From left: Patrizia Catanoso, her friend Angela and Patrizia’s husband Orazio Velardi
From my journal, written late at night after a full day of reporting in Reggio Calabria on June 14, 2006. A long day ended with a gathering of cousins at a trattoria near the city center:
“So I’m sitting in the corner at this restaurant, letting the Italian spoken at the table wash over me like coins dropped on a metal chute – they run right off. I stare at the faces, most of them truly Calabrian faces. Dark hair, usually straight, often jet black. Almond shaped eyes. Naturally olive complexions. Strong chins and jaw lines. There is so much touching in Italy — the natural, expected cheek kisses, where don’t really kiss, just touch cheeks, left than right. So many women are over-the-top beautiful, dark hair and skin and eyes, sexiness flowing naturally like water from a spring.
“I tire of observing and decide to ask some questions, even though I know the answers will be nearly impossible to understand. My Italian stinks. I ask Daniela – ‘Do you ever think of America? Do you ever think what your life would be like if your parents or grandparents had left here like my grandfather and grandmother?’ No, she says right off, a homebody through and through. She says: We think of America as a nice place to visit, but not live there. Patricia leans over and asks what we’re talking about. When she hears, she puts her hands together as if praying and shakes them up and down – ‘No, I always say, why didn’t my grandfather go to America? Why not? Why not? If he had, I would be there now.’ She’s serious. She turns to me and says, you find me a job in America and I will come. What about your husband’He can stay here!” she jokes. ‘I like Reggio,’ she goes on, ‘but maybe it would be better in America.’
“I ask her to speculate on why my grandfather, Carmelo Catanoso, left Calabria when so few other Catanosos did the same. ‘No lo so,’ Patricia says. ‘Non lo so. (I don’t know) It was very poor here, very poor. So much misery. That’s why Gaetano is a saint.’
“I want to know more. So much more. But now the conversation can’t go any deeper. It is the curse of showing up so late on the scene and suffering from this language divide. My meager Italian skills are a bit like torture, enabling me to crack the surface of a topic or thought, but like parched ground baked in the sun, not able to let me dig much deeper. Not at all. The curtain is still pulled across the past. And I’m struggling to yank it aside.”