Its a small world. And sometimes it is even smaller than that.
Years ago, during our sometimes fiery courtship, my husband and I would indulge every so often in a door-slamming, spittle-spraying hulabaloo of a fight, mostly for recreation and rarely for good reason. The Lira was almost worthless back then (the good old days), and in 1985 I traded in my little Fiat Panda for a brand new BMW for five thousand dollars and change. These fights were an excuse for me to use my newly-acquired and quite wonderful automobile to disappear for a while, causing much hand-wringing and satisfyingly ineffectual investigation as to my whereabouts. I recall that someone used to refer to me as “Leadfoot Langston.” This was before cell phones, as you must know. So on one such occasion I grabbed a bottle of water and a couple of sandwiches and set off for the Amalfi coast. It was a beautiful afternoon and from Bernalda it is only about 120 miles to Salerno, where the spectacular winding road along the Tirrhenian Sea begins. Happy to leave my significant other to stew, and enjoying the prospect of an entertaining drive with loud music, I set off. It took me about seven hours, round trip, and I never stepped out of my car even once! (We were all younger then, as were our bladders)! To my consternation, upon my return to Bernalda, I was met with smug satisfaction and a notable lack of concern. “Oh, were you gone? I didn’t notice.” Someone had spotted me and made a phone call. A relative, a friend, or a friend of a relative, duly noting my passage at some point along the main road into Salerno, communicated my whereabouts promptly back to home base!
“Small Town” mixed media, 2007
One Christmas, as we snaked our way through the endless airport security line in Atlanta, we glimpsed some familiar faces. I don’t suppose it seems outside the realm of possibility to meet someone from your neighborhood at an airport, but for folks from Bernalda to run upon each other in Atlanta, it borders on the incredible. Here we were, two families from a tiny town where people rarely leave the province, much less the continent. They were on their way to visit relatives in Florida, and we were on our way yet again to Austin. We chatted, a conversation carried on in snippets each time our zig met their zag in the slow crawl of the line. It was a surprisingly comforting experience for all of us.
Ever wonder why names can become so trendy that you might find two or three “Meagans” or “Ethans” in a classroom? I am reminded of the Dr. Seuss story about the woman who named all of her many sons “Dave.” In a small village many people share the same last name, although they are not necessarily related. I have particular acquaintance with the name Donato Viggiano. If that sounds strange, let me explain.
Young men in Bernalda can be seen strolling up and down the Corso, often following a regular schedule which has them out of the house for two reasons: 1) because they are banished during meal preparation and 2) because they have made themselves scarce afterwards when the dishes have to be washed. So any afternoon or evening there is a regular crawl of walkers and automobiles up and down the main street, and in a circle around town. Sometimes the Carabinieri will be positioned on roads leading in or out of town, stopping cars to check insurance and licenses. On one such afternoon, they stopped a car and asked for identification. The conversation was as follows:
“I need to see your identification and papers.”
“Yes, officer, here is my license. I am Donato Viggiano.”
“Hello officer, my name is Donato Viggiano.”
“…OK….And you in the back, what is your name?”
“My name is Donato Viggiano.” (burst of uncontrolled snickering)
At this point, the officer began to show his consternation. The young men in the car suddenly froze and sat with transfixed expressions as they nervously eyed the officer, possibly reflecting on their odds at the lottery that day.
“You guys are getting on my nerves. I’ll give you a last chance. What is YOUR name?”
The young man handed over his I.D card, which said…
“Gossip” oil on canvas, 2011