Return to Sant’Anna

In 1954 I refused Dean Boyer’s invitation to repeat my first year in law school. Instead I took a job with the Westinghouse Electrical Corporation, in its Aviation Gas Turbine Division. I joined the team that had created the W19XB-2B, the first US- designed aircraft jet engine, they said. I commuted to the plant, located near Chester, Pennsylvania, as passenger in a co-worker’s car.

I was the junior technical writer. That meant I checked the parts’s lists in the latest edition of the engine’s overhaul manual. I certified that the design changes made in the engine had been incorporated into the updated illustrations and that they were reflected correctly in the updated text. That I occasionally consulted with the engineers who had made the changes – and who may have helped design the engine – did not relieve the tedium of the job.

Frustrated and unhappy, I decided to buy an used MG, a bright red one I had long coveted, and I had saved seven hundred dollars toward that end. First I’d have to learn to drive and get a license: a worrisome challenge. Maybe the car would jumpstart my life.

A year after I joined the company, Westinghouse announced that it was relocating our Division to Kansas City. The company had bought a disused World War II defense plant there for one dollar. That was about all, said the wags, that Westinghouse could afford. Move to Kansas City or leave the company. I refused to go but I was able to stay on in Chester while the move took place. The prospect of finding another job was disheartening.

Then my parents, my father newly retired from his job, announced that they were going to visit Sicily for three months, after an absence of forty-seven years. Zu Calogero, my father’s eldest brother, jumped at the chance to go with them. (Zu is short for Zio in Sicilian. Zio which means uncle. Zia, aunt, becomes Za. The Z is pronounced ts: tsu, tsa. ) Many older men and women were addressed as Zu or Za, even when not related to you. If not yours, they were bound to be somebody’s uncle and aunt.

My parents 1918

My Parents, 1918

My mother had immigrated to the United States in 1912, when she was seventeen years old. She was sponsored by Aunt Jennie’s grandmother. My father arrived later that year, on his own. Well, his older brother Calogero had preceded him here by two years. He was twenty-two years old, recently discharged from the Italian army.  Leonardo and Giuseppina were as yet unattached, but they had traded significant glances in the village.

Their decision to return to Sicily, and Westinghouse’s removal to Kansas City, served to clear my head. Did I really want an MG? Did I want to look for another dead-end job? Italy beckoned. I had more than seven hundred dollars.

I’d go to Italy a month ahead of my parents, to study Italian at the Universita Italiana per Stranieri di Perugia. That’s the Italian University for Foreigners. Then I’d join them in Sicily for a summer-long visit in the natal village of Sant’Anna. The village would become my base for visiting tourist sites in Sicily and Italy.

I got to Perugia in time for the spring semester at the Stranieri. The tuition, subsidized by the Italian government, was about six dollars a month. I found a pensione for fifty dollars a month, room and board. I was the lone American in the house. My fellow boarders were enrolled at the other university in town, L’Universita degli Studi. Mario Gentili, an Italian, was studying medicina; Giorgio Basso (Italian), agraria; Jorge Flores (Honduran) veterinaria; and Gianni Zanakis (Greek) veterinaria.

At the Stranieri I met students from all over the world, including American exGIs who were using their GI Bill benefits to study abroad. The GI Bill? I had some GI Bill left. Was this a way out? A way out to where? Who cared! I’d remain in Italy for as long as I could. I’d tell my parents later in the summer, before they returned to Philadelphia. In mid-April I left Perugia two days before their ship was to arrive in Palermo.

I wanted Palermo to myself for two days, unencumbered by old folks. I found a cheap room in a squalid boardinghouse on the third floor of a decrepit apartment house near the port. The staircase climbed round the walls of the inner courtyard but it was roped off short of the fourth floor landing. Beyond the rope was a yawning drop to the courtyard. The fourth floor had taken a hit during the American naval bombardment in 1943. The neighborhoods facing the water were studded with shattered buildings. The rubble had been cleared but the gaps remained.

At noon I saw a man cooking at a two burner stove in the foyer just inside his front door. A bench and table were on the sidewalk. I had a plate of perciatelli daubed with a splash of sourish tomato sauce, and a piece of oxtail for about thirty five cents. Move over George Orwell!

I couldn’t sleep that night in my windowless room which was in a dead end hallway. In the morning I saw several bright red spots on my chest and legs. The spots itched. On the second night, at the first pinch, my fingers flew to the spot and I captured what I knew had to be a bedbug. I abandoned the hovel and moved into a modest hotel. Later that morning, deloused and showered, I walked to the port where the M/N Vulcania was waiting at its pier. I joined the crowd massed around the gangplank.

Vulcania

I stood at the rear edge of the crowd looking over the heads of those who were scanning the faces of the passengers at the rail. About twenty feet in front of me I saw a group of people with sun darkened faces and starkly white napes, freshly exposed to view by artless haircuts. These were the markers of poor peasants. Under their clothing, the flesh was white, almost luminous, like that of cave dwelling fish. I recognized a face, a face I had seen among the photos at my mother’s house.

It was Zu Paolo Colletti, my mother’s youngest brother, who was about fifty-five years old. He was wearing my chalk-stripe, grey flannel suit. I loved that suit, a well bred Oxford I’d picked up at Pierone and Bruns in Spokane, Washington while I was in the Air Force. A longtime customer had rejected it after it had been altered for him. It fit me perfectly, at half the price! I gave it hard wear and it was clearly past its prime when I relinquished it to my mother. She added to one of many packages of food and clothing we used to send to Sicily before and after the war.

Carlo and Uncle Paolo 1955

Carlo and Zu Paolo, 1955

Suddenly, Zu Paolo and those clustered around him, spotted my parents and my uncle. They cried out to them, gesticulating, shedding tears of joy. My father and Zu Calogero responded vigorously. My mother waved wanly as she searched the upturned faces in the crowd. She found me and our eyes locked.

My relatives noticed my mother’s riveted gaze and they turned to see its object. They recognized me – from photographs – and they pushed through the crowd to engulf me. There were seventeen of them. They hugged and kissed me. My face was wet with their tears. The conjugations, the precise pronunciation I had begun to learn at the Stranieri abandoned me. I lapsed into dialect.

My cousins, like me, had come in Palermo two days before the arrival of the Vulcania. They were staying, several to a room, in a boarding house run by Santo Tamburro, a former Sant’Annese. Some of them had never been to Palermo before. They had come to the pier each morning, just in case they said, the ship should arrive early. They knew that was unlikely, but the weather was fine and the port life was interesting. They were enjoying a rare holiday.

Two days earlier they had met my ship, the overnight packet from Naples. Of course they were unaware that I was on it. I had recognized them as I started down the gang plank and I turned back. I found the cargo ramp in the ship’s aft and I exited, slipping behind a large container being offloaded. I disappeared into Palermo. Now, two mornings later, I had strolled over to the Vulcania.

My parents and my Uncle Calogero disembarked without incident. My mother was uneasy about the large steamer trunk full of dutiable items: two dozen cartons of cigarettes, a bottle Four Roses – nobody drank whiskey in Sant’Anna! – and many, many bolts of cloth for women’s dresses. She hoped to avoid declaring these goods. My Uncle Calogero told her not to worry.

I took my uncle to the Customs’ Office where he tendered an envelope addressed to a man inside. Zu Calogero was illiterate, but he could count; don’t try to cheat him. The letter was from old man Maggio, the South Philly cheese maker – Yes, that Maggio. He was one of Zu Calogero’s many compari.

Presently a man emerged from Customs Office. He embraced my uncle, kissing him on both cheeks, left, right left. I soon learned that drill, left, right left so as not to bump noses. The three of us returned to my parents who were standing guard by the luggage. Kisses all around. Zu Calogero’s new friend pulled out a piece of chalk and he boldly anointed the luggage and the trunk. A folded banknote changed hands.

I hailed a ragged man from among those crowding near with their two-wheeled handcarts. Mindful of the presence of my elders, and of the conventional wisdom which in Philadelphia had said: “Watch out. They’ll cheat you,” I offered the man two hundred lire less than his price. Two hundred lire was worth fifty cents. He accepted my offer without comment. Shame! Shame! Shame! I have never forgiven myself. But I was newly arrived in Europe; it had much to teach me.

The carter loaded the luggage onto the flat bed of his cart and he took his place between the stays, like a donkey, He trotted ahead of us to Tamburro’s. It was now mid-afternoon.

My father and cousin Calogero 1955

My Father and Cousin Calogero, 1955

Santo Tamburo found accommodations for my parents and my uncle. My father and Zu Calogero instructed Santo to buy roast chicken for everyone. Santo’s wife would cook the pasta and make the salad. Meanwhile, Santo phoned a man in Caltabellotta, instructing him to send a small bus to take us to Sant’Anna in the morning.

Caltabellotta is a big town near Sant’Anna. From afar, Caltabellotta seems carved from the rocky summit of its mountain which is 2500 feet high. It has a famous view: Menfi, Sambuca,Villafranca, Burgio, Ribera, Sciacca and a dozen other towns are scattered in a broad landscape to the sea.

Tamburo’s dining room was festive. Many people in too small a room make for a good party. Zu Calogero entertained us with stories of his youth in Sant’Anna. The Sant’Annesi marveled at the accuracy of his stories, his faithful description of places, of his memory of notorious incidents, his shrewd appraisal of the paisani. Little had changed in Sant”Anna. He was very funny, especially with a few drinks in him; that is, if you could understand his nearly toothless speech. My cousins understood him; half the people in Sant’Anna were toothless.

I’d raise my eyes to catch a cousin staring at me, at this wondrous creature whose skin was fair, whose hands were not thickened and coarsened by field work. My mother faded quickly and she went to bed. I too tried to leave the party early, to pack I said, but really to explore the streets along the way to my hotel. My Uncle Paolo and young Peppe Colletti – he liked to be called Joe – insisted on escorting me. In turn, I worried about their finding the way back to Tamburro’s.

Next morning the bus from Caltabellotta was waiting for us at curb side. Our driver intuited the way out of the tangled center where the transit buses bullied their way through dense traffic. In Palermo the buses spewed dark, pungent fumes that turned daylight to dusk. By nightfall my shirt collar was ringed with black. In Perugia my shirts lasted three days.

As our bus approached the perimeter but still well within the city, we encountered, indeed our way was blocked by a man leading twelve or fifteen goats. He carried a short slender crook in one hand and a three-legged stool in the other..

The goats wore bells whose jingling summoned housewives and children who emerged bearing jars and pitchers. The goatherd milked the goats and filled their containers. How bizarre! Palermo seemed like my idea of a North African city, with its palm trees, its churches with multiple red domes, its crowded streets and sidewalks, its air of dusty disrepair. And now the goats. Then I realized that the goats were an elegant – elegant in its simplicity – solution to the problem of delivering fresh milk daily to inhabitants who lacked refrigeration.

st-john-of-the-hermits-domes-palermo-church-showing-elements-of-byzantine-arabic-and-norman-architec

A church in Palermo

Once past the goats, we drove through a wide swath comprised of rundown housing, large and small garden plots and a patchwork of shabby industrial and agricultural buildings. Then the countryside. We skirted hills whose rising flanks were yellow with the stubble of harvested wheat. High above the stubbled fields were pale green meadows.

We sped through mean, dusty villages whose main streets were barely wide enough for the bus. I could have touched the people drawn back against their front doors. They regarded me blankly as we hurtled by. Peppina, my father’s niece, his brother Giuseppes’s only daughter, was my seatmate.

She was tall for a Sicilian woman, about five feet eight. She was gaunt, with that pinched look of the undernourished, skin drawn tightly over hollowed cheeks and temples. She was twenty-six years old and, unhappily, unwed. Peppina’s front teeth were gapped and they protruded her thin lips. Her teeth, together with her close-set eyes and her aquiline nose, gave her the look of an angry, cross-eyed hawk. She was snappish.

Her two elder brothers had married and multiplied. Peppina was named after her father’s mother, like my sister Peppina, who died an infant during the Spanish Flu. Peppina’s younger brother, Calogero, like me was named after Zu Calogero. Peppina told me, pointedly, that Calogero was engaged to be married.

Peppina asked me about our cousins in Philadelphia. She was surprised to learn how little I knew about them. South Philly was like a village when I was a kid: we were in and out of each other’s houses. But once married, they had scattered to distant neighborhoods and to small towns in South Jersey. We had little in common. I was a bookworm; none of them made it to high school. I saw them only at weddings, at a few christenings and at funerals.

“Our cousins?”, she was amazed . Yes Peppina, our cousins.

The word for cousin in Italian is cugino/a. The word for brother is fratello ; a sister is sorella. In Sicilian dialect, a male cousin is called un frateddu. The double L in fratello becomes a double D in frateddu. Think of Turiddu (short for Salvatorello) in the Cavalleria Rusticana. The final O often becomes a U. A female cousin becomes una soredda, a sister. Cousins were as close as brothers and sisters.

E tu che vita fai a Sant’Anna?“ I asked her, “What’s life like in Sant’Anna?”

Dalla casa alla chiesa. Dalla chiesa alla casa.” “From the house to the church, from the church to the house.”

We made a rest stop in Corleone. Did King Richard, the Lion Hearted one, pass through Corleone? Maybe not, but The Godfather’s Al Pacino did, famously. Corleone, a dreary dusty town, was a Mafia stronghold.

Our impromptu stop was a windfall for the fly speckled bar-caffe. We drank sweet, watery soda pop while we waited our turn to use the toilet, a fetid hole in the wet concrete floor. The driver called us back with a blast of his horn. Italian bus drivers, careening toward blind curves, rely on their horns to alert oncoming traffic.

An hour and a half later, almost four hours out of Palermo, our bus entered Sant’Anna with the driver leaning heavily on the horn. We were the first bus, the first vehicle, ever to arrive by the still incomplete mountain route. The unfinished portion looked like a deeply plowed field, not of forgiving clods, but of split, broken, sharp-edged rocks. The driver had refused to risk it. A folded bank-note changed hands. Our entrance into Sant’Anna was historic, our welcome was tumultuous.

Sant'anna

Sant’Anna

Our relatives crowded the piazza which was a widening, a distension in the stark, treeless main street. A long outcropping of bleached, stratified stone rose up out of it, like a boulder in a stream. We quit the bus and were manhandled anew. My mother fainted and she sank to the street in a sitting position.

Somebody called for the doctor. He was nearby, sitting at the cafe’s rickety table, playing tre sette with Zu Pino Colletti. Dr. Nuzio dropped his hand and hurried to us. He examined my mother and pronounced her fit.

My father and I helped her to her feet. We gave ourselves over to Za Vita, my mother’s sister, who, though born after my mother had left Sant’Anna, had become her chief correspondent. The knot of people, no longer exuberant, opened before us and Za Vita led us to her house, trailing a gaggle of Collettis.

Aunt Vita 1940

Aunt Vita, 1940

Zu Calogero was enveloped by a happy swarm of Perrones which carried him off to his brother Peppe’s house, as had been pre-arranged.

END OF PART ONE

 

 

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Roma 1957, Part One

My four month stay in London came to naught: The London School of Economics rejected my application once they received my undergraduate grades from Temple University. I had six glorious weeks with the Mallets in Hans Place followed by two and a half months of misery in a garret in Notting Hill Gate, in a house inhabited by Turks. The occasional dinner with the Mallets at Hans Place gave some relief. Gina and I went to the movies twice. We went to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Continue reading

Living By My Wits, Badly

CPambassador

When I was twenty-five years old in 1955, I lived in Italy for two and a half years. I attended the Universita per Stranieri di Perugia for nine months and the University of Rome for one semester.   Because I had served in the U.S Air Force during the Korean war, I received the GI Bill which paid me a hundred and ten dollars per month while I attended school. Tuition at Perugia was six dollars a month; it was somewhat more at the University of Rome.

In Perugia I paid fifty dollars a month for a full pensione, all my meals and a bedroom about a foot wider than my wingspan. I had a window with a view of red tiled roof tops and far off, the green country side. The apartment was unheated. At bedtime my landlady – la padrona di casa – would give me a brass hot water bottle made from a spent 90 millimeter cannon shell. This is the largest caliber cannon in the Italian army.   In Italy, an important man is called ”un pezzo di novanta”: a 90 millimeter artillery piece. A big shot.

A hundred and ten dollars minus fifty left me plenty of money to play around with: side trips to Florence, Siena, Rome and to lesser destinations like Spoleto, Orvieto, Assisi. It was more money than many Italians earned in a month.   I never mentioned my income to my Italian friends. They accepted me as an Italian and I felt like an Italian. I was an Italian; my parents were born in Sicily.   Yet the moment I entered a room, Italians knew I was American, even after I had acquired some Italian clothes, even after my hair was cut by Italian barbers. Even before I spoke, they knew.   I played for Perugia’s basketball team under an assumed name. I wore Italian sneakers and the team uniform, In Spoleto, the moment I handled the ball, a voice called out from the crowd: ‘Americano, Americano‘.   He knew. “How come?”

“Because you walk like this,” Tonino performed a pantomime, something like the loose-jointed Ray Bolger as the tin man in the Wizard of Oz. “And Americans sit down like this,” flinging himself carelessly onto the chair. “Italians sit like this.”   Standing erectly, he backed carefully toward the chair and stopped, his head held high. He pinched the cloth of his trousers just above his knees, his fingers exactly straddling the knife-like creases. He lifted his trousers two inches above his shoes and sedately sat down.

“Bravo,” I said.

“No, it isn’t funny,” he replied. “In Italia e importante non fare la brutta figura.” In Italy it’s important not to make the ugly gesture, the awkward movement.   You must avoid loud speech, scuffed shoes, discordant neckties.

In Rome I shared a small apartment with Dave Sachson, an ex-GI studying architecture. It was up on the Gianicolo, the hill above Trastevere, a long bus ride from the Piazza del Popolo.   My share of the rent alone was fifty dollars. At noon I’d eat at the University mensa whose cheap meals, by themselves, could not sustain life. Some evenings I’d cook fettuccini al burro, with ghastly yellow margarine instead of butter, dusted with grated Parmigiano.

Occasionally we’d eat in a cellar wineshop in Trastevere. We made sandwiches from bread and mortadella that we’d buy down the street . You can buy mortadella in American supermarkets now, lovely stuff. The cheap stuff we ate was unlovely, the lowest grade, goat and donkey meat and worse, the Italians said sardonically.  In the wine cellar, the owner’s mother would stick one end of a long plastic tube into the bung hole of the barrel and she’d suck on the other end until she got the wine flowing. She’d fill a pitcher with the white wine from the nearby Castelli Romani.

Dave got hepatitis. I had warned him about his mania for suppli, those deep-fried little balls of rice encasing a piece of cheese. He wouldn’t listen. He returned to New York City for good after a two week hospital stay. My GI income ceased with the end of the school year and I moved out of the apartment into a rented room.   I began living by my wits, badly, by giving occasional English lessons at 1000 lire an  hour($1.60.)

Providentially, I got a letter from Tom D’ Agostino, another ex-GI friend, offering me a job for three weeks in Perugia. Tom had fallen in love with Annie Claude, an attractive French girl. They married. He entered the adult world with a steady job with the U.S. Department of Commerce in Italy. He was managing the American pavilion at the annual trade fair in Rome. The pavilion faithfully reproduced an American supermarket except for a fresh meat and fish department; no fresh fruit and vegetables either. There wasn’t much we could teach the Italians about fruit and vegetables.

It was a lucky break: three weeks’ work at an American salary would last me months. I worked as an interpreter for the young women who were hired to hand out samples of American food products. These samples included items which were cooked elsewhere and delivered to us every morning.

I had been Tom’s best man when he married Annie Claude the year before. Annie lived near Versailles. My second day in Versailles I took the train into Paris for a date with Luby Brooks whom I had met in Italy, a fashion model no less, who was in Rome for the Fabiani–Simonetta showings. She was four inches taller than I, in flats.  Luby and I had supper at a modest restaurant she knew in Montmartre. She ate very little. Afterwards she walked me around Montmartre, showing off the sights and her favorite places. After a late drink, we returned to her small hotel near the Madeleine. The front door was locked for the night and she had to ring the doorbell to be let in.   The door opened and she slipped in, after giving me a quick peck on the cheek. Or did she pat the top of my head?

This was like her earlier performance in Rome. After dinner and a late evening carriage ride through Rome’s deserted streets and piazzas, we had walked to her small hotel which turned out to be run by nuns. Locked. Grumpy Nun appeared. Luby was wily, way out of my league.

The local train station was also closed for the night. The next train to Versailles was at five o’ clock in the morning. I walked to the Champs de Elysee where I found an all night cafe.  I nursed a drink while I attempted to read a French newspaper.   At three o’clock two black American jazz musicians came into the cafe after their gig in a night club.  I joined their table and we talked for an hour.   I took the five o’clock train to Versailles but once there, I decided not to waken the family so early in the morning.   I found a bench in the sun and I dozed until eight.   The family was gathered round the dining room table having breakfast when I entered the house. I began to explain but Mr Bernard waved me short and chortled: “No need to explain, your first night in Paris. Ooh la la.”   Or words to that effect.  Everyone smiled indulgently. When I tried to protest the truth, they urged me to sit down and eat.

At the wedding dinner – wonderful food, much champagne – I sat between Annie Claude’s cousin from Glasgow (Annie’s mother was a Scot), and a French admiral in uniform. The high point of the dinner came when Annie Claude fulfilled a family tradition.   To assure happiness in the marriage, she had to drink in one draught, a silver goblet full of champagne and to retrieve in her teeth a gold coin that had been submerged deep in it. Annie lifted the goblet to her lips and began drinking, drinking, until voila!   She lowered the goblet and she displayed the gold coin between her teeth. My job as best man was to read the congratulatory telegrams that had arrived during the day. My mangled French got some laughs: when in doubt I pronounced it like Italian.

When the trade fair ended I resumed giving English lessons to those Romans who didn’t object to my American accent.   Some want-ads in the Rome Daily American specified that “Americans need not apply.”  I found Sergio through his brother whom I had met at the University.

Sergio was a thirty-five year old electrical engineer who still lived with his parents in a handsome apartment behind the Via Veneto neighborhood. He already knew some English.   We read portions of the Rome Daily American to each other.   We held the lessons after lunch, sometimes on the narrow balcony overlooking the street.   Sergio showed me some snapshots which he spread out on the table. They were dark and murky, showing what seemed to be a primitive wooden doll, propped up in the corner of a shadowy room. He fell silent, portentously.

“Sergio, what is it?”

“It is an artifact in a yet undiscovered ancient Egyptian tomb.”

“How did you get the photos?”

“Massimo took them.”   Sergio belonged to a séance group led by Massimo, the conductor of the orchestra that gave summer concerts at the Baths of Caracalla.

“How did he get into the tomb?”

“He placed placed his camera inside an old chest in his apartment.   He dematerialized the camera, then rematerialized it inside the tomb, wherein he took the photos,   Then he spirited the camera back to the chest in his apartment.”

“Sergio, that’s impossible!   Massimo removed the camera from the chest after you left the apartment. He staged the photos somewhere, then returned the camera to the chest.”

“No, he locked the chest in our presence and he gave me the key.”

“Sergio, he has two keys.”

“Have you no code! Massimo is a man of honor.”  That was the last less lesson I gave Sergio.

 

Doris was an American actress about thirty-five years old, very attractive, tough. She had had bit roles in Hollywood and she had come to Rome to find work in Italian films. She had a couple of contacts in Rome. The Italian movie business was booming, attracting many foreign actors. Clint Eastwood was a famous example. I had met Doris in the American Express office at Piazza di Spagna to which I went regularly to collect my mail or to use the toilet. She was standing by a pay-phone trying to force a coin into the slot that accepted only grooved tokens. As I passed she grabbed my arm, and she said in annoyance:

“How the fuck do you use this phone?”  I was startled, stirred, but I soon learned that that’s how they talked in Hollywood, even in the 1950s. I took her coin and bought a phone token at the counter. As she dialed, she said:

“Don’t go away.”   When she finished her call, she asked, “Do you know Italian?”

“A little.”

“Can you give me some lessons?”  We met twice weekly for two weeks in the dining room of her hotel which was in Parioli, a quiet neighborhood away from Via Veneto. We used an Italian language phrase book because she was in hurry.  One day I arrived to find her sharing the table with an Italian man and a beautiful woman in her mid-forties. She looked like Loretta Young. She was Loretta’s younger sister, Georgiana, who was married to the Hollywood star Ricardo Montalban.  He had been enticed to Rome by easy money. Because the Italian producer was notoriously dishonest, Ricardo’s contract stipulated that he be paid at the end of each day’s shoot, in cash, in American dollars. It was an interesting lunch. The Montalbans had four children, two more that they had planned for. Georgiana said that she and Ricardo, devout Catholics, had practiced the rhythm method: “It doesn’t work,” she said wryly.

I had a free lunch that day but gave no lesson.  The handsome Italian, somehow in the movie business, was Doris’s new boyfriend. He made me superfluous. Goodbye Doris, goodbye Hollywood. But a couple of weeks later Tom D’ Agostino wrote me again.

I hurried to Palermo, for the Fiera del Mediterraneo, the most important trade fair of Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The fairgrounds were on the edge of the city. I stayed with Tom and Annie Claude who had rented a house in Mondello, a small fishing port with a beach, on the far side of Monte Pellegrino.   Mondello was on the verge of becoming a fashionable resort. Our little house faced a small piazza right on the water. If you rose early enough and crossed the piazza, you could buy fish right off the returning fishing boats. The fish was still plenty fresh at nine in the morning.

The American pavilion was a large corrugated steel building which housed an integrated poultry breeding establishment. On the floor of the pavilion, the single but attached chicken pens about fourteen inches square, perhaps a hundred and fifty strong, formed a large horseshoe whose open end faced the entrance of the building A moving belt was attached to the inside perimeter of the ring of pens. The belt delivered feed and water to the chickens twenty-four hour a day. The area was brightly lit 24/7 to keep the chickens awake, active and hungry,

The chickens were ready for market in twelve weeks: the Italians were astounded. So was I. The public roamed the inside of the horseshoe to marvel at the chickens in their various stages of weekly growth. Off to the side was a pen holding two prize adult turkeys. One weighed about thirty pounds, the other close to fifty. The Italians were amazed. The larger bird could hardly move.

We installed two large incubators on one side of the atrium as you entered the building. The incubators had windows on the doors and sides so that spectators could look inside. Every morning we’d go to the School of Agraria at University of Palermo to pick up a batch fertilized eggs which had been sitting in the University’s incubators for twenty days. They were now a day or so away from hatching. We transferred the eggs to our incubators in time for the morning crowds. They lined the windows all day long to see the chicks emerge from the eggs. The egg would first tremble and shake, then wobble vigorously, then begin to crack as the chick pecked its way out. It was the most exciting exhibit on the fairgrounds. Towards the end of the day we transferred the new chicks to the front pens which were heated with overhead lamps.

Along the opposite wall of the atrium we installed a battery of rotisseries behind a serving counter. Aproned young women cooked chicken parts and dispensed samples in little paper plates.   That first week, Tom would expropriate packages of chicken parts from the freezers and take them home for Annie Claude to cook. She was a good cook, but we made an important discovery: it’s difficult to eat chicken five days in row.

For much of the day I sat, as interpreter, with the two American experts who fielded questions from the public. One expert, I don’t remember his name, was a PhD nutritionist from Purina Chow. The other man, Dr Aho, was a chicken geneticist from the University of Connecticut. We’d sit in the booth for hours answering general questions from the public and more detailed ones from farmers and businessmen. We gave away descriptive literature which I roughly translated for my own use as a reference tool. After a few days I could answer many of the questions on my own. When my experts went off to see the other fairground exhibits, I manned the booth by myself.

The Russian pavilion was almost directly across the street from ours. Russia had chosen to exhibit heavy-duty farming and mining machines. Enormous tractors, cultivators, combines, and various coal mining machines completely unsuited to the Mediterranean market. They loomed like dinosaurs in the vast gloomy hall. Few spectators. Poor hapless Russians.  Our pavilion was always crowded.

“You know,” said Dr. Aho. “They tell us our chicken is bello, tender and moist, but many say it’s not as good as the Italian chicken.”

“Sour grapes,” I answered.

“No,” he said, “We’d like to find out for ourselves. Would I take them to a modest restaurant in Palermo where they would be served the kind of chicken most people ate?” When the waiter placed their plates before them, they lowered their faces toward the roasted chicken. They eyed it and sniffed it. They cut slivers from it, they cut crosswise into the flesh to observe its grain.  They minced the flesh and mashed the bits with the bowl of their spoons, reducing it practically to its molecular state.   They ate it, chewing carefully and thoughtfully. They savored it.

“It tastes just like American chicken did when it was still barnyard fed. The flesh is leaner, darker and tougher; it’s flecked with tiny pieces of barnyard grit; there’s no trace of corn feed in the taste.  It’s delicious.”

I think over a hundred thousand spectators passed through our doors. The exhibit was irresistible: the birth of life in the incubators, the healthy, energetic chickens, the awesome turkeys in their pen, and the samples of cooked chicken freely handed out to the public. Many of our visitors were repeaters from among Palermo’s numerous poor. Tom’s boss flew down from Rome and was delighted. He arranged to return with the U.S. Ambassador to Italy.

Ambassador James Zellerbach, in private life, was president and CEO of the Crown Zellerbach Corporation, an important manufacturer of paper products. He entered the building with Tom’s boss, with Tom and with a gaggle of Sicilian politicos. He made a circuit of the exhibit, greeting each of us at our posts. The man smiling in the background of the photo is Dr. Aho. I don’t remember what I told the Ambassador. Look at me! Had I tried to say something clever? Whatever, Mr Zellerbach seems skeptical. What would have happened if later, in the States, I had shown up at the Zellerbach personnel office in San Francisco with this photograph in hand? A job? A career?   Instead I returned to Rome.