I remember wondering how anyone so young and pretty could ever end up looking old, like women that were actually old or even like my mother who was just a little bit old. I just couldn’t see the facial life trajectory to get from here to there. That a twenty year old girl could ever look like a sixty year-old woman seemed not only sad but impossible.
An extract about childhood in Italy from Walking Backwards (A journey of a thousand miles on the Camino de Santiago):
“And so I remember leaning out of the window in our kitchen in Bergamo and hearing a song on the radio and for the first time in my life realizing I loved music, not that it was nice to sing along with or I wanted to clap or touch my hands, fingers, knees and toes, but that I loved it like having a love affair loved it, that there was magic in it.
This awakening came with the wild, heretical notion that it was a better world than anything else I knew. It was a dream world, but it was a dream world that existed. I remember the exact moment of feeling this and where I was standing and how my forearms pressed into the stone of the window ledge and how the flow of ordinary life passed in the street three stories below even as my heart first went swimming in musical eternity. I remember it the way I remember getting high for the first time.
And that year there was a teenage girl who lived across the inner courtyard from us. She was beautiful and dark in a wild, dramatic Italian girl way. I’d see her with her thick splotches of eye shadow and her shiny clear raincoat and bright yellow mushroom umbrella coming out of her parents’ house and then gliding past me on the stairwell. I would watch for her out of my bedroom window, and sometimes I could see her in her own bedroom fussing about or laughing or I would hear her playing her music.
I remember wondering how anyone so young and pretty could ever end up looking old, like women that were actually old or even like my mother who was just a little bit old. I just couldn’t see the facial life trajectory to get from here to there. That a twenty year old girl could ever look like a sixty year old woman seemed not only sad but impossible. The metamorphosis bothered me, like it was a trick that I would actually have to live for years to see how it worked because that was the only way to get underneath that riddle, one time-lapse year at a time.
I loved how this Italian girl looked just like I loved how all those late sixties, early seventies girls looked with their hair curled out at the bottom and their sweet, warm smiles and their big poster-paper cutout flowers on their dresses. I remember seeing them pass by in the supermarket and on television, where everything was like an advertisement for Life Itself or a Coke commercial where a world of young people race along the green hillsides holding hands in a chain of wild freedom and happiness. Oh, how I wanted that. That exact thing. The singing in perfect harmony. I believed in it and some others clearly believed in it, too, which raised the stakes. And I could hear this thing in Italian songs. I could see it in Italian girls. I could taste it in the candy.”
– From Chapter 3 “Threshold” of Walking Backwards (A journey of a thousand miles on the Camino de Santiago)
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