The four of us (two Venetian locals, two born in the U.S.A.) had just finished una cena improvvisata on Anna’s 4th-floor terrazzina that hovers over the Rio San Lio, when the last, late-night
Â gondola group boisterously (if with some difficulty) disembarked below us. “Buena sayra,” they each say in turn, teetering off with two half-full bottles of wine in hand. The gondolier responds with a perfunctory buona notte as he shoves a fistful of cash in his pocket, and pushes off for home.
“I’ve never been in the U.S.” recounts Anna, “so I have no idea what it’s really like. But we have this one, very consistent image from all the movies we’ve seen. At least all the older ones.”
Ah, lovingly-conjured bygone film images. Wherever this was leading, it was going to be good.
“As I said, I don’t know how it really is, or was,” Anna went on…but Claudia followed through: “but you all have wooden houses with three steps.”
“Yes, three steps, tre gradini, chink-chink-chink,” Anna makes a jutting motion with her hand. Anna’s a middle school prof and is used to explaining things very clearly. “And at the top of these three steps,” she continues, sweeping her hand across an imaginary house, “there’s always a big porch, una grande veranda di legno, made of wood.“
As opposed to tile, marble, granite, or other stone with which a veranda would normally be made, I assumed.
“And in the middle of the veranda/porch,” Claudia continues, “are two doors.” Two doors? Double doors? “One on the outside, with a screen,” con una rete, she describes, “and another on the inside, with a big glass pane and a lace curtain.”
Ohhhh, those two doors! We are all beginning to laugh in ernest now. Even if lace curtains went out in the 40s, both us Yanks in fact grew up in houses with three steps…and two doors. But it is becoming clear that both these two women have precisely the same image of the American Home of Yesteryear. What else?
“Two doors that anyone could easily break into,” says Anna. “We never quite understood that. Two doors, but no protection, really.” Poom! she makes a motion as if to shove her fist right through them.
“None,” affirms Claudia. “Very strange.”
Favoloso. A typical Italian entrance has one door you couldn’t break through with a sledge hammer, and we instead have two that seem to be mostly for show. More, tell us more. How we are.
“So, you always have porch, and on the porch, to one side of the doors, there is always a porch swing.”
“Always.” Anna’s starting to giggle. “And on the porch swing happen all the nice things, the sweet things, affectionate things. A mother consoles her daughter, a young man apologizes to his girlfriend, a boy asks his grandfather for his advice.”
Yep. Just ask Atticus and Scout.
“All the things that make you melt.”
I barely hear these comments, as we are all trying to suppress raucous laughter whose volume level has risen almost to that of the drunkenly-departed gondola group. Are you listening, Frank Capra?
“But,” continues Claudia, catching her breath.
“BUT…down on the three stairs, things are different,” says Anna, as sternly as she can manage. “The things that are said on the stairs are those no one wants to hear.”
“Troubling things,” Claudia punctuates.
“Troubling things, roba pesante. The unhappy adolescent whose parents don’t understand him, the dad who tries to explain to his daughter why he has to leave: anyone who’s had too much to drink and doesn’t want to listen sits there.”
“On the stairs, things never turn out well.”
“No,” Claudia affirms. “Never.” Mai.
James Dean sat on the porch steps, didn’t he? Did he? Well if he didn’t, he should have.
We continued to laugh into the night as we accompanied each other to our respective homes. Which was funnier, the truth or the recounting of the brilliantly constructed, reconstituted image of it, I still can’t say. All I know is, I haven’t been so entertained by an image of three steps and a porch swing in I can’t really say when.