Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baby love, my baby love

Baby love, my baby love. Why must we separate, my love?

I watch my neighbor S. across the street with a mixture of nostalgia and a twinge of envy when she is with her son, who is perhaps a year and a half. The way she looks at him. The way he looks at her. I remember those looks so well. Utter fascination and love ... I miss that. You don't really get that from a teenager, as good-natured as she may be.

Oh the affection of your teenage child has its rewards. I remember J almost reduced me to tears when she had asked me how my day went recently. I said, "Not great." J said "Do you want to talk about it? It's okay if you don't." with the just the right amount of sympathy and concern on her pretty face. When did you get so mature young lady? I thought.

Once she referred respectively to two people that I regarded as my nemeses as a "wuss" and a "snake". When I looked at her in surprise she said, "What? I know what those words mean Mummy! And they are ..."

And when those hugs and kisses come from J (while they may be a tad more infrequent now) they are wonderful because they are so genuinely given.


A recent magazine article noted that the ethologist Konrad Lorenz proposed "that we instinctively want to nurture any creature that has a cute appearance. Lorenz suggested that infantile characteristics—big head, big eyes, the very round face—stimulate caretaking behavior."

Yes perhaps, but it's not just that ...

It is inconceivable to me that you can carry another being within you without sharing a special bond with her. My blood, my child, my love.

I miss my little chicken (so named because at birth she was a preemie and weighed the size of your average chicken - 3 lbs. 13 ounces) who soon grew to be a rosy, roly poly little thing with little sausage legs and arms. Her bright brown button eyes looking at me while she fed. Her feathery dark curls in my hand as I held her. Her sweet little face while she slept. The way she would run through the house calling my name when she came home until she found me and rushed into my arms.

The intensity of looking at her, loving her, is overwhelming, overshadowing every single emotion I have ever had. No passion, past or in the future, could match this feeling I think.
I never reached the stage that the hapless mother I met at a recent Christmas party has where she showed everyone at the table ten or fifteen shots consecutively of her newborn on her Iphone (okay I've never owned an Iphone but still ...) even when the conversation had moved on to other topics. However, I do understand the obsessiveness.
But like all things, we change ... J grows more mature, I age (gracefully or not). No longer the new mother, I am the mother of a teenager not a toddler. Now I understand why my mother-in-law was always telling me the same darn stories about my husband R as a child. She couldn't help herself. She could not contain her great love for her eldest child.

I have to restrain myself when reminiscing with J ... it must be so tedious for her as well meant as it is! Well, she will have many, many years to get used to it. I don't plan on stopping any time soon. So deal with that baby girl ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Funny? Not so much ...

Funny Games (U.S., 2007) by Michael Haneke, 111 minutes
(Major Spoiler Alert)

I don't want to dwell on the plot of Funny Games so much as the issue of the depiction of violence in the film. The film is a shot by shot remake of the German film made by the same director in 1997.

Very briefly, an affluent family of three (father George, mother Ann and pre-teen son Georgie) vacationing at their cottage is psychologically and physically tortured and then systematically murdered by two psychotic preppie teenagers for no apparent reason. Two are shotgunned to death and the third is gagged and bound and thrown, while conscious, into a lake after witnessing the death of the two other family members.

I struggled to find meaning behind the depiction of such horror. I, as the viewer, had no understanding of the motivation of the two young boys effectively and sinisterly portrayed by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet, impeccably attired in white, obviously well-educated, and in some instances displaying very proper manners.

The boys appear to be deliberately cartoonish, as if they are meant to represent an exaggeration of evil or buffoonery. They call each other Tom and Jerry or Beavis and Butthead. One calls the other Tubby. They wear ridiculously proper tennis attire and white gloves. They maim and kill with the toys of the middle and upper classes: golf clubs and old hunting rifles.

The boys innocuously insinuate themselves into the household by asking for four eggs for a recipe for a neighbor (later we learn that this is a trick they have used before). The chaos soon starts when George (Tim Roth), the husband, tries to defend his wife Ann (Naomi Watt) who has ordered the boys out of the house. The boys attack and physically immobilize him, effectively neutering him for the rest of the film. It is left to Ann to try and protect the family and the home.

With George symbolically emasculated, Ann is sexually humiliated in front of Georgie, their child (played astonishingly well by a very young Devon Gearhart), and the husband. The terror continues into the night.

When there is a brief respite from the violence, as the two boys appear to leave, and the family tries to escape they are plagued by a couple of convenient plot points. They have no land line in the house and their cell phones don't work for various reasons so they are unable to call for help. The electronically controlled beautiful white gate which the camera returns to so frequently is disabled so, in effect, they are trapped within their beautiful home and gorgeous grounds on an isolated point on a lake.

Each is eliminated in a shocking fashion (with the violence at times offscreen) and we see the boys move on to the next victim.

And the message is what ... here are the victims of materialism trapped and destroyed by one of their psychotic own? No one, not even the wealthy, is safe from chaos and evil?

I am not so willing to condemn this film out of hand but I was mystified. I'm sure that the director had intelligent reasons for creating such a well crafted, beautifully shot film with such good actors but his intention is obscure and I wonder can it be effective as a piece of art if it cannot communicate its intention? Is there art without comprehension? This is an idea that I have explored elsewhere.

A recent film review in cineuropa.org noted that:
The film’s real achievement, however, is the undermining of an audience’s customary complicity – in Haneke’s film, we are forced to identify not so much with the victims but rather with their all-powerful assailants. Peter and Paul are performing for us, a point underlined by the characters’ frequent questions direct to camera: they’re appeasing our blood-lust, our desire to witness the worst that can happen to other people. After all, why else would we want to see such a film?

Indeed, why did I watch it - I had more than a strong inkling of what kind of film it was. Am I complicit in the violence? In the voyeurism? I was frightened and disgusted but did I stop watching (like my more prudent husband who grew annoyed very quickly)? No. Is the director playing with my voyeuristic tendencies?

So perhaps there was a powerful point behind this film.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Perfect Night to Go to China

A Perfect Night to Go to China by David Gilmour (Thomas Allen Publishers, 2005) 179 pages

Roman, a well known broadcaster (strikingly similar to the real life David Gilmour who was a broadcaster on the CBC), and the father of a six year old child Simon, grapples with the disappearance of his son. He does something foolish leaving the boy momentarily alone one wintry night to slip into a bar down the street. For this small but not very sensible slip, Roman pays the ultimate price.

Gilmore taps into what is likely the greatest of fears that all parents face. What if something horrific happened to my child? What if I was responsible for his or her suffering or injury due to my negligence?

Roman's extreme emotional suffering unleashes impolitic behavior and accusations.

Roman becomes a suspect in the boy's disappearance. His wife M. orders him out of the house because, she says, she can't stand his scent in their home. He has become repulsive to her. He barges into strangers' homes on the slight suspicion that they might be responsible for the boy's disappearance. He haunts cemeteries and his old childhood home in Forest Hill. He roams the streets. He picks fights with strangers. He follows an instinct that tells him that Simon is still alive. Roman eventually loses his job and his capacity to get through the day doing what he no longer cares about. Nothing else matters but Simon's return.

Roman has odd but intriguing recurrent dreams where he sees his son in some unspecified but pleasant Caribbean town. He tries desperately to get Simon to leave the town but can find no way to do so. He implores his dead mother, who also is a resident of the phantom town, to assist him but to no avail. The mother seems to be the key to Simon's return in Roman's eyes - is it that she who had given Roman life, may now return the boy to life? It's like he is visiting the land of the dead trying to lure Simon back. He seems sure that he can do so.

The ending is unexpected and strange and oddly compelling because there is no firm resolution and may or may not be a fantasy.

I enjoyed the book but it is disturbing to think that this beat out Joseph Boyden's vastly superior Three Day Road for the Governor General's Award for Fiction (English) in 2005. Perhaps it was the simplicity and painful honesty of the plot which persuaded the judges; it is compelling but not a story that should have beat out Boyden.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

They say at 50 you get the face you deserve ...

... if that is true - you must have been a very, very good boy my darling because you are beautiful.

Happy Birthday Rob!

Tanti baci e amore oggi e sempre,

La tua

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown & Co., 2007) 629 pages
Lady, do you never tire of teenage vampires you may ask? Apparently not. Admittedly, I am late to the game ... many femmes d'une certaine age have long devoured these weighty tomes. I am only just now reading the third of the four books.

What is it about the teenage Bella and her blood that is so attractive to these creatures of the netherworld? That makes her so compelling to us the readers? I am convinced that it means something other than what is on the page. It symbolizes something ... this has been percolating in my mind for the entire time that I have read these books over several months.

And then it hit me ... the virginal Bella's blood is the concrete manifestation of her virginity - this is why is it so precious, so valued, so sought after. A view that is perhaps not inconsistent with Meyer's Mormon beliefs. Meyer has been described as the master of "the erotics of abstinence."

Here in Eclipse, werewolves and (good) vampires literally fight to the death against (bad) vampires to protect Bella and her blood. The novel opens with the news that a serial killer is stalking nearby Seattle. Slowly it becomes evident to Bella and the Cullen clan that the mysterious deaths are the result of a group of "newborn" vampires trying to establish control of this main urban centre of readily available blood supply. They are newly minted, vicious and uncontrollable - hence all the bloodshed which is explained away as the work of a serial killer in the media.

When it is determined that some fanged intruder has been in Bella's house and taken some of her possessions, Edward, ever the doting, controlling lover, tries to ensure that Bella is never alone and initially tries to prevent her from spending time with Bella's best friend and Edward's nemesis Jacob or has her babysat by his "sister" Alice. This sneaky streak of paternalism in the novel hits a crescendo when Edward informs Jacob (after Bella throws a punch at Jacob for kissing her) that: "if you ever bring her back damaged [my emphasis] again ..." he would have to answer to Edward.

Despite this fiestiness, Bella is still transported like chattel from one caregiver to the next for her own protection. She requires constant supervision lest the "bad" vampires locate her. Really ... is this where we are at in the early 21st c. - that we still see young girls as a sort of prized possession to be protected by more dominant male partners even if they are in danger?

In the big climactic confrontation between good and evil, Bella must literally beg for a seat at the grown ups' table ... Why is Bella not respected as the mistress of her own destiny? Is this an accurate reflection of female teenage infatuation and dependency on male approval or a sexist reinforcement of stereotypes?

Cleverly, on Meyer's part, we miss the main action between the "bad" vampires versus the "good" vampires and werewolves and only get a blow by blow description through Edward's telepathic powers off screen. But this particular book strains to include both romance novel quality descriptions of the gropings of virginal Edward and Bella and horror inspired fight scenes between Edward and the ever present evil vampire Victoria who finally meets a well deserved gory end in the forest - it's the last that we will see of that flaming red mop!

We think it's over - the bad vampires are bloodily vanquished by the Cullens and the werewolves. Edward has dispatched Victoria and her newest consort Riley before Bella's horrified eyes. But, uh oh, it ain't over kids till the fat lady sings ...

There is one more scenario featuring the creepily articulate and pint size Jane of the Volturi clan featured in Book 2 (aptly cast in the New Moon film as Dakota Fanning). The Volturi have come by to clean up the mess caused by the Newborns and are vaguely disappointed to see that the Cullens and the werewolves have done an adequate job of this. Jane dispatches the lone newborn saved from the carnage who is literally baying at the moon. Bella also learns then that Jacob has been seriously hurt in the struggles (also off screen).

In the final scenes she rushes to comfort the injured Jacob, with Edward's permission of course. The boys have been sniping at each other and threatening each other during the course of the novel. But Bella has made her choice and by the end of book 3 she is grudgingly looking at wedding gowns.

Male volatility (Jacob) and male dominance over females (Edward) are major chords that waft uneasily through the conflicted Bella's life. But Bella remains untouched, literally, at the end of book 3 and will remain so until she marries in book 4. What should this signify for the teenage reader - reinforcing a fear of/fascination with male sexuality?

And what is up with Meyer and the persistent rape or near rape scenarios? Bella is almost raped in book 1 but saved by Edward. In book 2 she is drawn to a group of unsavoury characters which suggest that they might do similar harm to her. In book 3 we learn of the real life rape of Rosalie Cullen and how she turned from human into her present otherworldly form. Jacob makes a few unpleasant moves on Bella which are disturbing to her and us, the readers (consciously so on Meyer's part?).

The teenager in me relishes the emotional drama that Bella experiences ... the book opens with Bella trying to decide whether to marry Edward. She is beset by a number of fairly normal anxieties: the uneasy truce between boyfriend (vampire) and best friend (werewolf); nervousness about where her post-highschool life will take her - college or marriage or neither; worry for her parents should she embrace the life that she says she wants - being turned into a vampire to live forever with Edward. As silly as these supernatural scenarios may be, at their core, they do strike a familiar chord for young girls.

Sexuality, as represented here by Meyer is potent and possibly destructive … the two lead characters, Edward and Bella, are both virgins. Edward’s fear of relations with Bella which she has pushed for since book 1 and which accelerate in book 3 have to do with the fear that he will literally kill her if they have a sexual relationship due to his supernatural strength.

He counsels abstinence and self-control until marriage which he pushes for and she resists …

Meyer is able to have her abstinence cake laced with sexual fervor and eat it too … she ramps up the sexual tension, making a teenage girl (the primary reader of this series) the sexual aggressor and the boy, unrealistically I believe, the one who applies the brakes to the relationship and insists on marriage.

The adult in me cringes at all the vampire history lore we suffer through in order to understand what the "newborns" are (a major plot element here) and why they are trying to take over Seattle. The long and tedious fake werewolf history of the Quileute Indians rankles ... so too the bloody fight scenes - decapitations, creatures being torn to shreds etc...

Meyer is at her best when she communicates how teenagers deal with everyday issues of love and desire and belonging. Where she falters, for me, is when she tries to exercise her writing muscles and goes into these elaborate, poorly realized back stories for the vampires (such as the exposition of Rosalie's or Jasper's personal history).

She is a truly awful writer sometimes with repetitive descriptions which travel from book to book [see my rant in the New Moon blog entry] and nonsensical descriptions such as this: "His face was as empty as a stone" or describing Jasper as Carlisle's "most recent son".

It will be interesting to see how the film (due June 2010) will treat this book. I had read that the new director will feature more action oriented scenes. They figure they have captured the young female demographic, now they want the male one as well. A great article here in The American Prospect about how Twilight is somewhat denigrated by the media and critics because it involves mostly young females' interest.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ever good

"My world sometimes feels like a world of loss."
Will Bird

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden (Viking Canada, 2008) 360 pages

In Boyden's phenomenal first novel, which I completely adored, Xavier Bird, a famed Cree sniper, is a returning soldier from WWI who is damaged psychologically and physically. Upon his return from the war, he is cared for by his Auntie Niska, his lone surviving relation, who is travelling through the bush back to their home. Niska shares her personal stories with the silent Xavier and Xavier remembers the traumatic events of the war. The narrative technique in Joseph Boyden's Giller Prize winning second novel follows the style that he adopted in Three Day Road.

This new novel is set near Moosonee in the present day and the dual narrative flows smoothly between the voice of Will Bird (the son of Three Day Road's Xavier Bird), an elderly ex-bush pilot, who lies in a coma for some undisclosed reason, and the voice of his niece Annie who has her own sorrows to relate to her uncle by his bedside.

Annie is visiting her uncle Will in a hospital up north near Moosonee and is encouraged to speak to him to try and heal him so she begins her story with the search for her missing sister Suzanne, a pretty model who disappeared two years before. We hear Will’s narrative as he lies in the coma; he speaks to his nieces Suzanne and Annie about the series of violent events which lead to his coma. Will had been mistakenly targeted to be a snitch by local drug dealers, a notorious family of badass Indians called the Netmakers who were dealing drugs in the reservations.

The dealers and their minions, lead by their ringleader Marius Netmaker, wage a game of terror and intimidation against Will in which they try to burn down Will's cabin, kneecap him with a baseball bat and brutally kill a beloved blind and ailing she-bear that Will has befriended in his loneliness (Boyden writes chillingly that her cut throat was like a "dark smile on her neck").

When Will finally acts to protect himself and avenge the death of the bear he is forced to leave and hide in the bush for fear of retribution. I love the evocative imagery here: the fragile but tough "bird" preyed upon by the "netmakers" who try and ensnare him.

Will has his troubles – both old and new. Will is old enough that he was forced into a residential school against his will and that of his family. His father Xavier, the war hero, is too broken and too old, to fight it. In his dreams, Will climbs the walls of the residential school, “like Ahepik, our own Cree Spider-Man” to rescue the native children. Will is now utterly alone - his wife and two children are dead; he has removed himself from his remaining family (a sister and his two nieces), and the bear he befriended has been tortured and killed. His friends Joe and Gregor are loyal but too vulnerable and old to help him.

Some of the most affecting scenes in the book are of Will speaking to the bear and to his father Xavier’s WWI rifle. Will is not so far gone that he doesn’t recognize the inexplicable weirdness of both of those things. In the bush, where he escapes after his attempt at revenge against the Netmakers, alone on the island of Akimiski, Will finds a kind of peace, a kind of sanctuary, which is short-lived.

He meets an elderly Indian man and woman on this lonely island. They soon realize who he is and what he has likely done and because the old woman has encroaching dementia, there is no guarantee that Will's secret will be safe. He must leave the sanctuary soon. On the island we learn the fate of Will's wife and sons, their horrible demise, and the reason why he gave up flying his plane.

He flees to Ghost River and the strain of life there with winter approaching as well as dwindling supplies seem to rattle an already emotionally shaky Will. He returns home but his past actions against the Netmakers are not forgotten nor forgiven.

Flash forward to the future ... In her conversations with her uncle, Annie tells of her search for her sister who fled Moosonee with Gus Netmaker, the troubled youngest member of the Netmaker clan. This further enmeshes the Bird family with the Netmakers who, it turns out, share a not so distant ancestor.

Annie’s search takes her south to Toronto. She undertakes the journey with some fear saying that her people never fared very well down south in the big city. She comes across a group of homeless Indians on the corner of Bathurst and Queen Sts. who share a sordid corner of an abandoned bank and live under the Gardiner Expressway where the “Old Man”, an Indian elder, cooks goose for Annie and offers advice on how to find her sister Suzanne.

I wonder how much of a fictional construct this is because there is a sizable group of Indian men and women who do hang out there on that very corner – did he just use these people to frame the Annie story in Toronto or does he know them? One character jokes that all the Indians in Toronto know each other (I think the same might be true of Sicilians from Racalmuto in Hamilton).

Annie searches for Suzanne amongst the homeless of Toronto. Attacked and nearly raped on the streets of Toronto by a thief, Annie is saved by Gordon, a handsome but homeless mute man who becomes her “protector” and goes by the name “Painted Tongue”. He follows her to Montreal and New York where she searches for Suzanne's old acquaintances in the modeling world. There she is persuaded to try to be a model herself and here we veer off the tracks a bit in the novel.

Annie slips in easily, and quite unrealistically, into Suzanne's former world of the glitterati of Montreal and New York, a world of drugs and models and clubbing. This is the least interesting, and least believable, part of the story I'm afraid. Annie seems too tough, too tomboyish, too smart, to be seduced by these phonies and flakes in this shallow world. I just don’t buy into it. Annie is enmeshed in a world that is the antithesis of her world up north.

Annie's New York denouement reads like a bad TV movie involving wannabe models, bikers and drugs ... Boyden's writing is sooo much better than this.

When Boyden vividly depicts Annie in her old world near James Bay, after her adventures south, on her skidoo, preparing for cold weather, fishing, slouching into town for supplies, checking out the local townspeople at a dance – she comes alive for us. She is fully formed - slightly cynical, tough, extremely likable. But this more cosmopolitan, urban world seems utterly fake and stereotypical. The too thin models who drink too much and take too many drugs are boring and pretentious – this stuff belongs on episodes of Gossip Girl or the now (thankfully) defunct The OC – not in a book by Boyden who has demonstrated a rare and magical talent in showing us how Indian people live and feel today.

I don’t want Boyden to limit his imagination to issues involving only Indian people (that would be a ridiculous and unfair expectation) but we very much need his voice and other aboriginal voices like it. How much literary exposure do we have to Indian life that is not relegated to history books and tragedies of colonization? We need strong native voices, we need Boyden’s vision.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Boat You Came On

In 1956, my father traveled on the Saturnia from Italy to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A number of years ago, someone approached my brother and said he had a photograph that he wanted to share with him. His family had voyaged on the Saturnia on the same trip in 1956 and he had a b&w photograph of my father with this man's family on the deck of the ship which clearly reveals its name on a lifesaver in the forefront of the frame. Later I incorporated a scene on the Saturnia into a novel that I had written about Salvatore Giuliano and a fictional character very loosely based on my father Francesco (also named Francesco or Ciccio) called We Were Like You.

This year I had the good fortune to encounter two young filmmakers, Ferdinando Dell'Omo from Italy and Lilia Topouzova, who wanted to make a documentary film about the passengers of the Saturnia and were searching for subjects. My father passed away many years ago and we never spoke of this voyage but I did have this great photo and I wanted to share it with them.

I met with Ferdinando firstly. Ferdie, as he is affectionately known, is from Pisa, Italy. He has a great face, one where all his goodness and kindness is imprinted upon it. We talked over lunch at Bar Mercurio about my dad and the other newly arrived immigrants who traveled on that ship. I was fascinated by his enthusiasm and knowledge of the ship. Please see below for a short history of the ship.

In the course of our discussion I mentioned to Ferdie how so many things were leading me back to memories of my father. I had just published my book Made Up of Arias a few months before and the father figure was a key character for me, bringing up a great deal of emotion from the past - some good, some sad. The Saturnia project brought back many memories for me.

At that time, I also recently had contacted one of the executives of the Trinacria Club, a men only social club in the downtown core of Hamilton that my father co-founded in Hamilton in 1957. I was to pay a visit to the club in February. I was intrigued because I had only been there once when I was very young, perhaps less than ten years old. I was both excited and little wary of the whole enterprise.

Then I became aware of the Saturnia project. I told Lily and Ferdie about my planned trip to the club and they became very excited. They wanted to shift the focus of the doc a bit to include a section on the children of the original passengers of the Saturnia.

So in February of this year, I went to the club with a documentary film crew lead by Ferdie and Lily. I detailed this trip in an essay I wrote called “At the Trinacria Club” which was to be published in Italian Canadiana the next year. So I won't go into all the details now but I will say that the misty halo of nostalgia I had created around my father and this trip was somewhat dimmed by my trip. Although, in retrospect, it was not surprising at all.

I was told that the club members were very excited to see me (hmm realllly? I thought how odd). They had planned a lunch and had many things to show me.

As I entered the interior of the club, with the filmmaker's camera trained on me to the left, the President of the Trinacria Club (who shall remain unnamed to protect the guilty) approached me and demanded to know why we were so late in a very irritated tone. We were, in fact, two hours late and he was upset despite the fact that the director had called while we were on the road mentioning the delay.

Il Presidente spoke to me in rapid fire Sicilian and because he was literally the first person I encountered in the club, I was tongue-tied and confused and I could not formulate a response quickly enough and certainly not in Sicilian which I rarely use nowadays. My dumbfounded silence caused him to throw his hands up in the air and he exclaimed, “Oh, and I guess you can’t speak Sicilian either!” Then he walked away in a petulant manner.

I surveyed the assembly of 70-something aged men arranged at card tables before me staring at me blankly during this exchange. Their expression was not unfriendly, not unkind, but it was more like, "Who the hell is this?" Suddenly, my cheery red beret and bright lipstick seemed inappropriate on this bleak February day before this somber assembly and my desire to see the club seemed an ill-conceived idea.

My novella Arias (guest starring a fictional version of my father named Turi and published three months before the trip to the club) had kickstarted a whole lot of hurting for me. I have learned to avoid reading passages regarding the father Turi before an audience as it, literally, will end in tears. Still he is always there, sometimes a daily presence, thirty or more years on ... The king is dead ... the king must die.

The club that I remembered my father brought me to was more like visiting the home of a friend or paesan - it had a comfortable feel with its battered, well worn furnishings and natural light which streamed in from the windows. It had a breakfast bar at the back which served drinks and had comfortable chairs as well as the requisite card tables and chairs. Not fancy but cozy. It was empty at the time when my father brought me, early morning on a Sunday I think. Just my dad, myself and my brother C. were in the club at the time.

This same space now had a brick exterior facade at the front of the house and the windows were removed which shut out all natural light. It felt like a bunker (to protect whom, I wondered, the men from the outside world that had changed so drastically since 1957?) and because of all the modest mementos that were placed on the walls, it reminded me a bit of a small museum I had been to in Holguin, Cuba, more than twenty years ago commemorating the revolution or praising some long dead revolutionary hero. Whose hero? My hero from long ago?

The walls had bits and pieces of bric-a-brac illustrating the full glory of Sicilian culture: Grecian ruins at Agrigento, our own literary hero from Racalmuto Leonardo Sciascia, soccer team regalia, crests representing each province in Sicily, the image of the Trinacria, and the requisite pictures of prickly pears, called fic d'India, in Sicily.

The President's sharp-tongued response had saddened me but it angered me even more. Of everyone in the group assembled there, he had wisely selected me, the daughter of an old friend (now long deceased) to chastise because I was the most appropriate target for his anger. And there I stood, on the wrong side of forty (as a friend of mine would say tongue in cheek), standing like a gob struck teenager who had been caught out doing something shameful.

Why did he not focus his wrath on Ferdie the handsome director with the Northern Italian accent and the charming manners or Lily the pretty Bulgarian with the dark eyes and the impeccable Italian accent who served as the producer? And of course he would not approach the non-Italian speaking film crew.

I am Sicilian, a fellow Racalmutese, and a younger woman, and therefore very low on the totem pole in his eyes – I should have been more respectful, more deferential about our lateness even though it had nothing to do with me and I had never met this man before.

So this coloured my whole visit to the club and as I mulled this over while traipsing amongst the sentimental bric-a-brac. I realized that his response might not be unlike my own father’s if he was in a similar situation.

My father, too, was paternalistic, a little rough edged, and not particularly patient with perceived fools or people who rubbed him the wrong way. I started to imagine my father here, in this room, sitting with this group of tired old men, playing cards, immersed in this hermetic capsule of ethnicity in this bunker-like enclave. A little bored, cranky, and perhaps happy to escape the domestic sphere for awhile. What would his response have been to some little pop tart in a cherry beret showing up at the door two hours late?

I understand what a confusing disappointment I would represent for my father today. Everything about my life would have confounded him: leaving home at eighteen to go to university in Toronto, living outside of Hamilton away from my mother, marrying my wonderful but non-Italian spouse, my lone child (where are all the others he might ask??), my writing and blogging – everything about my life. The king is dead ... the king must die. In order for me to live my life, the king had to die.

Reluctantly, I admit that all of my musings surrounding the creation of the Francesco character in my novel We Were Like You, the documentary about the Saturnia trip, even my own personal history is largely a romantic fabrication smothered in nostalgia and selective memories. But then that’s how Italian families so famously endure isn't it? We are known for our strong emotional bonds that no one can rip apart. Amnesia is the glue that holds us together and sometimes ... it is even stronger than love.
A Short History of the Saturnia
According to my new friend Ferdie and the Pier 21 website, the Saturnia was built in 1935 and was used as a luxury liner. That year it was also used as a troop transport for the Italian government to Eritrea. During WWII, it was chartered for the International Red Cross for evacuation voyages from East Africa. In 1943, after Italy's capitulation to the Allies it was renamed the Francis Y. Slanger and became a hospital ship. Returned to the Italian Line in 1946, the original name was restored. It resumed transatlantic sailing until 1965, when it was withdrawn from service and scrapped the next year.