Careful now. Watch what you do.
You keep staring at the living room, you don't think you can fol low this
task. It feels like sacrilege to alter its order, like rummaging a temple.
How long has this dark red armchair been sitting across from the threadbare
sofa, right next to the painted lampshade? How many years has the faded
rug sat on these stone tiles? Renée's portrait hung on the wall?
The opaline vase stood on the mantelpiece?
My grandfather bought this house in the late twenties. It was a crumbling
farmhouse then, nobody wanted it. My mother grew up here. My sister and
I did, too.
Casa Rossa has been my family house for over seventy years.
I know its smell like I know the smell of cut grass. Its map is imprinted
in me, I can walk it blindfolded.
Why did I think these objects would stay like this forever and that I
could always come back, find the chair and the sofa and the rug and the
painting in their place? That way I assumed I could always reenact all
the different moments that shaped our story. Like the day when Renée
was sitting for my grandfather on the wicker chair and, as he was painting
another one of her portraits, she told him about Muriel. The summer day
Oliviero came for lunch and sat outside on the patio under the trellis
and fell in love with my mother. The times my sister lay awake at night,
wrapped in her hatred, fearing every noise. Or the night I took Daniel
Moore in here for the first time. I opened the door and showed him this
room. This rug, this faded sofa, that yellowing lampshade. The room smelled
of firewood. "This is it," I said.
I hoped it would stay like this forever, so that, by coming back and finding
everything still arranged exactly as I had left it, I would believe I
had secured my history in a safe place. Inside a shrine, where nothing
would get lost. Just as prayers are never lost in a church. One can always
go back and light another candle.
As I walk across the ground floor of Casa Rossa, as I move from the large
kitchen into the living room, then through the big wooden door into my
grandfather's studio, I look around, I count my steps, I mark my territory
as if it's the last time I will ever do this. And, guess what. It is.
I talk out loud to myself--like I always do when I'm scared. Careful now,
watch what you do. Everything, from now on, will be final and surprisingly
The movers will arrive and wait for me to give them a sign. Then they
will heft the table, then the sofa, they will roll up the rug and take
down the painting. They will wrap the furniture in blankets and tie it
with rope. They will blindfold and choke the familiar shapes and will
pile them up one on top of the other in the truck. An armrest will show
from under the blanket. The stain on its faded fabric will look pathetic.
The scratches on the table legs, the pale circle a cup had once left on
its top: all these familiar marks will look spooky now, like scars. One
didn't notice them so much before. But it will be impossible to look at
them now without shame. You will have to admit that these things have
turned into what they have always been but which you always refused to
see: a pile of sad, old junk.
Once every single piece of furniture and every single box are loaded onto
the truck, this house, stripped bare in a single morning, will go back
to being mute. A white canvas, where someone else will write their story.
That's how fast our memories disintegrate.
I've been procrastinating about calling the movers, of course. Who wouldn't?
It's like phoning in your own death sentence and prodding the executioner.
Instead I've been wandering around the rooms in a daze, touching surfaces,
sizing things up. Every time I open a drawer or look in the back of an
armoire, some new discovery stuns me. I keep turning between my fingers
what I have just found, as if expecting it to talk to me. An old dusty
ribbon (a hat? gift wrapping?), a newspaper clipping from the fifties,
the obituary page (whose death are we looking at here?), a single light-blue
silk shoe, custom-made in Paris (Renée's?),
a tiny photograph in black-and-white, of a group of young people huddled
together on a beach in thirties-style bathing suits (which one is my grandfather?),
a single page from a letter (no date, no signature, written in French).
It's like trying to trace the history of an Egyptian mummy from her ring,
a few glass beads, bits of broken pottery, a faded inscription. Yes, she
was a merchant's wife--no, a pharaoh's sister, or maybe a high priestess.
History demands a plot with a proper beginning and a proper end.
This is not a story about what we know, nor about what we have.
This story is about what gets lost on the way.
My mother, Alba, rings me twice a day from her house in Rome. She wants
to know how I'm proceeding with the move.
"Oh," I say gingerly, "I'm not quite ready yet. I still have to go through
all the drawers upstairs in the bedrooms. There are all these papers,
photographs, you have no idea how--"
"Just chuck everything in the boxes," she interrupts. "You'll never get
out alive if you start looking at everything. Those people said they want
to move in next week."
"It's all right. They have the house for life now. They can wait another
day or two. By the way, I found your wedding dress."
"Oh my God."
"It doesn't even look like a wedding dress. I only recognized it from
of the photos."
"You found those as well?" she asks.
"Yes. Everything was kind of stuffed inside a box on top of the armoire
in your room. There were hats, printed wedding invitations, an envelope
full of pictures. Papa looks like this smart kid with glasses. Like
a math genius or something. Why didn't you wear a long white dress?"
"Oh, I don't know. It was a country wedding. . . . I kept it simple,"
she sighs, impatient with me already. "I remember it was a pretty dress."
"Knee-length, full skirt. Tiny poppies embroidered here and there. Fifties-style,
you know. I'm wearing it right now."
"It barely fits me, but it makes this whole process a bit more fun. You
know, wearing something so nice."
"Alina," she sighs . . . . "are you okay doing this on your own? Do you
want me to come down? I could get on the train tomorrow if you need me."
She asks this question twice a day, her voice full of dread that I'll
"No, I'm fine. You would only get in the way."
"Are you sure? I'll come if--"
"No, really. I'm actually enjoying it. It's kind of . . . therapeutic."
I don't hear anything coming from her end, so I add:
"It's like, you don't even begin to realize someone you love is really
dead until you see their body go underground. It's part of the process."
"Jesus, you are morbid," she says, but I can feel her relief: she can
stay in Rome.
I always knew she wouldn't have anything to do with sorting out old, forgotten
boxes. Alba has never been big on remembering.
Puglia is the heel of Italy, the thinnest strip of land between two seas.
Lorenzo, my grandfather, said it was exactly this--the refraction of the
sun hitting the water on both sides--that made the light of Puglia so
rich and warm. He had chosen to buy a house there because of it. He needed
to paint in that light, he said.
Way before it was called Casa Rossa, the house had been a crumbling farmhouse--a
masseria--built in the eighteen-hundreds, surrounded by a wall in
the midst of an olive grove among the open fields in the countryside south
Excerpted from Casa Rossa by Francesca Marciano Copyright
2002 by Francesca Marciano. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
story of three generations of a twentieth-century Italian family.
farmhouse in Puglia owned by the Strada familyis being sold. And
as she packs up the house, Alina Strada pieces together the history of
her familys past, and of the lives of three extraordinary Strada
Renée, a beautiful Tunisian, is wife, muse, and model for Alinas
painter grandfather, but she leaves him and flees to Nazi Germany. Alinas
mother, Alba, marries a melancholic screenwriter and lives la dolce vita
in 1950s Rome until her husbands mysterious death. Isabella, Alinas
sister and once her best friend, finds herself drawn to a dangerous ideology
in the 1970s; the sisters love for one another soon shifts to a
betrayal of which they can never speak. As these individual lives unfold,
so does the larger onethe story of a family whose secrets collide
duplicity of Italys role in the thirties to the dark years of terrorism
in our own times, and moving from Rome and Southern Italy to New England
and New York City, Casa Rossa is a brilliant weave of lives and memories:
an enthralling novel.
born and grew up in Rome, Italy. Her grandfather was a literary figure
in Italy and she grew up surrounded by interesting people and thought
it only natural that she'd grow up to be a writer. Instead she dropped
out of university and went to New York City for a six month film course,
and ended up staying six years. While there, she worked for an Italian
television network as a producer/director for a news program. Finding
telling stories more interesting than news, she and a friend started writing
a film script during their spare time. They raised enough money to co-direct
it and it was shown at the 1983 Venice Film Festival. After that she returned
to Italy to write film scripts in her own language.
scripts have won awards and have been shown at Cannes and Venice. One
short script won her a plane ticket, which she used to visit Africa for
the first time. She fell in love, and since then has made Africa her home,
on and off, ever since, but currently lives in Rome.