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Video: ‘The Shoemaker’s Wife’ inspired by true love story

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TODAY books
updated 3/29/2012 4:31:55 PM ET 2012-03-29T20:31:55

Weaving a love story that stretches from the majestic Italian Alps to Little Italy to the vast plains of Minnesota, Adriana Trigiani's "The Shoemaker's Wife" is a romantic epic. Here's an excerpt.

A GOLD RING

Un Anello d’oro

The scalloped hem of Caterina Lazzari’s blue velvet coat grazed the fresh-fallen snow, leaving a pale pink path on the bricks as she walked across the empty piazza. The only sound was the soft, rhythmic sweep of her footsteps, like hands dusting flour across an old wooden cutting board.

All around her, the Italian Alps loomed like silver daggers against a pewter sky. The rising winter sun, a pinprick of gold buried in the expanse of gray, barely flickered. In the first light of morning, dressed in blue, Caterina looked like a bird.

She turned, exhaling a long breath into the cold winter air.

“Ciro?” she called out. “Eduardo!”

She heard her sons’ laughter echo across the empty colonnade, but couldn’t place them. She surveyed the columns of the open portico. This wasn’t a morning for hide-and-seek, or for playing games. She called to them again. Her mind swam with all she had accomplished, big chores and small errands, attending to a slew of overwhelming details, documents filed and keys returned, all the while stretching the few lire she had left to meet her obligations.

The first stage of widowhood is paperwork.

Harper

Caterina had never imagined she would be standing here alone, on the first day of 1905, with nothing before her but the small hope of eventual reinvention. Every single promise made to her had been broken.

Caterina looked up as a window on the second floor of the shoe shop opened and an old woman shook a rag rug out into the cold air. Caterina caught her eye. The woman looked away, pulled the rug back inside, and slammed the window shut.

Her younger son, Ciro, peered around one of the columns. His blue-green eyes were the exact color of his father’s, as deep and clear as the water of Sestri Levante. At ten years old, he was a replica of Carlo Lazzari, with big hands and feet and thick sandy brown hair. He was the strongest boy in Vilminore. When the village children went down into the valley to collect sticks bundled to sell for kindling, Ciro always had the heaviest haul strapped to his back because he could carry it.

Caterina felt a pang whenever she looked at him; in Ciro’s face was all she had lost and would never recover. “Here.” She pointed to the ground beside her black leather boot. “Now.”

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Ciro picked up his father’s leather duffel and, running to his mother, called to his brother, who hid behind the statuary.

Eduardo, at eleven, resembled his mother’s people, the Montini family, dark-eyed, tall, and willowy. He too picked up his satchel and ran to join them.

At the foot of the mountain, in the city of Bergamo, where Caterina had been born thirty-two years ago, the Montini family had set up a printing press that churned out linen writing paper, engraved calling cards, and small books in a shop on Via Borgo Palazzo. They had a house and a garden. As she closed her eyes, she saw her parents sitting at an alfresco table under their grape arbor, eating ricotta and honey sandwiches on thick, fresh bread. Caterina remembered all they were and all they had.

The boys dropped their suitcases in the snow.

“Sorry, Mama,” Ciro said. He looked up at his mother and knew for certain that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Her skin had the scent of peaches and felt like satin. His mother’s long hair fell into soft, romantic waves, and ever since he could remember, as he lay in her arms, he had twisted a lock until it became a single shiny black rope.

“You look pretty,” Ciro said earnestly. Whenever Caterina was sad, he tried to cheer her up with compliments.

Caterina smiled. “Every son thinks his mother is beautiful.” Her cheeks turned pink in the cold as the tip of her aquiline nose turned bright red. “Even when she isn’t.”

Caterina fished in her purse for a small mirror and a chamois puff. The tip of red disappeared as she powdered it. She pursed her lips and looked down at her boys with a critical eye. She straightened Eduardo’s collar, and pulled Ciro’s coat sleeve over his wrist. The coat was too small for him, and no amount of pulling would add the two inches at the cuff to make it fit properly. “You just keep growing, Ciro.”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

She remembered when she had their coats made for them, along with pin-cord trousers and white cotton shirts. There had been tufted blankets in their cribs when they were born, a layette of soft cotton gowns with pearl buttons. Wooden toys. Picture books. Her sons had long outgrown the clothes, and there was no replacing them.

Eduardo had one pair of wool pants and a coat given to him by a neighbor. Ciro wore the clean but ill-fitting clothes of his father, the hems on the work pants three inches deep, tacked with ragged stitches because sewing was not one of Caterina’s talents. Ciro’s belt was tightened on the last grommet, but still too loose to function properly.

“Where are we going, Mama?” Ciro asked as he followed his mother.

“She told you a hundred times. You don’t listen.” Eduardo lifted his brother’s duffel and carried it.

“You must listen for him,” Caterina reminded Eduardo.

“We’re going to stay at the convent of San Nicola.”

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“Why do we have to live with nuns?” Ciro complained.

Caterina turned and faced her sons. They looked up at her, hoping for an explanation that would make sense of all the mysterious goings- on of the past few days. They weren’t even sure what questions to ask, or what information they needed to know, but they were certain there must have been some reason behind Mama’s strange behavior. She had been anxious. She wept through the night when she thought her sons were asleep. She had written lots of letters, more in the last week than they could ever remember her writing.

Caterina knew that if she shared the truth, she would have failed them. A good mother should never knowingly fail her children, not when she is all they have left in the world. Besides, in the years to come, Ciro would remember only the facts, while Eduardo would paint them with a soft brush. Neither version would be true, so what did it matter?

Caterina could not bear the responsibility of making every decision alone. In the fog of grief, she had to be sensible, and think of every possible alternative for her boys. In her mental state, she could not take care of her sons, and she knew it. She made lists of names, recalling every contact in her family’s past and her husband’s, any name that might be helpful. She scanned the list, knowing many of them probably needed as much help as she did. Years of poverty had depleted the region, and forced many to move down to Bergamo and Milan in search of work.

After much thought, she remembered that her father had printed missals for every parish in the Lombardy region, and as far south as Milan. He had donated his services as an indulgence to the Holy Roman Church, expecting no payment in return. Caterina used the old favor to secure a place for her sons with the sisters of San Nicola.

Caterina placed a hand on each of their shoulders.

“Listen to me. This is the most important thing I will ever tell you. Do as you’re told. Do whatever the nuns ask you to do. Do it well. You must also do more than they ask of you. Anticipate. Look around. Do chores before the sisters ask.

“When Sister asks you to gather wood, do it immediately. No complaining!

Help one another—make yourselves indispensable.

“Chop the wood, carry it inside, and build the fire without asking. Check the damper before lighting the kindling. And when the fire is out, clean the ash pit and close the flue. Sweep up so it looks like a picture. Prepare the hearth for the next fire with dry logs and kindling. Put the broom and the dustpan and the poker away. Don’t wait for Sister to remind you.

“Make yourselves useful and stay out of trouble. Be pious and pray. Sit in the front pew during mass and sit at the farthest end of the bench during dinner. Take your portions last, and never seconds. You are there because of their kindness, not because I could pay them to keep you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mama,” Eduardo said.

Caterina placed her hand on Eduardo’s face and smiled. He put his arm around his mother’s waist and held on tight. Then she pulled Ciro close. Her soft coat felt good against his face. “I know you can be good.”

“I can’t,” Ciro sputtered, as he pulled away from his mother’s embrace, “and I won’t.”

“Ciro.”

“This is a bad idea, Mama. We don’t belong there,” Ciro pleaded.

“We have no place to stay,” Eduardo said practically. “We belong wherever Mama puts us.”

“Listen to your brother. This is the best I can do right now. When summer comes, I will come up the mountain and take you home.”

“Back to our house?” Ciro asked.

“No. Somewhere new. Maybe we’ll move up the mountain to Endine.”

“Papa took us to the lake there.”

“Yes, the town with the lake. Remember?”

The boys nodded that they did. Eduardo rubbed his hands together to warm them. They were rough and pink from the cold.

“Here. Take my gloves.” Caterina removed her elbow-length black gloves. She helped Eduardo’s hands into them, pulling them up and under his short sleeves. “Better?”

Eduardo closed his eyes; the heat from his mother’s gloves traveled up his arms and through his entire body until he was enveloped in her warmth. He pushed his hair back with his hand, the scent of the brushed cotton, clean lemon and freesia, reassuring him.

“What do you have for me, Mama?” Ciro asked.

“You have Papa’s gloves to keep you warm.” She smiled. “But you want something of Mama’s too?”

“Please.”

“Give me your hand.”

Ciro pulled his father’s leather glove off with his teeth.

Caterina slid a gold signet ring off her smallest finger and placed it on Ciro’s ring finger. “This was given to me by my papa.”

Ciro looked down at the ring. A swirling, artful C in an oval of heavy yellow gold gleamed in the early morning light. He closed his fist, the gold band still warm from his mother’s hand.

The stone facade of the convent of San Nicola was forbidding. Grand pilasters topped with statues of saints wearing expressions of hollow grief towered over the walkway. The thick walnut door had a sharp peak like a bishop’s hat, Eduardo observed as he pushed the door open. Caterina and Ciro followed him inside into a small vestibule. They stomped the snow off their shoes on a mat made of woven driftwood branches. Caterina reached up and rang a small brass bell on a chain.

“They’re probably praying. That’s all they do in here. Pray all day,”

Ciro said as he peered through a crack in the door.

“How do you know what they do?” Eduardo asked.

The door opened. Sister Domenica looked down at the boys, sizing them up.

She was short and shaped like a dinner bell. Her black-and- white habit with a full skirt made her seem wider still. She placed her hands on her hips.

“I’m Signora Lazzari,” Caterina said. “These are my sons. Eduardo and Ciro.” Eduardo bowed to the nun. Ciro ducked his head quickly as if saying a fast prayer. Really, it was the mole on Sister’s chin he wished to pray away.

“Follow me,” the nun said.

Sister Domenica pointed to a bench, indicating where the boys should sit and wait. Caterina followed Sister into another room behind a thick wooden door, closing it behind her. Eduardo stared straight ahead while Ciro craned his neck, looking around.

“She’s signing us away,” Ciro whispered. “Just like Papa’s saddle.”

“That’s not true,” his brother whispered back.

Ciro inspected the foyer, a round room with two deep alcoves, one holding a shrine to Mary, the Blessed Mother, and the other, to Saint Francis of Assisi. Mary definitely had more votive candles lit at her feet. Ciro figured it meant you could always count on a woman. He took a deep breath. “I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Don’t think about it.”

“It’s all I think about.”

“You have a simple mind.”

“No, I don’t. Just because I’m strong, doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”

“I didn’t say you were stupid. You’re simple.”

The scent of fresh vanilla and sweet butter filled the convent. Ciro closed his eyes and inhaled. He really was hungry. “Is this like the story Mama told us about the soldiers who got lost in the desert and saw a waterfall where there was none?” Ciro stood to follow the scent. He peered around the wall. “Or is there a cake baking somewhere?”

“Sit down,” Eduardo ordered.

Ciro ignored him and walked down the long corridor.

“Get back here!” Eduardo whispered.

The walnut doors along the arcade were closed, and streams of faint light came through the overhead transoms. At the far end of the hallway, through a glass door, Ciro saw a cloister connecting the main convent to the workhouses. He ran down the arcade toward the light. When he made it to the door, he looked through the glass and saw a barren patch of earth, probably a garden, hemmed by a dense gnarl of gray fig trees dusted with snow.

Ciro turned toward the delicious scent and found the convent kitchen, tucked in the corner off the main hallway. The door to the kitchen was propped open with a brick. A shimmering collection of pots hung over a long wooden farm table. Ciro looked back to see if Eduardo had followed him. Alone and free, Ciro took a chance and ran to the kitchen doorway and peered inside. The kitchen was as warm as the hottest summer day. Ciro let the waves of heat roll over him.

A beautiful woman, much younger than his mother, was working at the table. She wore a long jumper of gray-striped wool with a white cotton apron tied over it. Her black hair was wrapped tightly into a chignon and tucked under a black kerchief. Her dark brown eyes squinted as she rolled a long skein of pasta on a smooth marble work slab. She hummed a tune as she took a small knife and whittled away tiny stars of dough, unaware that Ciro was watching her. Her long fingers moved surely and deftly with the knife. Soon, a batch of tiny pasta beads began to pile up on the board. Ciro decided that all women are beautiful, except maybe the old ones like Sister Domenica. “Corallini?” Ciro asked.

The young woman looked up and smiled at the little boy in the big clothes. “Stelline,” she corrected him, holding up a small piece of dough carved into the shape of a star. She scooped up a pile of the little stars and threw them into a big bowl.

“What are you making?”

“Baked custard.”

“It smells like cake in the hallway.”

“That’s the butter and the nutmeg. The custard is better than cake. It’s so delicious it pulls angels off their perches. At least that’s what I tell the other sisters. Did it make you hungry?”

“I was already hungry.”

The woman laughed. “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” He narrowed his eyes.

“I’m Sister Teresa.”

“I’m sorry, Sister. But, you . . . you look like a girl. You don’t look like a nun.”

“I don’t wear a nice habit when I’m cooking. What’s your name?”

Ciro sat on a stool across from the nun. “Ciro Augustus Lazzari,” he said proudly.

“That’s a big name. Are you a Roman emperor?”

“Nope.” Ciro remembered he was speaking with a nun. “Sister.”

“How old are you?”

“Ten. I’m big for my age. I pull the rope at the water wheel in town.”

“That’s impressive.”

“I’m the only boy my age who can. They call me an ox.”

Sister Teresa reached behind the table and pulled a heel of bread from a bin. She slathered it with soft butter and handed it to the boy. As Ciro ate, she swiftly carved more stars from the dough and added them to the large bowl filled with a batter of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg. She stirred the ingredients evenly with a large enamel spoon. Ciro watched the creamy folds of custard, now speckled with stars, lap over one another as the mixture thickened. Sister poured the custard into ceramic cups on a metal tray without spilling a drop. “Are you visiting?”

“We’ve been sent here to work because we’re poor.”

“Everyone in Vilminore di Scalve is poor. Even the nuns.”

“We’re really poor. We don’t have a house anymore. We ate all the chickens, and Mama sold the cow. She sold a painting and all the books. Didn’t get much. And that money has almost run out.”

“It’s the same story in every village in the Alps.”

“We won’t stay long. My mother is going to the city, and she’ll come and get us this summer.” Ciro looked over at the deep wood-burning oven and figured that he would have to stoke and clean it until his mother returned. He wondered how many fireplaces there were in the convent. He imagined there were lots of them. He’d probably spend every hour of daylight chopping wood and building fires.

“What brought you to the convent?”

“Mama can’t stop crying.”

“Why?”

“She misses Papa.”

Sister lifted the tray of custard cups and placed them in the oven.

She checked the surface of several other baked custard cups on a cooling rack. What a lovely thing, to work in a warm kitchen in the cold winter and make food. Ciro imagined that people who work in kitchens are never hungry.

“Where did your father go?”

“They say he died, but I don’t think so,” Ciro said.

“Why don’t you believe them?” Sister wiped her hands on a moppeen and leaned on the table so she might be eye to eye with the boy.

“Eduardo read the letter that was sent to Mama from America. They say Papa died in a mine, but they never found his body. That’s why I don’t think Papa is dead.”

“Sometimes—,” she began.

Ciro interrupted her. “I know all about it—sometimes a man dies, and there’s no body. Dynamite can go off in a mine and people inside blow up, or a body can burn in a fire or disappear down a hole, or drown in a slag river inside the mountain. Or you get hurt and you can’t walk and you get stuck underground and you die of starvation because nobody came to find you and animals eat you and nothing is left but bones. I know every which way there is to die—but my papa would not die like that. He was strong. He could beat up anyone, and he could lift more than any man in Vilminore di Scalve. He’s not dead.”

“Well, I’d like to meet him someday.”

“You will. He’ll come back. You’ll see.” Ciro hoped his father was alive, and his heart ached at the possibility that he might never see him again. He remembered how he could always find his father easily in a crowd because he was so tall, he towered over everyone in the village. Carlo Lazzari was so strong he was able to carry both sons simultaneously, one on each hip, like sacks of flour up and down the steep mountain trails. He felled trees with an ax, and cut lumber as easily as Sister cut the dough. He built a dam at the base of the Vertova waterfall. Other men helped, but Carlo Lazzari was the leader.

Sister Teresa broke a fresh egg into a cup and added a teaspoon of sugar. She poured fresh cream into the cup and whisked it until there was a creamy foam on the surface. “Here.” She gave it to Ciro. He sipped it, then drank it down until the cup was empty.

“How’s that stomach now?”

“Full.” Ciro smiled.

“Would you like to help me cook sometime?”

“Boys don’t cook.”

“That’s not true. All the great chefs in Paris are men. Women are not allowed in the Cordon Bleu. That’s a famous cooking school in France,” Sister Teresa told him.

Eduardo burst into the kitchen. “Come on, Ciro. We have to go!”

Sister Teresa smiled at him. “You must be Eduardo.”

“Yes, I am.”

“She’s a nun,” Ciro told his brother.

Eduardo bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Sister.”

“Are you hungry too?”

Eduardo shook his head that he wasn’t.

“Did your mother tell you that you shouldn’t be any trouble?” Sister asked.

He nodded that she had.

Sister Teresa reached back into the metal bin and took a wedge of bread and buttered it. She gave it to Eduardo, who ate it hungrily.

“My brother won’t ask for anything,” Ciro explained. “Can he have an egg and cream with sugar too?” He turned to his brother. “You’ll like it.”

Sister smiled and took a fresh egg, sugar, and some more cream and whipped it with a whisk. She gave it to Eduardo, who slowly sipped the egg cream, savoring every drop until the cup was empty.

“Thank you, Sister,” Eduardo said.

“We thought the convent would be horrible.” Ciro placed his own and Eduardo’s cup in the sink.

“If you behave and say your prayers, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble.”

Sister Domenica stood in the doorway of the kitchen with Caterina. Eduardo gasped when he saw them and quickly bowed to the old nun. Ciro couldn’t understand why his brother was afraid of everyone and everything. Couldn’t he see that Sister Domenica was harmless? With her starched coutil bib and black skirts, she resembled the black-and-white-checked globe made from Carrara marble that Mama used as a paperweight. Ciro wasn’t afraid of any nun, and besides this one was just an old lady with a wooden cross hanging from her waist like a giant key.

“I have found two capable young men to help me in the kitchen,” Sister Teresa said.

“Eduardo is going to help me in the office,” Sister Domenica said to Sister Teresa. “And Ciro will work in the chapel. I need a strong boy who can do heavy lifting.”

“I need a strong boy who can make cheese.” Sister Teresa winked at Sister Domenica.

“I can do both,” Ciro said proudly.

Caterina put her hands on Ciro’s shoulders. “My boys will do whatever you need, Sister.”

* * *

Just a few miles up the mountain, above Vilminore di Scalve, the village of Schilpario clung to the mountainside like a gray icicle. Even the dead were buried on a slope, in sepulchers protected by a high granite retaining wall covered in vines.

There was no formal piazza or grand colonnade in Schilpario, no fountains or statuaries as in Vilminore di Scalve, just sturdy, plain alpine structures of wood and stucco that could endure the harsh winters. The stucco was painted in candy colors of lemon yellow, cherry red, and plum. The bright colors were set into the gray mountain like whimsical tiles.

Schilpario was a mining town where rich veins of iron ore and barite were carved out of the earth and carted down to Milan for sale. Every job in the village was in service to the towns below, including the building and maintenance of the chutes that harnessed the rushing water of Stream Vò that was piped down the cliffs.

The farms provided fresh meat for the butchers in the city. Every family had a smokehouse where sausage, salami, prosciutto, and sleeves of ham were cured. The mountain people were sustained through the long winters by the contents of their root cellars filled with bins of plentiful chestnuts, which carpeted the mountain paths like glassy brown stones. They also survived on eggs from their chicken coops, and milk and cream from their cows. They churned their own butter and made their own cheese, and what they could not sell, they ate.

The mountain forests high above the village were loaded with porcini and other mushrooms of all kinds, as well as coveted truffles, gathered in late summer and sold at a premium to middlemen from France, who in turn sold them to the great chefs in the elegant cities of Europe. The family pig was used to locate the truffles growing in the ground. Even the smallest children were taught how to hunt for truffles from a very early age, combing the woods on their hands and knees, a linen sack tied loosely around their waists, searching for the fragrant bulbs nestled deep in the earth around the roots of old trees.

Schilpario was one of the last villages to the north, which lay in the shadow of the Pizzo Camino, the highest peak in the Alps, where the snow did not melt, even in summer. So high in the cliffs, the people looked down on the clouds, which moved through the valley below like rosettes of meringue.

When spring came, the ice-covered cliffs below the peak thawed, turning bright green as mugo pine and juniper trees sprouted new branches. The deep gorge of the valley filled with fields of yellow buttercups. The village women gathered herbs to make medicine: chamomile for tea to soothe nerves, wild dandelion for blood curing, fragrant peppermint for stomach ills, and golden nettle to bring down fevers.

The Passo Presolana was the lone ribbon of road connecting Schilpario to Vilminore di Scalve and down the mountain to the city of Bergamo. It had been built in the eleventh century, a rustic one-way path to be traveled on foot. Eventually the road was widened to accommodate a horse and carriage, but only in warm weather, as it was treacherous in winter.

Marco Ravanelli knew every cleft and curve of the pass, every natural stone overpass that provided shelter, each small village along the way, every farm, river, and lake, as he had accompanied his father, who ran a horse and carriage service, up and down the mountain since he was a boy.

Marco, the coachman of Schilpario, was slim and of medium height, with a thick black mustache that offset his handsome features. As he plunged two long sticks into the ice, he steadied himself on the path between the stone house he rented and the barn that he owned. He was careful not to fall, as he couldn’t afford a broken leg or any sort of injury. He was thirty-three years old and responsible for a wife and six children, the youngest, Stella, just born.

Enza, his eldest, followed behind him, plunging her own set of sticks into the ice to steady herself. Enza had just turned ten, but she could do anything a woman twice her age could do and perhaps better, especially sewing. Her small fingers moved deftly and with precision, creating small, nearly invisible stitches on straight seams. Her natural talent was a marvel to her mother, who couldn’t sew nearly as fast.

Enza’s chestnut brown hair had not been cut, and it grazed her waist in two shiny braids that lay flat and neat like reins. Her heart-shaped face resembled her mother’s, full cheeks, skin the color of fresh cream, and perfectly shaped lips with a defined Cupid’s bow. Enza’s light brown eyes sparkled like amber buttons.

The eldest daughter in a family with many children never has a real childhood.

Enza had learned how to hitch a horse as soon as she grew tall enough to reach the carriage. She knew how to make a paste from chestnuts for pies, pasta dough from potatoes for gnocchi, how to churn butter, wring a chicken’s neck, wash clothes and mend them. Whenever Enza found time to play, she used it to sew. Fabric was expensive, so she taught herself to dye cotton muslin to create colorful designs that she would then sew into garments for the family.

When summer came, she picked blackberries and raspberries and made dyes from their inky pulp. She pleated and pinched the coarse cotton, painting the dyes onto the fabric, and then let them dry in the sun, setting the colors. Plain cotton muslin became beautiful as Enza dyed it into shades of lavender, delicate pink, and slate blue. She decorated the colorful fabric with embellishments and embroidery.

There were no dolls to play with, but who needed one when there were two babies in cribs to care for, plus three more children in the middle, one crawling and two more walking, as well as plenty of tasks to occupy the dark winter days?

The stable was cold, so Marco and Enza threw themselves into their chores. As Papa brushed Cipi, their beloved horse, Enza polished the bench on the governess cart. The cart was smaller than a regular carriage, seated only two, and was painted a sophisticated black, to emphasize the graceful curves of its design. Enza dusted the seat with a clean moppeen, careful to polish the trim.

Working people in service to the wealthy must pay particular attention to details. Paint must be lacquered, gold trim must dazzle, every notch, joint, and button of brass must shine. The stature and social position of the customer is reflected in the gloss that results from the servant’s elbow grease. It’s what the wealthy pay for; it’s what they require. Marco taught Enza that everything must gleam, including the horse.

Enza placed the lap robe she had made of sturdy gold cotton on one side and brown suede on the other, on the passenger side of the cart. It would keep the paying customer warm.

“I don’t think you should go, Papa.”

“It’s the only job I’ve been offered all winter.”

“What if the hitch snaps?”

“It won’t.”

“What if Cipi falls down?”

“He’ll get back up.”

Marco checked the suspension on the cart. He took an oilcan and greased the springs.

“Here. Let me.” Enza took the oilcan from her father and slipped under the cart to oil the gears. She was careful to give a few extra squirts, so the cart could take sudden turns and jolts on the icy mountain road without toppling.

Marco helped her out from under the cart. “The snow is always the worst on the mountain. By the time I get to Vilminore di Scalve, it will be a dusting. There’s probably no snow at all down in Bergamo.”

“What about the rain?”

Marco smiled. “You worry enough for your mother and me.”

“Somebody has to.”

“Enza.”

“Sorry, Papa. We have enough flour until spring. A little sugar. Lots of chestnuts. You don’t have to take this job.”

“What about the rent?”

“Signor Arduini can wait. All he’ll do with the money is buy more dresses for his daughter. Maria has enough.”

“Now you’re going to tell the richest man in town how to spend his money?”

“I wish he’d ask me. I’d tell him plenty.”

Marco tried not to laugh. “I’m getting three lire to take the passenger down the mountain.”

“Three lire!”

“I know. Only a fool would turn down three lire.”

“Let me go with you. If you have any problems, I’ll be there to help you.”

“Who will help your mother with the children?”

“Battista.”

“He’s nine years old, and a bigger baby than Stella.”

“He just likes to have fun, Papa.”

“That’s not a quality that gets you far in life.”

“Eliana is helpful.”

“She’s not strong,” Marco reminded her.

“But she’s smart; that should account for something.”

“It does, but that doesn’t help your mother with the chores. Vittorio and Alma are small, and Stella is nursing. Your mama needs you here.”

“All right. I’ll stay. How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

“One day down the mountain. I’ll stay the night, and one day up the mountain.”

“Two whole days—”

“For three lire,” Marco reminded her.

Marco was ambitious. He had drawn up plans to build a deluxe carriage with three benches to transport the summer tourists who craved the quiet of the mountain summers, with their cool nights and sunny days. The pristine alpine lakes were popular for swimming. Tourists could take the healing waters in Boario if they wished, sun on the beach of the Brembo River or take the mud baths of Trescore. The new carriage would take the tourists anywhere they wanted to go! Marco pictured

a modern carriage with a canopy of bold black-and- white stripes with brass bindings, while silk-ball fringe along the edge would provide a touch of glamour. Giacomina and Enza would make corduroy cushions for the benches, turquoise blue.

Marco hoped to earn enough money to finally make the Arduinis an offer on the old stone house. The rent was high, but it was close to Cipi’s barn, where the carriage and equipment were stored. The Ravanellis couldn’t live in the barn. They needed the house.

Signor Arduini was getting older; soon his son would take over as padrone. The wooden box filled with folded parchments of surveyed land lots in Schilpario would be handed down and managed by the next generation of Arduinis. There had been signs that Marco should seriously consider buying the house. Sometimes after Marco delivered the rent, Signor Arduini would implore him to buy their house before his death, before his son took over and a potential sale might be off the table for good. It was Signore’s desire to sell that had motivated Marco to expand his business; the present carriage would not provide the profit needed to buy the house.

Buying the house on Via Scalina was Marco’s dream for his family.

Copyright © 2012 Adriana Trigiani From the book The Shoemaker's Wife, published by Harper, an imprint of the HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.

 

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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