Monday, October 19, 2015
My Father's Daughter, From Rome To Sicily by Gilda Morina Syverson
Title: My Father's Daughter, From Rome to Sicily
In this multigenerational memoir, My Father's Daughter, From Rome to Sicily, our author travels with her Italian-born father, Italian-American mother, and very-American husband to the villages of her ancestors. This trilogy tale leads the reader through ancient sites of Rome, landscapes of a picturesque countryside, seaside villages of Sicily, olive trees in the valley of Mount Etna, while contrasting an emotional journey between a father and daughter.
Former North Carolina Poet Laureate, Joseph Bathanti, says, "My Father's Daughter: From Rome to Sicily" is a travel book in every sense. Syverson - a savvy, funny, elegant tour guide - expertly escorts us through the gorgeous time-locked terrain of Italy, but also along the often precarious byways of the heart. This book risks everything: its humanity, its courage, its sheer unbridled candor, the moving sweep of its poetic language and its refusal to turn away from the breathtaking mystery of love and ancestry.
* Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Sunday, October 15
Bright lights on the digital alarm blink 5:00 a.m. Five o’clock? What in the world am I doing awake? And what is this inner voice nagging me about room reservations in Rome? Something doesn’t feel right. Today? Sunday. Tomorrow is Monday. We’re leaving—Mom, Dad, Stu and me—for our trip to Italy and Sicily.
Why this message now and not when the itinerary arrived two months ago? Wait. I did wonder why the address for the hotel was different from what Carol, our travel agent, gave me on the phone. Why didn’t I pay attention to those feelings when the reservations first arrived?
I’ve been to Italy half a dozen times. Anything’s possible there. The building could be on a side alley, the address on the main road. Carol referred to the place as Hotel Columbus, and in her next breath called it Hotel Cristoforo Colombo.
It didn’t seem unusual to hear her use English and then Italian. After all, we both have Italian backgrounds. That’s why I used Carol to make the flight arrangements. I even chuckled when she rolled those rich flowing vowels off her tongue. Maybe I shouldn’t be so friendly and focus strictly on business.
One night on the Internet, I looked up the Hotel Columbus. Just like Carol had said, the
address was Via della Conciliazione, Numero 34. The ad even touted that they were only blocks from the Vatican. I assumed the street address on the itinerary was simply an error. How many Christopher Columbus Hotels could there be, anyway? It wasn’t a chain— that much I knew.
At different times in my life, I’ve learned to let go and let others do things for me. But it didn’t come easy. Being the second oldest of eight children, I’ve often felt overly responsible.
I can’t be in charge of absolutely everything. At least that’s what I’ve tried to tell myself after having moved away from my large Italian-American family. Besides, our agent is not just any fly-by-night. She’s been in the business for over thirty years specializing in trips to Italy.
Now, here I am the morning before we’re supposed to leave, and I can’t stop churning. If I don’t get back to sleep, I’ll wake my husband. There’s no sense in both Stu and me being sleep deprived. I slip out of bed, climb the stairs to my art studio and quietly close the door. I hate following up after Carol, but I’m calling that hotel in Rome.
“Buon giorno,” I say in my best Italian. “Parla Inglese?”
I’ve learned that if anyone there admits to speaking English, his or her verbal skills are much more fluent than my broken Italian. Luigi, the person on the other end of the phone, takes my last name and my parents‟ name, then asks for our reservation numbers.
“No problema,” Luigi says in his rich accent; we are booked.
To be absolutely sure, I say, “Now this is the Hotel Columbus two blocks from the Vatican, correct?”
“No, not correct,” Luigi replies. “We are about fifteen kilometers from the Vatican.”
Fifteen kilometers doesn’t register. I envision fifteen yards, fifteen feet, fifteen anything but kilometers.
“Si,” I repeat, “fifteen kilometers is right down the street from the Vatican, correct?”
“No, not correct,” he says again. “Kilometers, kilometers,” he repeats, pronouncing each syllable—key lom e tours.
And then it hits me.
“KILOMETERS?” I bellow, “But my travel agent said that you were in walking distance of the Vatican.”
“We are not,” he says. “You will have to take a bus or a tassi.”
Frantic, I hang up furious with myself for not having listened to my intuition after the
itinerary arrived months ago. I ignored that internal voice trying to tell me something was awry and assumed my imagination had gotten the best of me, as I’ve been told most of my life it did.
I click on the Internet and find the phone number for the other Hotel Columbus and call. A woman named Stefania also replies yes to my question about speaking English.
“I’m sorry, Madam,” she says, “We do not have your name.”
She doesn’t have the reservation number that I read off either. Obviously, the confirmation system at one hotel is different from another. But I am grasping here. It’s pretty apparent that our reservations are with the first place I called.
I’m going to Rome with my mother and father, seventy- three and seventy-six, respectively. Although they’re not old, they’re not young and used to traveling either. And we’re not even staying close to the Vatican.
My father attends Mass every day, sometimes twice. Mom is not compulsive about daily Mass, but she is excited about being within walking distance from what we’ve always been taught is the seat of Catholicism.
Thanks to Stu, my Episcopalian husband, we’re scheduled to see Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's piazza the morning after we arrive in Italy. Stu's nephew's wife’s father, a colonel in the U.S. Army, had once been stationed at the American Embassy in Rome, and he was able to arrange a papal audience for us. Well, the four of us and about 8,000 other people.
The plan is to walk to the piazza from our hotel. Since the year 2000 is the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Celebration, we do not want to fight the traffic with the thousands of pilgrims who will be flooding Vatican City from all areas of the capital. Even though the main impetus for the trip is to visit my parents' ancestral towns in Sicily, how can we go to Italy with my folks and not visit Rome?
Now on the other end of the phone, Stefania, the woman from the hotel near the Vatican, is trying to calm my rattled nerves.
“Madam, stay in the hotel that you have a reservation for and then try to find another place after you arrive. Rooms are scarce here,” she continues. “You are lucky to have one at all.”
Lucky is not how I’m feeling. I explain to Stefania how my parents are older, that it’s my mother’s first trip abroad, and we are willing take any available rooms. After several apologies and her sympathy, Stefania says they are totally booked. Exasperated, I go back to bed and crawl beneath the covers. So much for trying not to rouse my husband.
“Stu,” I whisper, “Those hotel reservations in Rome... they’re not at all near the Vatican.”
His eyes pop open.
Now we’re both awake for the day. I wait until almost 8:30 before I call our travel agent at home. Carol and I spend most of Sunday on and off the phone. Even though she looks on numerous Internet sites for another place near the Vatican, none of her attempts meet with success.
Gilda Morina Syverson, artist, poet, writer and teacher, was born and raised in a large, Italian-American family in Syracuse, New York. Her heritage is the impetus for her memoir My Father’s Daughter, From Rome to Sicily. Gilda’s story was a Novello Literary Award Finalist previously entitled Finding Bottom: an Italian-American woman’s journey to the old country.
Gilda’s award winning poems and prose have appeared in literary journals, magazines and anthologies in the United States and Canada. She is also the author of the full-length poetry book, Facing the Dragon, and the chapbook, In This Dream Everything Remains Inside. Her commentaries have been aired on WFAE, Charlotte, N.C.’s public radio station.
Gilda moved to Charlotte, NC after having received an MFA in Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education from Buffalo State College. Gilda has taught in the Creative Arts for over 35 years including memoir classes and workshops for Queens University of Charlotte, The Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius, N.C. and at various other locations. Her fine art has been exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally. Her angel drawings and prints are in a number of collections throughout the United States, Canada and Italy.
Gilda lives outside of Charlotte, N.C. with her husband Stu.