The Islands



These excerpts are me thinking out loud. Set in all the places close to my heart, I wanted to challenge stereotypes and customs of different cultures. Give a voice to those who are silently oppressed including women, and groups of people that experience injustice at the hands of a majority, or nation.  A lot of things bring awareness, this is my way.

I. Murano

Approaching closer and closer on the boat,
the island opened up before her eyes, along with her imagination.

A city binded by bridges over the Venetian Lagoon.
Alive in the craft of glassblowing,
ornaments were on display in every single color she could conjure.

The hustle and bustle stopped for no one,
as locals came and left, on transport she had never seen before in the waters.
Elegant canoes with golden corners and
ruby carpets.

An island of tradition and beauty. Catalina had arrived.

Although she was apprehensive. What would she have to offer this magical place?
She thought of her tiny rural house in the hills, the comfort blanket grey life
that she had left thousands of miles behind.


II. Friuli

Stepping off Friulian soil and into an exotic new paradise,
Catalina carried the memories of her parents.

Her Mother, she knew would have never approved of her journey.
With dark skin and darker eyes, she was a wicked woman, with a tongue quick to spite and a vicious back hand.
The Village consensus was that she had only married her father
to satisfy her own selfish greed. For a roof over her head.
When Catalina was born with Jewel green eyes, her madre refused to believe she was her own, as if bore by magic.

Her father was a humble man, whose only wealth lay in the Friulian craft of pottery.
She never understood why he would act ashamed when asked about his profession,
the mosaics that lay in his workshop had mesmerized her all her life.

How he would have loved to see this island of colour, she thought,
Where decorated glass laced every window,
Where such crafts were praised and held in the highest esteem.

A pang rose in the back of her throat, and she rushed to clutch the sanded tile,
hanging on a chain around her neck.


III. In Dreams of Aventurine 

Her nonno had recited to her as a child, stories of the magical Isola before bed,
so she would drift into dreams of molton glass and streets with turquoise floors.

The craftsman there were at the disposal of the re* (king). On his command, they would sculpt the most exquisite glass treasures, with which he decorated the palace in abundance.
As many thousands as the stars in the night sky.

Nonno said any fragment that left in travelling hands would ensure all amount of good fortune to its destination. “The charms from Italia”.

Catalina saw this to be true as she walked along the cobbled street of Strada Cerezo, craft houses alight with flames from burning ovens.
Clear glass, enameled glass, aventurine (glass with gold threads), millefiori (multicoloured glass), milk glass and imitation gemstones.
Each that held a memory, each that sealed a promise.


IV. Burano

Whenever the fleeting rush of adventure arose within her, in the nature of the wind
Catalina breezed easterly, southerly, northerly, in pursuit of her temptations.

She had formed an image of Burano from the chitter-chatter of local lips.
Woman sat at spindles, spinning cotton and silk into small flying flowers,
perfectly curled script and the finest lace pillow.
Tapestries with the Punto Burano (the stitch of Burano) were hung in the windows and sold for thousands upon thousands of lire.

Sitting on the edge of Murano’s furthest stretching street, legs dangling above sea-green,
Catalina spied houses a mural of marble painted along the waters ahead.
A mirror image of it’s glass making brother, Burano was held in its eyes across the Lagoon.

An obscure treasure, maybe tales of which were not plentiful enough to reach her nonno in the north.


V. Zia Maralette

With her imagination bright like the jewels embedded through her jade green eyes,
Catalina hurried back to the main square.

Her father had said if he could find a slate tile to perfectly match the beauty of her iris’, he would be the richest man in the Friulian region.
“Don’t speak like such a fool!” her mother would say, and Catalina too thought it silly, but she would give anything to hear him say those words again.

After his death, she had left in search of the only other living relative she knew she had.
Zia (aunt) Maralette.

Of her she knew nothing.
Not the colour of hair on her head, the taste of her homemade Cannoli (from which all Italian women were judged), nor the name of the street in which she lived.
Similarly Catalina wondered what her aunt knew of her, if anything at all.

In a quest seen only as bittersweet, she had left for the island responsible for more than her own internal mysteries and fascinations.


VI. Torcello

The Story Torcello told Tomaso

The last Island. The Solitario. The abandoned export engulfed in Venetian Aqua. Voiceless in the shadows of it’s brothers it held a silent determination to breathe.
Here, Tomaso did not feel like an outsider.

The day he had arrived, the burden of a grueling journey over his face, He was shoved into the communal holding.
His eyes caught the light of a barred window on the west wall.
A room with a view, he chuckled.

Every evening at the time of sundown, he gazed down shore to local Fisherman casting nets into the closing tide. When thrown up to the sky to submerge into the sea, they looked like gigantic translucent bubbles.The light settled behind them, the sky a perfect brush stroke of crimson.

He had arrived as a prisoner, as a prisoner he would leave, but he appreciated the sight that this had given him.
Here he was terrone, (southern Italian), he was as dirt, a worker of the land. He was little more than Schiavo (slave) to locals and exporters.

But for two years, terrone and native alike had looked out upon the same turquoise ocean, the same humming glow of sunsets,
and neither could see what Tomaso saw.


VII. Destino

The story Torcello told Tomaso

If this was his destino, Tomaso thought, it was not so bad.
There must be worse places to end up.

With the wind arising from the sea, his mind breezed over his days as a potter, over his days as a prisoner.
One didn’t sway to far from the other.

As a prisoner he arrived to Torcello, and as a prisoner he would leave,
but this, he was not in his heart.

They say one life is equal to another, but Tomaso knew this wasn’t true.

It was not true the day his father was persecuted and exciled for being terrone,
nor the day his mother replaced him with the local schifoso.
It was not true the day his brother built Toparo, a ship with all excellence of a navy.

Tomaso knew this was not true the day he gave his freedom, for his brother.


VIII. Sundown

The Story Torcello told Tomaso

For seven days of hard labor,
the only hours that were granted to Tomaso, were that of each night, after sundown.
An unjust exchange.

But they belonged to him, free to wish and free to dream.
Here he could remember in all the colours of home.


VIIII. Sicilia In Childhood

The Story Torcello told Tomaso

The island was a patio door that opened into a thousand stories.
Rock pools laced the coastline, waters of plunging deep blue and silver,
brimming with all manner of exotic sea life.
The marble coloured cobbled streets would lure with the sweet smell of roasting chestnuts, freshly picked from Castagno dei Cento Cavalli (The Hundred Horse Chestnut).

In the summer, his mother would send him to forage for spices, sweet cherries, clove corns, peppers and the last of the warm weather’s apriocots.

Every Wednesday, multicoloured tents and tepees rose for Market. A weekly breath of life for the old town square.
Woman busy buying pastrami and fresh foccacia for their husbands, Men bartering a good price for local Arenaria (Sicilian sandstone).

To Tomaso this was hard to understand. Why buy rock when you are surrounded by honey coated cantuccini, coffee bread with crushed pistachios, gelato spheres in pastry cloaks.
As a child, he was tempted with his eyes and led by his stomach.

When he thought he could get away with it (and there was only one time he did not) he would sneakily pocket two warm nougat with jellied almond jam from the stall with the yellow sash posts.

One for him, one for his brother.


X. Sicilia in Età Adulta

The Story Torcello told Tomaso

Two brothers with two natures and two destinies.

Simply in childhood, one had scuro (dark) eyes, the other had green.

But In adulthood,
one was the master of plebeian glass, and the other a master of ships.

When the last mast of welded steel was secured to the mighty floating vessel,
Tomaso felt in his bones all the innocence of childhood flee from his body.

No longer would they enjoy together sweet steals on market day.

Toparo had separated him from his brother further than he feared to reach.


XI. Casalinga

Zia Maralette was molto veccio (old).
Catalina tried to interpret the thousand intricate lines upon her pearly face.
They resembled a road map, owning all the details of her choices, all traces of her breath.
As if she had lived once and then over again.

But like the wind behind the waves, Zia Maralette exuded all the life of the seven seas,
and Catalina thought of her as a word more than beautiful.

Proprietor of three casas, she was a wealthy woman, as to match any male in the region.
Her Chambers were adorned with purple satin silk that hung in sashes from the ceeling, rolling into ribbons over a four poster bed with silver welded corners. Her hallways had all the height of the sky.

On each of her fingers, a ring with a different gemstone. Aquamarine (seawater jewel), Stella Zaffiro (Star Saphire), Sphene (Canary colored gem),and tsavorite (rich growing green).

The last the shape of the moon in the night sky,
filled with a million rosso rubini (red ruby’s).

Zia Maralette was a woman of Splendid Grandeur.
After all her dreams, and all her wishes for Murano, Catalina knew she did not belong here.

In Friuli this would not be. In Fruili, women were secondario. They were casalinga (homemaker), and before they were either, they were schiavi to their brothers and to their fathers.

They had no place for greeting officials and associates of the ministers, for throwing bountiful banquets and embellished festivities.

For this was Zia Maralette’s life, and Catalina could hardly believe they were related.


XII. Hummingbirds

Catalina peered through the door she had been told not to see.
She rarely tip-toed around commands set by mouth.

Opening in front of her, a chest of tesoro (treasure), a cave of wonders.
She dazzled in it’s reflection.

Set before her were the blessings from many lands.

From Sicilia, Rare Ortiga Lime Glycerin in hourglass decanters.
The elixir of youth, coveted for centuries after The Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresa,
had sworn by its mystical properties.

Sage green and Chrystal yellow mosaic vases from Caltagirone (‘The City Of Sicilian Ceremaics’) encrusted with fire-like axinite.

Firenze (Florence) had sent Marzipan fruits in creamy shades of pastel, vino soaked ciliegie (sweet cherries)
and amarene (black cherries) coated in snow sugar.

And from the foothills of Bergamo,
harvested honey-glossed Satin sewn in the shape of roses through Mantua cloth.

Like a pendant hung from the chambers highest point, a gold plated cage,
Large enough for a jaguar or leopard. Inside two starry-eyed hummingbirds,
floating in electric feathers, singing in gentle melodies.

Their elegance unlike anything she had seen, Catalina did not know their origin.


XIII. Almari

The Story Torcello told Tomaso

As a brother, Tomaso was one of two. As a sibling, he was one of seven.
The elder of five sisters, he quickly learned lessons of responsibility and sacrifice.

The Almari (name family lineage) were known for generations as mietitrebbia (laborers) of the Sicilian hillside.
Harvesting from the olive vineyards in summer season, and rearing lambs winter through to spring.
A profession that left them respected, but ironically less fruitful.

Dedicated to the church and bound by its rituals,
any extra wealth would slip through his fathers fingers before it settled in his pocket,
or indeed that of his children.

This left some of the seven humble. Some of them, hungry.
His brother, the latter.

Tomaso saw a world to be healed. Antonio saw a world to be conquered.


XIV. War

It was only now, looking back in borrowed sight, she understood just how naive she had been.
She had been blind to the ways of people.

Catalina believed that when the world spoke, it did so with conviction, with truth.
But she was deaf to it’s slander, it’s malice, it’s torment.

Her actions had arisen only out of love, out of hope.
But now they were feelings she wished she could banish, for what good can they do?

She was face to face with their consequences.
Her family face to face with war.


XV. Leone d’oro

She had neither the opulence of a King, or the resources of an empire.
She knew nothing of defense, and she did not think tactically,
But she had determination, the courage of a leone d’oro (mighty golden lion).

Her words were planting tiny seeds.
Seeds that swirled around in the thoughts of natives, growing and growing.


XVI. Reflections

The Story Torcello Told Tomaso

As a boy, Tomaso harvested the olive vineyards of Sicily.
As a prisoner, the vines of Torcello.

Day upon day in the daze of heat, chains bound to his neck, sweat drenching his back,
he would pluck at earthy fruits and dwell in years out of reach.


The age he had first heard the word. Terrone. 

One Summer, the Sun had not shone with it’s usual pride,
and profits of olio did nothing for Almari Fortune. Tomaso, his father, and his brother traveled to Firenze in hunt for lavoro (labor/work).

They took seven of their best mosaics, between them all that they could carry.
Ceramic pots studded with millefiori (multicoloured glass), glass tureens melted with aventurine, potted vase with Sage green and Chrystal yellow tiles, the colori of Sicilia.

At the chime for Market, recognized because their own was similar, they set up on the bank side, eager to sell.
“Listen to chiacchierio (chatter), for murmurs of work” instructed their father.

But from the flurrying crowd, Tomaso heard only whispers of hostility, whispers of loathing.
Schifoso. Terrone. Di Cazzo.

Through a thousand faces, he spotted a father with two sons, standing, starring. Not a word passed their lips, not one word needed to.
Six eyes burned with resentment.

In the reflection of Ceramica, he saw the weather in his fathers skin, the dirt under his nails, the scuro deep in his pupils.
This was the first time he had seen his family through their eyes. And they were different.

Tomaso covered the ears of his brother, and hoped his eyes were too innocent to see.

3 thoughts on “The Islands

  1. lucius_pixel

    Catalina’s father was ashamed of being a potter because when he was young he wanted to be a captain of a sailboat. He had wanted to be something else and never intended on being a potter. I imagine that’s why.

    Liked by 1 person

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