Thursday, March 09, 2006

Childhood on the island of Murano -- A memoir of Italy has a Chico connection


Some 34 years after she came to America, Walnut Creek resident Lucia Barbini Falcone finds herself back in northeastern Italy for a vacation with her large family.

Her mother is in bed, frail, "not like the determined and energetic person she had been. No. All traces of Mama have disappeared. What lies in bed now is a scribble of the original. Not even an imitation of my mama, only a forgery." It is inevitable, perhaps, that memories flood in.

"I think of my heritage, of my childhood, of all of our relatives and friends who still live on the small island of Murano and in my mind I see a young girl walking over bridges with her siblings and friends, talking to relatives and passersby."

Murano, Falcone writes, is "a speck of land in the Venetian Lagoon adjacent to Venice. ... A place -- which at times seems to appear and disappear within the depth of its capricious tides -- not only linked by its bridges, but as well by the written and unwritten laws engraved within its social fabric."

Later, recounting a visit to Murano with a childhood friend, she would write of "a mystical world in which fantasy and reality fuse into one. I savor the beauty of it all, just like I savor the stories of my childhood veiled by time, that have become more magical with each passing year."

That world is evoked in "Over Bridges, Across Tables: Growing Up On the Island of Murano" ($16.95 in paperback from Trafford Publishing or from Falcone Books, P.O. Box 3463, Walnut Creek, 94598) in which the author becomes a character, Anna Marchini. "I've taken the liberty of rearranging names and certain events," she writes, "out of respect for my family and friends in Murano, but the essence of the stories is true."

Falcone is the sister-in-law of Joyce Anderson of Chico, who wrote me that "two of Lucia's three daughters attended and graduated from Chico State so Lucia has been a frequent visitor to Chico. ... Nicole, their eldest daughter, married a young man from Murano. ... Through the years Lucia's nieces, nephews and sisters have visited this area. They've been impressed by our big park and especially with the university campus, although during an August visit, one sister remarked that being in Chico was 'like living on the sun.' For generations Lucia's family have been glass makers, and it's interesting to know that in Murano, famous for its glass, they admire the works of our very own Orient and Flume. (The letters 'ch' are pronounced with a 'k' sound in Italian, so 'Chico' is mispronounced there as 'Kiko.')"

"Over Bridges" is full of dozens of vignettes of Murano life. The island is only 1,100 acres and now has a population of 7,000, but to young Anna it was an entire world. Born in 1949, Anna grew up with five siblings. Her mother, Teresa, had fallen in love with her husband, Nicolò ("Nico") when she was just 13. Anna thought it was not so strange, then, when she, age 12, fell in love with a young man named Davide. Mouths flapped, of course, but that was to be expected. "On the island, people took a fragment of your life and made it their own when there was not enough excitement in theirs."

Anna and her friend Tina "walked to forbidden corners of the island, even after Mama's friend, Signora Lena, told us that if we took one step past the lighthouse, or went to the cemetery after dark, people would put a tabarro over our heads and shoulders. When I asked Mama what her friend meant, she explained that a tabarro was a dark, imaginary mantle made up of people's gossips."

Tying all her memories together is the presence of Papa Nico, painter, incurable optimist, a man whose income from work at the mirror glass factory could hardly keep up with household needs. He joked with his children and his wife, he invited strangers home when there was little to eat (there were no second helpings), "he filled his and our lives with small pleasures. Via the everyday rituals, the celebrations, the small lessons of love, he passed on to us the true essence of life."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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