasure
in the walls of the house.
He chipped so many holes
in the walls and the foundation
that the relatives threatened to move him out
if he didn’t stop.

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Brother Doug and the wine vat in the lower level of my Great Grandfather’s house

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Beneath the house was the wine cellar.
There was a large vat for crushing the grapes
connecting to a smaller vat for collecting the juice.

Years ago, Roberto helped to make the wine.
When he saw the old rusted wine press he hugged it
and talked to it like an old friend.

Then, just for a moment,
the clouds parted
and a shaft of sunlight
illuminated the wine vat,
as if a sign of its importance.

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Next, please …

Continue reading Chapter 3,
The House Goes Dark,” by
clicking on the keyhole to the left

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or you can …

 

GO BACK OR FORWARD A CHAPTER …

 Chapter 1 – Finding the Key

Chapter 2 – Exploring the House

Chapter 3 – The House Goes Dark

Final Chapter, Which Way Home? 

 


2 Comments

  1. Thank you Bonny, I am so glad to connect and share with you. Check me out on Instagram too if you do that. Here is the link https://www.instagram.com/imbrognoarts/

  2. Dave, came across your name and followed you to Facebook. Velda (Miller) and I regularly wondered about you and some of the others from Hamilton County I saw your picture and said that can’t be Dave but then read about black-eyed peas and Pappy Wells. What a well-lived and productive life you have had! Have enjoyed so much cowgarage and your Facebook page- an AWESOME balance of beauty, wisdom and humor. Looking forward to more. Keep up the good work.

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