calabr 27Gassino was its name, Italian village on the outskirts of the northern city called Torino and it was in the foothills of the Italian Alps built on a slope stretching up and up to the top of the town where old villas sat facing the village below them lights twinkling like fireflies at night looking for love, sex, vengeance – mountains loomed over everything tall and majestic clouds like gentle explosions framing their peaks just outside my backyard you felt like you could touch them, like you could spit on all their holy bullshit and the hell with everything, when you’re fixing to die it all comes together anyway, all to an end and everything in the end and to the beginning and back again, I lived there, in one of those villas, a particularly modern one built out of orange bricks and just about the size of a small school, fucking big thing man, but welcoming and warm and always full of people lit up like firecrackers fixing to die…
Mother there, grandmother, great-grandmother, father and brother back in Canada, myself a kid of 14 just coming into puberty and digging all the young Italian chicks walking around the village and trekking up to the mountains right by the path in front of my house, all this beautiful rendering of flesh and youthful desire some kind of torturous heaven for a kid my age, man oh man…from my place the journey to the village was all downhill a twisting narrow road lined with small stone houses and cafes on both sides me hugging the walls as cars raced by without a thought or care about my ass, and I would ride my bike down those streets hitting speeds dangerous to body and soul and thinking back I realize my damn luck cuz the road was so steep, y’see, that hitting the brakes was impossible – you started at the top of the road, took the plunge, and until you hit the flat land of the village center you were at the mercy of the gods and of those fuckheads driving those cursed Fiats like there was absolutely no time to waste, not a second to spare, life is short, yes it is, feeling the wind of cars as they barely miss you, feeling the rush and the fear of near-death, and the graceful radiant luck as you skid to a halt at the mouth of the village….
Went flying over handlebars and smashed right into a fence once, car tire racing by my head as I lay on the ground wondering if god loves me….stopped taking the bike after that…but those jaunts to the town center were full of problem-free joy and if you have ever been to Italy then you understand what I mean when I describe that constant smell of cooking that is always present, that life-affirming aroma that hangs in the air like the solution to everything, especially pervasive in the small villages that dot the entire country and that are the real Italy, but no matter, the butcher’s shop and that strange looking woman hanging on the front stoop as a thin trickle of blood flowed to the street, the café with the old men playing cards and drinking espresso and brandy day and night arguing about soccer, politics, life, the bread shop – man, the bread shop – you want to talk about smell? Is there a better aroma than baking bread? All kinds of bread, flat bread, long bread, sourdough, pane toscano, French baguette, panini, pancarre, I would stop there every day after school and just hang out for a while, just smile and dig being alive, what ever happened to that feeling?
Then there was the outdoor swimming pool just a few blocks from my school, used to go there with my friends and cousins during summer break and the girls our age were there and we awkwardly flirted and dug their bathing suits and their mischievous smiles and their need to play the game, and all the village young people would gather there on a Saturday afternoon feeling like this was everything, this was the entire world, there was nothing else, and if there was, we couldn’t have cared less – this was the world, and it was fine, and it was enough – one of the lifeguards was a woman, maybe 21 or 22 years old, and she was my first crush, my first older woman, I never spoke to her of course, never even smiled at her, it was enough to look at her in her black bikini, red bikini, purple bikini, gold bikini with black dots, thick brown hair curly and wild, tan skin and painted toes and thighs as round as heaven, and it was enough to think of her when I was alone at home hand in my pants all my fantasies as real as anything and in my 14 year old head she was there, sitting right beside me in my room as we discovered rock and roll, as we listened to old April Wine records and wondered and marveled at this new thing called rock and roll…
I used to think that rock and roll made me feel like an animal, my first and truest love causing an explosion in my life beyond description, all that guitar riffing and fuzzing tearing the skies wide open, those drums banging the shit out of all things decent and holy my head snapping back and forth like war-time Ohio and Alan Freed sweating buckets spinning Little Richard records with no time left….and the walk uphill as we went home sun just kind of hanging low waiting to disappear, took the opposite way many times up an open road large field on either side town cemetery large and wild I would stop there…great-grandmother’s grave was there and I would rest back against tombstone and think – about her, about me, about my school, about Canada I left behind, about father and brother in Canada, about doing something stupid and crazy, but enough with it, I would slowly make for home my young knees feeling no pain walking the steep slope home road turning to gravel then through the woods past the wild dogs and even wilder cats, took great-grandmother there for a walk once – she was about 84 years old, very short, chubby, big nose, kerchief on her head, but in incredible shape and endurance like those old-village people are without even trying and felt mischievous started telling her all sorts of stories about bandits in the hills, and wild animals roaming the countryside, and the bandits would kidnap people and hold them for ransom, great-nonna beginning to get scared hanging on to me tight yet enjoying the trip, I could tell, I think she knew I was bullshitting but enjoyed the thrill like riding a rollercoaster, y’now, a safe kind of scare….
So 45 minutes after leaving the swimming pool I would reach the beginning of my street gravel road leading right up to our house on the corner heard my dogs barking then saw them at the fence causing all sorts of shit, German Shepperd bastard, Collie, Chihuahua all excited to see me, front gate green with long cement stairs leading up to an archway and there sat my great-nonna her thick grey hair in a bun peeling potatoes or mixing salads or playing solitaire, I walk in and she hugs me then gives me shit about something, mother and grandma cleaning or visiting with aunts and uncles, uh-huh…our backyard about the size of a soccer field but on a slope except for the flat stone patio grand and large that circled the house and there I went to kick the soccer ball around dreaming of being a professional soccer player playing for Torino in Serie A all those fat-ass lazy fans cheering for me and me fucking around with the groupies, what a life, huh, I didn’t stop until I heard my mother screaming it was suppertime and there came those Italian scents, there came that food and that way of living but just before I go in I see something through the slats of our fence neighbor’s villa being right there…I see the daughter girl my age called Fiorenza sun-bathing in her red bikini and I watch in silence and I feel like the sun is melting and I feel hidden and brave and she lifts a thigh to the sky, yawns, turns her head in my direction….she sees me….she frowns….then she smiles and winks and closes her eyes…
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