I'm inordinately pleased to introduce you to Santa Lucia, a fictional town furrowed in the hills between Umbria and Le Marche. Santa Lucia is like most Italian small towns—everybody has a place, and everyone knows everyone else's place. It's a safe existence, except that modern life is encroaching on Santa Lucia. There's conflict between tradition and newness, between insiders and outsiders, between decorum and impropriety.
Santa Lucia is a serialized novel, meaning that it's told one short chapter at a time. This week, I'm experimenting with publishing three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Let me know how that works for you as a reader. You can find a new chapter at 1 AM EST (M, W, F) in the Santa Lucia section, and here on the homepage on the same day, but around mid-day. At the time of launch, I've written about a half of the final novel. What does this mean? Well, I may have boxed myself into a corner, and created a tight narrative spot that will take some creativity to maneuver. But it's just that challenge that excites me about this project. That, and getting to share my work with you. Make sure you let me know what stories you like, where you're confused, and if I contradict myself! Here goes... Welcome to Santa Lucia.
Chapter Seventeen: Edo Has Deep Thoughts
Eduardo watched the little brown girl dash into school. He’d seen her slip a pastry to maestro and his heart warmed to her. He wondered at the connection between them, and then remembered that for years Luciano had made it his mission to teach foreigners Italian. There had been several Moroccan families that had moved to Santa Lucia over the years, and Luciano had always taken them under his wing. Often just the fathers, but sometimes he was allowed to work with the whole family. Reaching back in his memory, he remembered now having a conversation with Luciano before everything went dim for his old teacher. They had stood in the streaming sunlight of the street, and Luciano laughingly told him about a family he was teaching, the father a bit less stringent in his religious doctrine than the men he’d taught in the past. He had been able to work with whole family, around the kitchen table. But it was the girl that he told stories about with a glimmer of fondness in his eye. The girl who was quicker than anyone in the family. It was expected that the child would pick up a new language more quickly than her parents, but she’d also picked it up more quickly than her siblings. Luciano had said, affection warming his voice, that nobody seemed to mind being outshone by the girl. In fact, they seemed to take pride in her quick mastery of even difficult concepts. Sometimes her older brother would come to him after a lesson with his math book, and shyly ask for help. Luciano being Luciano, he no doubt leaned back in his chair and gestured magnanimously to the boy to spread out his work. But the girl would hover like a hummingbird around them, soaking up knowledge of factors and exponents. Edo remembered that Luciano finished the story by telling Edo that when the girl walked him out, she shyly told him the answer to the last problem. And she was right.
This must be the same girl.
Rubbing at the bar to remove the streaks in the marble, he thought about how in some ways, Luciano’s kindness with foreigners had bloomed and doubled in the form of this child.
Kindness had always been one of Luciano’s most present features. It was painful for Edo remember his own childhood at the school, the children had been merciless. They sensed his difference, and treated him like the wounded member of the pack. He was teased, rejected, and didn’t know how to understand it. Nobody could ever tell him why. But Luciano noticed him, and made him stay after school to talk about it. Luciano had sat Edo down on the child size chair beside his sturdy teacher’s chair. Opening a drawer, he pulled out a glass jar of candy and set it carefully on the desk. “You mustn’t tell the others, Edo, but I have a fondness for caramelle. I always have a piece or two after school. Would you like one?”
“Or two.” Edo had smiled at him through his lashes, still dewy with tears.
Luciano had roared his approval.
“Or two, my child.”
Off had come the lid, and Luciano had proffered the jar to Edo who rooted around until he found a strawberry chew and a lemon hard candy. As Eduardo removed the wrapper from his strawberry chew, and Luciano rustled through the candy to select one, he asked, “So tell me, Edo. What happened today?”
“What always happens, Maestro. The kids chose me last for soccer during fisica and then made crude jokes that I can’t say out loud.”
“Why not?” Luciano asked, considering the cherry drop he pulled out of the jar.
“Because then I’d have to tell the priest I said bad words.”
Luciano fought a grin. “Fair enough. What does Maestro Luca do when the children laugh at you?”
“Nothing. Laughs, I guess. And then knocks me on the shoulder and says a little ribbing is just what I need to turn me into a man.”
Luciano had chewed his candy thoughtfully. “So, why is it that the children say these bad things to you?”
“I don’t know!” Edo’s voice had quivered. “I’m not mean or anything. I guess I do play with the girls more, but that’s because they are nice to me. And anyway, I don’t even like soccer. I don’t see why we have to play.”
“Yes, well, not all foods can be caramelle.”
Edo’s brow bent, he asked, “What does that mean?”
“Just that some times in our day we get caramelle, and some we get liver. It is the way of the world. And it is easy to understand when we are eating caramelle, harder when we are eating liver.”
“But Maestro, I like liver.”
“Then you are a truly exceptional child.” Luciano had smiled directly into his eyes. “So, what to do about this teasing. I think I’ll have a talk with your Maestro Luca. He may need a reminder about how when he was a student here and the other children teased him mercilessly for wearing his big brother’s far-too-large hand-me-downs.”
Eduardo never knew what Luciano had done behind the scenes, but the teasing stopped. He wasn’t popular, at least until high school, when he grew into his nose and his feet and learned how to carry himself in a way that people noticed. But the off-color remarks had died down among his peers. Mostly now it was older townspeople who regarded him with disdain.
He wondered anew what Luciano had said to his fisica teacher. It almost didn’t matter, actually. The magic of that afternoon was in Luciano’s kindness. It was that that carried him home that day, and back to school the next. It was that that carried him for years.
A man as kind and wise as Luciano should lead a life of comfort and happiness. The loss of his Giulia had been the kind of blow no father should experience. The death of his wife just six month’s later, the final push into a hole that seemed endless. Eduardo angrily wiped at the tears that leapt unbidden into his eyes. No, his maestro deserved better.
Il Bel Centro: The Book
Leaping into an unknown is never easy, but it's made all the more extraordinary when that leaping involves three children, two cats, a lack of ability to communicate, and a town unchanged by time.
More than you ever wanted to know about any writer, ever.
Il Bel Centro: The Blog
Selected Posts from the Blog, primarily for readers who turned the last page of Il Bel Centro and wondered, "What happened when you got home? Did the cats make it okay? Were you happy to be home? Did you have any reverse culture shock?"