Archive for the ‘Reflections’ category

Guglielmo Marconi

November 1, 2010

Here I am writing of Marconi again, but I do so because I am fascinated by what he accomplished. Marconi was born in Bologna and at the age of 20, and with no formal scientific education, he was able to identify the missing element that allowed his self-made apparatus to transmit a signal over a distance of several kilometers. And, he did it alone, basically in a room on the third floor of his father’s home, studying and experimenting alone…no professors taught him! His ingenuity carried the day, if you will.

Marconi

Within a year, he became an international celebrity and, spending much time in England, he spoke the English language beautifully. On March 27th in 1899, he transmitted a signal across the English Channel.

in 1901, he continued his experiments on Cape Cod, Wellfleet where , as Thoreau said, the “bare and extended arm of Massachusetts, where a man may stand and put all of America behind him,”

Of course, Marconi succeed there in transmitting a signal across the pond from the Poldhu station on the English coast to Wellfleet. There is another Marconi monument in Wellfleet, dedicated in July of 1963. In 1999 Princess Elettra Marconi visited Wellfleet in recognition of the 125th anniversary of her father’s birth.  I believe that is the year that she came to Rhode Island to dedicate the Marconi monument in Cranston.

Princess Elettra Marconi

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My Journal

October 28, 2010

Courtesy of Rubberball Photos

I grew up in a traditional Italian household, with our family living one floor above my grandparents in a three-decker house. I loved the Italian traditions and customs, but because I was so young when my grandparents died, much of those traditions were lost as our family became increasingly Americanized. I gave it little thought until some years later when I first vacationed in Italy. I then realized how much my Italian heritage had lapsed. My newfound pride helped me to realize the importance of that heritage and the necessity to record it.

I started a journal wherein I wrote all I could remember of the early years. I interviewed parents and family.  One day I found my grandfather’s diary, written in Italian. It further invigorated my memory. I interspersed those memories with snippets of Italian history and culture. As my four children grew older and were more able to comprehend our heritage, I put those recorded facts together and was able to comfortably discuss my childhood along with the history and customs of Italy.

The journal became my guide. I gave holiday talks to our family. The first was on Christmas Eve at our family’s feast of La Vigilia. I referred to the journal for my story and of how our tradition continued.

The snickering turned to silence and the silence turned to questions. My dissertations are now a part of the family lore.

From those notes, I have written childhood stories. Some have been published.

I regularly contribute to the journal and refer to it often.

Marconi Maritime Center

October 20, 2010

 

The Marconi Maritime Center in Chatham, Cape Cod

Thr Maritime Center is what I wrote of in a previous post. It is in Chatham, MA, on Cape Cod and well worth a visit. Marconi chose Chatham as a site for one of his 10 wireless radio ststions planned to link America with Europe and Japan. It was built in 1914 and converted to maritime operations. It served mariners the world over until 1997. The buildings are now restored very well and unchanged in their original settings.

Guglielmo Marconi

Built by Marconi in 1914, it became the “world’s greatest coastal station ” for ship to shore communications during WWII. Visit the Walter Cronkite video of the center and its glory.

The web site is

www.chathammarconi.org

Dinner for One in Ravenna

October 8, 2010

I’m sure he dined there often. I would if I lived in Ravenna, even if I was alone. It was a charming trattoria with a warm glow; white tablecloths, sparkling glasses and walls topped with large Roman tiles. There were friends at a table in one corner, a family in another and two or three absorbed couples scattered about. The aromas of sauce, browning meat, linen and lavender were pervasive. The door opened directly into the dining area, and the kitchen was prominent in the rear; muffled murmurs from the staff flowing with the aromas over the low wall.
Across the room was an elderly gentleman who was dining alone. He was dressed in a three-piece blue suit with narrow stripes. He wore a white shirt and a striped tie. His black shoes gleamed. His thinning, smoothly cut, white hair was combed straight back. He had a Roman nose and a noble chin. His thin lips were curled up at the edges with a content smile that whispered, “I am pleased.” The light made his smooth, pink face cherubic. Was he on estrogen for prostate cancer? I had no reason to think like a physician here, but  years of training plagued me sometimes. I felt like a spy.
Despite a slightly used, rounded back, he sat straight. Posture was important to him. It was a statement of his place in life. He was dignified, handsome, and elegant.
He said little, and when he did, he spoke softly. The restaurateurs knew what he wanted. He nodded approvingly when they brought his food. A white napkin, tucked at the neck of his shirt, flared and hung loosely to his belt.
He started with an apperativo, Campari, which he slowly brought to his lips.
He patiently awaited his antipasto, hands folded neatly in his lap, his right hand moving only to grasp the stem of his glass with his thumb and forefinger.
He had soup, then thin pasta with a red sauce. He twirled it with his spoon and with not a strand of pasta dangling, lifted his fork to his lips, back straight, shoulders a bit rounded. He dabbed his mouth occasionally. After the pasta, He ordered veal, simply grilled with olive oil.
The staff brought him a bottle of Brunello and poured a glass. He raised it and smelled as his nose curled over the rim. He lifted the glass with three fingers, swirled the wine, watched its legs flow and tasted. The restaurant’s glow reflected off the glass. He nodded with a dip of his chin. The wine fit his meal.
Everything he did was imperial. What do his age, demeanor and dining alone have to do with any of this?
Did it mean that his life was perfect?
He intrigued me. I had questions that I wish I could have asked.
Why was he always alone?
Was he a bachelor? A widower? Maybe he was never married or, if so, never had children? If he did, where were they? And how they must love him.
If he married; was his wife lovely, mean, quiet, a partner? Perhaps she was away, in Rome maybe, watching grandchildren or great- grandchildren. Is he tempted by other women?
Who makes his coffee, and how does he like it? Does he drink cappuccino in the morning?
Was he retired? What did he do for a living?  Maybe he was from nobility and did not need to work. He looked it.
A professor? How many grateful students there must be?
A physician? How many he must have helped.
A banker? He must have loaned to the needy.
A judge? How fair he must have been.
A librarian? He read every book.
What were his days like? Where did he live? Was he visiting from Rome?
Something makes him smile. Does he laugh?
Does he walk daily? For caffe’? With a walking stick and a dark cape draped over his shoulders?
Does he read? Does he play an instrument? Or, more likely, is he the Maestro of the orchestra?
Is he lonely? Would he open the door to an empty house tonight?
What I saw was an elderly, elegant man at ease, peaceful, content, and I felt sad that he had no one to speak with that evening, though he did not seem to mind.  I was envious. He seemed so content, so calm, so strong, and so unencumbered.
He was alone, perhaps with thoughts of the past, dreams of the future. My worry for him became admiration. His ocean was calm, his tree steady, his life fulfilled.
He was smiling. Thoughts of the past? Do things desert an old man’s mind? 
Was his past his present or his future?
Was he thinking of his mortality?
If only I had spoken with him, then perhaps everything would have been answered.
Perhaps.

The Last Zucchini

September 30, 2010

It was a beautiful day at the end of the summer, the day I picked my last zucchini. I started the morning by paying my respects to a dear friend upon the death of his father. The man was 90, had a great life, lived independently to the end, played golf, and bowled regularly. He had sons and grandchildren who loved him. It mattered that he had a good life, but now he was gone. I cried when I approached Richard. I thought of my father.

Richard said, “I am retiring next week and I was going to have more time to spend with him.”

So sad. Next week, always next week.

“When you have a good one, you want them around forever, no matter how old. You always want another cup of coffee, another ball game.”

I miss Dad. I wanted another cup of coffee and a game. I had more things to say.

I picked the zucchini before it was fully ripened because it had little time left. Fall was near. Winter was coming.

Los Angeles Times Article

September 25, 2010

I thought it easier to post Steve Chawkins’ article directly.

State apologizes for mistreatment of Italian residents during WWII
Legislature passes resolution expressing ‘deepest regret’ for the wartime internment, curfews, confiscations and other indignities that thousands of Italian and Italian American families faced.
 Reporting from Monterey —
When Mike Maiorana was a boy during World War II, his family was like a lot of others in his Monterey neighborhood.
In 1942, his mother was declared an “enemy alien,” along with 600,000 other Italians and half a million Germans and Japanese who weren’t U.S. citizens. More than once, men in suits searched the Maiorana house for guns, flashlights, cameras, shortwave radios — anything that could be used to signal the enemy.
Like 10,000 others up and down the California coast, the family was suddenly forced to uproot. At their new place in Salinas, they had to be home by 8 p.m. or face arrest. And when the government seized fishing boats for the war effort, Maiorana’s dad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, saw his livelihood go down the drain.”He was on the skids for the rest of his life,” said Maiorana, 75, who owns a boatyard and marina on the harbor where his father’s boat — as well as those of his uncles and several dozen other Italian fishermen — were confiscated.
Families like the Maioranas last week received a formal acknowledgement from California. A measure that swiftly made its way through the Legislature expresses the state’s “deepest regrets” over the mistreatment of Italians and Italian Americans during World War II. Not nearly as severe or long-lasting as the internment of Japanese Americans, the wartime restrictions are still little-known throughout California, where they were the most heavily enforced.
The resolution was the brainchild of a 79-year-old San Jose man who entered a legislator’s annual “There Oughta Be a Law” contest.
“The treatment Italians received in California was horrible,” said Chet Campanella, who recalled his father hiding a radio in a backyard chicken coop. “There wasn’t one tiny bit of evidence that any Italian was responsible for spying, sabotage, or doing anything else to hinder the war effort.”
Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) sponsored a bill based on Campanella’s idea.
“I was wholly unaware of the circumstances he described,” Simitian said. “Somehow this story had passed me by.”
Simitian, an attorney and former Palo Alto mayor, said he saw “contemporary importance” in the effort: “We’re at war on the other side of the world, and I think it’s important to remember that there are millions of Americans who are ethnic Arabs or Muslim by faith, and that they’re good Americans.”
No comparable measure has been passed by the state or federal government on behalf of more than 11,000 interned Germans, including some Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler.
Even before war broke out, the FBI had compiled lists of immigrants who were considered dangerous. Among the Italians, there were journalists, language teachers and men active in an Italian veterans group. After Pearl Harbor, about 250 were sent to camps in Montana and elsewhere.
They were seen — without basis, according to many historians — as ardent supporters of Mussolini. But the dictator’s popularity in the Italian community had waned, despite his sponsorship of community centers, Italian language classes and trips back to the homeland for U.S. immigrants.
Gloria Ricci Lothrop, a professor emeritus of history at Cal State Northridge, said her future stepfather, the editor of the Italian-language La Parola newspaper in Los Angeles, was hustled off to Fort Missoula, Mont., in a train with darkened windows. Giovanni Falasca stayed there until war’s end. He later started a restaurant on Figueroa Street, where he was beaten to death during a robbery.
Lower on the watch list, Lothrop’s mother, Maria Ricci, was a poet and La Parola columnist. The FBI fruitlessly scoured translations of her work for subversive content, Lothrop said. An agent in a fedora and double-breasted suit showed up repeatedly but would end up talking to her about gardening.
In New York, the FBI incarcerated Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza and released him, without charge, three months later. In San Francisco, Joe DiMaggio’s father Giuseppe couldn’t visit the family restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf: As an enemy alien, he could not travel more than five miles without permission.
Enforcement was chaotic. On the East Coast, with its massive Italian population, there was no forced relocation. In California, the mandate hit Northern California harder than the Los Angeles area.
In the Bay Area, Pittsburg was home to Camp Stoneman, a jumping-off point for Pacific-bound troops. About 2,000 Italians were ousted from the community, with the burden falling most on elderly people who didn’t speak much English and hadn’t become citizens.
Lucy Gallaro Dube of Orange County recalls her widowed grandmother cramming into a house with half a dozen other displaced women.
“She was just a few months from getting her citizenship,” Dube said. “I don’t know what they thought these old ladies were going to do.”
Sad ironies abounded. In Monterey, Rosina Trovato was told that her son and nephew had died at Pearl Harbor. The next day, she was ordered to leave her home.
Then there was the confiscation of fishing boats from California’s mostly Italian fleet. Paying their owners a nominal fee, the government used them to haul targets and refuel PT boats. But the cost of postwar repairs and a vanishing sardine fishery spelled disaster for many.
Angelo Maiorana, Mike’s father, owned the 95-foot Dux, which was returned to him in bad shape after four years in the Philippines.
“They gave him a $20,000 check, but it cost him $46,000 to get the boat back into condition,” his son said. “He was on his back, flat broke.”
In 2000, Congress passed a bill formally acknowledging “injustices” during World War II.
One of its most eloquent advocates was Lawrence DiStasi, a writer and historian who put together “Una Storia Segreta,” a travelling exhibit on the wartime restrictions.
“When we started, I had trouble getting people to talk about it,” he said. “There was still a lot of shame, stress and pain.”
Most of the measures ended within a year. The government realized they were logistically impossible — especially with hundreds of thousands of Italian Americans fighting for the U.S. overseas.
On Columbus Day in 1942, U.S. Atty. Gen. Francis Biddle announced the good news in a speech laden with references to Dante, Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci.
“We found,” he said, “that 600,000 enemy aliens were, in fact, not enemies.”

I Loved My Librarian

September 13, 2010

The Sprague House Branch Library

It was a two story white bungalow indistinguishable from the others in the neighborhood; one that any one of us might have called home. Three cement steps led to the front door. There were windows (even cellar ones), weathered sides, a steep roof, houses close on both sides and an alley that led to the rear. But it was not just any neighborhood house. It was our library. And we did call it a home.

The Sprague House Branch Library on Armington Avenue in Providence was very welcoming, and once a week it was more than just going in to read a book or borrow one. It was the after school story hour with the librarian that I loved almost as much as I loved my former kindergarten teacher.

It was so good to have a library one block away, especially one that made me feel as if I were entering my own home. And being only two blocks from my elementary school, Academy, I stopped on many days after school.  

I opened the door to a narrow, carpeted, dark hall with book laden shelves to the ceiling on each side. The books, so neatly stacked in rows, hugged the walls and extended out, making the path so tight that it was difficult to pass someone coming the other way. My fingers made a rat-ta-tat tat sound as I ran them along the hard covers. The musty smells of wood, oil, leaves and dampness reminded me of my cellar. I walked (ran on story hour day) down the narrow hallway and then bounded up a few more oily and creaky wooden stairs that led to a larger, more open room which had tables and a sign out desk. The tables smelled different, kind of like one of the big old neighborhood trees that I used to climb. The undersides of the tables had hard lumps of gum stuck to them (I swallowed my Double Bubble). Only a little light could filter through the side windows that were blocked by the nearby houses. There was a quiet, slow turning ceiling fan which was not enough to cool in the summer. Sitting at a desk near another door, maybe behind a glass, was the head librarian, but I paid little attention to her. I was looking for the one who told the stories.

On a usual day, I sat at one of the tables and found a book to read or to thumb through. It was difficult to be quiet, maybe the most difficult thing I ever had to do, especially when friends were nearby.

“Quiet please,” the head librarian would say. Her voice was so gentle, so soft, I suppose because she had white hair and peered over clear glasses. She was kinda nice I think, not frightening, so that’s why we were ready to resume our laughing and talking as soon as she went back to her desk. Sometimes the laughing was uncontrollable and, most of the time, I didn’t know why. Everything was funny…a look, a cough, an exaggerated sniffle, a girl with pigtails, a funny looking kid, a gas emission or a burp. There were those lucky guys who could burp repeatedly. What a great skill! Tears of uncontrollable laughter rolled down my cheeks as I buried my head in the table. On occasion the librarian tiptoed over and said, “I think it would be better if you were not in the library today.” She was so patient and kind.

On story day, things were different. There was no way I was going to misbehave. As I entered the main room I looked to the right just to be sure there would be a story hour. Relief! There would be a story hour! In the corner, a quieter place partially hidden by a shelf of books was a bunch of little chairs arranged like a half moon and, in front of them, was a large wooden chair. Our chairs were small but not too small. My feet touched the floor and I could put my elbows on the arm rests. I was the first to sit, and I watched as other kids entered and sat. We waited without saying a word. She entered. When I saw her, I leaned to the edge of my chair, ready to hear another story. She sat. Her hair was so pretty. She smiled and raised her eyebrows

“Good afternoon, children.” What a nice voice.

“Good afternoon, Miss____.”

“Are you ready for story hour?” Her face was soft. She did not wear glasses.

“Yes, Miss ____.”

“What would you like to hear today?” she folded her hands in her lap and crossed her legs.

Frozen, no one answered. We didn’t know what we wanted to hear, but she never failed. Her stories kept us glued to our seats because she took us to places of wonder, surprise and special endings with characters we wanted to be, or avoid.

Was Snow White as beautiful and as fair as the snow? How great it must have been to be a dwarf. And how would Rapunzel get out of that tower? Oh, what a happy ending. And the tiger chasing Sambo turned to butter? Great, because I was so frightened for Sambo. But no one frightened me more than the Giant that was chasing Jack and all for a goose who laid golden eggs! Oh boy was his mother mad when Jack showed her the beans! Three little pigs? A wolf that dressed like a grandmother? A boy whose nose grew when he lied?

When story hour ended, I went home thinking of nothing else; so pleased, so eager for the next week.

As the years went by, I outgrew story hour and the books outgrew the Sprague House Branch which closed, moved up the street and became the Mt. Pleasant Branch Library. Though there was no more story hour for me, not much else changed.  There still were the books; great stories like “Deerslayer,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Tom Sawyer,”  “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Punt Formation” and “Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees.”  Nor did the rules change. No talking, no laughing, no gum, a fine for late returns. And when we broke the rules, that same gentle head librarian, Mrs. B___, who also moved to the new library, politely told us what she expected.

But there was one important thing so very different. I never saw the story hour librarian again. I heard that the story hour was held in the basement of the new library, but I never checked.

I was thinking of how important a role libraries have played in my life, a role that continues. What a wonderful resource, even today, when I asked the reference librarian for information about the Sprague House Branch Library, and overnight, I had an answer.

“The Beginning of the library branch system was in the early 1900’s. The one in Mt. Pleasant was a gift of the Sprague House Association…a building formerly occupied by that organization when it changed its name to the Federal Hill House Association and moved to Federal Hill. (Well, can you believe it…Federal Hill where my immigrant grandparents settled)? The Sprague House Branch was an outgrowth of the Mount Pleasant Working Girls Association, organized in 1887. A club library was begun in 1903.”

Our neighborhood library, replete with history and stories one block away, was an integral part of my life, introducing me to the love of books, story hour and the librarian. How very grateful I am.