Story of 3 boys escaping a convent during WWII and their adventure.
|C H A P T E R 4
It was the 11th of March, 1947. Dario received his official acceptance into University at Genoa. We all congratulated Dario and Elisetta made us all some sweet treats in celebration. Domenico brought home a special pork belly roast and Elisetta knew exactly how to roll it up with herbs and spices, it was a lovely family dinner. Domenico was quiet throughout the meal, once we were finished he took an envelope out of his pocket and opened it removing some paperwork. " Well, here we have your tickets" looking to me and George " you will be leaving September 4th on the M/S Vulcania from Genoa. She will stop in Naples to pick up some passengers and afterwards your destination is New York. Luigi will meet you when you debark the vessel and he said he has some sponsors that will give you a place to stay until you find permanent residence. I would suggest you two stay together and help one another as much as possible. You will meet new people, some will be friends, and some will not. Remember, you two are family, not only to yourselves, but to Dario, Elisetta and I". George opened up " I love you , Mom and Dad, you have healed us of the pain we suffered as children, you have filled the hole we had in our hearts. I will miss you and this place very much, but I know Marco and I need to move on in order to become adults. You have both taught us so much and I promise we will never forget what you taught us, and always hold your love in our hearts". Domenico looked to Elisetta, they smiled. He looked at me " Thank you George, you have no idea what that means to us". He paused a moment, " let's play some briscola, you want to ?".
We all replied excitedly " Sure...good idea !". And we played the night way.
The weeks and months passed, spring arrived and we started working the fields with Domenico. Domenico said he would miss our help, but not to worry as he said he would hire some local boys in exchange for some crops for the following year. The power of nature was so incessant. A short time ago the cold of winter embodied the countryside. The ground was frozen cold, the trees were barren, it appeared as an unconsciousness of nature. Suddenly Spring rainstorms brought many beautiful flowers and green hills flowing into blue skies. From nothing, life is born, it is the miracle of mother nature. The fortitude of summer quickly embraces the landscape, from wheat fields to thirst quenching thunderstorms bringing the essential bountiful nourishment to life. Only a divine creator could forge such a nature.
August arrived and we decided that we would make the trip to Genoa a little early, this would give us a little time in Genoa so Dario could get settled in at the University and we could spend some time together before the vessel made it's sailing. Carlo could not drive us to Genoa as the family business required his presence, however, he would be able to bring us to the L'Aquila train station. Elisetta prepared a travel trunk which she had from when she was young, she said she would not need it anymore and we should take it with us. She enclosed lots of clothes and blankets and photos of her and Domenico from when they were younger. We were happy to bring them with us along with some photos of us taken around the town in the past few years. There was one of Domenico standing in front of his vineyard holding some grapes in his hand and his lips smiling wide, he looked so very happy there.
The month of August moved quickly as we boys were all getting anxious about the coming change in our lives, George seemed to be more talkative around town , kept telling everyone he was going to America and would become rich. Dario seemed to talk only about soccer all day long, he followed all the game scores in the newspaper every day. As for myself, I was engulfed in my own thoughts, I did not have any specific endeavors... I seemed to think constantly about crossing the Atlantic ocean on a ship. I found it fascinating that one could travel such a long way over water to a land so far away in such a short time. Seemed to me the world was so very enormous and yet so small. I suppose it's all how you look at things.
Morning of Aug 15th we found ourselves at the L'Aquila station, I remember Elisetta giving us all a big hug and Domenico standing with her, they both were teary eyed, and so were we three. Carlo looking sad " I'll miss you guys so much, won't be the same around here". Domenico looked at Carlo " you need to find a girl, svegliati .. " Carlo raised his eyes ...loking at Domenico. Then Domenico " Chi a il pane non ha I denti" ... That was the second time I heard that phrase. Then Domenico turned to us " we won't see each other for a long time boys, Elisetta and I will think of you every day, make sure to write us so we know what you are up to. I am sure we will see each other again one day. We love you all, this blessed family the good Lord provided". then he continued " Ricordatevi sempre ' Il Signore, Vede e Provede '. Capisci ? " with his finger pointed up at us... God Sees and provides... I will never forget it.
It was our first train ride, we quickly got used to the rocking motion and bouncing. The conductor came by " Tickets please " we brought our tickets out and he stamped them " there is a dining car up 3 cars where you can get some snacks and drink, dinner will be served at either 5 or 6: 30 of 8 PM, which do you prefer ? we picked the one in the middle, " 6:30 PM please ". The conductor wrote it down and said, " Welcome aboard boys , I see you are heading to Genoa, we will arrive there tomorrow afternoon as we will be making few stops along the way". then he looked at us " I see you are well behaved gentlemen , if you like, you may attend the lounge cart up front and you can get some cards and play a game or read a magazine if you like. We all smiled excitedly " Thank you Sir ". I looked over to George and Dario " what do you say, shall we play a game of cards ? ". George and Dario agreed and we made our way to the lounge car, it was equipped with tables and chairs and a closet where they kept games and books, and also a magazine rack. The car had only adults and I believe we were the youngest in the car. George grabbed a deck of cards, Dario grabbed a newspaper and we all sat down at one of the tables. Quickly Dario was looking at the sport section, George dealt some cards around. I noticed a coffee pot " Anyone want a cup of coffee ? ". " I would " answered George. Dario didn't look away from the paper so I went and made two cups of coffee. Went back to the table , Dario looked at me " don't I get one ? ". I gave him my cup " well, you should say something, I'm not a mind reader you know". went back and made myself a cup. An old man looked at me as I was walking back to the coffee table " Young man, would you mind bringing me some sugar ? ". I nodded, brought him some sugar on the way back. " That's very kind of you young man, I appreciate it. It's a little difficult for me to walk on the rocking train. Where are you boys headed ? ". " Genoa ". I replied shortly. " Ah, that's also where I am going, I live in Genoa. It's a beautiful city, is it your first time there ?". I opened up a little " Yes, actually my brother Dario is going to attend the University". The man interrupted, " Really, I have been a professor at the University and I have retired few years ago. He is very fortunate to have the ability to attend there, it's and experience he will always remember". " He wants to become a soccer player". I added. " Oh, they have a strong program for Soccer, he is going to the right place. Ask him to come talk to me later, I can give him a few pointers". I walked back to our table with my coffee " George looked at me " who were you talking to ? ". " The gentlemen asked me to get him some sugar ". Dario said " you were talking for a while ". I looked at him " well, actually he is going to Genoa and told me he used to be a professor there, he said you should go talk to him as he can give you some information about the school". Dario's eves opened wide " does he know anything about soccer ? " . I shrugged my shoulders " I don't know , guess you can go ask him ". George and I played cards, Dario continued reading his magazine. The old man walked over to us " Hello young men " , I got up and offered my seat, the old man accepted " Thank you ". He sat down and said " my name is Felice, whom do I have the pleasure of sitting with". I opened " I am Marco, this is George & Dario my two brothers". the old man looked at each of us and then to Dario " Marco told me you are going to attend the University of Genoa, I used to be a professor there, I taught history". Dario said " I am going to be a soccer player ". Felice replied " I'm sure you will be a great addition to the team, and to the University, you will have lot's of opportunities there. Will you be living at the University or staying with relatives ?" . Dario answered, I will be living at the University". " Excellent " replied Felice. He continued " and you two boys, are you only accompanying your brother, or will you stay in Genoa ?". George answered " we are going to take a ship to America " Felice jerked back surprised " America ! ... wow, on your own ? ... I replied, " we have some relatives that will provide us hospice". " That's very nice " Felice answered. " well, they say America is the land of opportunity, especially now that the war was won , I think you both are making a good choice". he continued " in any case, you are all very young, you have everything you need to make a good life. The worst thing one can do in life is not to reach for what you want". We all nodded. Felice continued " while you are in Genoa there are many places to visit, the Palace of Doges, Piazza Matteotti, Piazza Ferrari... and George, you must go visit Palazzo San Giorgio.... and don't forget to visit Corso Italia.. there is a beautiful view there and you can walk and get some fresh air and look at all the girls go by" . We all looked at each other and smiled " We will ! " . Felice stood up " well, I'm sure we will see each other on the train again , if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask me, I will be glad to help you all" . I shook Felice's hand and said " Thank you, Sir ... you are very kind ". and Felice walked out of the lounge car.
The day went quickly, dinner time arrived and we all arrived on time to the dinner car, we showed our tickets and they brought us to our table. This would be our first dinner away from home, we were so used to Elisetta making dinner for us, this was going to take some adjusting. We ordered dinner and a waitress brought us some water , " Thank you " said Dario smiling. She quickly said " Prego " and walked away. Dario looked at us " wow, did you see her ? she is beautiful ." I looked at Dario " you better calm yourself down brother, you're going to wind up married before you are 21" . Dario looked at me " listen brother , I don't know about you , but I'm young and women are attracted to my good looks, I can't help it". I looked at George and we laughed. Dario smirked " ridi, ridi, che mamma ha fatto in gnocchi .. non capite niente" . The waitress came back with our dinners, Dario could not take his eyes off her. She looked at him " is something wrong ? do you need anything else ? " . Dario looked stunned " huh, ..no, sorry. I'm just a little tired". she looked at George and I, rolled her eyes, and walked away". We both chuckled at Dario. Dario grabbed his fork and knife and ate his dinner without any more words.
Following morning we made our way to the lounge car, Felice was there already and waved us over. " Good morning , did you all sleep well last night ? ". Dario replied rubbing his backside " it was a little too bouncy for me " . I interjected " Yes, it was bouncy, but I kind of like the adventure and looked out the window often , so much to take in on a train " . finally George " it was bouncy but it didn't bother me , reminds me of camping outdoors without a tent " . Felice laughed " that's a good one " , continuing " well, I guess I'm used to it as I've been travelling by train a long time now. My daughter Giulia lives in Rome and I often go to visit her. My granddaughter actually attends the University of Genoa ". Dario replied " I have never been to Rome, I've heard it is beautiful". Felice answered him " well, yes, it is. Rome was named perfectly as it is a very Romantic city, full of mystical presence. Every time I go there I can feel the ancient people living and dying on that earth" . With interest I said " I have seen many pictures of the Roman Colosseum, have you seen it ? " . Felice quickly, " why yes, of course...but there is so much more, my personal favorite is the Pantheon. It is very ancient , and so mesmerizing. You really need to go visit one day , when you can". I went to the coffee table and made some coffee , sat down and listened as George was speaking " is it true that the Aqueduct that the ancient Romans built is still functional today ? " . and Felice " Yes , it is true... it's actually quite amazing to see all the things that were built 2000 years ago and still in function" . Felice continued " but now, you two will be going to the New World , you will see many modern buildings and bridges being built, The American cars are a wonder of the world in itself ". George kept talking " I want to open a business and become rich ! " Felice answered, well, you are going to the right place if that is what you want to do George " . Felice looked over to Dario " Dario, where are you and your brothers staying when we arrive ? ". Dario answered " well , we will all stay at the room I will take at the University". Felice replied " I guess that works , if you have any problems, let me know. My granddaughter can help you as she is one of the sponsors for new students. Her name is Isabelle" . We replied, " Thank you ".
Elisetta and Domenico were sitting in the kitchen after lunch . Domenico said " The boys will be arriving to Genoa in few hours ". Elisetta replied " I miss them so much already, it is too quiet around here. Why don't we go to the Ferragosto festival in town tonight" . Domenico thought that was a good idea and agreed. Domenico said " I'm going to walk to town and see what is going on.. do you need anything ?. Elisetta, " no , just come back in time to take me to the festival ". Domenico, " I will dear , I just need to stretch my legs a bit ".
Later in the evening, Elisetta and Domenico were at the festival talking to friends. Elisetta visited a stand where a young woman was selling soaps and trinckets " where are you from " Elisetta asked the young woman. She replied " I am from L'Aquila, my father makes soaps of all kinds and I am here promoting his goods". Elisetta smiling " how nice , and what is your name ? ". I am AnnaMaria smiling ". Elisetta walked back to Domenico " and what are you up to young man ". Domenico replied , " oh, I am looking for my girlfriend ... oh, here you are Elisetta " she laughed at him, Domenico, you wil never change. Where is Carlo, I have something to show him ". Domenico looked around , " last I saw he was in front of the store selling sausages". Elisetta made her way to the store " Carlo, what are you doing...still working ? " .
Carlo frowning " Yes, I am always working , sometimes I am not sure why ". Elisetta smiling " Oh Carlo, you poor boy, take a break and have a little fun...come on... I will speak to Antonio if he says anything. Carlo took off his apron and shrugged his shoulders " you are right, I need a break. " Elisetta smiled " let's go " . They started walking and Carlo quickly commented " there sure are a lot of people this year " Elisetta replied " yes, the town is getting famous ". Carlo looking around " yes, it does seem so , although I think I like it better before". Elisetta took Carlo by the elbow " Carlo, in life, everything changes. You need to adapt to the change and enjoy the challenge " Carlo asked " where are you taking me, we seem to be wandering ". and then his eyes locked on to a young lady. Elisetta smiling " Hello AnnaMaria, are you making any sales with this big crowd ? ". AnnaMaria replied " well , a little , maybe I need to change the display arrangement". Carlo was staring at AnnaMaria in silence. Elisetta looking at Carlo " Carlo, this is AnnaMaria from L'Aquila, why don't you help her arrange these soaps so people will notice them more ". AnnaMaria looked at Carlo " Oh, would you mind, that would be so helpful ". Carlo whispered " hum , well, yes, I think I can try ". AnnaMaria quickly replied " oh, thank you so much , please come here with me so I can show you what I have back here to sell". Elisetta quietly slipped away. Before the night was over, Carlo had all kinds of soaps at his store on display for sale and people were really enjoying the different scents. A lot of sales were being made, and Carlo seemed very cheerful suddenly. At the end of the evening, Elisetta walked over to them with Domenico following " hello kids , looks like you had a good night " said Elisetta. AnnaMaria replied " actually yes, it was much better than I had anticipated , Carlo was so nice to help me and he agreed to sell some of our products in his store ". Domenico looked to Carlo " Bravo Carlo, you are making a good decision. Why don't you accompany AnnaMaria home, it's late at night and a beautiful young woman should not be traveling alone". Carlo looked seriously to Domenico " Yes, you are right Signor Domenico , I will get the truck and drive her to her home". Domenico smiled to Elisetta " well my young lady, may I accompany you home as well ". Elisetta blushed " Andiamo Domenico, show me the way my handsome man". Carlo locked up the store and they were quickly on their way. The festival night closed on a happy note.
C H A P T E R 5
The conductor came around and announced " Genoa Station , we will arrive in 20 minutes " , I looked out the window and could see the beautiful city in the distance. I had never seen a large city like this one, we were high up on a hilltop and I could see the sea behind the city, the Ligurian sea. It seemed so vast, and so blue, it was mesmerizing. I felt another world appeared before me, a mystical world projecting beauty and peacefulness, yet so intense and restless. I could see the blue expanse undulating gently , and then changing form when crashing onto the rocky slopes of it's boundaries. It seemed alive and eternal, I was allured by it's enchantment.
I grabbed my bags and went to the lounge car , Dario was at the coffee bar chatting with the waitress from last night, not sure what he was thinking. I saw George sitting with Felice and walked over to them . Felice looked to me smiling, " Good Morning , you are late !" I smiled back " well, the train rocked me to sleep and I think I kind of enjoy train travel". Felice replied " that is a good thing young man, you are going to cross the Atlantic ocean and I'm sure you will have plenty of rocking on your ship". I sat down, I wondered briefly about how large the Atlantic actually was. Then I said " I was looking at Genoa this morning from the window earlier, what a beautiful city on the sea ". Felice nodded " Yes Marco, it is very beautiful , I have lived here most of my life and I will never leave her". He paused and then continued " it's a beautiful place where the land meets the sea, to me it's a door between two worlds and my imagination". The train slowed down to a crawl, we were pulling into the station. Felice stood up " well fellows, this is it. I suppose you will take the bus to the University now ? ". George and I also stood up " yes, that is the plan". Felice replied " well, it's very easy, and not very far . I will be taking a different bus as I need to go to the other side of town". Remember to ask for Isabelle once you get there if you need assistance, tell her you met me on the train". We all shook hands, I said " it was very nice meeting you Mr. Felice, you are very kind". Felice smiled to us, thank you for the company, your parents should be proud to have raised such gifted and educated young men". George looked to me first, and then replied " Yes, we were very blessed to have wonderful parents". Felice left the car, we walked over to Dario who was still flirting with the coffee bar attendant " Dario, hello ! ... we are in Genoa and it's time to leave the train. Dario gave us a quick look " okay, just a minute " said his goodbye to the girl and followed us off the train.
It was sunny with a chilly wind being it was middle of August, it felt good to be out in the open air. Dario smiling, " she gave me her phone number !". And I replied " and so, what will you do with it Casanova , she probably gave you the wrong number to get you to leave". Dario answered quickly " well, that's for me to know and you to dream about". George pointed to the bus " okay guys, let's stop with this nonsense and get on the bus before it leaves". We hurried over to the bus, asked the driver, "will you take us to Genoa University on this bus". He nodded " yes, please pay the fare and board". We proceeded and sat down. George was reading a magazine he brought off the train " before we leave I want to visit the Palazzo San Giorgio". And then showed us a picture. It was a beautiful medieval building, seemed interesting. Dario looked over smirking " I guess ". George replied quickly " it's a beautiful building ". The bus started to move and the driver announced " we will be traveling to the port industrial zone and then onto Genoa University, we will be at the first stop in few minutes". Within few minutes we could already see the sea at a distance, I was very excited to see it face to face. George pointing to his magazine " we should go see the Porta Soprano and the house where Christopher Columbus grew up". I looked over " well, that does look interesting ". The driver announced " we are pulling into the industrial zone, whomever is getting off the bus, please make sure to take your belongings. Thank you ". Few people stood up and quickly got off, they all worked in the port industrial area, I wondered what their duties were. Did they unload ships, did they sail the seas. Seemed to be an interesting job , vessels from around the world coming and going. The bus started moving again and the driver announced " next stop will be Genoa University, if you look to your left you can see the famous Corso Italia". It looked like a really nice place to take a long walk along the shore. We were all so busy looking in every direction, there was so much to see in this area. I was looking to the sea, and I thought of what Columbus envisioned and his courage to make the voyage over the unchartered ocean. The world became a lot smaller once Columbus found America. Imagine living in a world that you really weren't sure how big or how small it was, or if it was actually round or flat. Columbus opened up a whole new world to be explored, they must have been exciting adventurous times. The driver pointed to the right " if you look to the right, you will see the Palazzo San Giorgio , it was built around 1260 and has its roots from Constantinople. It was used as a prison at one time and is famous for the imprisonment of Marco Polo. He was held prisoner of war there during the war between Venice and Genoa at the time. He wrote his famous book in there "The Travels of Marco Polo" ". I was in awe, my mind invigorated like never before. This city is truly magical, First Columbus, now Marco Polo, this is why I was mesmerized on the train this morning. This city is a crossroads of adventure and inspiration, and here our adventure was about to begin.
We arrived to the University, it was a city unto itself comprised of many buildings. For me, what was fascinating is it's proximity to the port and the beautiful view of the open sea. I could see a light house tower across the harbor, it seemed very tall, I wondered if we could go visit it and go to the top to see the view from there. Dario was looking at the University trying to understand which building we should go to. We all looked at each other. Dario pointed at a courtyard with a gated archway " let's go in there ". So we picked up our things and made our way. Inside was quite majestic, nothing like we've ever seen, so much marble and statues and the highest ceilings I've ever seen with a grand staircase and tremendous windows. This was a royal palace for us. Quietly we made our way to an office, there was a young man behind a desk. Dario asked " hello, I am a new student and I wanted to report myself as having arrived and find my dormitory room" . The young man asked " do you know which faculty you were assigned to ? ". Dario replied " well, I am here to join the soccer team ". The young man " I see. Well ,you are in the wrong building, go to the information center across the way and I think they will help you better". Dario replied " oh, well, sorry to trouble you then , thanks for your help" . Quickly I interjected " he was told to see Isabelle, do you know her ? ". The young man was surprised " you know Isabelle ? , so why didn't you go see her first, she is upstairs" pointing out to the grand hall. "Go up the staircase , it is the second room to your right". Dario looked relieved, we were all a little tired from our trip. We started to walk towards the stairs, then I turned around to the young man " is there a rest room I can use here ? ". The man raised his eyebrows and pointed to a hallway behind a column and so we followed route to the rest room. Once inside Dario asked " was he a little annoyed with us ". I replied , " who knows , let's go see if we can find Felice's grandaughter , hopefully she can help us out". George looked over, " yes, and hopefully we can get something to eat ? ..I'm starved ". We headed for the grand staircase, didn't even look at the fellow in the office. There were two majestic lions at the entrance of the staircase railing. Going up I noticed all the columns, the craftsmen that built this place where in a league of their own. Considering how ancient this building was, these people were truly ahead of their time.
We walked over to the second room on the right, Dario knocked on the door. We heard a sweet voice " come in " Dario walked in first and we followed , at first we didn't see anyone, we looked around , and then the young woman walked in quickly from another attached room . My eyes met with the girl and I was bewildered, I couldn't quite put my finger on it , I felt I knew her . Dario shouted " Isabelle !! " She looked at us, one by one, we stared at each other for few seconds. Isabelle pinched herself on the cheek " am I dreaming ? Dario, Marco, George ! how did you find me ? oh my, you have grown so much ! ". We were all without words. Isabelle spoke " last time we saw each other was " she paused " we were kids , in that awful orphanage ". paused again " you guys disappeared one day, they told us you were captured by the Nazi's and they took you away". Some tears came to her eyes " we all thought you were killed " she cried. Without speaking, we all stood up and made a group hug, we all shed tears of emotion together. Once we got ourselves somewhat under control , I walked over to a couch in the room and sat, George followed, and then Dario. Isabelle sat as well , she put her hands on her lap and looked at us " I still can't believe this is real, you guys grew up so much ". I replied " yes Isabelle, although many years have passed, it's almost as if it were yesterday , only, now we are all grown up" . I paused and then I added " almost as if the lost time did not exist ". Dario, looking at Isabelle " we met your uncle Felice on the train, he told us to ask for you on the train, but we did not know it was you, until now ". Isabelle looking even more confused " you know my Uncle ? you didn't know it was me " pausing " so , why are you here ? ". Dario said, " I will be attending the university " pausing, then proudly " as a soccer player " with a grin. Isabelle replied excitedly " Really ! , that's wonderful ! " then she looked at George and I " you will also be attending the school ? ". And we nodded no. Then George said " we are going to America , I am going to work hard, and become rich ". Isabelle was surprised " America ? , it's so far away , why don't you stay here ?". Then she walked over to the closet and grabbed her coat, " well, I am closing early today, I will tell Daniel to take over for me, we have much to talk about and I have to show you your dormitory room". We grabbed our belongings and walked down the stairs, Isabelle walked over to the young man we first met "Daniel, I am leaving early today, I met some old friends and have a lot to catch up with them, please handle my duties for the remainder of the day". Daniel looked at us, and then nodded " Yes Miss Isabelle, absolutely ".
Isabelle guided us to the dormitory, it was a large complex of several ancient buildings. It looked like they had been built centuries ago on what had been used as docks for the trade ships of those times and situated on a canal which led to the sea. Our room was on the top, or 4th floor, so we carried our bags all the way up. It had been an extraordinarily astonishing day for all of us and we all agreed to get some rest and we would meet up the next day and catch up on our last 6 or 7 years of existence. We said our good night's and shared some hugs. What a wonderful day it had been.
I watched the sunrise following day and we did not waste anytime making our way to the University main building where we had met yesterday. Isabelle said she would meet us outside around 8 in the morning. She would bring us to get breakfast at the cafeteria where she normally went before her duties. As we approached the building, we saw her at the entrance outside of the gated columns. She smiled and waved at us, and we all did the same in return. Isabelle said " did you all sleep well ? ". I replied " I think we were all so tired that we didn't even realize we were at the University of Genoa dormitory". Dario continued " the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks was a little hard to get used to, but I slept well". I looked at him funny " sure beats the sound of the train whistle blowing while bouncing over the rail bumps". Dario smiled. George said " didn't bother me any , I dreamed that I was in America and I owned my own shipyard". We all laughed at that one. Isabelle waved and pointed " well, let's go get some breakfast, I am hungry". George quickly replied " now I'm awake, let's go ".
We walked into the main entrance through the arched gates, Daniel was sitting in his office and Isabelle walked over to him " Daniel, I'm taking my friends to breakfast , please cover my duties while I'm out. I will be gone most of the day ". Daniel stood up " Certainly Miss Isabelle ". and then sat down. She walked away and he turned to us with a frown. I don't think he liked us much. The cafeteria was in another area behind the building, we followed Isabelle and made our way over. I started to notice the scent of some cooking , and it seemed appetizing. Isabelle walked straight to a table and said " we will sit here, you may go over to the buffet table, there is some focaccia and some cheeses and hard boiled eggs, oh, and we also have some really nice cappuccino ". We all went over and filled our plates and cappuccino cup , this was nice ". At the table , Isabelle looked to me and said " so , you have meet my grandpa Felice " . I answered " yes, he is a very nice man, he was so very nice to us on the train ". She answered back , " I was adopted less than a year after " , she paused a moment " after you went missing " . paused again, with a sad face " they told us you were killed " . she took a deep breath , " I was kind of in shock for a long time , you guys were my family there " . I was so fortunate to have been blessed with being adopted , my Mom Giulia , you have not met her. She is so wonderful to me , such a kind heart . I thank God all the time for his blessing " . I replied " well , we also received a blessing , perhaps with a little adventure along with the blessing. We did get captured by Germans. They actually took us onto their truck with prisoners. We were lucky to have found a soldier with a soft heart ". Dario interjected " Perhaps a guilty heart , it was his gun that got us into that mess ". Isabelle took a deep breath " a gun ! .. oh no , where did the gun come from ? ". George answered that one " well, I found it by a bush " pausing " when I went to go pee " . Isabelle with eyes wide open " so you found a soldiers lost gun , and then they went looking for the gun and found you ". we all nodded , " exactly " . She was almost scolding us " you could have been killed , you should never have left the convent, you knew it was dangerous " . I replied " well , I'll take the blame for that one. I guess I owe my friends here a lot . I put us all in danger ". George looked to me " No Marco , it was not your fault. You didn't know I would find a gun in the bush" . Dario continued " and I could have said no , I don't want to go with you to the river . But that day , I agreed to go . And besides , look how it turned out " . Isabelle looked to Dario " so what happened after the soldiers took you away ? " . Dario replied " well, like Marco was saying , they put us on a truck with prisoners , the soldier that had lost the gun was also in the back with us on guard duty ". Then I interjected " his name was Patrick " . Dario said " it was ? " . I replied , " yes , he told me his name before he was going to throw me off the truck , but I just jumped after you guys went over the hill " . George said " you never told us his name ". I replied " Yes, at the time I didn't think of it much , I was more concerned with surviving and everything moved so quickly , it didn't seem important " . Isabelle seemed stunned , then she said " Patrick told you his name because he wanted you to remember him as the one that saved your life " . And I replied " Yes , and I still remember that moment and his face , because I know that now . If he hadn't been in the back of the truck with us , we most likely would not be here speaking with you today ". We all let out a deep breath and sat in silence a minute. Then George started to eat " hey, this focaccia is really good ! ". we all smiled. Isabelle said " yes, try to put some blue cheese on it , and some walnuts. It's really good ". We all listened to her suggestion , and she was absolutely correct , with cappuccino, it all goes down very well.
The next couple of weeks moved very quickly. Isabelle showed us around Genoa, we visited a lot of places, From the home of Columbus and his family, to the prison of Marco Polo, and of course the Corso Italia where everyone goes to enjoy and socialize by the seaside. My personal favorite was the Faro di Genoa, or the Lighthouse of Genoa. It kind of sticks out on the Genoa skyline as it is the tallest structure around. It has a large cross half way up on the outside and has seen a lot of historical events since it was built originally about 1000 years ago. It has been through invasions, rebuilding, imprisonments. I had decided to go to see the top, it was a long way up. What I was most impressed with was a carved, marble stone along the way up, it's been there for centuries, it said in latin "Christus rex venit in pace et Deus Homo factus est. or (Jesus Christ king came in peace, and God became Man). I think it says a lot ".
The view from the top was quite spectacular. One can see the curvature of the earth along the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. The ancient people thought it marked the end of the world , although it turned out it's actually just the beginning. Today we take this knowledge for granted . Lesson for mankind, always question the unknown and never fear it.
C H A P T E R 6
September had arrived and the cool crisp air was very relaxing. Isabelle, George and I were at the soccer field watching Dario kick soccer balls and training with some other members of the team. I have to say he was very good at it, he was definitely built to be a soccer player, thin and nimble, and most important, very agile. Isabelle was enjoying looking at the guys play, then she said while watching " Marco, when is the ship coming into port ? ". I turned to her " well, we are supposed to depart Sept 4th, so it should be soon ". Isabelle looked at me " normally they come in a day or two before they leave , what is the name of the vessel ?" I said, " it is the Vulcania " Excitedly she replied " oh, I remember that one, it was here for some time last year and it was being reconditioned, then they travelled to South America I was told. But, you are not going to South America, right ?" . Quickly I replied " No, we are going to New York " She said, "That's funny, I guess they changed the transit route. Imagine how many places that vessel has seen. I was told that it once belonged to an American company and they transported American troops during the war with it". I was surprised " Really ? , that is very interesting". I looked to George " Now we can say we have been on a ship that American soldiers travelled on ". We both smiled, and then I said " Well, I will write a letter to Domenico and Elisetta tonight and mention that to them, I'm sure Domenico will find it interesting". Isabelle replied " I would like to meet your parents one day, they must be very special people ". George replied " Yes, they are. Very much so. I do miss them already". I looked to George, " They are still with you George, we will now travel on an adventure that we will remember and tell stories to our children one day about it. We will see our parents again, sooner than you think". Isabelle replied with a serious look " Marco, your are very mature for your age , you have a lot of insight on life at a very young age ". I replied " I hope that's a good thing ". We all laughed.
I awoke as the sun peeked over the horizon following morning, I walked over to the balcony and looked out to sea , there was a large ship coming into port. She had one large smoke stack and two masts, the waves vanished under her bow as she glided into the harbor. Our ship had come in and I was eager to see her. I quickly got myself dressed , George looked at me " where are you going ? , it's still dark out " . Excitedly I replied, " our ship is coming into port, come and see with me ". George laid back to bed " I will come later when the sun is out and the normal people are looking ". I continued out the door and walked briskly to the harbor. I walked over to the berth and waited , it seemed to take forever, and then suddenly I spotted the ship approaching, I could read Vulcania on the forward side. As she was pulling in I was amazed by the size of this vessel , out at sea it looked a lot different than when you are standing by her side. It was amazing to me that she was made entirely from steel and yet managed to float on water. I counted about 7 or 8 levels, it was like a floating city. As she approached , the dock men came out to portside, the crew threw large ropes over the side and they quickly managed to tie her down. The mooring ropes were very large, it took several men to carry them and hook them onto the mooring cleats. I was observing every step and very absorbed in their procedures. When they were done, the men walked back towards where I was standing. One of them looked at me and said " What are you doing here at this time of the morning young man, if you're looking for a job, go see the dock master back at the terminal office ". I was kind of surprised, then I replied " Oh, well, actually I will be traveling onboard the vessel when it sails". The man replied " Really, you're going to New York , that's a good idea. There will be plenty of jobs available at that side of the pond". and he just kept on walking. The pond he said, he must have crossed it a few times to call it a pond. I didn't know what I would be doing on the other side of this pond, however, since I arrived to this city, I was intrigued by the sea. I wanted to explore the worlds horizons and see the places I could not even imagine while lingering in one place on land.
Later in the evening, we all took a walk to see the ship. We stopped at a bench and sat , Isabelle looked to George " are you all ready George ? ". George replied " yes, I've been dreaming about America a long time now, it's time to go and see for myself. Besides, what else is there to do ". She smiled and looked at me " and you Marco, how are you feeling about it ? ". I thought about it a bit " I have always read and heard from other people about America, Domenico spoke very highly about America and what America has to offer. I am certainly curious to go there, but right now, I think I have more passion for boarding this ship and crossing this vast sea. To think this ship can travel all over the world by floating over water is alluring to me". Dario looked at me puzzled " yes, but you are only traveling a week and then you will be in New York". I replied " yes, well, one step at a time. For the moment, I will experience crossing the sea into another world, a new world". Isabelle replied almost blushing " Marco, you are very romantic ". I replied with surprise " I am ? ". Dario looked at Isabelle " Him ? " pointing at me. I think he was jealous. Needless to say, Isabelle and Dario seemed to be getting along quite nicely, visibly more than friends. We said our goodbye's and promised to write once we arrived to New York. Dario and Isabelle needed to attend class tomorrow morning, so George and I would go to the ship on our own. I asked Dario to write Elisetta and Domenico and let them know everything was well.
Morning of September 4th arrived, George and I arrived with our belongings for loading onto the vessel. We were 3rd class passengers so we were placed on the lower deck, we did have a window in our cabin, although it was indeed quite a small space. The window was not very high off the water, so we could not see much. It didn't bother us, we were happy to be on this beautiful ship., and we would not be spending a lot of time in the cabin. Once we settled in we made our way to the main deck, we observed the large smokestack, it was painted red at the top, a white ring to follow and then a blue ring underneath. It looked quite regal. Suddenly we heard a loud horn, and then a loudspeaker " Good morning ladies and gentlemen , this is Captain Alessandro, welcome aboard the Vulcania. This vessel has recently been reconditioned and I hope you will enjoy her accommodations. The vessel is 633 feet long and weighs 24000 tons, considering these factors, the vessel is capable of a maximum speed of 21 knots. This will be the first voyage of a new service route to New York. We will stop in Naples tomorrow morning to pick up some passengers, and then onward to the strait of Gibraltar were we will stop briefly to let off a few passengers going to Morocco by shuttle boat. After that it is non stop open ocean until New York , you will briefly see some islands soon after Gibraltar, they are the famous canary islands. For the time being, the weather forecast is fair and the winds are in our favor, we should reach New York on schedule September 12th early morning. I wish you all a wonderful voyage. If you have any questions, please ask an attendant for assistance. Thank you". During the announcement we noticed the ship started moving, it was interesting as we could not really here the engines, however we were moving, we could see we were pulling out of the berth. George and I went forward and had a look, we could see small tugboats pulling , pushing and turning us. They must have been pretty powerful ships to move a 24,000 ton vessel I thought. Once we were pointed out toward the harbor exit, I could see the smoke and hear the engines, the tug boats let go of the ropes and slowly followed us out. The wind started blowing a little as we past the lighthouse, I quickly remembered my visit. Quickly we were out in open sea , the waves were a little bigger, however, the ship was quite steady, I had imagined it would rock more than this I thought to myself. It was getting little chilly and George said " why don't we go inside, it's a little too windy here ". I agreed and replied " okay , let's go get some warmer clothes ". On the way to our cabin, we found the 3rd class lounge and we stepped in to look it over ". It seemed nice enough to sit for a while and get some coffee and cake. George walked over to a magazine rack and picked out a magazine, walked back and sat next to me " wow, she is beautiful " he said. I looked over, it was a magazine named movieland with the face of a beautiful movie star. I said to him "who is it ? ". he turned to me and said " her name is Lauren Bacall ". So I got up and walked to the bookshelf while he was admiring his magazine. I looked through a few books and one stood out to me , Robinson Crusoe. It had lots of illustrations of ships and sailor men. I brought it back with me and started reading, from the start I was absorbed.
I found myself contented by the gentle rocking of the ship, it was a gentle movement from forward to aft. Together with my newly found adventure book, I was absorbed in my own new world. George came to me and nudged me on the shoulder " hey , are you still with me ? ... you haven't gotten up in few hours now ". I gazed at him briefly, put my book down " well, I'm enjoying my book ". George pointed to the door " come one, let's go take a walk up on the main deck, I need some air ". At first I hesitated, then " okay, but it will be windy, the sun is coming down now". Excitedly George rebutted " let's go watch the sunset ". It seemed like a good idea, so I replied " that's a good idea George, our first sunset at sea, let's make our way starboard " George looked at me funny as we were walking out " huh , make our way where ? " . I shook my head " never mind George, just follow me ".
Once we made our way out to the main deck, we could see a lot of people around enjoying the sea air. It was not so windy on the starboard side as the winds were blowing out of the east. We found a clear spot where we could see the sun making it's final peek at our section of the world for this day, our first day at sea and the beginning of a new life. As the sun lowered, it's color became more orange and you could feel the warmth of the sun slowly dissipating as well. I noticed it's gleam on the open sea pointing out as if leading a path, a path the ship did not follow. I wondered what may lie in the lighted path. George was holding his arms together " let's go in now, I'm cold ". I agreed and we went inside, it was dinner time.
That night back at the room, I was lying in my bunk, my book in hand. The ship gently rocked me into my comfort zone and I was absorbed with Robinson Crusoe on his island of despair. I tried to imagine what it would be like to find myself alone on a deserted island. I was fascinated at the power of his thinking and finding means to survive and make his life comfortable, although all alone. He was a determined man, ready to face any and all of life's challenges. I decided I wanted to be like him. There was s knock at the door, it was George " hey , what are you up to ? ". With a destitute stare I replied " I was trying to get to sleep ". George replied in spirited fashion " Sleep ? , our first night at sea and you are sleeping ? come on , there is a party going on at the third class lounge ". At first I was hesitant " I don't know George, I was already half asleep , you go on without me, I don't mind". George insisted " come on , there are a lot of interesting people there and we are all heading for the same place, may as well make some friends ". He talked me into it, so I put on some clothes and went with him to third class lounge. It was very crowded compared to what it was like earlier in the day, I guess people all come out at night around here. George walked over to a table with a few people and waved me on, I followed. " This is my brother Marco ". I smiled " nice to meet all of you". One man answered " I am Giulio " , another " I am Pietro , are you two young men traveling alone ?". I replied, " yes, we are going to New York to meet some family members ". Giulio replied " will you stay in New York or will you travel further ?". I thought about it a little " For the moment we will stay in New York, we have our accommodations in place." Giulio smiling " that's good, just thought I would let you know that if you are looking for jobs, there are plenty in Cleveland where we are going, we will be welders for the railroad company". George replied " that sounds kind of dangerous ". Pietro replied " well, you do need to have some skill, or you can blow yourself and your friends up into pieces". We all smiled. George replied " for the time being, we are going to work at the New York harbor terminal, most likely unloading the ships". Giulio replied " that's a good job , you can move on from there quickly ". Pietro interjected " let's go get a snack, I see lot's of goodies there". We all followed and enjoyed the feast. There was American music playing and people were sharing some of their home made wine they brought with them. I thought to myself that Domenico would have liked to try some and I wondered how he an Elisetta were back home. I had not seen them in quite a while now. I thought I should write them a letter during the trip so I can mail it off as soon as we arrive to New York. I felt a little guilty not missing being back home, everyday was like a new adventure since we left and I was enjoying it. I was finally seeing that the world has lot's to offer, and I was eager to see more.
I slept soundly that night until the sunlight peered through our porthole window and I noticed the ship was not rocking, I got up and looked outside and noticed we already had docked. George had already left and I wondered how long I was sleeping. I quickly put myself together and made my way out, I stopped at the third class lounge, I noticed Giulio was there. I went over to him " Good morning , have you seen George ?". He replied " Good morning, yes, I did , he had breakfast earlier and said he was going up to main deck. We are at Naples !". I replied " Yes, I see that, I slept all throughout the docking". Giulio pointed to the food table " well, go get some breakfast before they take it away ". I went over and grabbed couple eggs and potatoes. Giulio was reading a newspaper, I went back over and sat down with him. Giulio asked " How do you like travel by vessel ?". With my fork and knife in hand " well, yesterday was my first day, and I have to say I really like it". Giulio looked at me with a dubious look " well, this is my fourth crossing. When the weather is nice like this, yes, it is nice. However, if you find a storm squall, things can change rapidly. One time, we found 25 foot waves. Believe me, the ship was rocking, some people can handle it, and some cannot". I looked at him, took in a mouthful and thought about that a bit. It didn't seem to scare me , this ship was so big and strong, I don't think some 25 foot wave could do much to it. Giulio continued " well, we are in early September, we still have time before the rough weather season arrives". I finished my breakfast " I actually have been thinking of enrolling as a ship worker, I like the idea of traveling to different places around the world". Giulio smiled " you are an adventurer ! , good for you, you should have your adventures now that you are young, once you are older, we all settle down into the same situation". I asked him " are you married ?". He answered with a disenchanted face , looking into my eyes " Am I man ? are men all fools ? ...Yes, I am married. I took a wife, I brought forth children and bought us all a home. The whole calamity ! ". I looked at him and could not come up with anything to reply. He continued " This is why I am going to Cleveland , I have come back and forth to America, this is my fourth trip, each time I go home, I ask my wife to come to America with me. She always refuses". Then I replied " That must be difficult to be away from your family". He looked at me with stern eyes " Listen to me, marriage, you won't understand until it's too late. Make sure you pick the right woman. One that understands you and thinks like you, and respects you.". I looked at him and pretended to comprehend, although I really was not even thinking about marriage. Otherwise, I would have stayed back in L'Aquila and settled down selling produce or something. I felt a yearning to seek out and find what was missing in my life, I don't know what it was I was seeking, but I knew it was not back in L'Aquila. So I changed the subject " have you ever been to Naples ?". Quickly he replied " Yes , it's very beautiful. Well, we are here today, you should go outside and have a look around. You won't see too much around here, but there are many beautiful old buildings and castles and churches, this is an ancient city with lot's of history." I replied " Yes, it does look very interesting from here , I will come back one day. I intend to work for a shipping company and would like to travel aboard cargo ships and visit ports around the world." It was the first time I said that to anyone , I was thinking of it to myself since I had arrived to Genoa, and the idea seems to agree with my soul".
The ships horn blew , I got up and walked to the window , I could see we were starting off as the ship guided off the berth. I waved off to Giulio and made my way to main deck. There were lot's of people looking over the railing and waving at onlookers on shore. People always seem to be warm and emotional when a ship leaves port , it's both a good feeling , and sometimes sad at the same time. I was at sea only a short time and already I sense that once you are at sea, you seem to be in a world all it's own. A place where one can lose their burden and enjoy the moment one creates. We drifted away from Naples, and I knew I would not see her again for long time , I waved and smiled. I felt a tap on my shoulder " what are you waving at ?". said George. I smiled at him " well, as far as I know it's Naples. Thought I'd wave, it's only the polite thing to do when one leaves a friend". George looked at me with his eyebrows raised " Okay. What do you say we go and play some checkers ?". I looked at George with my eyebrows raised this time " checkers ? , since when do you play checkers ?". he replied, " since this morning , they have some checkerboard games at the lounge, I made couple friends there. Come on". He waved me on and we went. I never really played checkers in my life but I knew the basics. George beat me three times in a row and I gave my seat to another victim. Wasn't sure where George learned his checker skills , but he definitely had a good technique. The new contender asked George if he was willing to place a bet and offered to play for 25 cents. They both placed the 25 cents on the table and played the game. This guy was better than I was and was giving George a good contest. I was learning more of the game as I watched them. You definitely need to pay attention tavern move and what possibilities it opens up. In the end George won and claimed the winnings. The young man smirked " where did you learn to play so well ?" he asked to George. George hesitated a moment " well, actually I never played the game before today". The young man replied " that's impossible ", then he placed his hand in his pocket " I want to play you again for a chance to get my money back , he is 50 cents". Somehow I was not liking this picture , this guy was few years older than us and somehow I was feeling a scam. I spoke out to George " George, we are late for our appointment". The young man blurted " Appointment ? what appointment... we are on a ship. There are no appointments here. You need to be fair and give me a chance, it's the rules". George nodded yes and put his 50 cents back in the pot. A few new people started walking over to watch, one of them was Giulio. Then Giulio tapped my shoulder and pulled my aside whispering in my ear " come outside with me ". So I followed out of the room. Whispering he said to me " you need to tell your brother to stop the game when he is done". I asked "why ?". He replied " that guy is an excellent checker player, he is playing your brother like a piano, he will let him win again this time, and maybe the next... but eventually he will take the pot and maybe all your money". I frowned. "I had a feeling that was happening". I said. So we went back in and sure enough, George shouted " Check Mate !". So I quickly said to George " Okay George, it's time to go, the captain is waiting for us ". George looked at me puzzled " huh ?". The young man stood up " oh no you don't , you are not leaving this room without one more game ". So I grabbed George by the wrist and I pulled him with me, the young man grabbed George and a scuffle broke out. There was some shoving , Giulio grabbed a chair and so did the young man, next thing you know there was some broken furniture and a few bruises. Some of the ship staff came in quickly and broke it up. We were all brought to the security room. Each one of us was questioned individually and we each explain our version, then we waited. Finally a ship officer came in and asked to see me first, I followed him to another room. He told me to sit down and then asked " are you the bother of George ?". I replied " Yes ". Do you know the young man he was gambling with ?". I replied "No." Waving his finger at me he said " You should know better than to get involved in gambling practices abroad a passenger vessel ". I replied " it started as an innocent game, first George and I were playing and he beat me several times, then this person asked to take my place , we did not intend to play for money". The officer looked at me " I believe you , I can see you and your brother are not trouble makers. But now you have a problem". With a worried look I said to him " what ?". You are on board a ship for the next week with a trouble maker that has a sour taste in his mouth as he was not able to scam you and your brother". pausing " he will seek revenge. I'm not sure what to do with you and your brother, I know these types and there is no predicting how he will react". Then he continued " I will need to speak with the captain, for now I suggest you and your brother go to your cabin and stay there until I call for you". I agreed and the officer asked me to follow him, he opened the door and George was standing there with another officer and we were told to be quiet as they escorted us to our cabin. Once at the room, George opened up first " what did they tell you ?". I replied" well, they said they know we are not the trouble makers, but I think they feel we are in danger from the other guy as he may seek revenge ". At first George looked worried , then he said " I'm not afraid of that guy, he's not so big". I replied " George, we need to be careful and listen to the officers, we don't need to get a record before we even make it to New York". He looked at my eyes " hmmph ... I guess you are right. But I won him fair and square".