Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.6
How we don’t see
by Rosanna Albertini
The curtain pulled through the open window trembles slightly; sunlight, and rumbling noise from the freeway and birds screeching interrupted by silly mockingbirds who imitate snoring early in the morning, make a density of sounds kept in the distance, outside, by the luminous screen, vibrating and warming. Yes Kristin, for the first time I understand why you painted on canvas a big, vertical curtain with little blue and green flowers. The painting becomes an absorbing screen, an opaque surface asking things from the world to stay out for a while. For a moment, let me veil their impact. The curtain makes me feel as if my body were absorbing echoes and reflections, I don’t have to see and be touched by the shadows of the day. Sounds, light and wind are filtered. Maybe the Muslim veil over women’s faces, that allows them to see through, though remaining perfectly hidden, is much more than a discriminatory symbol, it could be a privilege.
Not to be seen anymore is the reason one leaves, not to be regarded by people who are only partially in touch with our life and yet ask for attention, surrounding us with a cloud of pressure. I have been biting my tail over and over for decades, chasing a story of mine that followed me like an unknown ghost. I see why people do not usually leave their hometown, or their country, unless their roots have been snatched and pulled out. If they leave, then often they move as if wearing a diving suit that makes them slow, as if the air was water winding its way with unfamiliar vibrations.
It took me a remarkable number of years to realize how strongly my eyes have been wide shut while adapting my senses to the New World’s sky, my nervous system to the vibrations of the soil, and my mouth to the tongue. My perception of American life was that it was going to be forever new. I’m always yearning for the excitement of the new, that’s a curse that makes me think of my own death as the very last adventure. You float over your used body and fly, god knows where. Will I join you, mother? Instead of receiving food from you, or dresses that I did not like, I would rest with you on an apricot tree. We rest and laugh, hidden by the foliage. “Your body was your screen, wasn’t it?” I ask her.
She smiles like Alice’s cat, her smile expands in the air until there is nothing left but an impression of her. She is back being an absence. I can only sing through her genes, enumerating the few keys she gave me to understand her mysterious withdrawing —most likely not knowing what she was doing. A movie and an opera have become indelible clues to discover her. My mother’s pink lipstick was called “indelible.” The cream for her face —why am I remembering such details?— was named from herbs and leaves: “botana.” Names, events, work in my mind like the little pebbles of the fable. Pollicino let them fall behind him on the ground in the woods, so he could find his way back.
There was no way mother and I could miss Pietro Mascagni’s most popular opera. We walked the narrow pathway behind the house, with stinging nettles between two low wire nets covered with vines; despite precautions we did wake up the dogs of the neighbors, and in no more than five minutes were sitting in the smoky room of our Circolo Familiare, the only public TV space in the village. The card players did not stop slamming on the tables, coughing and laughing. “Let’s go to the opera,” she had told me, which for me, at the time, was only one: Cavalleria Rusticana. Had I known that the author was from Livorno I would have been even more confused; I always thought he was Sicilian because the singers wore Sicilian names and costumes. Despite the small screen, and the rural lack of respect for musical performances, amid spectators much more excited by Mike Bongiorno and his TV quiz than by opera singers, I entered with my mother into a space of tension that isolated us from the smoky, humid room. Tension grows, the story makes a strong impression on us: a figurine that seems to have escaped from a Neapolitan crib runs towards the edge of the stage. He wears a short, black vest, a white scarf around the waist and white socks to the knees. The story is about to be doomed. The loud dwarf brings terrible news at the end of a too long vocalization and shouts, “Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!” (Somebody killed godfather Turiddu!)
As my mother shivers, I am taken by surprise; I don’t really like that music, or the ridiculous look of the scene, and wait for an explanation. In short: two men were in love with the same woman, and one of them stubbed the other to death. I spent my whole life making fun of the ridiculous way Italian operas expand a long stretch of feelings on the vocal cords. But never had I connected to my mother’s silence, and emotion, during that loud recitativo. It was maybe her real story, safely represented in a fictional space for everybody to see. Her story, there, dramatically resolved: one of the contenders had killed the other. In real life, she was the one who stepped to the Acheron and the two who loved her survived her.