Williamsburg Hill

Williamsburg Hill

Monday, July 29, 2013

O Mio Babbino Caro

For my latest blog post, I'm sharing a short story that I recently completed.  The title is "O Mio Babbino Caro" and it is a story of lost love, aging and dying and the significance of a Puccini aria (which is also the title of the short story) to the couple in the story.  As usual, I'm appreciative of all who read my blog. Thank you and, as always, copyright applies (©Veronica Randolph Batterson).

O Mio Babbino Caro

By Veronica Randolph Batterson

The old man blinked.  His vision was cloudy but he knew someone was standing in front of him.  He could barely make out a shape, but he sensed it was a woman.  The scent told him so.  He’d long since lost his vision and the ability to taste much of anything, but his sense of smell was as sharp as ever.  And the smell was perfume.  It was a fragrance that took him back to a time he was recalling more often lately.
She was saying something to him.  He was trying to listen but it was difficult to hear.  He’d lost that, too.  The hearing aids no longer helped much so he’d stopped using them.  He tried to concentrate, straining his ears but he couldn’t make out the words.  The woman’s voice continued causing him to wonder if the person standing in front of him was even saying anything.  Damn it, was he losing his mind, too? 
Then he heard the music.  The sounds from the violin were clear and sweet and took him back just as the fragrance did.  She was smiling at him, and he could now see her face.  The brown eyes were soft as they gazed back at him, and she began to hum along to the music.  It was more than familiar to him.  It had been their song.  The beautiful aria from that silly Puccini opera had mirrored their lives.  At least he had thought so.
“O Mio Babbino Caro, mi piace, è bello, bello.”
She would always translate for him, singing the Italian lyrics, then translating the meaning to English. She’d done it so many times that he remembered, even after all this time, the meaning.  “Oh my beloved father, I love him, I love him!”
He smiled as he remembered.  Oh, Sophia, he thought as he closed his eyes.  The longing and sadness for something that never was threatened to envelope his heart as strongly as it did decades ago.  He had loved a woman he couldn’t have.  She loved him in return.  Parental interference doomed their fate, sealing their separate lives.  Emptiness followed.
He had been a young, American art student studying in Rome when he met Sophia and her family.  Her father had hated him instantly.  It was Easter and a long holiday weekend loomed for him, as his friends were spending a few days in Greece.  He hadn’t the money to travel, so he stayed behind.  His apartment felt empty with everyone gone, so he’d wandered out for the evening and found himself amongst tourists, sitting at an outdoor café in Piazza Navona. 
Crowds moved in and out of the nearby Pantheon, with most stopping to pose for the obligatory photo in front of the historic structure.  Children played tag and parents bustled them closer.  The atmosphere was light and laughter rang through the twilight, enhancing the charm of the evening.
“Scusi,” a female voice interrupted his trance.
She stood before him smiling, the young woman he’d noticed in one of his classes.  The one with the soft brown eyes and smile that could light the night.  He recovered his wits and stood.
“You are the Americano, sì? The one in my class?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“May I join you?” came her voice.
He nodded and blurted, “I’m happy you speak English. My Italian is almost non-existent.”  That made her laugh, he remembered, and gave him confidence.  They sat together and shared some wine, talked of life and who they were, what they thought of the world and their hopes for the future.  Time passed quickly and a shadow suddenly appeared, even though the sun had long said goodnight.
“Sophia,” the masculine voice bellowed, “Vorremmo andare a casa.”
Behind the voice stood a stern faced man and next to him was his wife.  Sophia’s parents.  The tone and look of the man were enough to make Sophia rise without question.  “I must go,” she whispered, slipping a piece of paper discreetly across the table to him.
“Ciao,” she said more loudly, turning to leave, and added, “Buona Pasqua!”
Happy Easter, he understood, as she walked away with the couple.  He watched until they were no longer distinguishable, blending into the mass of people enjoying the night.  Glancing down, he opened the note.
“Tomorrow, noon, Trevi Fountain,” she’d scribbled on the paper.
That time couldn’t get there soon enough, he thought, remembering how he got to the location an hour early.  The beautiful fountain was swarming with tourists, many tossing a coin over their shoulders into the water in hopes of returning to Rome one day.  A ritual for all who visited the fountain and something he had yet to do.  Perhaps he’d have a reason to do so, afterall.
She greeted him with a smile, touching his arm as he turned toward her.  Sophia was wearing large-framed sunglasses with dark lenses. The sunlight, reflecting on the water in the fountain, danced across her face and highlighted the caramel and chestnut colors in her dark hair.  An awkward silence was brief, as a child squealed with delight at a bird that fluttered too close.  They laughed in response and their nervousness vanished, allowing a comfortable ease to settle between them.
That spring went by quickly, he remembered.  They spent most of their free time together, meeting after classes, taking walks along the River Tiber, spending Sunday afternoons lounging in the Villa Borghese gardens and eating gelato.  He’d found time for them to be alone together in his apartment, too.  Her kisses made him dizzy and the sweet perfume she wore would always make him remember.  They would lie together on his bed with the window open and that was when he’d first heard the aria. It was as if the wind carried the tune up to them, drifting in the breeze and fluttering past the curtains for their ears only. 
O Mio Babbino Caro, mi piace, è bello, bello.  Vo’andare in Porta Rosa a comperar l’anello!”
Sophia sang along, her voice close to his ear as he held her.  He didn’t care what the words meant.  It was her voice and her presence that held him intoxicated, like a drug that had taken over his body.  He had no control and he didn’t care because it was relaxing and comforting, erasing all thoughts from his mind. 
“Aren’t you curious?” her English broke through his trance.
“Tell me,” he replied.
“Lauretta loves Rinuccio, but there’s trouble between their families that threatens them being together,” she explained.
“Sort of like us?” he asked.
“She sings this to her father,” Sophia continued, ignoring him.  “She wishes to die if she can’t be with Rinuccio.”
“Why doesn’t your father like me?” he persisted.
“He’s set in the old ways.  He wishes me to marry Giancarlo,” she said.
Giancarlo.  His rival.  The tall, muscular young Italian, with model good looks and a chiseled face.  The one who had his eyes on every female he passed, yet seemed to look straight through Sophia with impatience and disinterest.  Why would a father want that for his daughter?  He knew there would be no happiness for Sophia in a marriage such as that one.
Sì, sì, ci voglio andare! E se l’amassi indarno, andrei sul Ponte Vecchio, ma per buttarmi in Arno!
She continued to sing in his ear but his mood had changed.  His future didn’t include Sophia, as he knew she wouldn’t defy her father. The aria didn’t exactly tell their story but he felt the pleas to a father to understand how a daughter loved were about him.
On the day Sophia married Giancarlo, he left Rome, never to return.  It was a good thing he hadn’t tossed a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain, he remembered.  He had no desire to ever go back.
Searing pain ripped through his chest, his attention on the present yet he still sensed the woman nearby.  He seemed to be in a hospital room, reclining on a bed with shadows standing around him.  The pain was unbearable.  He faintly heard the steady beeping of a machine somewhere.  Was that his heart beating?  Was he dying?  The shadows shuffled, merging together then parting into several forms.  It was getting harder to breathe, but he felt light for some reason and the pain started to recede.
Then the beeps were replaced by the music.  The lovely aria played through his head while his surroundings turned white, the shadows disappearing.  He saw her clearly as she stepped forward, her eyes just as bright as he’d remembered.  She took his hand and he walked with her.  He had no pain and he felt the youth of sixty years ago with the woman he loved walking beside him.
O Mio Babbino Caro, no more.

©Veronica Randolph Batterson

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Estate Sales of the Future...Strip Before Entering

For many years, I've enjoyed attending estate sales.  When I owned an antiques business, a great deal of my merchandise came from these sales and from auctions.  Since I closed my business, I no longer spend weekends searching for treasures to resell, but I do occasionally attend a sale if I have time.  Sometimes it's just the thrill of the search for me and I do find things that are personal and I keep them for myself.  Mostly, I enjoy the history behind the items and sometimes the homes that I see.

It seems estate sales aren't what they used to be.  Attending one recently left me with little, if any, desire to step foot in another one.  Upon reaching the front entrance of the sale, potential customers were bombarded with signs that had been taped all over the screened porch.  The estate sale company listed so many "dos, don'ts and warnings" that I wondered if we'd be searched upon entering.  Close.

Entering wasn't easy.  Handbags weren't allowed inside.  All purses were to remain in your vehicle, the sign had read.  Grumbling, I made my way to the car, stashed my purse and went back to the house.  I sarcastically thought they wouldn't want me to leave my money in the car, now would they?  This better be worth it, I griped further.

Once given the "yea" to enter, I immediately had to remove my shoes.  This isn't unusual, but it's not a request I like.  The potential for stepping on something sharp (nails, needles, pins, thumbtacks, etc) that's fallen on the floor in these homes is great.  Add a little rust, and well, I'm sure no one would like that risk.  Plus, no one "attends" the shoes. There is always a great pile of footwear by the door and if someone leaving likes a particular pair of boots (that do not belong to said person), then who's to stop her/him from putting them on and walking out?  This is a likely problem.

After removing the shoes, it was on to the next "station".  A lady working for the estate sale company asked me to remove my jacket.  What?  "Too many small items in this house will tempt shoplifters," she said.  "I'm not a shoplifter," I replied.  "Well, jackets aren't allowed," came the response.  By this time I was getting pretty mouthy.  "Then if there are shoplifters, will you guarantee my leather jacket will be here when I return to get it?" I asked.  She wasn't amused but said it would be.  I couldn't stop myself but went further, "My jeans have pockets.  Should I remove them, too?"  The woman didn't find that amusing either.

Once past the layer of security, I continued to think that my efforts had better be worth it.  Surely, there must be true antiques or vintage items of value.  Even priceless, right?  Why else would they make us go through all of this?  Usually if there are small and valuable items for sale, those items are "held" behind a table or enclosure, manned by an employee, and available to view if asked.  But that might be too logical, and besides, I'd just entered "Fort Knox".  The search was on.

And the search was over just as I stepped into that first room.  I think I gasped, but I'm not sure because I eventually realized my mouth was gaping open...a little hard to do both, but I might've gasped first.  Looking around, I thought I'd entered a home that was on the verge of being featured in an episode of "Hoarders".  Not quite there, but close.  If there was anything of value, and that was doubtful, you had to dig to find it.  Lots of plastic, and opened packages of figurines (think California Raisin dudes and the like).  For the life of me, I was trying to figure out why a shoplifter would bother.  If anyone was going to steal anything, they'd be doing the estate sale company a favor.  I didn't see many purchases being made.

Thankfully, my jacket and shoes were as I left them, I didn't have to go through a "pat-down" before I left, and I complained all the way to the car (without buying anything).  Of all the experiences I'd been through attending these sales, this was probably the worst.

Surprisingly, they hadn't enforced the cash only rule, as many estate sale companies do now.  As a former business owner, I understand not wishing to pay credit card fees, but it's the nature of doing business in my opinion. As is the risk of dealing with shoplifters.  You just don't treat everyone as a potential thief.  Imagine the outrage if a national retailer, such as Macy's, made you shed your clothing before you were allowed in their store, simply because you "might be tempted" to steal something.

As for cash only...it might work for small sales, but there are sales with high end items (furniture, cars, electronics, fine jewelry) sporting price tags.  A little difficult to deal with if you don't know the area, or where the nearest ATM might be.  Imagine getting a wad of cash and reaching the door of the estate sale I just described.  What?  I can't take my purse in?  Well, that's no problem.  I'll just stick the money in my shoe (something I did as a kid when I went to amusement parks).  I have to remove my shoes?  Well, I'll just stick the money in my jacket pocket.  What?  No jackets?  Well, what am I am going to do with my money?  I have no pockets on my pants.  The next logical place for a woman?  The bra, of course!  Hope that no one pays attention if something makes an appearance that shouldn't while you're fisting around the front of your neckline to pay for that lamp.

All of the above is in fun, but it does show how ridiculous it's become to attend these sales.  Estate sale companies should stop taking themselves so seriously.  I sometimes wonder what's next.  Strip search, metal detectors, body scanners?  Yeah, those California Raisin dudes are sure worth it.