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Fiction From the October 2012 issue: Oil


I Remember

Ricordo

I remember the summer storms during the rainy season when the wind flung open the windows and lifted the contents of the rooms in a swirling dance. Streaks of lightening lit up the gray sky and the thunder was like the angry scream of the entire universe, unleashed right there, in that very spot.

I remember, between the crashing of the thunder and the flashes of lightening, old Haimanot hiding under the ironing table in the living room, alternately shouting, "Wai! Gud reichiben! Oh God, something bad is about to happen to us!” and reciting that prayer she had learned from the Italian nuns in Asmara in order to ward off the threat from the lightening, "High! Stay high like the name of Mary.”

I remember the water taking us by surprise in the courtyard as soon as the car came through the gate. Lakes of water poured from the sky. Gusts of wind tossed the branches of the willows and eucalyptus trees in the courtyard. The old fir tree leaned threateningly over the kitchen roof. Each time, we asked ourselves if it was about to fall. And meanwhile, there we were, you, Mauro and me, sheltering under the roof of that makeshift garage with the engine and the heat on and you telling us all about Italy, your childhood, Crevalcore. You always talked about Crevalcore when it rained. About the autumn mist, the castle of the Ronchi, about  that blackbird of yours that had learned to whistle the Italian anthem "Fratelli d'Italia." Then the rain would taper off, the storm moved away, leaving its tail above us. A thin, grumbling trickle of water. You used to say, "In Italy it can rain like that for three days on end," and I stared at you in disbelief. I just could not imagine that there actually existed a place where that miserable trickle of rain would have the gall to go on falling for so long.

But then I did see it, in this land of yours, while I was searching for some trace of you in order to discover there some possible root of mine. I saw it and it drenched my soul with sadness and nostalgia.

I remember, once the storm was over, Abeba and Lemlem running over with towels and umbrellas to protect us from a possible sudden reoccurrence, something that was not unlikely. You would say, "Untie Book," and we would rush into the house getting our feet wet in the river of water that runs down from the mountains of Entotto after a storm. The delighted Book would shake his fur, spraying water in every direction, old Haimnot came out from under the table and we, sitting in front of the fire, me with my arms around you, would laugh.

Dear Father, today is a special kind of day, a unique day, the day of remembrance. And I wanted to dedicate it to you who chose to be buried in my land while I wander, sad and alone, across yours.

I went to hunt through the old letters that you wrote to Uncle Fiore and that he gave back to me after you died. I looked for one with your signature, that signature that I loved so much as a child, with that g and that h that stretch out like the arms of a dancer mastering space, and that m that was like rippling water. That signature, profoundly yours, those letters that were almost illegible, more like drawing than writing.

And I remembered how, when I was a child during long phone calls to my friends, I would try to imitate it while scribbling on the white sheets of paper next to the phone. You know, I used to think that if I could imitate it, I, too, would become like you, your arms extending wide over the land of Ethiopia, as light as the rippling water that gurgles down the streets of my beloved Addis Abeba after the rain.

Dear Father, today I placed my signature next to yours on the letter, then I folded it again and put it back in the drawer.

© Gabriella Ghermandi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Victoria Offredi Poletto and Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi. All rights reserved.

Ricordo i temporali estivi delle grandi piogge, quando il vento spalancava le finestre di casa sollevando il contenuto delle stanze in vorticose danze. I fulmini rigavano il cielo grigio di luce e i tuoni fragorosi sembravano l'urlo arrabbiato dell'intero universo lanciato lì, proprio in quel punto.

Ricordo, tra il fragore dei tuoni e la luce dei fulmini, la vecchia Haimanot che nascosta sotto al tavolo da stiro, in sala, urlava "Wai! Gud rechiben!" alternandola a quella litania imparata dalle suore italiane di Asmara, per scongiurare il pericolo del fulmine "Alto, alto sia come il nome di Maria".

Ricordo quando l'acqua ci sorprendeva nel cortile di casa, appena la macchina aveva varcato il cancello. Laghi d'acqua si riversavano dal cielo. Le raffiche di vento facevano roteare le fronde del salice e dell'euclipto del cortile. Il vecchio abete si piegava minacciando il tetto della cucina.
Ogni volta ci chiedevamo se sarebbe caduto.
E intanto noi, io te e Mauro, in macchina, rintanati sotto alla tettoia di quella specie di garage con il motore ed il riscaldamento accesi e tu che raccontavi dell'Italia, la tua infanzia, Crevalcore. Raccontavi sempre di Crevalcore quando pioveva. Della bruma d'autunno, il castello dei Ronchi e quel tuo merlo che aveva imparato a fischiettare "Fratelli d'Italia". Poi l'acqua calava, il temporale si spostava, lasciando sopra di noi la sua coda. Una acquerugiola sottile e lamentosa. Tu dicevi "In Italia può piovere così anche tre giorni di fila" ed io ti guardavo strabiliata, non potevo immaginare che davvero al mondo potesse esistere un luogo dove quella misera pioggerellina avesse la sfrontatezza di cadere dal cielo per così lungo tempo.

Ma poi l'ho vista, in questa tua terra, mentre cercavo un tuo segno per trovarvi qualche mia possibile radice. L'ho vista e mi ha infradiciato l'anima di tristezza e nostalgia.

Ricordo, al termine del temporale, arrivavano di corsa Abeba e Lemlem con asciugamani ed ombrelli, per proteggerci da un suo eventuale ritorno improvviso, cosa non improbabile. Tu dicevi "slegate Book" e correvamo tutti in casa, bagnandoci i piedi nel fiume d'acqua che dopo la pioggia discende dalle montagne di Entotto. Book festoso si scrollava, spruzzando acqua dal pelo in ogni direzione, la vecchia Haimanot usciva da sotto il tavolo e noi seduti davanti al camino, io abbracciata a te, ridevamo.

Caro padre, oggi è un giorno speciale, una data unica, il giorno della memoria. Ed io ho voluto dedicarlo a te, che hai scelgo di essere sepolto nella mia terra mentre io vago triste e solitaria nella tua. Sono andata a scarabellare tra le vecchie lettere che tu avevi scritto allo zio Fiore e che lui mi ha restituito dopo la tua morte. Ne ho cercata una con la tua firma. Quella firma che da piccola mi piaceva tanto, con quella g e l'h che si allungano come le braccia di una danzatrice che conquista lo spazio e la m simile alle increspature dell'acqua. Quella firma tua, profondamente tua, con i caratteri quasi illeggibili più simili ad un disegno che a una scritta. Mi son ricordata di come, da bambina, durante le lunghe telefonate alle amiche, cercassi di imitarla scarabocchiando sui fogli bianchi appoggiati a fianco al telefono. Sai, pensavo che se fossi riuscita ad imitarla anche io sarei diventata come te, con le braccia aperte sulla terra d'Etiopia, lieve come le increspature dell'acqua che dopo la pioggia gorgogliando discendono lungo le strade della mia Addis Abeba.

Caro padre, oggi ho posto la mia firma accanto alla tua, sulla lettera, poi l'ho ripiegata e l'ho rimessa nel cassetto.

Racconto pubblicato ne Il lettore di Provincia n. 123-124 - volume monografico intitolato "Spaesamenti padani" a cura di Clarissa Clò, Longo Editore.

 




Gabriella GhermandiGabriella Ghermandi

The Italo-Ethiopian writer Gabriella Ghermandi was born in Addis Ababa in 1965 and moved to Italy in 1979. For many years she has lived in Bologna, where her father was born. In 1999 she won first place in the competition for immigrant writers held by the association Eks&Tra and promoted by the publishing house Fara Editore. In 2001 and again in 2003 she won third place. She has published stories in various books and magazines. She is coordinator and promoter of the project El Ghibli.

Translated from ItalianItalian by Victoria Offredi PolettoVictoria Offredi Poletto and by Giovanna Bellesia-ContuzziGiovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi

Victoria Offredi Poletto was born and raised in England and Italy of Italian parents and has resided in the USA for the past thirty years. She has always been involved in the multicultural experience: from directing her own English- language school, to teaching French, Italian and English in many parts of the world since 1968. In 2007 she retired from active teaching in order to dedicate more time to translating the increasing number of works by immigrant women to Italy who give us new understanding not only of what it means to be writing in Italian in the twenty-first century, but who deliver a message that profoundly resonates with immigrants all over the world. Gabriella Ghermandi is one such writer.

Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi  is a Professor of Italian Language and Literature at Smith College. Her research work has centered on Italian women writers and on the writings of recent immigrants to Italy.  She has also translated several texts, along with her colleague Victoria Poletto. Their most recent publication is Little Mother, a novel on the Somali diaspora by Cristina Ali Farah, published by Indiana University Press in 2011.