Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

20 August 2009

The Faded Signora…

I take the cameras into Barga and roam the steps and alleys taking ‘cameos’, shots of little details that intrigue - a barred window, a crumbling wall, shuttered windows edged with geraniums, niche statues, door knobs - I always feel happy when I’ve shot some frames; work ethic pushing through, I suppose.

With the camera on the tripod I wait for the light to be just right for a shot across the terra cotta roofs of the centro storico towards the Apuane Alps. It’s a long wait, the clouds move infinitely slowly. On one of the park benches sit two women, a mother and daughter, the mother bent and bird-like, trembling, grasping an ebony stick, her ivory knuckle bones about to burst through their fragile vellum skin. The daughter is a middle-aged lustreless blonde. I nod to them across the rose beds and turn to lean on the parapet waiting for the moment.

As the shadows chase patches of distant sunlight over the river valley I’m aware of a footstep beside me. It’s the blonde. Scuffed. Faded. Worn. She’s like something out of Coronation Street, an Elsie Tanner well past a best that might once have been voluptuous. She starts to talk in a soft monotone and doesn’t stop even when I tell her I speak very little Italian. She flutters her eyes and makes some provocative moues and it dawns upon me that she’s chatting me up. Gin fumes waft on the heavy air. I imagine that Barga, while being a delight to us holidaymakers, must be a cold bed of suburban neuroses, a place of frustrated wretchedness for a woman of a certain age, her happy times bedded in history, left now to shepherd her old mother and hopeful of lust from the odd stray tourist. She must be desperate to solicit an old joker like me.

Sudden sun flattens the seams of her face, and floods the landscape. Just what I’ve been waiting for. ‘Mi scusi, signora.’ I turn my back on her and thumb the cable release for a series of bracketed exposures. When I’ve finished I’m relieved to see her and the old woman taking pigeon steps out of the park.

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’



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By Don Donovan