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|8/17/2010 9:00:00 AM|| |
|Ruvo del Monte - Giovanni Tata's speech - English version|| |
The novel that I am speaking of is The Streets of Gold, which tells the story of the family of Giuseppantonio Coppola, born in Ruvo in 1878. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into Italian. The Committee has decided to translate it, printing it next year. The book covers the time period from 1898 to 1973, the year that Giuseppantonio, to whom the book is dedicated, died. The novel was written by his grandson, Salvatore Lombino, the famous writer who later changed his name to Evan Hunter. The book has four settings: Ruvo del Monte (called Fiormonte in the book), Harlem (Italian ghetto in the borough of Manhattan of New York), Bronx (New York borough) and Connecticut (a state to the east of New York).
Our Giuseppantonio (in the novel, Francesco di Lorenzo) was 20 when he emigrated to the United States in 1898. We imagine that he was illiterate, except for the fact that he could sign his name on the Ellis Island Register. Between 1880 and 1920 there were more than 600 emigrants from Ruvo who went to the United States of America, out of a population of 2680 as documented in the 1901 Census. He was the second-to-the-last of a family of nine children, four of whom died in infancy, and one who emigrated in 1907; his father was a tailor. Traveling with Gabriele Suozzi (in the novel, Pino Battatore), with whom he seemingly would share his adventures in America for the rest of his life, and is cited several times in the book. Usually, the emigrants would indicate a friend or relative already residing in America, thus facilitating the adjustment to life once they arrived at their destination. In the book, this person was probably Pietro Tozzi, the grandfather of Pietro Tozzi, who many of you will remember (cited in the book as Pietro Bardoni) who went back and forth from Ruvo to America, bringing young workers to America. From the documents, it appears that the mayor was Gaetano Cudone (called Don Leonardo, boss of Ruvo). The family lived at Via Crispi, 14 above the rectory. From the window you could see the Valley of Ofanto, as described in the novel:
The house he lived in was similar in construction, though not in size, to the one inhabited by Don Leonardo, the padrone of Fiormonte. Built of stone laboriously cleared from the vineyards, covered with mud allowed to dry and then whitewashed with a mixture of lime and water, it consisted of three rooms, the largest of which was the kitchen. A huge fireplace and hearth, the house's only source of heat and of course the cooking center, dominated the kitchen. The other two rooms were bedrooms, one of them shared by the parents and baby brother of young Francesco-it is difficult to think of him, no less write of him, as anything but Grandpa.
The autobiographic novel is centered on the character of Evan (in the book, Iggie, or Ignazio). He was born blind, studied music and became a noted jazz musician. In reality, there are many parallels between the writer’s evolution in his craft with the difficult life of the blind musician. Divided into four parts, the first is completely dedicated to the grandfather and his difficulty in adapting to his new environment. It covers the time period to 1924 when he finally and reluctantly convinces himself that his family is in New York, burning all bridges with Ruvo where he had always hoped to return. A poignant moment is when the twenty-something Giuseppantonio, on Christmas morning decides to go with Pino Battatore to join Paolo Bardoni:
My grandfather knew what he was looking for, all right. He was looking for work. He was looking for money. He was looking for survival for himself and his family. He walked out onto those sun-silvered streets of the village on Christmas morning, determined to find in himself the strength and the courage to make the move. It would only be for a year, he told himself (the way Andrew told me his forthcoming pilgrimage would only take a year, after which time he will have found where his head's at, he said; and come back, and be ready to settle down and get some good work done). Francesco would send money home to Fiormonte to keep the family alive and well, meanwhile saving money for the return trip and for whatever enterprise the family decided to begin when he came home- for certainly they would be able to choose their own future and their own destiny once he came back to Fiormonte a rich man.
The grandfather leaves with the conviction to go to America, become rich, finding the streets paved in gold, and then returning home in about a year. In New York he ends up working in the construction of melancholia and flashes of happiness. After the time spent at the work site of the subway, he meets his future wife (in the book, Rebecca), and goes to work in the tailor shop of his father-in-law. It is still his strongest desire to return to Italy, until one day he realizes that he has made a new family in New York, and that he no longer has ties with anyone in Ruvo. Here is a conversation between the grandfather and his friend Pino:
"But my family will be here," Pino had said to him long ago, and he remembered those words now, and realized that his family, the family of Francesco Di Lorenzo was here. There was no family in Fiormonte, his mother and father were dead, Maria was dead, Emilia had left for Torino with her husband, who hoped to find work in the steel mills. The family was here. He had a beautiful, gentle wife whom he loved and cherished, and for whom he would work hard all the days of his life; he had a seventeen-year-old daughter who was engaged to be married; and a twenty-year-old daughter who was sure to marry soon herself, once she found the right boy, she was fussy, Stella, he liked that about her, she was not easy to please, his Stella, his star; and Domenico, such a smart boy, studying so hard at a very difficult high school in the Bronx, a ninety average, that was very good, they said, a ninety; and Luca, so tall, so gentle, who played the violin and piano beautifully, just like his cousin Rodolfo in Fiormonte ... But no, Rodolfo had been killed in the war, Rodolfo was dead. The family was here.
Fiormonte had been the family, but now the family was here.
He sat up and looked at Pino, and Pino abruptly stopped singing.
"É qui," he said to his friend. "La famiglia é qui."
"Cosa?" Pino asked. ."..
Francesco watched his daughter as she went to the bandstand and began talking to the drummer, who kept playing all the while she chatted and smiled at him. On the dance floor, his other daughter, his angel Cristina, danced in the arms of a man who not ten minutes before had called him "Papa." Francesco was forty-two years old. For the longest time he had been twenty-four, and had dreamed of going home. He was now forty-two, and knew he would never go home again, never return to Italy, never. The family was here. He was the head of the family, and the family was here. Home was here. He suddenly covered Pino's hand with his own and squeezed it very hard.
The second part of the book concerns the period into the 1940s when Iggie decides to devote himself to jazz music, abandoning the classical music that he had studied up till then. Unlike the first part where the relationship with the grandfather working in the family tailor shop was a central theme, in this part the family has moved to the Bronx where the grandfather’s influence as family head, fades into the background, despite still being an important presence, as we see in this selection where his brother, Tony, wants to volunteer for the War:
My brother Tony was seventeen years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He immediately asked my mother for permission to enlist in the Air Corps. My mother talked it over with my father, and then my grandfather, and then got back to Tony with an unequivocal "No."
"He said he knew. He's a fuckin' old grease ball, Iggie. He asked me if I wanted to go bomb Italy. He asked me what I'd do if they told me to go bomb Fiormonte. I said Who the hell is going to ask me to bomb Fiormonte, Grandpa? What the hell is in Fiormonte to bomb? So he tells me it's a beautiful village. So I said Grandpa, the generals aren't interested in bombing beautiful villages; what they want to do is bomb military targets, not beautiful Villages. So he says there's a bridge in Fiormonte, across the river there, and maybe the generals'll tell me to bomb the bridge so supplies won't be able to go to Bari or wherever, because Bari is a seaport. So I said Grandpa, the generals aren’t going to be interested in a shitty little bridge in Fiormonte, and he said It's a nice bridge, Antonio. So I said Look, Grandpa, I'm not trying to take away from the goddamn bridge, I'm just trying to tell you nobody's going to send me to bomb Fiormonte, and anyway, I don’t want to fly a bomber, I want to fly a fighter plane, I want to be a fighter pilot."
The love for Ruvo is even more evident in the dialogue between him, the grandfather and Pino Battatore:
"Grandpa," I said, because this had become a running gag between us, and I never tired of it, "why do you smoke those guinea stinkers?"
"Who says they're guinea stinkers?" my grandfather said.
"Che ha detto?" Pino asked.
My grandfather said, "Ha chiamato questi 'guinea stinkers:"
"Why do you call them guinea stinkets?" my grandfather asked me.
"Because they stink."
"What?" Pino said. “You’re wrong, Ignazio. It doesn't stink. It smells nice."
"'That's no guinea stinker," my grandfather said expectedly, delighting me. "'That's a good see-gah." He puffed on it deliberately, and ceremoniously, raising a giant smelly cloud of smoke: "'This suit is for you," he said, and rustled a paper pattern. "On Christmas Day, you'll be the best-dressed kid in Harlem."
"I know," I said, and grinned.
"In Fiormonte, on Christmas… Pino, do you remember Natale a Fiormonte?" , .
"Si, certo” Pino said.
"Some one of these days, Ignazio," my grandfather said, "I'm gonna take you home to the other side. I'll show you my home, okay? you want to come to Fiormonte with grandpa?';
"E` vero, Pino? Non e` bella, Fiormonte?" , "E veratnente bellissima."
"From where I lived, Ignazio, you could see the river, no? And before la fillossera… "
The third part tells the story of the main character’s relationship with his family as he begins playing in local night spots. In this time period, Evan still acknowledges Giuseppantonio as the family head inasmuch as he is consulted in the pivoting moments in his life.
The fourth and final part of the book concentrates on the children and grandchildren of Giuseppantonio, as well as Iggie’s success as a jazz musician, and takes place in about 1956. He moves to a new home in Connecticut, and speaks of his trip to Italy. In 1962, Giuseppantonio was 84 and in a typical family get-together, the role of family head passes to the grandson, Evan.
We sat around the rosewood dining room table in the house on top of the hill. My grandfather, as befitted a patriarch, sat at the head of the table, though he knew, as I knew, that he was no longer the patriarch; his own family was scattered to the four winds. Dominick in Brooklyn, Christie in Massapequa, my mother on the Grand Concourse and Luke only Christ knew where. With neither pomp nor ceremony, my grandfather had passed the scepter on to me, ignoring those next in the line of succession. His son-in-law, Jimmy, was affable but ineffectual. His eldest daughter Stella was formidable (especially during inquisitions) but nonetheless a woman; he was Italian, you know, though by 1963 he had been citizen-of these United States for eighteen years. I was now the actual if not the titular head of the family, and. though my grandfather occupied that chair at the head of the table, not a soul sitting around it doubted that we were here to honor the reigning potentate.
The novel ends with the death of Giuseppantonio which took place on 16 June 1973 after fourteen hours of agony with Evan constantly at his bedside. During the agony, the grandson hears his grandfather’s uninterrupted description of his life of Ruvo, and of his family. I like to think that it was in those moments that Evan found the inspiration to write this novel. In an interview with the Corriere della Sera on 5 July 1990, he defined this work as one of his best. The novel finished with this dialogue just before his grandfather’s death:
"Ah, Ignazio," he said, "that Christmas Day, to think of steal a chestnut? No, this was not right. I come out of the house, I walk to where Pino lives, together we go on top the hill, we can see Don Leonardo house, everything blows on the hillside, we talk about America …"Grandpa," I said, "was I wrong? Should I have stayed? It was a lie, Grandpa, but where the hell is the truth?"
"And first," he said, "when I come here, I say to myself, I say to Pino, no good. We go home. We go back tomorrow the other side. What gold?...Where is this gold Bardoni says? In the subway? In the mud? No Ignazio, was terrible this America "
“Grandpa," I said "don't die."•
"And the noise. Madonna mia, che rumore! I tink I never get used.
I swear, Ignazio, I would have gone back if I had not met your grandma. Ah, che bellezzal Oh, I see her, I fall in love .... "
“Please don 't die on me, " I said." You’re the connection."
We both fell silent then. We were silent for a long time. The sun was up. I had not realized
the sun was up. I snapped open the lid of my watch and felt for the time. It was a quarter to twelve. Had the sun been up that long?
"Ignazio?" my grandfather said.
“Ah," he said.
“Ah,” I said, and smiled.
I don’t know where his semiconscious meanderings had led him, or whether or not he had reached any conclusions. I knew only that he was still alive; and his voice sounded strong, and that was good enough.
"There was time I did not like this country," he said. "You believe that Ignazio?"
"I believe it," I said.
“There was time I think Ma che? I’m supposed to make this place my home?
There is no gold here. Ignazio?"
“I’m a very rich man, I have a good life here. It was true what Bardoni told me in Fiormonte. Le strade qui sono veramente lastricate d’oro.”
He died in the next instant. A massive hemorrhage exploded somewhere inside his brain and killed him at once.