The level of anxiety was growing foolishly, and it took me some time to convince my brain and then my body that this time we were there only to see a Nutritionist.
Hello, can I help you? the nurse greeted me with a smile
Yes, 16.30, Doctor A.
I remember thinking Nurses all have the same smile when they happen to have one.
I hate Doctors and doctors’ waiting rooms. Indistinct chatter was coming from behind the two beautiful stained-glass doors. One was right in front of me, and the other was on the other wall, on my left, just next to the open doorway, where I could see the nurse sitting at her desk, busy with sheets of paper and telephone calls. Behind me was a window. If we weren’t in Rome, it would have been a bow window looking onto the garden. On the wall on my left was the door I had just come through, and on the same wall, a TV screen turned off and another entry. Like the one I was sitting on, steel and black plastic chairs filled up the spaces between one door and the other, completing the unwelcoming room furniture.
I always arrive too early when I don’t want to go somewhere. 16.00. Another half an hour if I was lucky, much more if I wasn’t. When I’m waiting to see a doctor, I’m so nervous that I can’t do anything but wait. I picked up a magazine from a basket near my feet. I flipped the pages one after the other without paying much attention to what was under my eyes. Halfway through the magazine, there she was! A beautiful smile and deep, liquid, dark, intelligent eyes. Something about her made me feel she was part of my family. She looked like many Italian women from the south. She looked like me, like my sister, like a friend.
I said to myself, “Lousie De Salvo. Nice to meet you.”
The magazine article introduced her to me; she was a Virginia Woolf scholar, memoirist, and memoir-writing teacher; I knew then she would be a valuable part of my future life. When my turn came, I didn’t leave the magazine; I took it with me to the doctor’s room, and before leaving, I first asked and then begged the nurse to let me take the weekly home. At first, she said she had to ask the doctors, then, reading the misery in my eyes, she waved her hands to push me out of the room and out of sight.
Once at home, I researched and found Louise’s email at the University and wrote an email asking her to please let me know when and if she was coming to Italy with a Seminar because I wanted to meet her and learn all she had to teach me.
She kindly answered after only twenty minutes. I was surprised. Living in Italy, I was used to sending emails more like letters in a bottle than millennium communication means.
I started researching her books and bought all I could find, but in 2007 there was not much to be found online.
From then, life took over. I took other paths and lived different plans. Every year since then, when the time came, I started planning my holidays with “If only I could go to New Jersey and meet her”, but I never got on that plane, and today, it’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.
Many years later, I was surfing the internet to find an exciting article to take to school for my teen’s class, to support my lesson about “How to write an article”, then again, there she was. It took me too long to understand that I was reading an obituary; when I finally accepted the news, I started crying. That was a most unusual reaction. I never shed tears when I’m supposed to.
I built the lesson around Louis’s Obituary in the New York Times. I remember the surprised look on my pupils’ faces. They immediately understood something strange, and at the same time, special was going to happen. My mood was not what they had learnt to know so well, and the lesson was out of the scheduled planning. More than once during the years to come that we spent together, they recalled that lesson. They, too, experienced what I now call Louise’s magic.
I started again researching all the information about her and bought her books as I found them. After her death, it’s been much easier, and you can find quite a lot about her if you surf the internet in English. Over the last 15 years, I have built a shelf of her own in the bookcase near my desk. When I look up, there she is, the Virginia Woolf Scholar, the memoirist, the writing teacher, the editor, the Italo-American woman, the mother, the wife, the friend. My favourite writer.
Whenever I think I have all her books or all the books about her, fortunately, I discover another one and go after it. It’s a treasure hunt I hope will never end.
All her books came from across the Ocean. Lately, one or two have arrived from the UK.
After waiting for a month, the first book I held in my hands was Vertigo. I couldn’t believe it. I finally had something hers in my hands, here in Rome. It was 2007, shortly after meeting her for the first time in that waiting room. I find it difficult today to describe the wonder of receiving a book from New York written by a writer that nobody in this part of the world knows exists. A writer I loved before even reading her. Today you can get practically everything you want at your doorstep just by pressing the keys of a keyboard. I closed myself in a bubble containing, Vertigo, Louise DeSalvo and me. When the bubble burst, and I was back to my life, I felt I had received many beautiful gifts.
Reading Vertigo, I mirrored myself in her writing and saw who I was from an exclusive perspective. Through the words of an Italo-American woman I had believed to be so much like me, but then was a unique, extraordinary person.
I haven’t worked out how, but I plan to take down the books from her shelf, one by one and share them with you.
© Photo copyright Patrizia Verrecchia. All rights reserved.
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