Sunday, May 16, 2010

An Ocean Apart

There is a vast ocean separating Norway from the country of my birth. I am fascinated by the globe in my living room that shows me the continents and the oceans--Europe where I live now and America where I was born. In my mind’s eye I see the ocean and then Greenland as some kind of marker point. When I fly from Oslo to NY, I always know that when we are over Greenland, we are close to America. The marvels of air travel that get you from one point to another in a short amount of time. An eight-hour plane flight pales in comparison to a one-week boat trip and I am forever thankful that I live in the age of jet travel.

I have been flying back to NY once a year for the past twenty years. I could not imagine my life without those annual trips. I call them my ‘doses of America or doses of NY’. I usually travel during the summer months, mostly because that is when everyone I know has vacation, but also because the weather is usually warm and that is something I can count on. By the time the summer rolls around in Norway, I am usually more than ready for my annual dose of America. I am now a tourist in the country of my birth, and now when I travel there it seems to me that everyone is friendly, service-minded, and easy to deal with. My good friends gently remind me of all the screaming sessions I had when I lived in NY with non-service-minded people and with car drivers who simply did not understand that civility made road life much easier. I know that my friends are right, but I really don’t want them to burst my bubble. My sister and brother will tell you what an aggressive driver I used to be many years ago. I remember it more as defending my little turf—competing for road space with the taxi drivers in Manhattan was no piece of cake. I guess it’s true what people say, bad memories fade with age and all you remember really are the good things. Not completely true of course but I know it has happened to me when it comes to remembering my life in America. I see the good things about America now that I no longer live there. The irony is not lost on me. I was an avid critic of my country when I lived there, just as I am of Norway now that I live here.

I cannot imagine how it must have been for my ancestors who left their countries to immigrate to America, who knew that the likelihood of ever seeing their families again was minimal. They were truly courageous souls-- all of them. My grandparents on my father’s side emigrated from Italy; my grandfather from Barano on the island of Ischia (off the coast of Naples) and my grandmother from Caserta, a town not far from Naples. Neither of them ever returned to Italy. I have been to both Barano and to Caserta, and I do understand, after having seen them, why they both left. Ischia is a beautiful island for rich European tourists, and Caserta was one of the poorest places I have ever seen in recent years. Of course it was different at the beginning of the 1900s when they both emigrated. I imagine that Caserta was even poorer then than it is now. I know that my grandfather left Ischia because there was nothing to do job-wise except to become a fisherman. He wanted to see the world, so he became a sailor, and after that he studied pharmacy in Brooklyn and opened his own drug store in lower Tarrytown. My grandmother came from a land-owning family, so she was not poor. I believe that she moved to NY to marry, but I am not sure it was my grandfather for whom she moved. My mother’s parents were born in the USA, but her grandparents came from Ireland (Counties Kildare, Adare, and Clare) and Aberdeen, Scotland. I have not yet been to Ireland, but I am looking forward to doing so within the next year or two.


FOR MY GRANDMOTHER

Was I not a pilgrim?
Charting a rough course
To a new world?
Those days when I was young
And my heart leapt on hearing your voice.
Your words gave it life.
I forged a new path, a harder one--
Road to my soul.
Would I gain entrance to the castle
And its many rooms? The goal--
To seek, to know, to love.

What is my story, what can I tell you?
I was a pilgrim soul
To him who set me on the path of seeking.
I followed after him, left my home for his.
Wounded young.
I loved deeply, without measure.
There was no war, it simply went the way
Of all things, we parted.
But he is the one I remember, he was the first
To touch my soul, to light the flame,
To blow it out.

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