Tales of a wandering lesbian

Dusting off

I have a special kinship with children. In almost any social setting, if there are children present, I find myself in their company. I’m not sure if this says more about them or about me. It’s not clear who seeks out whom.

This year, as I’m in Italy, I spent Halloween in an Italian town. Sandra, Deb and I took Deb’s eldest nephew, Luigi, who is maybe 8, into Barga for the Halloween celebration. It wasn’t trick-or-treating, but rather a celebration in one of the squares of the town, complete with music and sweets and performances.

We stood for a while, on the edge of the scene, observing; picking up the bits of skull-shaped confetti, collecting treasures in a vest pocket.

After a time of wandering through the square, we headed out to search the streets of the town. Children in masks and capes trotted along with excited voices. The selection of Halloween costumes in this small town must have been sparse. Each child wore one of three masks, with various cloaks and capes, making the whole evening even more surreal (as though I needed that, walking through an Italian mountain town on Holloween).

Just outside the walls we found a stand selling freshly roasted castagne (chestnuts). We ran into our friend, Frank, who noted with a tone of amusement that the nuts had been brought in from a neighboring region, though Garfagnana is known for its castagne (this is rather like being in Idaho and having Oregon potatoes). The nuts, however, were excellent, owing mostly to the fact that they were being roasted in front of us over an open fire in a great drum – on Halloween night – In Barga.

Castagne roasting - Halloween

After a while headed back into the town, where bands of children were knocking on the doors of vast, empty “palazzos” (palaces) and running away squealing. Luigi expressed a little fear about the ghosts that he might see that night, and Deb, in a fit of gallantry, handed him her flashlight so that he could shine it on any fantasma he might see and make it disappear. He spent the next hour shining the light on practically everything, systematically determining what was real and what was ghost.

Looking for ghosts

We returned to the square to find hoards of children filing in behind four men carrying a coffin. I’m not sure exactly where the coffin and the children went, but Luigi stayed by Deb’s side. About a minute later, screaming children flooded back into the square as firecrackers exploded somewhere out of sight.
Luigi is fairly new to the area, his family having moved back to Barga about a year ago. He has just started learning to speak Italian, and has a Japanese father – not so common in Barga. He is a beautiful, self-purposed child, intelligent and, at times, over-confident. (The first day I met him, he told me he had just built the kitchen chairs that I had seen his father assembling earlier.) On Halloween, in a dark piazza, surrounded by children who knew each other, and who were talking in excited Italian, all of his confidence melted away. While the others ran forward to play a lottery game, Luigi moved to the back, closer to his auntie.

I bent down to arrange some of the Halloween confetti with Luigi. There’s something about bending down to the level of children that makes them pay attention to you. Within about a minute I had 5-10 children helping me with my creation.

Confetti art

Quickly, the quiet moment dissolved into the chaos of the evening, and the children started running, playing, chasing. Luigi caught the attention of a boy from his class. Without words, he engaged the boy. We watched as the boy first ignored Luigi, then dismissed him, physically pushing him away. Luigi came back to Deb to be reassured just by her presence – then he tried again.

Soon enough, the boy was chasing him. Luigi crouched and then charged, swerved and darted around the square as one, two, three others joined in. Deb and I watched in apprehension, aware of the power dynamics of one-on-many, and yelling out when the play got too rough.

Luigi was clearly pleased, if a bit unsure, as he ran from the boys. Then his foot caught on one of the centuries old stones that pave the piazzas of the town. Down he went in a spectacular crash, his knees, hands and cheek hitting the cold ground. Everything stopped. While Deb ran forward and the kids moved away, Luigi picked himself off and walked away. Debbie jogged over to him and steered him to a bench away from the crowd.

There were no tears. Just a bruised lip and skinned hands. We regaled him with tails of the battle, his bravery and skill, and his confidence snuck back. As he cleaned his red hands with my cherry blossom hand sanitizer, we agreed it might be time to finally head home.
Watching this brave little boy, I felt a powerful connection. Stripped of most of the tools we use to make friends, he headed into a crowd of strangers, and doggedly pursued one until he had a friend. I often feel that I’m running up to people I meet, testing to see if they will play with me. Hoping against fear that my efforts won’t leave me pushed away, on the ground with skinned knees, but knowing that, when they do, at least I’ve done my part. At least I’m sure that I haven’t missed an opportunity for something beautiful.

And now I’ll have the image of Luigi, picking himself off, dusting himself off, and cleaning his hands with my cherry blossom hand sanitizer. Grazie, Luigi.

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1 Ryo { 11.02.09 at 10:11 am }

Luigi is 6½ years old and André is 20 months old…

It is true Luigi did help me assemble IKEA dining chairs that day.

2 Frank { 11.02.09 at 11:28 am }

See Barganews for more photos and information on the “mondinata,” the chestnut harvest festival in the Garfagnana. http://www.barganews.com/2009/11/02/necci-mondine-and-vin-brule/

3 KFlick { 11.02.09 at 2:44 pm }

Thanks for the correction, Ryo. I guess your kids just seem advanced.

And Frank, cheers for the community reporting.

4 big mama { 11.02.09 at 3:16 pm }

Frank, thanks for the link….enjoyed the article and the video.

Kristin, thanks for the tears…..again!! Another great one.

5 Dad { 11.02.09 at 4:13 pm }

Kristin…can’t control myself any longer. Your posts make me want to go online and book a flight immediately. So many memories of when we were together In Italy this summer….the food, the fun and a wonderful feeling of closeness to my little sweetheart. Those days we spent together (every one of them) are indelibly etched in my mind and I want to expereience them with you again soon. Won’t make the reservation yet, but don’t know how many more of your posts (and tears) I can handle before making the move. Seriously sweetheart…..keep them coming. I so look forward to your beautiful prose.