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. I had originally planned to post stories from Santa Lucia here twice a week, but given the number of concurrent storylines I've realized that it will be hard to keep track of characters if you only read about them once every few weeks. So starting Monday, November 9th, there will be a new chapter posted every weekday. You can find it at 1 AM EST in the Santa Lucia section, and in this spot on the same day, but later (I can't schedule a home page). 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 Sixteen: A Cornetto for Maestro
Fatima paused in the piazza to take in the view of the distant hills. She inhaled and noticed that the air this morning smelled of flower petals pulling into themselves, concentrating before they began to wither. She enjoyed the sight of the light dappling and playing across the valley, filling the dips in the hills until they appeared overflowing with the strangely burnished hue. A grumble from her stomach reminded her that she needed to get a cornetto at the forno before school. The day buoyed her steps, and she fairly skipped to the flour-and-sugar scented shop.
Outside the doorframe hung with strings of beads to keep out the flies, Fatima noticed Maestro Luciano. He was shuffling a little, staring intently at the summertime baked dough display. Silently, Fatima sidled past him, through the strings of brown and blue beads, and to the counter, where she waited behind the butcher who was pointing out loaves he wanted for making his shop’s panini. She waited, still, only her eyes roaming between the shelves full of crusty loaves and the framed pictures torn from calendars of the Le Marche seaside. When the baker was done ringing up the butcher’s bread order, Fatima stepped to the register and asked for “due cornetti con crema,” two pastries with cream. She smiled to realize that she had not only pointed at the cornetti, she had also lofted two fingers high into the baker’s vision. A holdover from when she was new to town and worried about not being understood.
She was perfectly understood now. The baker smiled as he put the pastries in a brown, wax bag. Fatima noticed that he slipped a prune-filled cookie into her bag, and held a finger over his lips with a smile. Fatima nodded with a grin, agreeing to secrecy. She pushed the euro coins across the glass display case, exact change, just like the baker liked. He nodded and wished her “Buona giornata,” a good day.
Fatima pushed back through the beads and was relieved to notice maestro still outside, though he looked to be heading for a bench in the piazza. She followed him, and sat with a sigh that matched his own. He looked over startled. The haze in his eyes lifted a bit, and before it could crash back, Fatima reached into her bag and drew out a cornetto, handing it to Luciano.
He started to hesitate, but then hunger took over. “Grazie,” he whispered before gingerly taking the pastry from Fatima’s hands. She nodded, and took out her own cornetto, and the napkins she’d thankfully remembered to bring from the bakery. These cornetti were always overflowing with cream.
Fatima concentrated on eating her own pastry, so as to give maestro space to devour his. She worried about how long it had been since he’d eaten. But she hid her concern by swinging her legs and chatting about the beautiful weather, her schoolwork finished and checked and packed in her bag, and her new friendship with Elisa. She chattered on, as Luciano’s shoulders relaxed a little. His eyes grew unfocused and soft. Fatima patted his hand, which made him blink and sit up. “Okay, I better get to school. Ciao, maestro!” and she picked up her heavy backpack over her achingly thin shoulder and ran nimbly out of the piazza, towards school.
“Ciao, Fatima,” Luciano said, to her back receding into the sunlight.
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?"