VOL XIII Issue 5, Number 145
Editor: Klaus J. Gerken
Production Editor: Heather Ferguson;
European Editor: Moshe Benarroch;
Contributing Editors: Pedro Sena; Michael Collings;
Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald LeWinter
Biography - Donna Bamford
My Villa in Tuscany
Biography - Donna Bamford
I am a part-time freelance journalist, EFL teacher,
struggling creative writer, world traveler, and would-be
actress, residing currently in London, Ontario, though I
have also lived in London, England, Paris, Athens and
India and have travelled in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and Nepal as well as most of the countries in
Europe, but I still call Toronto home. I have written three
children's books which I am trying to get published as
well asMy Villa in Tuscany and lots of poetry. My
interests include anything to do with the arts. Or if the
opportunity arises -travel! I have an Honours BA in English
from the University of Toronto and speak French fluently as well
as passable Italian and German. My poetry and essays have been
published in a number of online magazines and a few print
magazines such asQwerty, Bywords, Ascent, Ygdrasil,
Great Works, Scriberazone, 7:24, The Mag, Another Toronto
and Tryst, The Globe and Mail and The Scrivener's Pen.
I have been to Tuscany twice and for the past twelve years
have been doing volunteer work with refugees in my spare time
here in London, Ontario.
My Villa in Tuscany
When I first learned of Aunt Elizabeth's death in
Zurich, naturally I was overcome with grief, but how
different was my mood when I learned that she had left the
bulk of her sizable fortune to me, her favorite niece. It
was not long afterwards that I purchased my villa in
Tuscany, and moved furniture - well computer at any rate -
and dog to the villa. At fifty I had been through two
marriages, raised three children, had a hysterectomy and was
ready as you can well imagine for a rest. I am a freelance
journalist with one book published on the life of
Oriana Fallaci. It was time to retire, put my feet up and
finish the book I had planned on the romantic poets in
Italy: Shelly, Keats, Byron, etc.
Italy had long been my fantasy, particularly
Tuscany. The food, the art, the architecture, the
voluptuous hills, the sun-swathed wheat fields, the
chartreuse vineyards. What could be more inspiring!
Men I had just about given up on. My first marriage had
ended in a nasty divorce, and my second marriage ended when
my husband choked to death on a ham sandwich. My three
children were all in university in Canada though I suspected
now that I had a villa in Italy I should be seeing more of
them. Mother, if you send me the money for the flight I
can spend Christmas with you. Delighted! No, I would be
delighted to have all three of them spend Christmas with me
in Tuscany. We always spent Christmas at my house in the
Annex in Toronto but this would be quite the thing.
In any case it was now September. I had been to
Florence and bought leather furniture for my wonderful
villa with the melon-sepia stucco walls and the pale mauve
wisteria with bits of jasmine caught in it I had heard about
in the Spring. In the garden the last of the alabaster
musk roses were now in bloom, and in the center was a pond
filled with three Italian goldfish. I had given them
names - Umberto, Roxanna and Guido.
Oh, it was exquisite and so perfect for writing.
With my ashtray nearby and my feet up on a pale peach
canvas lounge chair, I could scribble away for hours!
It was not too hot and, in any case, the place was
fully air-conditioned and surrounded by umbrella pines and
cypress. Oh it was wonderful! And in the spring I was told
there would be wild blue iris everywhere. The wild iris of
Tuscany. What a delight! I had vineyards and a vegetable
garden with a view of my vineyards and wheat fields from
my bedroom window. I was in heaven at last. Thank you Aunt
I also had a couple - in their sixties I would say -
Tuscans, a man and his wife who ran the place, even did the
cooking. There were about five bedrooms in case I should
want to entertain guests or my darling children. And for
company I had our Golden Retriever Tatty. So how was Tatty
liking Italy? She loved it. I would take her for long
walks around the grounds and she quickly made friends with
some of the other dogs in the neighborhood. In the villa
next door, about ten minutes away on foot, was an English
couple who had a Springer Spaniel that Tatty adored. He
would often jump the gate to visit and play with her.
There was a charming village nearby named San
Giminiano - you may have heard of it, it's quite famous -
where I would often go to chat with the locals over an
amaretto or glass of wine and there was an Australian woman
I was particularly fond of named Laura and Laura and I hit
it off beautifully. Laura was an artist and had had a
career as an actress in London in her salad days. She was
quite a character, a kindred spirit. Loved Europe the way I
did. She also had a flat on the Isle St. Louis in Paris
and she had invited me there in the Spring. Her husband was
French - Algerian actually, a lawyer. They spent half the
year in Tuscany and half in Paris. No children. Two cats.
Anyhow what I really wanted to tell you about is my
refugees. Well, you see there was a Croatian waitress one
day at the cafe I used to go to in San Gimimiano. I had
often chatted with her - very pretty girl named Sveta. She
told me her story how her parents were mixed Serb and
Muslim and how she had had to leave Croatia. Well, in any
case, she and her husband were having trouble with their
Italian landlord so I suggested that they come and stay at my
place till they found another place to live and so they did.
And that was fine. Her English was pretty good and she had been a
computer programmer in Croatia so I was glad to have the
And good company they were too. Dragan helped in
the garden and Sveta had a remarkable way with flower
arranging and helping me decorate the house. I really
enjoyed them though there was a dark side, of course. They
had both been through so much in the war. Unimaginable to
me, really. Unthinkable. And then we met Mila, another
refugee who lived in the village. Her story was even
sadder. She was from Sarejevo and had been a victim of a
great deal. She could hardly crack a smile when I first met
her. She had been an accountant, but here she worked
cleaning apartments. I asked her shyly one day if she
wouldn't like to come and live with us. I could well afford
it and I thought it would do her good. She had to be coaxed
at first to come but she joined us and that made five of us
as well as Tatty and my Tuscan couple.
Mila seemed the most traumatized. She had lost her
parents in Sarajevo in a mortar attack. There was little
sunshine in her eyes, and she was already skin and bones. I
took to her. She had a fine mind and would gladly drive me
into Florence to the library to get books on Shelly and
Keats or merely to make photo copies in refernce. I did
much of my research at the University of Florence and I
discovered that Mila enjoyed ice cream, so whenever we
passed a gelati stand I would offer her one. All three of
them badly needed clothes so we went shopping one day and
this was an outing that seemed to be to everyone's liking.
Dragan worked as a painter, though he had been a
professional artist in his own country, so I commissioned
him to do a fresco above the fireplace. Tatty loved having
them there. She was used to having people in the house and
really I think loved people more than other dogs. We were
quite a happy household and as it was too much work for my
Tuscans I hired an Albanian refugee couple to help out.
You know - just with the cleaning and maintenance. I had
never met any Albanians, but they had the most pleasant
manners and also spoke some English. I found myself giving
English lessons during the evenings - especially if it was
raining. If it was nice we relaxed outside with some wine
or amaretto. We needed it. They worked hard, these kids.
They had a lot of forgetting to do or at least relaxing
from. Mila worried me. She wasn't physically strong enough
for cleaning jobs so I gave her a job as my researcher. My
assistant. I wasn't sure that they would be better off in
Canada say, but Sveta and Dragan planned to emigrate. I
knew the opportunities for good jobs there were just about
as bleak these days.
Now at this time my children were trying to decide
whether or not to come for Christmas. I had one big room
left. I decided to invite them.
Oh, we were a happy little family, my refugees and
I. We mostly ate Italian though sometimes Sveta and Dragan
would cook and we would have a typically Yugoslavian meal or
sometimes an Albanian meal. Francesca, my Tuscan woman,
was an excellent cook though, and turned out lasagna and
risotto as well as bow-tie carbonara and some typically
Tuscan treats. She also made some wicked desserts. Then
everyone would help out in the kitchen afterwards. We had a
dishwasher, thanks be to Allah, but there was still a fair
bit of work to do but I must say my people were hard workers
and I never had a complaint from them. Then we'd retire to
the garden for some wine and to catch the last rays of the
sunshine as they fell over the Tuscan hillsides - those
gentle Tuscan hillsides. Paradise and my villa a little
My book was coming along fine and Mila was beginning
to put on some weight, I was happy to see. We were all
flourishing, when who should turn up on my doorstep but my
"Whatever brings you to Tuscany?" I wryly asked.
"To see Tatiana."
"She isn't here yet."
"I'll wait. When is she coming?"
"In three days. Can you wait in the village please?"
"Who do you have staying here?" What is all this
laundry on line?"
"Friends of mine."
"I hear you have camp for refugees."
"Well, I'd hardly call it a camp."
"My Julia. Helping refugees. Who would have thought."
"I like them. They like me And one of them is also
helping me with research for a book I'm writing."
"It was nice of Aunt Elizabeth to leave you so much
"Yes, I thought so. What are you doing these days?"
"The same. My company has opened an office in London
if you'd like to visit."
"London! Haven't been to London in twenty years. I
hear it's changed a lot."
"More expensive, but it is still the same London. How's
your love life?"
"None of your business. How's Gloria?"
"And the kids?"
"Great! When is Illya coming?"
"Not for a couple of weeks."
"Well, I will just wait in village. I will come to
see you in a few days."
With that he shook my hand in a friendly way and got
back in his car.
I was relieved he wasn't staying. It would be bad
enough to have to see him again in a few days. He had left
me when Tatiana and Illya were only seven and nine for a
woman half his age. retino. No, I wasn't going to let him
"And how's Mila today?" I asked, seeing her arrive on
"Good. I found some good things on Shelly on the library
computer. It's in Italian and English. Here, I made a copy
We dined that night on the terrace in the
garden. It was still warm enough and we enjoyed it more
than eating indoors. We had a combination, sort of a
smorgasbord of Italian, Yugoslav and Albanian. Everyone was
in excellent spirits. We had been together most of us for
about two months.
"You know, Julia," said Sveta, "I met a Somalian
neurosurgeon today in the village. He's looking for a place
"How old is he?"
"Fourty. He speaks Italian fluently. He studied in
Rome for four years, but he can't work here. He's waiting
for his papers to emigrate to Canada."
"Well, send him up. We can put another bed in one of
the boys' rooms."
"You know Julia, we're awfully grateful to you for
taking us in like this," continued Sveta. "Not many people
would do it."
"Oh, I don't know. What do the idle rich do. And I
guess I'm idle and rich."
"They go to Montecarlo and gamble."
"By the way, you know my friend Laura, the actress.
She's invited us to her home for a New Year's Eve party.
Isn't that nice? And there will be actors and artists
there. I hope my children are still here."
"When do they arrive?"
"Tatiana comes on Friday and Illya about a week later
and I'm not sure about Greta. She's found a new boyfriend
and may bring him."
"You know," said Sveta, "you can forget about the war
"Almost," said Mila, "but not quite. Maybe in Canada we
can forget about war."
"It's hard in Canada right now," I said. "It's not
like when I was young in the sixties and there were plenty
of jobs. They say the economy is improving and
unemployment is going down but I don't know
about professional jobs. Some of you are better off here
for a while yet. And the winters. You can't imagine the
"But they don't want us here," said Dragan. "Only to
paint and move furniture and clean."
"It might be the same in Canada, you know, Dragan. At
least at the moment. You might find it quite difficult
there. Just about the only good jobs are in computers.
Sveta, you might be okay, but Mila, with accounting, I don't
think you'd be better off there at the moment. No, you'd be
best to stay here and see if the economy improves more."
On Friday my eldest daughter, Tatiana, arrived. She was
about the same age as a lot of my refugees so she fitted in
"But mother, what a great idea! Whatever gave you the
idea? And I love the villa."
"Dad's in San Giminano waiting for you."
"Oh great. I can hardly wait to see him. Where is he
"In London apparently. I really don't want to see too
much of him. He'll probably show up today but could you
meet him at his hotel if possible?"
"Mom, do you still love him?'
"One still has feelings for an ex-husband. I had the
oddest dream about him this morning. But anyhow, that's
history, and I'm not too crazy about his character, so do me
a favour and keep him in the village."
Dimitri was a Russian dissident when I met him in the
early seventies. A real Russian, working as a waiter in a
posh hotel in Toronto. I was immediately fascinated. We
were living in the same boarding house on Admiral Road and
soon after we met we started living together. I was a
student at U. of T. and Dimitri wanted to finish
architecture which he had started in Moscow. With a job of
Maclean's, I put him through three years of architecture
school, bore him two children, Tatiana and Illya, cooked and
laundered for him.
Then when I was thirty he suddenly started having
an affair with this Gloria person in his office. What hell
I went through. Dimitri said he would stop seeing her. We
even took the kids to Greece to try to get away fro it all.
But while were in Greece I found out that he had been
writing her. That was it. I left and took the kids to Paris
where I had an assignment.
Dimitri became a successful architect. I had two
small kids to raise but about two years later I met Robert.
Robert was a doctor who really wanted to be a writer, but a
lot less temperamental and irresponsible than Dimtiri. I
could trust him. Oh, he was sexy enough - just different moral
attitudes from Dimitri. I had a thing about doctors
anyway. The only trouble with Robert was that he didn't
like my smoking and then one day after ten years of marriage
and in perfect health he choked to death on a ham sandwich.
Such is life. Such is fate. And no one knew the Heimlich
maneuver. We tried patting him on the back but it was
no good. Anyhow. Robert was a good husband - I have a
thing for doctors and artists of any kind, but after a few
regrettable affairs I was quite tired of the whole romantic
Greta had been born when I was thirty-three and was
already in University of Toronto at seventeen. Lovely
girl. Wanted to be an actress... couldn't she choose
medicine like Illya? I really don't know about these
genetic theories. Here Dimitri was an architect and Tatiana
and Illya were perfectly normal and down-to-earth but Greta,
what to do about Greta?
My last name is Matthews, by the way. I kept my own
name in both marriages. It was the name I was writing under
after all and I liked, generally speaking, to think of myself
as liberated. The children had their father's names,
Ivanova and Hudson respectively.
It was the middle of December. The rain was coming
down in chair legs, as the Greeks say. Inside we had a fire
going in the living room fireplace and CDs playing - ranging
from contemporary Yugoslavian to Beatles to Andrea Bocelli,
Who should show up at the door again but Dimitri,
like a bad ruble.
"Can I come in?"
"No, but here's Tatiana. Take her to your hotel."
"Are you always so friendly?"
"Listen, Dimitri. I'd just rather not have to deal with
you today if that's okay. Where are you staying?"
"In a hotel in Florence."
"Well, go there. Is that okay with you, Tatiana?"
"Fine Mom. Hi dad."
"Fine, see you soon. Bye-bye. Have a nice time," I
The phone rang. It was Laura.
"Greetings, how would you like to bring your people
over here for pizza? I have some friends here you'd enjoy, I
"I've only the one car."
"Oh, I'll come and get some. How many are over there
"Okay, you take four and I'll come and get three."
There were four or five of Laura's old friends from the
acting world there and one French painter.
They seemed as fascinated by my refugees as they were by
them. There was one man in particular who caught my
attention. Vittorio his name was. An actor from Rome.
Sort of an Italian version of Gerard Depardieu. I couldn't
help but notice him immediately as we entered the room. He
was quite magnificent and I felt a little shy and taken
aback. But he came right over to me and said, "So you must
be Julia. I've heard so much about you. The mother of this
little family. How admirable."
"They make good company and keep me from getting too
wrapped up in myself."
"Is this something new, or did you do this in Canada?"
"No, in Canada, I was a journalist."
And so the conversation began. Had I traveled a lot? -
which was yes. Had I seen many Italian films? Yes, Italian
films were my favorite. And you? Have you always been an
actor? No. I was a teacher of acting etc. etc. And then
he asked, are you married? - to which I simply replied that I
had been married twice, once divorced and once widowed and
that I had three children in university in Canada. And you?
I am a widower. My wife died of cancer two years ago. I
have two grown children. One of them is here. Ah, here he
is. Givanni, this is Signora Matthews from Canada. These
are her friends. Giovanni is an actor as well."
"My daughter Greta would like to be an actress but I
don't know whether or not to encourage her. It's such a
"Oh encourage her, encourage her. At least let her
try. You don't always succeed in realizing your dreams, but
I think it is best to try, no?"
The French artist then came up to me and introduced
himself . He asked me if I didn't find Laura's paintings
`formidable'. I said I did. " She is sort of a neo-post
Impressionist, I would say. The woman is so talented. I am
going to buy a few for my apartment."
That was the last I saw of Vittorio that
evening. He was inundated by Yugoslavs and Albanians asking
him about acting and the film world. It wasn't till we were
leaving at three in the morning that he came up to me again
and said. "Well, Julia, great to meet you. I shall be here
for a week I hope we meet again. I find you multo
"For my part, I was in love. I was smitten. He was
so beautiful and so charming and just so Italian if you know
what I mean. So much charisma. I was infatuated at least.
Forget whatever feelings Dimitri might have stirred up in
me. Vittorio was the right man for me.
That's the way I am. Love at first sight. But
what would he see in me? Oh, I was in fairly good shape.
Still attractive, I guess, in a fifty sort of way. I had been
quite gorgeous if I do say so myself . Having had a
hysterectomy, I could no longer have children but probably
that was a plus. And I still had all the hormones.
Definitely. But it was his intensity. He was tall with
dark blonde hair, curly like a Botticelli angel. Indeed, he
looked like an aging angel. He was from Rome and lived in
Rome. He had been to the States but not to Canada but
wanted to go. He liked Canada. That was a plus. He didn't
much like the States. Too violent. Inadequate gun laws,
capitalism run rampant. The exact things that I dislike and
I had lived briefly in Chicago.
Under Francesca's supervision, we were to make wine
the next day, in the cellars beneath the villa. The whole
group joined in though we didn't start till two in the
afternoon as some of us needed to sleep.
Who should turn up at my door but Dimitri and Tatiana.
"I'm just bringing her for one night. I'm going to
pick her up tomorrow and she'll stay with me in Florence for
a few days. Is that all right with you?"
The telephone rang. I did not have a machine,
thinking them idiotic frankly and cold. I hurried to answer
It was Laura. "How would you like to take your
friends to the sea today? It's not that far, you know, and we
can stop at Pisa on the way. What do you think?"
"Sounds great. Is Vittorio there?"
"Yes, and Claude and my husband. We have lots of cars
though. I thought we might eat at a little restaurant by
the Mediterranean at night."
"Oh dear, I forgot, they're all in the cellar making
"Well, okay. How about tomorrow?"
But just then there was a knock at the front
door. It was a tall blonde girl, Yugoslav from the looks
of her, wearing a rucksack.
"Hello, they tell me in village you help me. I need
place to stay."
"Welcome, welcome," I said. "Come on in. My name is
Julia. What is your name?"
"My name is Dzanita."
"Where are you from, Dzanita?"
"How did you get here?"
"By autobus and also by train."
"Well, you are welcome to stay. Are you alone?"
"Well come in and meet the others. There are three
more people here from Yugoslavia."
Soon the conversation was entirely in Serbo-
Croatian and I couldn't understand a word. Sveta explained
that Dzanita - like her - was from mixed a mixed Orthodox-Muslim
background and couldn't fit in anywhere in Croatia or in
Serbia. She hoped to find some ind of work in Italy and
"Tell her that she is welcome to stay and we are
making wine today if she would like to join in."
"She says thank you and yes she would love to make
Well, it was a merry day. My Tuscans supervised and I
think my refugees had a very good time, even Mila, though
she was still a little shy. Thin as a willow, but quite
beautiful, you know, in a dark, gypsy, enigmatic sort of
way. Tall and willowy as Serbs often are with such a dark
exotic beauty. She and Dzanita must have been both six
feet tall at least.
After the wine making we had a little party upstairs
in the living room because it was raining outside, a slow
warm Tuscan rain - not at all depressing and the ground
and the farmers so needed it. So we put on some
Yugloslavian music - a group called White Button which I
really liked and some CDs of old seventies disco music
like "It's Fun to Stay at the YMCA." And "I Will Survive,"
and "We Are Family" - happy late seventies music that I
used to dance to sometimes in the discos with Dimtiri.
He was quite a dancer. Not exactly traditional -
something of a Russian twist to it but still we really
enjoyed ourselves. That was when I was thirty and we
were living in London for a year in Chelsea. We had the
two kids and we would leave them with a sitter and just
go out dancing.
But I digress.
My refugees really had a good time. Dzanita
especially. She would jump up in the air for joy. Even
the Albanians joined in I was glad to see.
I was glad of the rain. We badly needed it
Besides I like the rain. Except in February or March in
Toronto. Or the winter rains of Paris. Actually I
prefer snow. You see, I come from a little town in the
Ottawa Valley. We used to get mountains of snow. And I
always missed it when we moved to Toronto. Oh, Toronto
turned out to be a good move. I don't know what I would
have done if we'd stayed in Arnprior. Probably never
would have travelled. And learned languages - I speak
French, Italian, and German - well, German and Italian
not so fluently.
I wondered whether or not to help bring my refugees
to Canada. Certainly they had no future here. I wasn't
even sure they could get the papers to stay. But Canada!
The climate. And job possibilities were so bleak these
days even for Canadian students coming out of university.
I felt so sorry for them being uprooted, having to
learn a new language and then their prospects so dim.
They were all pretty bright, some of them professionals.
But Canada during the 90s was such a hard place to find
a job. They would live in poverty for quite a while.
After all they had been through in Yugoslavia. Or should
I say, the former Yugoslavia.
Dzanita was from Croatia, but her mother, who
was Serb, had to live in Serbia. Mila, my researcher, was
from Bosnia but she had been forced to go to Serbia too.
And what about Nasir, the Somalian neurosurgeon, who was
coming next week? Oh well, if he stayed he could have the
studio over the garage, Excellent - no problem.
He sounded interesting, according to Sveta. He had
studied neurosurgery in Rome for four years. But the
Italians wouldn't let him work here, I wondered if he
would have any more luck in Canada. Very tough on
immigrant doctors, the Canadians. I had heard of doctors
driving taxis even after they'd passed their Canadian
exams. Why should that be? Doesn't seem quite right. I
suspect discrimination, quite frankly.
Anyhow, we had a lovely wine-making party and
all of us were still in good enough
form to go to the Mediterranean with Laura and Vittorio
the next day.
I love the Mediterranean, don't you? It's
my favourite sea. Pisa I'm not so crazy about, but my
refugees found it interesting. And then we found this
lovely little spot to have lunch. Oh, just pizza and
bruschetta but the restaurant was so charming, and it was
a sunny day, about 20 C and the restaurant overlooked the
sea and we sat on the vie covered patio drinking wine
and the sunshine. They loved the Mediterranean too. In
fact everyone did, including the Albanians who had been
brought up not far from the sea.
I enjoyed Laura's company more than anyone I
had met in a long time. She was an Australian Jew, but
somehow at a very early age, like me, she had conceived a
passionate love of Europe. She was so artistic. Could
paint and act and write. So talented. So brilliant and
yet warm and generous and overflowing with the milk of
human kindness. She had left for London in her early
20s where she had a semi-successful acting career. Then
she went on a trip to Paris and fell in love. Laura gave
up the acting career and they bought their villa and she
took up her other great passion - painting. She spoke
Italian and French quite fluently. Paris, Tuscany.
These were her great loves like me. I did not paint, of
course, but I shared her passion for art. We hit it off
magnificently. It's wonderful when you unexpectedly find
a kindred spirit. Like finding an oasis in a desert. I
had felt a little lost these past few years. No Dimitri.
Robert gone. My two best friends had also died in their
fourties. And here was I all alone. Oh, I had the
children. And I suppose that is a lot. And Greta and I
a lot in common. It was Greta I was really closest to of
the three of them. She was the most literary, the most
political, the most like me, really. That was why I was a
bit concerned, I guess. I had done a lot of acting at
university, but somehow I got sidetracked into journalism
and almost immediately after I graduated landed this plum
job with Maclean's - first on a desk and then foreign
assignments as well. I was pretty happy really.
Assignments in Paris, one in Bulgaria and even
Vittorio was in fine form and I discovered during
lunch that he had studied Strindberg and Ibsen at
university. I had studied Pirandello and Ugo Betti and
Dante and Petrarch, in my three years of Italian in the
60s. So we had something in common. In fact, I wasn't
sure at first, but now I thought I perhaps I had found a
kindred spirit. A soul mate? Was that possible at my
age? Dimitri was. My second husband not exactly but we
enjoyed each other's company nonetheless. And humour.
And we were very attracted to each other. He was such a
compassionate caring man. Dimitri no, not really.
But Vittorio. Well, it was too early to tell. He was
intellectually stimulating and had a love of the arts
like I did. Now What about his character? That I had
yet to see. But more about that later. Laura was indeed
a kindred spirit. In fact I loved Laura, though I had
only known her a few months.
The day was a huge success. And in the
evening Laura paid for us to have dinner in a really good
restaurant. I was in heaven. My refugees looking happy,
everybody looking so happy and Vittorio telling me all
about a film he'd seen last week that took place in Cuba.
He was political as well!
But Monday was a work day. Dimitri was in
Florence with Tatiana. Illya was scheduled to come in
two weeks. Greta still wasn't sure. Wednesday I was
scheduled to meet Nasir and see if he wanted to stay with
us. I must work on my book. My refugees must go to
their jobs if they had one. Others were looking for work
and trying to get refugee status in Canada. Mila was
helping me and Dzanita was going to look for some kind of
Now a thought occurred tome. I still had the
house in the Annex. Greta and Tatiana and Illya were
still living there - Greta in first year English at U. of
T. and Tatiana in fourth year architecture. And Illya
in first year medicine. What if when these kids got their
papers to emigrate to Canada if that was what they still
wanted to do they could stay at my house on Admiral Road
right in downtown Toronto for while. What a splendid
Nasir too, if that`s what he wanted to do. It would
certainly save them a lot of hardship an then they
could look for places of their own when they wanted to.
Save them a lot of trouble - living in government-
subsidized housing and getting food from the food bank.
A lot less lonely and give them time to adjust, I would
think. I would like to do it, I thought. It was the
least I could do with Aunt Elizabeth's money. She used to
call me a nut case, actually. She was quite conservative
in some ways and yet not so in others. She and Uncle
Fred made their money in real estate. But she had been
brought up in the Depression and was really quite cheap
in a way and never quite understood me, but she had a
wonderful sense of humor and she was my favorite aunt
too. Very religious, Aunt Elizabeth. No children. I
think Uncle Fred didn't want children. So they were able
to travel a lot and she did leave a lot of money to the
Cancer Society. But the bulk of it she left to me. And
it was quite a lot.
Now that is a big change in life. What to do
with so much money ? I would never have to work again. I
could afford to travel, though quite frankly, I have never
been fond of first-class hotels. The smaller ones, even
charming pensiones, suit me fine. I really didn't need
all this wealth to be happy. I'm not that sort of
person. Oh, I like a good dinner in a nice restaurant
with lots of ambience and I like to travel, but it was of
great concern to me that the money go to good use. What
was it my mother used to say? - used to drive me batty
actually - "If you want to be happy all the day, make
others happy, that's the way." I often wondered if
this wasn't only part of the truth. In any case, I was
happy in my villa in Tuscany. Finally at 50, it seemed to
be all coming together, the friends, a place I adored, a
man in my life, possibly, my kids thriving. I could
share a little of my happiness with those less fortunate.
I was almost ready to start the first chapter of
my book on Keats, Shelley and Byron. Nasir came on
Wednesday and a fine intelligent man he was. Very
handsome, very tall. Spoke perfect Italian and English
and wanted to go to Canada. He was very happy to take
the studio over the garage and become one of my
entourage. I suggested he could stay in my house in
Toronto when he first arrived. He was so grateful. Such
a lovely man. His English was excellent too, and he
liked to work in the garden, though like most Muslims he
didn't touch a drop of alcohol. Pure gold. And such
delicate features, like a lot of Somalians. The women I
find particularly beautiful. Actually I hardly had time
for my book. But I did go back to writing poetry, which
is something I have always done. The Tuscan landscape
inspired me so. And Florence and our trip to Viareggio that
It was the perfect place for an artist, my
villa, and Dragan seemed quite inspired too and painted a
fresco over the fireplace that was a view overlooking the
vineyards and hillsides beyond the garden. The last of
the November roses were still in bloom. Nasir loved
flowers and would bring fresh roses in the evening and
put them in vases around the house.
The rains had begun to set in, but it was quite
mild and you could sit outdoors on a sunny day. I heard
from my son. He was okay and would love to spend
Christmas with me. Greta seemed to have disappeared as
Greta sometimes did and was never at home when I
called. Probably in a play. I left a message with
Illya to have her call me. Meanwhile Vittorio had
gone back to Rome but was scheduled to spend Christmas
at Laura's. Laura was Jewish, of course, and Azdin
Muslim, but they celebrated still, Laura said. A small
tree and relatives and presents and the whole bit.
Laura's mother and father were coming that Christmas
from Sydney which would be wonderful.
We were beginning to decorate the house for
Christmas. I love Christmas, don't you? Of course, it
brings back happy memories of my childhood in the
Ottawa Valley and the snow and our Christmas pageant at
the church. I wasn't sur how Nasir and Dzanita and my
Albanians would take our decorating but they didn't
seem to mind at all. Indeed, Nasir said everybody seemed
so happy. Nasir's birthday was on December 2, and we
wanted to celebrate that but he said no - Muslims don't
celebrate birthdays - but we celebrated anyway by all
going to a lovely restaurant in San Gimimiano I had
noticed one day.
I think he really enjoyed himself. He was
fourty. He had already gotten his papers for Canada and
was scheduled to fly to Toronto before Christmas. He was
going to stay at my house. Dragan and Sveta had also
gotten their landed immigrant papers and were going to
make the great move too. The three of them would fly
together. Illya would be there to welcome them and Greta
but I put Nasir in charge while my children were here
over Christmas. It was a big step they were taking and
a big responsibility I was giving Nasir plus a lot of
trust but he was such a capable man I had infinite faith
in him. He had a married sister living in Toronto so he
would not be wholly alone and Sveta and Dragan had
Yugoslavian friends. Lovely responsible people.
As Dzanita said, "Because my father was killed
by Serbs do I have to hate Serbs? I don't want to be
Suera and Sayeed my Albanian couple had been Italy
in for three years. They both spoke fluent Italian, and
Suera even spoke French and German. They had both been
children's teachers in Albania. I wanted to get them
to Canada and helped them apply for papers. They hoped
to get settled soon and start a family of their own and
also hoped to teach again one day in Canada.
They all worked during the day in San Giminiano or in
Florence and contributed to the groceries. I provided
the lodgings free of charge of course - it was the least
I could do. I think Aunt Elizabeth would have approved.
She had a rather unconventional streak to her sometimes.
Long white hair which she wore up in a bun. I can
remember brushing her hair as a teenager. I also
remember going to the store with her and she was looking
for something like face cream and took the top off and
My own parents - well, they were church-going
Christians, but certainly no activists although they did
have a caring side. They sponsored children in the
Philippines and Indonesia for example.
I was raised in the United Church. But I left the
church at thirteen and decided that I was an atheist.
Probably a mistake, and I later came back to my own sort
of belief in God but I'm not really too good at church.
I'd rather practise my religion - not that churchgoers
don't, you know.
Everybody got along so beautifully actually and
Dzanita and Mila were becoming fast friends. Mila was
thirty and Dzanita twenty-five. Lovely girls, Mila dark
and Dzanita fair with blue eyes. They had both been
through so much, these girls. I wondered where they found
their strength. Mila was putting on weight and would go
with me two or three times a week to the university to do
research for which I paid her generously, I hope. She
sent most of the money back home to her family. Dzanita
was working at a nursing home. Tatiana was still in Rome
with Dimitri. She called a couple of times and said she
and her father were going to go down to Sorrento and
Capri. She had fallen in love with Italy and was
enjoying her father's company as they both loved
architecture so much.
And finally Greta called. Could she bring her
boyfriend? He was Italian and he'd just love to come.
Well, how could I say no? He was twenty-three, studying
Italian at U. of T. They had met in one of her plays.
Did he want to be an actor too? No, a writer. He was
brilliant and so good-looking and so sensitive. He had
been born in Florence. They could stay two weeks. Yeah!
Now either I would have to add an addition or
someone would have to stay in San Geminiano. But then
Sveta and Dragan and Nasir were leaving so perhaps it
would work out.
Who should call wile I was relaxing one evening in
the garden but Vittorio from Rome.
"How's Mother Theresa?"
"Fine, and how's the movie?"
"I play the part of a priest during the war. But he is
not sympathetic to the church. He's a good priest
"What's it called?"
"Il Padre. The Priest. He's torn by what the Vatican
says and does not do and what his conscience says."
"How is your writing doing?"
"Oh, it's slow. I am writing a lot of poetry though.
This Tuscan landscape really inspires me."
"And where's your ex-husband?"
"Oh, somewhere near Sorrento."
"I just called to see how you are and to say that I'll be
at Laura's about December twenty-third."
"Great, okay, see you then. Ciao."
I called Laura. "I just heard from Vittorio."
"I know. He told me he was going to call you. How'd you
like to come over and see my latest masterpiece?"
"You finished it, great. Okay, I'll just see that the
kids are okay and be right there."
Laura's style was really exquisite like everything she
did. She was a true artist. The painting was one of
three women. Her two sisters and her I imagined, in
bright colors like a Bonnard. Cheerful and finely,
Nasir and Sveta and Dragan were to leave that
weekend, so Friday we threw a going-away party. Everybody
bought little gifts and cards and it was really quite
delightful. I had given Nasir all the instructions about
the house that he would need. It was the middle of
Canadian winter and I was also worried as to whether or
not he would be accepted to practise neurosurgery in
Canada. I suspected he had a long struggle ahead of him.
Sveta had a degree in computer programming so she might
just land on her feet. Dragan might find it more
difficult. They were both from mixed marriages. Sveta's
mother was Muslim and her father Orthodox. Dragan's
mother was Orthodox and his father Muslim. So hard to
understand these religious problems. Ethnic cleansing?
At the end of the twentieth century? People who had
lived hundreds of years together in harmony and then
boom - a powder keg.
I asked Greta to meet them at the airport and
drive them home. It was a large house with three floors.
Robert and I had renovated it in about '82 but it still
looked great. The children had mostly grown up in it and
it held a lot of memories. The children had all traveled
quite a bit with me both when I was married to Dimitri
and when I had been married to Robert so they were quite
used to meeting different kinds of people. They all
spoke French at least and Tatiana had even started
Russian in high school. Greta, though only 19, was capable
of making Nasir and Dragan and Sveta comfortable and
there was a cleaning lady who came in once a week -
lovely Polish woman. Just to be on the safe side I also
asked a friend of mine to go with Greta to the airport
and to come over daily to check on how they were making
out. Nasir's first task would be to contact the
university about exams. Sveta's English was great but
Dragan's not so great. I wanted Lana to see about school
They would be arriving in the middle of
December. Nasir had never even seen snow, let alone a
January blizzard. I called the evening they arrived. No,
no snow yet. Nasir wanted to know if there would be
snow. I said I thought I could safely promise him snow.
Sveta and Dragan were from the north of Croatia and had
seen snow, but Yugoslavia generally has a pretty moderate
climate compared to Toronto.
Sveta said she missed the Bora, the heavy
continual wind of Spring. I can't imagine missing the
Bora but then, in Paris one winter, I missed snow so much.
Odd this nostalgia for homeland.
Meanwhile at my villa, I was enjoying Tatiana and Illya
and my guests. Mila and Dzanita had both applied to go to
Canada, which I thought now wasn't a bad move for them.
The economy would pick up. Surely the economy would pick
up. Dimitri had gone bak to London, thank God, and
Tatiana and Illya were enjoying Italy and their little
holiday, though both of them were busy working on papers
half the time. Everybody was busy, really, till about
five or six when we all met for dinner. Mila and I would
take jaunts into Florence or visit Laura, who was always
happy to see us. And I discovered that Mila had quite a
strong artistic side to her as well and loved to sketch.
I happily bought her some watercolors and I think this was
good therapy for her. She really had quite a bit of
talent. Beautiful girl, but still quite shy although very
easy to get along with. Dzanita, on the other hand, was
very open and extroverted.
She had really known war all her adult life
and I hoped could go to school in Canada and get some
sort of career going. They were both very interested in
men and marriage. It was really quite a delight. Mila
actually had an e-mail boyfriend in Sweden. I wondered
if that might possibly work out and I could help her get
to Sweden. He was studying law and they had met by
accident through my Internet. She wanted so much to get
married and have children.
Well, Christmas was very successful. Greta
arrived with her boyfriend a few days before.
Laura's parents arrived from Australia. Azdin
returned. Everyone was in such good spirits, buying
gifts, making special foods. Suera and Sayeed seemed
quite happy to join in the festivities and even made
little gifts. And Dzanita celebrated both Muslim
holidays like Ramadan and Christian holidays so she had
no difficulty with Christmas, and
we also had a Channukah celebration - a lighting of
the candles over at Laura's,
and Christmas morning we all woke up early and
gave out presents by the tree. A cypress tree, all I
could find. And then I threw a large dinner for
Laura and her parents and Azdin and Vittorio and my
children and my refugees that evening. Then afterwards
we all drove to the Mediterranean and had a little
party in a trattorio in Viareggio.
On New Year's Eve, we all went over to Laura's
and celebrated again, which was so nice. Vittorio was
there and I was really growing quite fond and intrigued
by him. His wife had been an actress too, and had been
one of Laura's closest friends when she was in England.
She had been English but had acted in Italian movies as
well as French. Must have been an interesting woman.
She had died two years ago of breast cancer. Must have
been dreadful for her and her family. And she didn't
smoke, and wasn't overweight. Hard to understand the
vagaries of the gods.
He was just as interested in my refugees
as I was, which was surprising in a way. Not vain or
conceited at all but a nurturer really and very
knowledgeable and informed about the world. He said that
wars were economical which I tended to believe as well,
though I found the wars in Yugoslavia hard to understand.
But then January first I had an excited phone call
from Nasir in Toronto. There had been a tremendous
blizzard. Now I had arranged for two high school boys
to do the shoveling whenever it was needed but
apparently this snow storm was even more tremendous
than they had seen in Toronto for decades. Nasir,
however, said to me not to worry, he and Dragan had
been shoveling and he loved it. It was so beautiful.
Actually they were all very happy. It reminded Dragan
and Sveta of the mountains and Nasir found it quite
fantastic. He had a little camera and was busy taking
pictures to send back to his family in Somalia. So
what about the cold? Very interesting, very different.
He was to write exams in May and was busy studying.
Sveta thought she could get a job and Dragan was to
start school for English on February 7th at George
There would be five in the house in Toronto
now and - here. Laura invited me to come and stay
with her for a week in Paris and I thought that would
be great so I put my Tuscans in charge here and took a
flight to Paris with Laura.
My, it was good to e back in Paris. And
Laura's apartment on the Isle St. Louis was so wonderful.
It was raining and cold in Paris too but I didn't mind.
It reminded me of the winter I had spent with the
children when they were young and I was leaving Dimitri.
We had lived in an apartment on Fosses St. Bernard in the
Latin Quarter that winter. We had rented it furnished
and you couldn't have asked for a more delightful place.
I was just 30 then. And two small kids. I had taken
them to see the pet shops along the quais by Samaritaine
and to the zoo in he Jardin des Plantes and once for a
donkey ride in the Luxembourg Gardens, the snow gently
falling. We were there that time about five months until
May and then we went back to Toronto and I got the
divorce. I went back to MacLean's and met Robert a few
years later. Robert and I were happily married for
But I digress. I only spent a week in
Paris this time. Saw the Musee D'Orsay, which was new
for me, walked down some of my favorite streets, had
dinner with Laura at my old brasserie, an Alsatian one,
on Ilsle St. Louis. Laura, like me, was torn between Italy
and France. She would be back in April and meanwhile I
had my refugees for company and of course Vittorio who
said he would visit around the end of January.
Actually January and February were quite
quiet. But then suddenly the war broke out in Kosovo. We
were all glued to the television set. Yes, I had a
television, though we didn't watch it much except for the
news. I was very confused at first and couldn't figure out
what interest the United States could have in Kosovo. Of
course, Mila and Dzanita were very excited. Mila naturally
took the Serb side, but Dzanita, whose father had been a
Muslim and who did not feel herself exactly Serbian, was not
Actually, it was a very hard time for all of us at my
villa. Mila was concerned about her family still living
in Serbia in Novisatd and Dzanita that the war would
spread to Macedonia where her brother was living. I was
quite alarmed. I was afraid at one point that the
Russians would come in and we would have a Third World
war. It didn't help that an Ethiopian woman who worked
in the university library in Florence would tell me
happily every time I went there that it was the end of
the world. All the scriptures had been fulfilled. I
really was quite paranoid for a few days. But then the
initial crisis seemed to abate and it was just the
general horror of it all that one had to deal with.
Italy and Canada were taking in Kosovo refugees
and looking for families to sponsor. I considered
having a family move in with us But frankly, it seemed
impossible with Mila there. I had to consider her
feelings too. They were good people and I had grown
quite fond of them. But they still had nationalistic
feelings which I just could not change overnight, much as
I would like it to be otherwise.
Thus I chose for the moment not to take in any
Kosovo Albanians. Suera and Sayeed they had accepted but
at this time I knew they would not accept any Kosovars.
Perhaps that would change. A few years down the road.
In June I threw a huge garden party for my
refugee friends and Laura's friends, and journalists and
writers and artists that I had met in the past year. It
was pretty successful. My refugees were now Yugoslavs,
Albanians, Ethiopians and an Azerbaizani couple I had
met recently. How they had ended up in Italy is a
mystery, but they too were destined for Canada. Vittorio
was there too. I was still attracted to him and he to me
and actually I was beginning to have doubts about
celibacy. I missed having a man in my life. Vittorio,
for his part, was in love with me, he said. How very
strange. He was fifty-five and was tired of little
affairs and like me was looking for a great love. I was
it - I was his next great love, wherever it would take
him. To Canada if necessary. He did not want to get
married especially, nor did I, but he waned a partner in
his life. A long-term partner. Till death do us part if
that was the case. I was overwhelmed. I had not felt
any passion for anyone since Robert died, but I did feel
passion for him. His mind, his thinking was so generous
and tolerant. And so he came to live at my villa with
me. Weekends. Weekdays he would spend in Rome shooting
movies. He was working in another one about an Italian
journalist in South Africa at the time Mandela was freed
from prison. He had a scene in which he interviewed
Mandela for Italian TV. And he was great with my
refugees and with my kids. Dimitri didn't know what to
make of him but Dimitri had gone back to London after
Christmas. Vittorio disliked Dimitri intensely though he
liked my kids. Especially Greta. "She could be a fine
actress," he said, "but she must go to a good theatre
My book on Shelley, Keats and Byron was
coming along fine. Mila had left and was living at my
house in Toronto and Dzanita was scheduled to join them
in July. They would all study English and then Mila
thought she would do computers and Dzanita, business.
Laura and her husband were at my party. Laura
was looking gorgeous and she took a great interest in my
refugees. She was glad to see that things were working
out between Vittorio and I. "We need men in our life," she
said. "A good intelligent, strong man like Vittorio. I
have Azdin and we have been together thirty years and
without him I don't know what I'd do. I'm happy for
"Well, that's a little premature I think,
but we'll see how things happen. At the moment we enjoy
each other's company and he is fond of my refugee family
so we'll see."
I had another thought. What about opening up the
cottage in Haliburton on Lake Boshkong and letting some of
my kids - my refugees, I mean - stay there for a while.
It was so beautiful and peaceful. I'm sure they would
enjoy it, and as an introduction to Canada, what could be
I was planning a trip to Toronto at the end of
June. Why not go up to the cottage? Indeed, why not
spend July there? Perhaps with Greta and her boyfriend
and whoever wanted to come from my house in Toronto.
Nasir hadn't had much luck. He'd been able to
get a Canadian license to practise but he couldn't get a
position. He was bound for Saudi Arabia, although he was
anxious not to spend too much time there as he wanted to
get his Canadian citizenship. He had a
contract in Jeddah as a neurosurgeon for six months. I saw
him in Toronto before he left and he seemed happy. Mila
was studying English at George Brown. She used the
computer in my study to keep in touch with friends and
family in the "former" Yugoslavia.
I was reminded somewhat of an experience I had had many
years ago in India. We were on a wooden bridge, a young
woman dentist and I, when an oxcart lumbered by. I
happened to look up and at the same time there was a
satellite going by overhead. Here we were in 1999 - so
technologically advanced on the one hand, and yet so
unspeakably barbaric in our mentality. What progress
had been made when people still killed, raped,
slaughtered in the name of religion? What progress?
Suera and Sayeed had left my home in
Toronto and had set out on their own in a little flat in
Don Mills. They were both still going to English classes
but Suera was pregnant, which was good as they both
wanted to have a family so much. Sayeed who was good at
languages was also working as an interpreter for an
organization that helped refugees.
And Sveta had gotten a job as a computer
programmer already with an electrical company and Dragan
too was studying English. Both were planning to move out
There was also an Ethiopian couple who had studied in
Russia staying with me now at my villa. He was a geo-
physicist and she was an international lawyer - both
trained at Patrice Lamumbo University in Moscow. They
had spent some time in Germany before winding up in Italy
but tey said they had not felt welcome in Germany and
couldn't stay long in Italy so were bound for Canada as
None of my people wanted to go the States,
despite the fact that the economy was doing better. They
knew that they would probably have to struggle in Canada
but the racism and the violence deterred them. They all
looked on Canada as the promised land. I tried in a way
not to disillusion them but to point out at least what
sort of shape the economy was in. "It'll pick up," they
said, "it always does." That's what I hoped too.
So by July we were ensconced in my cottage on
Lake Boshkung in Muskoka - one of the most beautiful
spots in the world, I thought. We had had the cottage
in my family since I was a child. Old log cabin sort of
place with a stone fireplace, huge verandah overlooking
this beautiful expanse of clear blue lake and spruce and
pine and red maple forest. Perhaps it was even best in
the fall when the leaves were ablaze in crimson, orange
and saffron against the black of the pine trees and the
lapis lazuli lake. At night the sun set across the water
and the water turned first a glistening rose, then amber
then silver - reflections crossing the lake with what I
called glissando - the sparkling of the water as the
ripples caught and were thrown up by the light setting
off sparks like so many diamonds.
Oh, was there a more gorgeous place in the world!
And then the cry of the loon - full of rapture and longing
and joy almost as though it appreciated the beauty of
My refugees appreciated it too. We had a
small albacor and we would often go sailing during the
day. We also had an old sunfish which they loved and of
course they would swim and canoe and even tried fishing.
We were Dzanita - Mila was still in computer
class - Greta and her boyfriend, Sveta and Dragan and
even Suera and Sayeed for two weeks. I showed them how
to build a campfire and we went for long hikes along the
roads and trail around to Buttermilk Falls. And one day
we drove to Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park - only an
hour's drive. They really appreciated the peace and
beauty and quiet of nature after their long struggles.
But in August I flew back to Europe to meet
Vittorio in Cannes to spend some time traveling. He had
rented a car and we were to tour the South of France
together for three or four weeks. I had never been to
the South of France - the east side I mean. Neither
Cannes or Nice held much fascination for me but I had
read a book by Collette when I was in England about her
villa on the coast of the Mediterranean and that had
struck me as heavenly. We rendezvoused in Cannes and
then drove along the coast towards Italy stopping at
little villages that weren't too touristic. I
particularly liked Juan-les-Pins. Oh, is there anything
more glorious than driving along, seeing the landscape
and what a glorious
landscape it was. It reminded me of my hitchhiking days,
when I was nineteen after second year university. Oh, I
would be a hitchhiker forever. Do they have professional
hitchhikers? I think I missed my calling.
Vittorio made an excellent travel
companion. He loved travel the way I did.
At night we would find the nicest pensione. I hate all
those pretentious hotels for the rich and fat-headed. No,
just the comfort and charm of the smaller places - no
ostentation - just charm.
And then after we had visited Arles and Aix-en-
Provence we continued up to Paris and stayed at Laura's.
My beloved Paris. I was determined to rent a nice spot
in Paris so that I could that I could have the best of
two worlds, Paris and Tuscany. We went to the Musee
D'Orsay. The Rodin. Ate in nice restaurants. It was
really very successful holiday. Vittorio had a month's
hiatus from filming. He was great. He knew art, and
literature - English even, and I introduced him to some
of my favorite Canadian writers, like Anne Michaels and
Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields. He was a true soul mate
- a true artist.
My kids? My own kids? Greta and her boyfriend stayed at
the cottage with Dzanita and the others. They all loved
it there. How did they like Toronto? My refugees I mean.
They missed many of the aspects of Europe, frankly - the
architecture, the old cities, and their friends and
families, of course. But I think for most it was a kind
of adventure. But you see they had no choice. Things
were so bad in Yugoslavia that anything was better. Most
of them were pretty practical too - they wanted
eventually to get good jobs, make a life. Sveta landed a
good job as a computer programmer after about six months
and was able to send money back to Yugoslavia. Their
phone bills were horrendous but they paid them. Even
Mila sent money back to Yugoslavia out of her welfare
By September I was back at my villa. And what a
beautiful home to come home to. When I die I want to be
buried there. The weather was beautiful. Not too hot and
the mood eloquently nostalgic for the summer. Vittorio
was back with me. I had grown to really love and respect
and admire him. He was more than just a pretty face.
Faithful, thank heavens and believed in fidelity. We were
even talking of getting married. Both of us rather felt
uncomfortable about living in sin. I don't know, as you
grow older, or is it just me? Anyhow we hadn't set a
date yet and he hadn't given me a ring, we thought we'd
wait a while longer. My children didn't know of course.
Even if we married he would have to spend the week in
Rome. But he usually had a hiatus between films, of a
month or so. It was a crazy lifestyle but then life is
pretty crazy. That is, my life has been.
I decided to buy a flat in Paris and a small
villa in the South of France near Juan-les-Pins. I could
visit Laura without being any trouble for her and I so
loved Paris. And I so loved the south of France.
Thank you, Aunt Elizabeth. Now at my house I
had the Azeri couple, my Ethiopian couple. Mila and
Dzanita found an apartment together - Mila was studying
computers and Dzanita, business. Their English was
pretty good now. They'd been in Canada about seven months.
They missed Europe. But not the war, obviously. Mila,
who was from Sarajevo, missed the culture and the night
life. Sarajevo had been a centre for the arts before the
war. They had survived one winter in Canada, they had
survived the war. I guess they could survive anything.
I decided that I would have a sort of retreat by
myself to think and reflect and restore the spirit. I
decided to spend two weeks at my house in the south of
France. It overlooked the Mediterranean see on a cliff
surrounded by pines and cypresses. I would be entirely
by myself for the first time since last September. Since
I had bought my villa in Tuscany so much had happened.
It had been such a busy year. Hardly a moment to myself.
I bought a journal I liked with a Michelangelo sketch in
sepia on the cover and a fountain pen with black ink and
italic nib - the kind I used to use in university and
with only one suitcase set out in my deux chevaux.
The driving was very relaxing and uplifting. I love
driving - that is, I love moving and the rhythm and
excitement of a trip - especially in a car. And the
Italian landscape, the little villages, I found it quite
The house near Juan-les-Pins was really just an
old farm house, only three bedrooms, but it had been
brilliantly renovated with skylight, wood floors and a
small swimming pool in the back. It was already semi-
furnished. A bed. Some rather attractive prints on the
walls, Bonnard and Veulliard. I felt safe there though
I was completely alone. Oh, I had a phone, but no
computer, no television. A radio, yes. But I wanted to
reflect, to think about where I had been and where I was
going. I was now in the refugee business. I had a
prospective husband. My children were thriving. I was
rich. I was very rich. I was really fortunate. How
manypeople were as fortunate as I was? When I thought
about how much suffering and poverty there was in the
world I felt a little uneasy in my good fortune. Was I
doing enough? Would Aunt Elizabeth be pleased with me?
It was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a
needle. Refugees were certainly one of the biggest
problems of this decade. Since the fall of the Berlin
Wall, the number of wars that had broken out was horrific.
Then I came to the conclusion - that is, I had an idea. I
decided to start a foundation to help refugees. I had
some experience, knew what their problems were like. I
would found it in Toronto and name it after Aunt
Elizabeth. To deal with everything from funding, to
teaching English. And then I thought - there's something
else that always bothers you and that's the homeless.
Why not channel some money into building affordable
housing in Toronto? My money had actually grown and would
no doubt grow. It was mostly invested in real estate
and stocks. Yes, I would become a philanthropist. Now
what about the arts? Set up an Elizabeth Henley
foundation for the arts? Especially grants to aspiring
writers and artists, and actors. Yes, I would be a patron
of the arts. Why, I could open up this French villa to
artists. Writers I know would love it. And my Parisian
apartment. My villa in Tuscany I would leave for my
refugees. And my house in the Annex. What did I need
with four houses anyway? What was it Aunt Elizabeth used
to say? "Sharing is magic." Oh, and then my mother,
although quite frankly she used to drive me crazy. "If
you want to be happy all the day, make others happy,
that's the way."
Meanwhile, I read and wrote a lot in my journal,
and took forays into the village nearby. I enjoyed
talking with the locals, who didn't quite know what to
make of me. I was in touch by phone with Vittorio every
day. He respected my desire for a little retreat. The
weather was gorgeous and the area just as Colette had
described it. And then after two weeks, I drove back to
Tuscany. Tatty had missed me. She was getting used to
my comings and goings though. She got lots of attention
from my people at the villa and two weeks was what I
needed to clear my thoughts and help me find direction
for the coming year. I arranged by phone with my lawyer
to start a foundation and to start building housing in
Toronto, and another for artists.
Nasir was back from Saudi Arabia and had brought
a Somalian wife he had met there and I was happy for him.
They were living in an apartment in York Mills and he had
a car and his wife was pregnant with their first child.
He still couldn't find work as a neurosurgeon in Canada,
so planned to go back to Saudi Arabia for another six
Dzanita and Mila were doing all right. Mila was thirty
now and desperately wanted to get married and have a
family. Her sister and husband and baby were planning on
emigrating from Serbia soon so she would have some
family. Dzanita was struggling with business college but
didn't like it much. She was quite outgoing and popular
though she worried that war might break out in Macedonia
where her brother lived. Mila had a crowd of Serb
friends and Dzanita a mixed crowd of Muslim and Serb.
Sveta and Dragan
were doing well, both in computers, though he did some
painting on the side.
So I had a completely different mix of people
at my villa now. The Azerbayzanis, she a hairdresser
and he an engineer. They worked in San Geminiano as
waitress and waiter. And my Ethiopian couple I was so
fond of, he a geophysicist and she an economist
educated at Patrice Lumumbo University in Moscow. Four
languages each. They couldn't go back to Ethiopia
because of politics. He worked in a local bakery and she
selling flowers. Fulfillment? Working in their
professions was a long way down the road for them, but
they managed somehow to be optimistic. Their English was
good, plus Russian and German, plus Amharic and now
The Aerbayzani couple were interesting. She
was really Armenian and he was half Armenian and had
converted to Christianity four years ago. He had taught
himself English and was quite fluent really. Her English
was not so good, though she was picking up Italian quite
quickly. Somehow they had been accepted temporarily into
Italy from Istanbul. He was an electrical engineer and
because his English was already so good I thought he
might actually do well in Canada.
She was especially fond of animals and would
gladly take Tatty for walks in the morning and in the
evening. Now I had about six young people staying at my
villa in Tuscany and other six in Toronto.
Through Lana my friend in Toronto I heard of a
young writer and a young artist whose work I saw in
Toronto and arranged for them to be the first two
artists I would sponsor in Europe - in my farmhouse in
Provence that is. They were to stay there a year. Both
were women. The writer had written a novel soon to be
published and the artist was an oil painter and sculptor.
I had them fly first to Florence to meet me. They were
both in their early twenties - beautiful girls, with fine
intelligent features and such style and elan. Both very
poised and dressed fashionably, one with long Indian
earrings and the other with yellow amber earrings and
matching yellow pendant. I could tell they were still
rather wet behind the ears. I would visit them
frequently and stay in Juan-les-Pins. Both were
graduates from the university of Toronto, Kate from
Honours English and Lisa from Fine Arts. Both were
brimming over with creativity and talent, you could tell
by just looking at them, or at least, so I liked to
Both spoke good French and both had back-
packed through Europe while they were at university. Kate
had worked as an editor for a Toronto publisher when she
graduated and Lisa had taught art in a private school. I
wasn't sure how long I would have them stay. If they
wanted to stay more than a year, well, why not. I drove
them to Juan-les-Pins and helped get them settled in. I
had hired a French couple in the village to do some
maintenance and be available if they were needed but I
did not foresee any difficulties. They were bright,
independent women and I had confidence in them. And
Nohant, as I called it after George Sands place,
certainly was the perfect for an artist.
After a few days I drove back to Tuscany, I hunkered
down to finishing my book. That fall I did nothing but
sit in the garden and write. At night I would type up
what I had written on the computer. It was a labour of
love as I loved the romantic poets and I loved writing
about Italy. I collected all their letters and journal
entries to make it a work of art. I also took photos of
where they had worked or stayed or written about.
My friendship with Laura deepened. She was
always over at my place or I over at hers, especially
during the week when Vittorio was off shooting. We would
take a day off and drive into the Tuscan countryside
discovering little tucked away villages and Mediaeval
churches. It was both wonderful to have a best friend
again and to have Vittorio in my life.
We went to movies in Florence and to galleries
and once Laura and Azdin and I went to Portofino on the
coast about 300 km away. And we bought a van to take
the kids - my people - various places on the weekends.
Vittorio would usually drive and my guests and I would
pile into the van and off we'd go to Sienna or the
Mediterranean or even down to Asissi. Day trips usually,
but sometimes we stayed in pensiones overnight. Vittorio
was better on the Italian highways than I was, but there
was always much camaraderie and laughter and fun on these
outings, and it was good to see my fiends enjoying
But I began to wonder about Vittorio. How long
before he would start to look at younger women? I
wasn't like my parents, church-going, conservative, who
would never think of divorcing. Nor woul my father have
dreamt of being unfaithful. In the end my father had to
push my mother around in a wheelchair, but he accepted
this as his responsibility as a husband. Would Robert
have done this? Robert would. But Vittorio? Having
lived with an artistic man like Dimitri, I had my doubts.
Or would I be the one wheeling him around in a
wheelchair? I could accept that. Old age, infirmity. Even
so at 51 it was so hard to grasp.
Then I learned that Dzanita had dropped out of
college and was living with a new boyfriend in a
farmhouse near Pickering. She called to say that
everything was fine, that she liked living out in the
country and that she thought she might marry this new
love. He was Canadian but had been born in Bosnia and
come over as a baby. They hit it off beautifully, she
But the next thing I knew she was married. She
had gotten pregnant as luck would have it. His parents
had paid for a honeymoon on Manitoulin Island. He worked
as a car salesman.
Mila was so jealous. Why did Dzanita who was
younger than her get married ? Dzanita really didn't even
care if she got married at all and that was Mila's dream.
Funny really too that at 31 Mila wasn't married. She was
I found out that my Albanian couple,
Suera and Sayeed were doing well and had had a baby girl.
Sveta and Dragan I hadn't heard from for a
long time except that I knew she had a good job.
Actually she had done extremely well - with her fluent
English and computer programming background she had
gotten a good job within six months. Her husband Dragan
missed Yugoslavia more than Sveta and dreamt of going
back one day, though Sveta was not so sure. They now had
a good apartment now near Eglinton and Yonge. She was
able to go visit her parents in November and bring her
sister for a visit to Canada.
We were going to have a huge party at my
villa to celebrate the millennium. My children were
coming, Vitorrio's children, all of Laura's entourage of
actors and artists and my refugees living at the house at
that time which included an Ethiopian couple, my
Azerbayzani couple and another Albanian couple.
My own children were doing fine. I had
last seen them in August at the cottage. Greta was 18
now and in second year Honours English. She was acting
in another play. Illya and Tatiana were studying hard.
Vittorio came on weekends. We did not talk about
marriage but in October he said to me.
"You know, Julia, we suit each other."
"Very romantic, I thought."
"No, we get along. We don't bore each other, we
don't fight. Perhaps we should really think about
"I've thought about it," I began. "And I'm 51,
Vittorio. I've been through two marriages. I think I've
had enough of married life."
"But wouldn't you like being married to me?"
"I don't know Vittorio. I don't know how long
you'd be faithful to me."
"I was faithful to Monica. I'm 55, Julia. I
really don't think I want to play around any more."
"But you're in contact with some of the most
beautiful women in the world. You must be tempted."
"I guess I am old. I guess when I was 25 all I
looked for was a beautiful body and a beautiful face.
But you get past that - you want more. You want to be
able to talk to the woman. I can talk to you. I love
talking to you. I love you. You're everything I want
spiritually, physically, mentally. When I'm with you I'm
"Me too, Vittorio, me too. I don't know, I'll
think about it."
"Can I take that as a maybe?"
This was another thing that was beginning to
happen in my life. More and more I was beginning to
believe in God. The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, life
after death - the whole shooting match. I was also
beginning to wonder about this living in sin. Oh, it was
no big deal, really. Still it bothered me. My past
peccadilloes bothered me. I was even trying to give up
smokin. I wanted to live in the image of Christ. Be ye
perfect as your father in heaven.
I had a hefty responsibility, foundations, people who
looked up to me. I wanted to do the right thing - set an
example. I seriously began to think of marrying
Vittorio. We had been together over a year now. Yet
there were things I didn't know about him - What were his
views on God now.? I knew he had left the church when he
was a teenager like I had but what did he believe today?
Oh, we had talked about it. I didn't think he would call
himself a Christian though. And I was leaning more and
more in that direction and it was an important thing to
me. Not that we agree on everything, but on certain
fundamentals. I decided to broach the subject again when
next we met.
The next weekend when we were sitting outside
on the terrace alone together after my refugees had gone
inside to watch the news, I said,
"You know, Vittorio, I'm not really sure what
you believe spiritually these days. When we met you
said you weren't sure."
"Well, are you sure?"
"No, I can't say I'm positive. Still the whole
Christian argument makes more sense to me these days than
when we met."
"You believe in God?"
"I believe in a higher power."
"I know what you mean. I believe it more and more
"Vittorio if we were old and I needed to be taken
care of would you take care of me?"
"Of course I would."
"Then I would take care of you too. You'd push me
around in a wheelchair? Bring me my shawl?"
"I'd even bring you your teeth."
"Let's wait. Let's wait another year and see how
"Okay, a year from today we'll get married. We
are now, how do you say, engaged."
"Okay, we are now, how do you say, engaged. That
suits me fine, but I'd rather have a June wedding so
let's make it June, all things being equal."
"All things being equal."
I was rather happy. Vittorio was rather happy.
"But if either of us wants to call it off they will
tell the other person, that's it."
"And that's it. Boy, that Dimitri made you very
nervous about marriage it seems?"
"I guess that's it. Plus the loss of Robert."
"You loved them both. In entirely different ways,
"Yes, and lost them."
"I lost Monica. But I'm willing to take that risk."
"You're on then, Vittorio. June it is."
Well that was pretty exciting. Married in June.
How wonderful! So much happening in my life these days.
My book almost finished. My children thriving. My
refugees struggling, but perhaps a bit less because of my
aegis - that was satisfying. Lisa and Kate
off to a good start in Juan-les-Pins. And believe it or
not, a complex for the homeless
being built in Don Mills. And one in Scarborough. Much
accomplished in a year and a half. And me going to be
married again and to someone who didn't want me for my
money. Vittorio was a successful actor with his own
villa outside Rome. A mazarati. He wanted me. Yeah!
The New Year's Eve party - the Millenium party - was
a huge success. And then just before midnight we drove
to the sea and watched fireworks over the water. It was
such a pretty night and no disasters or UK2. I really
felt positive about the future. First because I had
Vittorio and then of course - let's be realistic -
because I had money, and third because I felt I was doing
something useful. Now there are all kinds of ways in
which I could spend my money - all sorts of causes - but
for me, I felt my mission was with refugees. Young
refugees - I guess because I had traveled so much. I'd
been to about 30 countries long before Aunt Elizabeth
died and left me and this money. In any case, I really
wasn't doing all that much. The Elizabeth Henley
Foundation was doing something. Would I do it for the
rest of my life? Sure, through the Elizabeth Henley
Foundation, refugees could apply for grants to study, for
example. I was so sick of meeting taxi drivers and
waitesses when I went to Toronto who used to be doctors,
PhDs, engineers... accountants in their own countries
and were locked out and had to start all over again. No
I had never known frustration like that yet somehow I
could relate to it.
Did I feel optimistic about the planet? No,
not particularly. I couldn't see an end to wars and
turmoil and the kind of barbarity that caused these
people to flee their countries in the first place. But
it was up to the good people to step in and pick up the
pieces? Well, not exactly, but help the suffering.
We got a new girl in February named Dushenka
from Sarajevo. Dushenka interested me. She was 44, had
been shot in the hip as she was walking down the street
in 1992. Had all sorts of physical problems and all
sorts of bad memories of the war that would wake her up
at night. She had been a typist with the Yugoslav army
before the war but after the shooting she couldn't work
anymore. People would bring her food. But she was so
vivacious and full of life. So outgoing and energetic
and sympatico. She had problems with her teeth, the gun
wound had caused arthritis in her back, she walked with a
Then there was my forthcoming wedding to plan for.
We decided to get married in
a charming little Mediaeval church we found in a village
nearby. The date we set was June 30th. Neither of my
other marriages had been in June so this was a first for
me. And neither of my other marriages had been in a
church - a Catholic church at that. I didn't think I
would convert to Catholicism. Vittorio had been brought
up in the Catholic church, but the priest fortunately was
pretty enlightened and didn't insist we both be
Catholics. It would be a fairly small wedding. All my
children, my two girls and Dushenka as bridesmaids,
Vittorio's children, Laura and entourage, and my
Maybe 50 or 60 or so. We were to have the
reception at Laura's. I was looking forward to it. I
didn't have too many doubts. I'd had such good luck the
past year and a half. One almost wondered how long it
Greta was having problems with a new
boyfriend. I decided to take another trip home in March.
Vittorio said he wanted to come with me. I could see how
things were at the house and perhaps visit a few of my
refugees like Mila and Dzanita.
Greta now admitted he was married. She was having
an affair with a married man. Her drama teacher. Second
year university. His marriage threatened to break up. She
was only 19 years old. She was terribly confused and
feeling guilty, but still going to classes.
Did he want to marry her? No, but she loved him
so much. Did she want to marry him? Yes, but he said it
was out of the question.
So in March, Vittorio and I boarded a plane in Rome for
Toronto. I was curious as to how he'd like Toronto,
especially in March, which is not one of the most beautiful
months - Spring comes in about May. March is still that
cold, wet, grey, winter lingering on and on sort of thing.
When we left my villa the wild irises were beginning to
bloom and and the witeria over the trellis in the garden had
bits of jasmine caught in it. Anyhow we donned our woolies
and arrived to rain. At least it wasn't snow. I love snow
in December and January but by the middle of February I've
just about had it like most Torontonians though I used to be
an avid skier.
Greta and Illya were there to meet us at the
airport. There were three refugees living at the house now.
I immediately made some phone calls when I got
home and located Dzanita and Mila and Dragan and Sveta.
Nasir was in Saudi Arabia.
Mila and Dzanita were the ones I was most concerned
about. But they both seemed to be doing fine. Mila hadn't
found a man yet but she was at computer school and managing
all right. Dzanita of course was living in the country
with this new husband.
My own children? Well, as usual Greta was the
one who concerned me the most. Was she stil seeing the
drama professor? Who was only 28 years old, after all. No,
she had stopped seeing him. Illya had advised her to stop
seeing him. And had taken over more or less. She had
dropped his course. I knew she loved the course too, so I
felt sorry for her. She had about as much common sense as I
had at her age. She was still going to other classes but
she'd have to make up the drama in the summer or something.
I didn't get angry with her. She was so unhappy. And I
wasn't really angry with this man either. He had ruined his
marriage, that's all. Fortunately no children. But poor Greta was so
heartbroken and confused. The drama professor wanted to
save his marriage. Greta was the odd one out. Oh well,
she'd survive. I wondered if she'd learned something from
it. Probably not.
Amidst all this mothering and trying to bring order
out of chaos, Vittorio was driving around Toronto by himself
in my car trying to get the feel of the city. He said it
was like the States only quite different too. A sense of
safety and security for one thing which he didn't feel in
New York. We took Greta to an Indian restaurant the night
after we got home and Vittorio declared that Indian cuisine
was fantastico. He wanted to see Niagara Falls so that
weekend he and Greta and I drove to Niagara Falls. The
falls wasn't completely frozen and it was a nice day and we
all enjoyed the day and sheer grandeur of nature.
"I know Vittorio," I said as we stood by the half
frozen falls, "we don't have the sculpture and the medieval
architecture and the frescos but we have this unbelievably
magnificent nature. Nature is our cathedrals. I'll
take you up to my cottage so you really get the feel of the
forests and the wilderness. It's not the best time of year.
There will probably still be lots of snow but the snow
plays an important role in the Canadian drama. In a way you
were better to come in winter. Winter shapes our character.
Makes us hardy and brave and strong in a way. I love the
winter here too. Especially up north. The snow is so
beautiful it is like a Michelangelo sculpture. I couldn't
leave Greta right away but she has reading week in a few
more days and then we can go up to Haliburton, okay?"
I decided to visit Dzanita . Dzanita was working in a
convenience store. She liked the country. He had been
born in Bosnia but brought up in Canada. Hockey, football,
the whole bit. From a Muslim family. Dzanita decided she
was Muslim. Her mother was Serb Orthodox but her name
Dzanita was Muslim. What was she, 26? Oh well, she loved
Darko worked as a car salesman making good money.
Enough to buy a house and own a car and a van. It was a
long way from Croatia to Tuscany to Pickering to start a new
life. And bring new life into the world at the same time.
She was strong. She would make it.
I also went to see Mila. Mila was more fragile by
nature. More reserved. She had put on weight and was
looking beautiful. Had a small subsidized apartment in
Toronto. A lot of Serb friends but no boyfriends except on
the Internet. She was 31 now. She was going to a computer
school and working nights in a hotel as a waitress. Pity
she couldn't find a husband.
I also went to see a few of the others. Dragan
and Sveta. They were doing okay. No kids yet. Sveta was
already working as a computer programmer and Dragan was
painting houses to support his career as an artist I
decided I would try to do something for him, so he could
work on his art more. Wouldn't be difficult for me. Suera
and Sayeed had a lovely baby girl. I didn't see Sayeed but I
was at a shower for the baby. Suera looked so happy and so
Nasir was still in Saudi Arabia with his wife.
Very strange - Ontario had a shortage of doctors and still
Nasir couldn't find a job here.
So Greta, Vittorio and I headed north to
Haliburton to stay at my cottage for a few days and see "the
North." It was a good two hours' drive but no snowstorms r
blizzards, thank God, and as we got further north he began to
see what I meant about the power and beauty of nature
here. I had taken him the art gallery and shown him some
Tom Thompson and A.Y. Jackson. He could see and
understand better my love for it - for the landscape. Oh I
loved Europe but I did love Canada too. We made a fire in
the stone fireplace when we got there and waited for the
electric heat to come on. The lake was frozen though we
weren't sure whether or not it was solid enough to walk on.
Still it must be. You could see little fishing huts
dotting the surface and there were fresh snow mobile tracks.
"This actually is how I pictured Canada, the cold,
the solitude. The wilderness, the beauty. Something wild
and magnificent," said Vittorio.
"I'll give you a drive around and show you some of the
little towns tomorrow. They're really quite charming. And
then we can drive to Algonquin Park. It's only an hour
away. It's my favorite park in Canada. Some of the Group
of Seven painted there. I used to go on week long
canoe trips there as a teenager. No cottages, no motor boats
- just canoes if you see any at all. You can see deer. You
might see bears. It was one of the of the happiest times of
my life. We'll have to come back in the summer and go for a
"We could go on a canoe trip for our honeymoon," he
"No, I don't think so. Maybe afterwards. Now where
would could we go? My house at Juan-les-Pins? No let's
just travel. Let's just drive like we did last summer, but
new places. Maybe Sorrento and Capri. Have you been to
"Only briefly. I can see why you love it here. But your
father built this cottage?"
"My grandfather. He was a Protestant minister. A
country minister. Used to preach in this area going from
town to town in a horse and buggy. Oh, I have to show you
Kleinburg. There's an excellent art museum there. My dad
moved a lot all over Ontario as his dad moved around a lot.
Cochrane. Chapleau. Really small northern places. My dad
loved the north and the wilderness too and he was an
excellent photographer and sailor. Sailed across the
Greta was a bit traumatized although she really didn't
want to talk about the whole thing too much. It was
embarrassing for her I guess. She had brought a lot of
books with her and had several essays to do and worked on
that a lot. At night we would go to Minden or to Haliburton
and eat at one of the local restaurants. It snowed three
times the week we were there and we all enjoyed the peace
and the beauty of it. Vittorio really wasn't that bad about
the cold although as you can imagine for an Italian it's
quite a shock.
We saw a moose at Algonquin Park. Several deer. He
remarked at the loneliness of it but said that that was
really part of the power of its beauty. We stayed,
Vittorio and I, in Canada till April. Greta was recovering
nicely by then and was going to come to Italy in May.
Now Dushenka was in my thoughts. How was she getting
on? She couldn't really work, she had been so badly
wounded. It had given her arthritis throughout her whole
body. She had been a typist with the Yugoslav army before
the war and had even gone to Cypress and Iraq. Spent a year
in Iraq. And one in Cypress. Earned good money too. She
had been married but she didn't seem too crazy about her
husband and he had been killed fighting for the Serbs. She
was not prejudiced though - liked both Orthodox and Muslim.
She was also a Jehovah's Witness, which was a bit bizarre but
she had a strong spirit and doubtless that's where she drew
her strength from.
She couldn't spend much time in Italy and I wanted to
get her to Canada. I wondered whether she would ever be
able to work again and I thought perhaps that I might just
At my house in Toronto. Conceivably. She might be
able to get disability but that was doubtful. We would see.
We went back to Italy in April and I began to
prepare in earnest for my wedding. Dushenka thought I
should wear a long white dress and a veil. Laura was really
quite spiritual and though not Christian was happy that I
was getting married in a church. So Laura and Dushenka and
I went off on a shopping expedition to find a wedding dress.
They were to be bridesmaids and Greta and Tatiana.
Dushenka said though when I brought up the subject,
that she didn't want to be supported. She wanted to try
computers. She could still do that. Go to school for
English for a couple of years and then do computers. Good
for her. She was accepted into Canada as a refugee in any
case in May and we planned to go together after the wedding.
Then Vittorio and I had decided to spend a few weeks
together at my cottage.
Then came the rather startling news that a gold stock
that I was heavily invested in Indonesia had plummeted. My
broker e-mailed to sell immediately. I did but I lost a lot
of money. Now my money was pretty secure - a lot of it in
pretty safe stocks, a lot in real estate, but only a few
days after I heard about the gold I learned that one of my
company's oil rigs had sunk off the cost of Labrador and I
lost a lot more. I really hadn't had any financial worries
for a year or more, but suddenly it was as though the gods
had turned against me and were no longer smiling so
benevolently. Everything came at once - my foundation was
fine for the time being. But I did begin worrying a little
about what was coming next.
Greta and Illya and Tatiana came towards the end of
May and June 3rd I married Vittorio in the Chiesa San
Gabriele near San Geminiano and a lovely service it was too.
The bridesmaids were all in peach silk dresses with flowers
in their hair and I even had flowers in my hair.
Then another disaster. One of Vittorio's children,
Giovanni the actor, had liver disease
and had to have a liver transplant. Vittorio would probably
have to donate half his liver, which was life threatening to
him and yet otherwise Giovanni could die.
It was bizarre. Whereas for two years nothing seemed
to go wrong and Fate seemed to smile on me, now everything
was coming apart at the seams.
Next Greta announced that she was dropping out of
University for a year to travel. She had a bit of an inheritance
from Aunt Elizabeth too - they all did, my children, and she was
going to use some of the money to backpack around Europe.
Not too frightening but as her mother and knowing Greta's
free-spirited but somewhat reckless nature, I was very
Vittorio took a hiatus from acting and he and Giovanni
came to live at my villa. He was to have an adrenal gland
removed in case no donor could be found for Giovanni and as
he might have to have half his liver removed. Those were
He was to have the adrenal gland removed in Florence
in August. He would be weak at first but should recover
Giovanni had more serious problems. Chronic
itching that kept him awake at night, weakness plus the
pleasant thought that he might not see his 21st birthday.
There seemed to be no reason for Giovanni's liver disease.
He wasn't a drinker, or smoker. His life wasn't that
stressful. He loved acting. So why at 19 did he have
liver failure? Nobody seemed to be able to answer that
Greta meanwhile set out for Paris by train by herself.
Just like me, only I was worse - hitchhiked all over Europe
and loved every minute of it. She promised to phone once a
week. She was headed for a youth hostel I had stayed in 30
years ago in the centre of Paris. She was
thinking of getting an au pair job so that she could live
with a French family and improve her French. Oh well, let
her try her wings. Be in the background in case she falls.
There was just one Yugoslavian family living with
us. From Bosnia. A husband and wife and little boy. She
had worked for the UN as a translator during the war. Her
English was excellent. His not so god but I thought they
might do well in Canada. Melitza was her name. Very
bright, capable girl. Had had to wait till the shelling
stopped before she could walk to work every morning. Had
supported the whole family including her parents and her
sister during the war.
Dushenka had left for my house in Toronto in early May
and had started English at Humber. Tatiana had sort of
taken her under her wing I was glad to hear as she had no
family or friends in Toronto.
Although we were preoccupied by Giovanni and
taking him to doctors, and tests and things, Vittorio and
were able to enjoy a lot of time together and give each
other a lot of support. We loved talking with one another.
Above all it was our conversational life that was rich,
whether politics and international events about which we
both cared intensely or about a poem I had just written or
a passage in a book he would read to me. He had a kind of
subtlety of mind that quickly perceived nuances in the
English language - whether a name was funny or beautiful, for
I had just been to Toronto a couple of months ago.
Here it was Spring already. Little flowers beginning to
appear in the grass. The wild iris would bloom later. It
was really quite beautiful. Still I had a nostalgia for
Toronto. Vittorio and Giovanni had both left for Rome but
both of them would return on the weekend. I don't know what
I'd have done without Laura.
Greta was in Libya With her boyfriend. For a
month. Good for her. I admired her adventuresome spirit.
She called weekly though and was full of tales of how
fascinating it was. Yes she planned to go back to
university in the fall. That was a relief.
And then I met an Albanian conductor and his family. I
had no idea they had conductors in Albania. He too wanted
to go to Toronto with his family. He was working as a
construction worker. I met him one day in a cafee. He
spoke excellent English, French, Italian. How interesting!
They had a little boy named Mario. I invited them to my
Fortunately Vittorio didn't mind coming home on
weekends to a house full of assorted refugees. He liked it,
And my house in Toronto was also full -
Dushenka, Melitza and her family were on their way, and a
Tibetan monk who just happened to turn up on the doorstep
Greta phoned to say that she was now in London. By
herself. No explanation. She was staying in a bed and
breakfast for travelers in Chelsea. She planned to tour
England a little. See the Lake District, go up to Edinburgh
She was happy. She had found another girl to travel with.
Was really enjoying London. I suggested that she go to see
a cousin of my mother's in Kent. She wanted to see some
theatre and galleries, stay perhaps a few weeks and then
head for the north. Perhaps Ireland. When was she coming
to Italy? Oh soon, Mom, soon. She'd been away six months.
Dzanita had had an eight-pound baby girl in January
which they named Melina. I was thinking of making another
trip home to Toronto with Vittorio to see how things were
going at my house - I wanted to meet this Tibetan monk and
the others. It was May. Canada is lovely in May - that is,
Ontario. The tulips - oh, the tulips and the daffodils and
the magnolia tees and cherry blossoms. Canadian Spring!
Vittorio could not come with me - he was working on a film.
He would go on location to Ethiopia for a month. Something
about when the Italians were there. Wouldn't I like to
come? No, I'd rather go home to Toronto for a visit
although the Italian Spring was perfectly lovely. My
little garden was bursting forth with life - my wisteria and
jasmine in full bloom. No. Something was pulling me "home"
even though Greta was in France somewhere. I hoped she had
registered for third year and paid her fees.
So I got Vitorrio to drive me back to Rome and took an
Italian flight because I love the food and got to Toronto in
late May. Tatiana met me at the airport.
"How are things at the house?"
"Oh fine. Larry the Tibetan monk speaks more Serbo-
Croatian now than English."
"I laughed. And I suppose they're all Bhuddists now?
"Seriously, Dushenka meditates."
"Probably do her some good."
We arrived at the house but the downstairs was empty.
Slowly they began to trickle in - Dushenka, Melitza and her
husband and little boy. I could see that Melitza was
pregnant. Dushenka gave me a huge hug.
"I be so happy see you. Many snow, many snow. I
now English class. I love. My English better?"
"Your English is much better, Dushenka. How's the
"Hip is fine. I go therapy now, but I no like
"Well, maybe we can see if we can find you another
doctor, but you know how hard I
it is to find a doctor these days."
Melitza kissed me on both cheeks. "I found out I
was pregnant as soon as I arrived But the good news is
that I have a job with an agency here that deal with
refugees and immigrants. And we've found a place here. We
will be leaving soon."
"And how are you liking Canada now?"
"I like it You know I went to my son's school the other day
and the class was full of different races and nationalities
and colours of skin and they were all getting along. And I
thought - why couldn't this be Yugoslavia?"
And then a face I didn't recognize entered the room.
He was dressed in western costume but his face was oriental.
"This is Larry," said Melitza. Nobody could pronounce
his name so we call him Larry. I don't know why "Larry" but
it just ended up that way. He goes to English classes five
days a week so he may be able to tell you something about
"Hello, Larry," I said.
"Hello, Jule," he replied.
We were just getting comfortable when the doorbell
rang. Who should it be but my long-lost ex-husband,
"I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you.
Haven't seen you I in over a year."
"I have come to take Tatiana and Illya to dinner."
"If they want to. I am sure that is fine with me."
"I hear you are married again. Really Julia, three
"Well, I would have been happy with one. How's
"Gloria left me."
"Gloria left you? Why may I ask?"
"For a younger man in office."
"Did she take the kids?"
"Oh, poor Dimitri. What will you do now?"
"Can I come in?"
"Yes, I guess so. I'll just call Tatiana and Illya.
My, my, this was an interesting turnabout. Gloria
had left him for a younger man. I didn't gloat but hey! I
"Marriage suits you," he said.
"Does it? Yes, actually it does. Vittorio is a wonderful
"He must be. He is a very lucky man."
"Thank you." I was glad when Illya and Tatiana came
So off they went with their father who hadn't seen
them in over a year, though to do him justice he did phone
I took Dushenka and Melitza and her husband and
little boy out to a French restaurant on Baldwin Street that
night, a place I had long admired. I hoped to see Dzanita
and her baby that month as well and call on Mila.
Dzanita was doing fine when I called her the
next day, and invited me out to her house in a development
near Pickering. I bought a few things for the baby and
drove Tatiana's car to see her the next day. It was a
beautiful house in a very nice suburb. Darko whom I had
met before came in around four while we were having tea and
Yugoslavian cookies. Dzanita told me about the birth and
said that next time she would have home birth. And there
would be a next time for she was already pregnant with the
second baby. Two months pregnant.
They were struggling, I could see, so I wrote a
check for Dzanita but she refused it. Her English was quite
"No, Julia, you have already done so much. We don't
need it. Darko has a good job. We are okay. We are okay."
I was glad tat Dzanita seemed to be making a
good mother. And at 28 she was even more
beautiful than she had been before.
Mila on the other hand did not seem so happy. She was
working in the Hilton Hotel
as a waitress at night and going to computer school in the
daytime. She had a rather sad serious look about her still,
though her sister and family had come from Serbia and were
Her dreams to have a husband and a family were not coming
true. Oh, the Hilton provided a holiday in North Carolina
where she had met a very nice Serb - Mila would only marry a
Serb - but he was in North Carolina and she was in Toronto.
She was just as gorgeous as ever but at 32 she was
beginning to have fears that her goals might never be
The next day I asked Dushenka if she would like a tour of
Toronto with me.
"You are homesick in Italy I know. I homesick in
Canada. I miss my mother, my brother, I miss my country.
But can't live Sarajevo. Sarajevo kaput."
"You are right, I guess. That's it. I am homesick
for Toronto. Come, I'll show you Toronto and tell you
about my life."
We drove first to the university.
"Beautiful," cried Dushenka. You school?"
"My school. I was very happy here. Life was very
easy and very good 60s Beatles Rolling Stones. Very
happy good time."
Then we went back to the other end of Admiral Road to the
house where I had met Dimitri.
"I met my first husband here. I was 21."
"First husband. Russian man? No like. But good kids.
Tatiana and Illya very good kids."
Then we drove through Yorkville.
In the 60s it was very interesting here. Many good
cafees, many young people."
"Sarajevo very good. Many cafees. Sarajevo
artists' city. I love Sarajevo. Sarajevo beautiful."
"Do you like art Dushenka?"
"Yes, like art."
"Okay, later. First let's go to the lake."
"The lake is very beautiful, I think."
"I worked on a boat on the lake one summer and
when my parents lived here, my father used to take us
sailing in his boat on the lake."
We parked and got out and walked along the harbour front.
"Very beautiful," said Dushenka. "Like ocean. Like
Mediterranean. When I am in the army before war - typist -
we go to Cypress one year."
"One year in Cypress?"
"Yes, and one year Iraq. Yes, I many times Germany,
Italy too. Lots of money. And husband."
"Where is your husband?"
"Husband killed in war."
"I no like husband. Husband no like children. No
have children. Two abortions."
"Oh no, and you wanted children."
"I love children. Husband no like. You go to
"No, not anymore."
"Sunday one lady pick me up. I go church.
Saturday I go her house study bible."
"At night still bad dreams. Wake me up."
She was telling me this as we were walking along
the water past restaurants and cafes, people sitting out
already at tables as it was a warm sunny day.
"Would you like to sit and have a coffee.?"
So we sat down at one of the tables. Dushenka
smoked. I offered her one of mine. I had started again,
"Two years before my sister die cancer."
"Oh my God, you've certainly been through a lot
"I love sister - very beautiful. See her
picture. She have two sons. - maybe come visit me in
Canada. Big now."
"You know you can stay at my house as long as
"I need live alone. I not well. Wake up
three o'clock, 4 o'clock. No, I look for apartment now. I
need be only."
"Would you like to have dinner in a Yugoslavian
restaurant I know one."
So we drove to Queen's Street West where there was
a fairly nice Yugoslav restaurant I had been to once with
Dushenka was so happy. She chatted with the
waitresses. She chatted with the tables near us.
"She is from my city, Saajevo. Two years Canada.
Likes Canada. Canada very good strangers. I think so."
"That night Dushenka showed us a video she had of Sarajevo
that had been made before the war. You could see that it
was very beautiful.
She also played Yugoslav folk music for us. Larry
seemed to be quite taken with the folk music. Melitza and
her family who were also from near Sarajevo watched with
tears in their eyes.
It would be another three weeks before Vittorio would
be back from Ethiopia. We planned to spend July and August
in Juan-les-Pins, which would be empty then. I was trying to
get Greta to meet me there in August.
The trip to Toronto went fairly well. I took a few
more trips down memory lane, by myself this time - places
where I had gone with friends, a lot of them no longer
there. The Hind Quarter, The Provencal, The Embassy, the
Lothian Mews. I visited the families of both of my friends
who had died in the last ten years, visited Robert's brother
and sister. And I had a curious sort of reunion at a pub
on Bloor Street with two university friends, memorable, but I
would not say they were kindred spirits. I took my camera
with me. I had bought a digital camera and found it fun.
Photographed houses where I had lived. Funny how Toronto
seemed to have such a charm to me - the red brick houses,
the street cars. It was May, so there were tulips and
daffodils and cherry trees in bloom everywhere, forsythia
The day before I was to leave who should show up at the
door but the bad ruble himself.
"Are Tatiana and Illya here?"
"You know they're at school."
"That's good because I wanted to speak with you."
"Julia," he said, entering the living room and
"I am thinking about you all the time I have decided
you are the one for me. You are my woman."
"Dimitri, I am not your woman. I am a married woman and
I love Vittorio. Now please leave."
"Julia, you are so beautiful. I know I did terrible
thing, but you must forgive me."
"Dimitri, I'm married and I love Vittorio."
"I can't understand that. You love me. We are soul
"Dimitri I did love you, once long ago and now I love
Vittorio. We are soul mates."
"You are crazy. You love me. We are soul mates."
"No, Dimitri. You are crazy. I love Vittorio".
Now this could have gone on indefinitely had Larry, the
Tibetan monk, not entered the room.
"Dimitri, this is Larry. Larry, this is Dimitri."
"Hi!" said Larry.
Larry then sat down and turned on the television.
I had the vague feeling that he was doing it on purpose
because he had overheard our conversation.
"Okay, I will call you," said Dimitri and went to the
front door and said "You love me!" and then finally went
The next two months, June and July were relatively
quiet at my villa, where I headed the next day after my
contretemps with Dimitri. Vittorio and I were able to spend
some time together. There were still two couples staying
there - my Azerbayzanis and the Ethiopian couple but during
the day they were out and so we spent a lot of time just
walking and talking, visiting the galleries in Florence,
visiting churches in the area. Vittorio was good company.
We would also visit Laura who was there for the summer. And
in August we went to France and stayed at the farmhouse
near Juan-les-Pins. I had persuaded Greta to join us for
two weeks before she went back to school.
Greta and I were in Nice when it happened.
September 11th. We were in a store and suddenly there were
people talking and standing around a little TV. I had no
idea what it could be. But we actually saw the second plane
hit the World Trade Centre.
"Oh, my God!" I said
"Oh my God!" said Greta, "That couldn't have
been an accident!"
We drove back to the farmhouse in shock. Greta had to
drive. I couldn't drive. Vittorio was blissfully unaware that
anything had happened. I tld him what we had seen and we
immediately turned on the TV.
We were able to get one channel in English. The towers
were falling as we watched. "Good God," I thought I went
out into the garden and sat down. Tatty was with me. She
knew something was very wrong. She watched me intently. I
was devastated. "The world will never be the same," I
thought, "the world will never be the same." It was very
strange. Tatty seemed to get sick from that day. I didn't
know what it was and only took her to the vet a few days
later, who thought it was pneumonia and prescribed some
antibiotics. But they only made her sick.
She died a few days later. The vet said the cause was heart
failure. She was 9 years old. I cried and cried and cried.
I loved that dog almost as much as l loved my own children.
She was so brave and kind. Tatty died September the 20th.
Greta left for Canada on the 22nd. Vittorio drove her to
the airport where there were all kinds of checks and
Meanwhile we felt we had to get back to Tuscany and
see how the people there were - the Azerbayzani couple and
Ethiopian couple. We had talked on the phone. The whole
world it seemed was in a state of shock. My Azerbayzani
girl, Olga, was pregnant and Pervis her husband was worried
that this might slow up their chances of emigrating.
I contacted my house in Toronto. Dushenka was upside
down. She and Larry were the only ones living there at the
time. Some combination. Actually they got along quite
well, and even went out for coffee together and cooked meals
together. Dushenka was a strict vegetarian and in fact she
was helping Larry with his English.
Dushenka was my main concern now, although I was
also told that a Cuban-Mexican couple had heard about my
house and in Toronto and were wondering if they could move
in. Dushenka liked them apparently and was urging me to say
yes so finally I did. I hadn't met them but Dushenka was
very happy they were going to move in. The woman, or girl
she said was only 23. Pregnant. He sounded interesting -
an actor and director who had acted Othello on a Havana
stage, and then been jailed for directing an anti-Castro
play. After he was released he joined a theatre company
going to Mexico and when they left he stayed. He had been
jailed by the Mexicans and I found out, had been taken
outside at night and had a pistol pointed to his head. He
had met Carmela when he was released - she was about 15
years younger - and they had decided to emigrate to Canada.
He had children in Cuba and had had a few marriages but
really sounded like an outstanding man And very good
looking Dushenla said. Black. 6'5".
Oha and Pervis, my Azeri couple, were accepted so I decided
to accompany them home to my house and have a visit. This
was in November 2001. We were still recovering from the
shock of September 11th and truthfully I really wondered
what Christmas would be like but I asked Vittorio if we
could spend Christmas in Toronto. A certain need for family
and roots again.
So, we left December 1, and Greta picked us up at the
airport. I was anxious to meet
Raul the Cuban actor. It turned out that his English was
very good - he had taught himself
talking to Canadian tourists on the beach. Quite
extraordinary, I thought. I liked him immediately. He had a
smile that lit up the room like a thousand candles.
He had no illusions about finding a job in acting
or directing. He expected to work hard - well below his
education which was a degree in drama from Santiago
University. He also wanted to be independent from any
handouts as soon as possible and he and Carmela found a
place within two weeks. I liked his spirit. Carmela
miscarried their first baby but I encouraged her by telling
her that a friend of mine had miscarried the first time she
got pregnant, and then had three successful pregnancies.
Raul got a job that month as a bus driver for
disabled people. And then they moved out. I heard they had
had a daughter the next year. Meanwhile our December of
Cuba Libra and political discussions by the fireplace came
to an end. Bob Marley and salza and Cuban rhythms that
warmed us that frosty month after 9-11 came to an end. I
saw them again at the Christening of their little girl
Isabela about a year and a half later and they were doing
fine. Oh yes, and I met Carmela in a variety store a couple
of years later with a new baby, another girl. They were
okay. A success story as success stories go in the refugee
The war in Afghanistan was on. We watched TV a
lot. I had been to Afghanistan so it was profoundly
fascinating for me. That poor people. That poor, poor
people. Suddenly Lana was on the phone. She knew of an
Afghan family who needed assistance. A rather unique family
- he had an MA from the University of Colorado. She was a
teacher. They had a daughter who had studied medicine in
Afghanistan while it was still possible and then when the
family had fled to Pakistan in a refugee camp there.
There was also a teenage son. The father had worked for
various NGOs and indeed the family had lived for a few
years in The Hague. Very sophisticated. All of them spoke
They found another place very soon, after only
three weeks or so. Miriam, the daughter, was to study pre-
meds at U of T - another four years to become a `Canadian'
doctor. Sound intelligent? Really, it bothered me
increasingly the way we treated our refugees. Oh yes, you
can come. Send your doctors, send your architects, send
your engineers. They can drive taxis, they can deliver
pizzas, they can clean floors. Okay, something's got to
give. Canadian experience? What a load of crap! If you
don't mind my saying so. How to exploit people is more the
I took Dushenka to dinner again.
"How is school going?" I asked
"School is fine. Teacher like me. Everybody like me.
Everybody like Dushenka. My teacher say me."
"Everybody understands you, Dushenka but you make a
About that time we got a Colombian couple. She was
a doctor and he was an architect. I wondered how they would
fare in their new world. She might be okay because as well
as being an anesthesiologist she had also studied
acupuncture in Colombia. She stood a better chance of
getting her acupuncture qualification here than her medical
- at least it wouldn't take so long. He - well he didn't
like English, didn't like it here period. That happens
They had two daughters university age but they felt they had
to go to community colleges because it was just too
expensive to go to university. I determined to help them -
but they didn't want any help. What to do? I loved the
woman's name - Anita. Actually her husband
did go back to Colombia. He just didn't like it here. That
Larry, the Tibetan monk left us for a Bhuddist
monastery in Montreal in January. Dushenka gave him the
e-mail address of the house and he gave her the e-mail
address of the monastery. That would be an interesting
communication. On the other hand they seemed to
understand each other quite well.
Then Dushenka got a pair of love birds. Someone in
her class asked her to take care of them. So we had love
birds flying around the house. Green, red and blue, Very
beautiful. All the doors had to be locked. And they loved
Dushenka and Dushenka loved them. And what's more, they laid
two eggs. That is, the mother bird laid eggs while the
father bird became very protective. I thought and thought
about getting another dog. I couldn't replace her. Not yet,
maybe one day.
Dzanita had a baby boy in June. Home birth. Said
it was much better. Nine pounds. She seemed happy. Mila
was still wishing and hoping and not getting very far with her
career either. Still was still working at the Hilton. I called
her on January 7th, Serb orthodox Christmas. At least she had
family here. That was one blessing.
By February I ws tired of the Toronto winter and wanted to get
back to Tuscany to see Spring. And oh, how
glorious it was! My wisteria in bloom, my jasmine! The
Ethiopian couple were about to leave for Toronto. I
wondered if we would have an empty house for a while, just
Vittorio and I. I didn't advertise at all but by word of
mouth, people seemed to find the place. I was hoping to put
some last minute touches on my book. Vittorio was semi-
retired - he wasn't sure if he would do any more films -
only if something really wonderful came along. We had the
villa to ourselves for two months, two very interesting
months, in which we spent our time mainly writing and
talking, and walking in the area around my villa. It was so
peaceful now. Oh, it wasn't peaceful in the world but at my
villa there was calm and tranquility.
We passed the summer normally enough - at least we
tried to make it as normal as possible with events in the
world what they were. Greta had actually finished third
year and was applying to theatre schools after 4th year.
She was applying to the National Theatre School in Montreal
and to Rada and Lamda in Britain. I hoped she would
Tatiana was finished architecture and applying for
work. She had some thought of doing an MA in Italy and
going on to teach architecture. Good on her. Illya, my
son, was in residency at Toronto General and then he thought
he might join Doctors without Borders for a year or two in
Africa or Latin America. My children. No major tragedies
yet. Keep your finger crossed, as a Swiss friend once told
I decided to take another trip home at the beginning
of October. Drive up to the cottage on Lake Boshkung, see
the fall colours that I had missed four years in a row, see
my children, see Toronto. Vittorio had a part in a play in
Rome - something he had long wanted to do - get back to
theatre - so I thought, good time to go home for a while.
Maybe take a drive up to the Ottawa Valley where I grew up?
Memory trip. Yes, I would like that.
So, off to Canada. Dushenka greeted me with
Greta at the airport
"You be homesick again?"
"Yes, homesick again. Would you like to come up
to the cottage with me up north and see the beautiful fall
"Yes, I would like that. Little holiday. Yes, I
would like that. How long?"
"Two weeks. Maybe drive further north to the
Ottawa Valley where I grew up?"
"Memory trip. Yes, I would like that."
"How is your mother?"
"How is your father?"
"How is your brother?"
"Good. And you. How is Vittorio?"
"Greta have new boyfriend."
"Greta always has a new boyfriend. Who is
our new boyfriend, Greta?"
"Dirk. He's English."
"And how old is Dirk?"
"And what does he do?"
"He's an actor."
"He's been to Rada."
"Figures. But is he employed?"
"He's acting at Stratford this summer."
"Well.. that's pretty good. What's he doing now?"
"Is he married?"
"No mother, he's not married."
"Well, that's different.
"And how about you, Dushenka? How's your love life?"
"I love doctor."
"Your new doctor?"
"Yes, Dr. Graham. He's very gentle. Very handsome."
"And how's your health?"
"Pretty good. I didn't smoke two weeks now."
"Greta. I think I'll take Dushenka up to the
cottage. Can you hold the fort? Welcome my new people. I
guess there'll be nobody there now. You'll have a holiday.
How are Tatiana and Illya?"
"Fine. Oh Mom, Dimitri was here yesterday.
He took them both to lunch."
"Oh God, Dimitri's in town. We must go to Haliburton."
"Why you no like Dimitri?'
"No like Dimitri."
So the next day Dushenka and I drove the
two-and-a-half-hour drive north to my cottage in Haliburton.
It was truly glorious - the leaves splendid scarlet, orange,
sunflower yelow, like driving along in some sort of
cathedral. It was hard to believe it was so beautiful and
the sapphire lakes on either side, a Giotto sky above.
Dushenka said, "I heard about that but it
is hard to believe. Nothing like this Yugoslavia. Beauty,
I had lots of memories surrounding this part
of the world. As a teenager in the summer, my grandfather,
my dignified grandfather, with my two children and Dimitri.
Then Robert. I always thought of it as a happy place, one of
my spiritual homes.
I was glad that Dushenka liked it. It was too
cold to swim and really to sail or canoe. Our neighbours
were having a birthday party when we arrived so we joined
it. I had known them for years.
They didn't quite know what to make of Dushenka. But
she launched into a discussion about what the war in Sarajevo
had been like and how she had been hospitalized and didn't know
whether or not she would walk again.
"One month hospital. Wheelchair."
"What did you do when you got out?"
"I live my house. Friends bring me food."
"You had no food?"
"Friends bring me food. Every day my friends bring
"Oh you poor girl. And your mother and father?"
"They are okay. They are in country. Have farm."
"Who shot you? The Serbs or the Muslims?"
"I don't know. Bombs fall. Serbs, Muslims. Nobody
"And what will you do now? "
"Computers. I don't know. I can't sit for very long
time. In my country I typist for Yugoslav army, before war.
One year Iraq. One year Cypress. Holiday Italy, holiday
Germany. Lots of money. Now welfare. $300 dollars a
month. How can you live? You don't know. You survive
that is all. But Julia help me. Other friends help me.
I have one social worker help me a lot. Give me money for
patch. Two weeks now I quit smoking. Julia find me good
doctor. I have therapy now. But at night I wake up - bad
The contrast between these women's lives and
Dushenka's couldn't have been greater. Than mine and
Dushenka's. My easy life. And now even easier.
Dushenka's social worker was indeed pretty
amazing. She only worked part time as she had MS which left
her tired all the time but also in her spare time she went
around helping people like Dushenka. I had the utmost
admiration for her.
Her teacher at George Brown was rather amazing too.
She took Dushenka to her house in the country sometimes on
weekends. There was in fact a whole retinue of people
And as she said, "Everybody like Dushenka."
We drove north after a few days to Petawawa on the
Ottawa River, where I had an old friend who had a cottage on
an island in the river that had been built in 1918. It was
great to see my friend. She was one of my few remaining
friends on this side of the ocean who hadn't died yet.
Somehow the people in my circle seemed to have died young.
Three of them. Simon Godfrey, Jasmine Katz, Susanna Kerry.
All in their fourties.
Jasmine's sister Eva was one of the only ones
that remained. She and her husband had bought the cottage a
few years ago and she came up when she could from a high-
powered job in New York to retreat. It would be interesting
touching base with her again. Jasmine had been my best
friend for many years. Eva had known me over 35 years.
The place was heated, fortunately, because it was bloody
cold outside. I had scattered my mother's ashes there a few
years ago - thinking the Ottawa River a fitting place as
she had roots in the Ottawa Valley. A few years later I
had scattered my father's ashes there. So it was kind of a
meaningful place for me.
We celebrated Thanksgiving that weekend. Eva
cooked a real turkey in the wood stove along with turnip and
baked potatoes. I baked a pumpkin pie. It was Dushenka's
first real Thanksgiving. The scenery was outstanding
despite the chill - islands in the mist and lonely pine
trees, blueberry-lined paths, the cry of a loon acrossthe
We took the boat back to the mainland the next
day. I had sort of wanted to visit my mom and dad somehow.
And there oddly enough I did feel closer to them.
We journeyed then to a little town called Arnprior
where I had spent the first twelve years of my life. Happy
years. Untouched by any sort of tragedy or trauma. It had
changed, the town. Interesting trendy shops lined the
street. In the supermarket you could buy brie and Greek
olives. I hardly knew what an olive was as a child.
It was hard to imagine I had spent twelve years of my
life here. Twelve good years. No villa, no thoughts of
villas, only that I wanted to be a stewardess and travel.
Well, I had traveled.
And that was my wandering. Suddenly I thought,
"Let's get back to Toronto and back to Vittorio."
There were already plans afoot for a war in Iraq. I
couldn't see what it would solve. But the Americans seemed
determined. Bush that is, and his cronies. Would make more
refugees. And give the Americans more oil.
In my house that Christmas we were my children, Dushenka
- and I had a large get-together of people who had stayed at
my villa like Dzanita and Mila, Sveta and Dragan and some of
the many others that could come. We were thirty people. I
served typical Canadian fare - oh, just cheese and crackers,
dips, mince pie, Christmas pudding. They seemed to like it,
though some of them didn't know what to make of the mince
pie and Christmas pudding. For music we had Christmas
carols by Anne Murray and Bing Crosby and Pavarotti. And
on Christmas day I had Mila and Dushenka and Nasir and his
wife for dinner. Vittorio came on the 9th of December so
really it was quite a nice Christmas. There was snow which
I consider an essential part of Christmas and we even got
one new refugee, an Iranian man named Ali who was very
sympatique. He was not young and had been in Germany for a
while. He had been in import and export in Iran - spoke
English very well. He soon got a job as a taxi driver and
moved to a small apartment. He had a wife in Germany but
his children were grown and living in Holland and Sweden and
On New Year's Eve we all went to a Greek
restaurant I like on the Danforth and to Harbourfront to see
the fireworks. War was looming. We wondered that they
hadn't already declared it. I was not afraid though it
disturbed me that they were detaining so many people in the
US and Canada and that restrictions on refugees had become
tighter. You now had to have a PhD, practically to get in
and then if you were lucky you could be a dishwasher. Or a
floor mopper. Now the life of the refugee had been made
tougher, not easier.
It was a bitter, cold January. I do not
remember cold like that in my childhood. We all suffered.
My refugees going to classes, Vittorio who was still here
but determined to get on the first plane to Italy as soon as
I was ready to leave. So leave we did, at the end of January.
We had our luggage searched. Vittorio, who could
never be mistaken for an Arab, was interrogated and body
searched. Finally they let us go.
And what a relief to be back in Italy. Oh, the war
craziness was there as well, with people either for or
against it, but most of the people we knew were against it.
Laura and Azdin were there. Azdin, being from
Algeria and regarded as a suspicious person, had been taken
by the police and questioned. Actually, they expected him of
funding terrorists. Laura, naturally a dove, was not anti-
Israel but anti-Sharon.
Then who should turn up on the doorstep but Mr.
"Oh, come in, Dimitri. Why not? What is it? You
want me to abandon Vittorio and run away to Nassau with you,
"No, but I have a favour to ask."
"A favour. You want me to divorce Vittorio so you can
move in with me?"
"Julia. Be serious. One of my acquaintances is a
young girl from Chechnya. I want you to take her and get her
"Chechnya, how did she get into Italy? Illegally?"
"No, as a matter of fact she is legal. She is at my
"So you have taken to human smuggling?"
"No Julia, she is legal. She is the daughter of
friend of mine."
"Well, this does pose a slight problem. It might be
complicated to get papers for her. How old is she?"
"Does she speak any English?"
"No, just Cheynyan and Russian."
"Okay, bring her here. I think we can help her.
What's her name?"
"Oh, I love that name. I knew a Lebanese girl named
"You will help her."
Now I sympathized with the Chechnyans. Not the
extremism but why shouldn't they be an independent country?
These old empires trying to keep the empire together, an
empire they had no right to in the first place.
Zahara turned out to be very political. No problem,
but would Canada accept her? She had been at university in
Chehnya studying biology. Was it possible that Canada might
think she was a terrorist? But as luck would have it, she
met a young Italian doctor named Franco and wanted to stay
in Italy and marry him and become a doctor. All our
problems solved. What did Vittorio think? Good. I
wondered if we would hear from her again.
Now the war in Iraq. Came and went very
quickly. There was no Armageddon and indeed there was
something called the Roadmap to Peace going on in Israel
and Palestine and probably I had to take my hat off to Bush
if it could work, because as I saw it as the crux of all
these problems - September 11th, etc, was Palestine and the
way the Palestinians had been treated.
And if it would work - more power to him. I naturally
hoped it could work.
Now we had something new in Toronto called SARS. Why
Toronto I don't know. But Toronto is a sort of multi-
cultural hub really. My refugees were not overly concerned
nor was I, as it seemed to be contained in hospitals but an
Irish friend who was supposed to visit us later in the year
in Toronto was.
Decided to take another trip home in May to see
how things were going. SARS didn't frighten me, though I had
stocks in hotels and these were suffering. My stocks in
beef farming were taking a beating as well with this mad cow
scare. The West Nile virus concerned me a little but not
enough to get worried about. I left Vittorio May 14th and
took an Air Canada flight from Rome - must support our
airlines - and landed at Pearson Airport where I went
through some screening - asking me whether I had been to
Hong Kong, or China, and that was more or less it.
Dushenka on the other hand was all up in arms.
She was never going to eat beef again. I immediately
rounded up Tatiana and Greta and Illya and went to China
town where we had some beef chow mein, beef chop suey and
felt good that we were supporting both the Chinese
community and the farmers in one fell swoop. Did not notice
any mosquitoes either.
We got an interesting couple in my house that
month from Syria, though, of Palestinian background. He was
an engineer and she had a degree in English from the
University of Damascus. Immigrants, not refugees, but I take
immigrants sometimes too.
They did not have much good to say about the Syrian
government but they were very pro-Palestinian naturally and
anti-American. I quite frankly agreed with them - that the
Americans were making a mistake in one-sidedly supporting
Israel and that Sharon and his henchmen were terrorists
too. Whether or not the Roadway to Peace could work I had
no idea, though actually it did seem a step in the right
direction. In Ossama Bin Laden I had some interest though
not his methods obviously.
We spent the summer in Canada that year. We kept on
hearing reports of how hot it was in Europe, 40s. I
decided to tell Paulo and Francesca to go somewhere cool
like the mountains. For our part we were okay. It was a
pretty mild summer in Toronto, unlke the one before.
We spent a good deal of the time in Haliburton at the
cottage. I had two immigrant families
that summer - a Polish one and a Chinese one - mainland
China. Somehow they'd found the place and I liked them
both and invited them to stay.
Well, we decided to go camping. Now I had never
been to the Bruce Peninsula but a friend had told me that it
was very beautiful so we decided to go camping near a place
called Tobermory. Fine - we booked a campsite and rented a
van and mid-July we headed out for our weekend of camping.
Vittorio too, who of course had never been camping. Well,
we started out in the rain and it was raining all the way up
and it was raining and it was dark by the time we got there.
Well, it is hard enough to put up a tent under normal
circumstances, but frankly we gave up. We headed for a
motel. And were very glad we did.
Fortunately, the next day it was dry and we managed
to put up the three tents and that was fine. Then we did
some hiking to Georgian Bay and some of us went to have a
ride on a glass-bottom boat because there are sunken ships
just off Tobermory but I elected to tour Tobermory
with my trusty digital camera in hand. I was happy to hear
French and Italian voices, and Korean and was glad that
SARS had not frightened all the tourists away.
Though the next day it was dry and we managed to get
the tents up and then took a hike to Georgian Bay and then
a visit to Tobermory then came back and cooked shishkebobs
over an open fire. We drank beer and had altogether quite a
Then the next day we visited a very nice garden and
went for a swim and had lunch in a restaurant called the
Rocky Raccoon Cafe which had a decided Tibetan theme and
then headed home having stopped for dinner at Bayfield.
The blackout was the big thing that summer besides
SARS and Mad Cow and West Nile virus. Suddenly we found
ourselves without power at my house in Toronto. It was
about 4:30. At first we wondered if it was just our house,
then our area and then we heard on our battery-run radio
that it was not only all Toronto but all of Ontario and part
of the Eastern States, including New York. My Chinese
family were home but my Polish family had to walk from
College and Yonge. The line up at the phone booth was just
too long to try to call for a ride. It was interesting
The reports of the fires in British Columbia were not
so interesting, nor the reports from Iraq or Israel.
At my cottage that August we were the Ing family
and the Idziks, Vittorio, and Greta. We bought a couple of
kayaks and canoes and Mirek who knew how to kayak taught the
rest of us. I taught the canoeing and the sailing.
Vittorio loved it. Especially the sailing, which he took to
like a pro. Soon he was at the tiller of our albecor taking
us back and forth across the little lake, jibing and coming
about and beaming from ear to ear with delight.
Greta had done well at the National Theatre
school in Montreal. She now spoke fluent French and could
switch from a Parisian accent to French-Canadian one
She had some auditions lined up in Toronto in
September and October. No boyfriend.
She was 22. Had had a Moroccan boyfriend in Montreal.
I really doubted that Greta would ever marry.
She wasn't at all domestic but I could begin to see her
having a successful acting career and lots of affairs. Or
for that matter having her children out of wedlock by
different fathers. And supporting them herself. She wasn't
the type to get tied down. Still she was young.
We decided we should get back to Italy to see
what damage had been done by the heat to the garden and the
vineyards. The heat had tapered off somewhat so we left in
the middle of September. It was as I had feared. The
garden was completely destroyed. It was only a very small
vineyard but it was destroyed as well. Paulo and Francesca
had been back from the mountains a week before us and had
tried to sae some of the plants but basically it was a
disaster. Still, we were fine, the villa was fine and I
felt good that I hadn't asked Paulo and
Francesca to stay during that monstrous heat. Plants could
be replaced. Indeed we set about redesigning the garden
and planting plants that could be planted in the fall. We
enjoyed it actually, Vittorio and I, the gardening, and
choosing what we wanted and where to put it.
The house felt empty without any refugees and I was
just thinking this thought as I was making dinner about four or
six days later when there was a knock at the door.
Who should be standing there but a young couple with
three small children, obviously African.
"Yes, come in, come in. You look tired."
They turned out to be Sudanese and had heard about us
in Rome. They wanted to go to Canada. I said I would help
them. I was happy. There was plenty of room. I got them
settled and got them dinner. He was an accountant and his
wife was a nurse. Jamal and Mona. She was covered as was to be
expected, but both of them spoke a fair amount of English.
Perhaps they thought I had some sort of magic wand I could
wave that could expedite matters and get them to Canada more
quickly - which I did not but I could help them somewhat
here and I could help them once they got to Canada.
Then suddenly there was another knock at the door.
Vittorio went this time.
It was a young mother with a young boy. From Algeria.
Well we brought them in. Her English was very good.
- her French perfect of course. Some Italian. She was a
professional artist of all things and had come to Florence
to see the Michelangelo. Her husband had been killed in a
bombing incident. She came from a well-to-do
family in Algiers and she wanted to apply as an immigrant.
I liked her immediately - vivacious, intelligent girl -
Leyla. And she was very pretty. We conversed largely in
French though she was quite capable in English. She wanted
to pay me. I said no, of course.
Pretty soon there was the sound of Arabic being
Oh, I wanted to tell you about my book. It was
published in Canada in late August. It was non-fiction but
there was a sort of book launching and Vittorio and I
attended a party at my publisher's. It was pretty well
received. It was in Chapters and all the little book shops
across the country. People said it was a beautiful and
fascinating book and seemed especially to like all the
coloured photographs. It was really for those especially
who have a special love for both Italy and the Romantic
poets and that era.
But it was about 10 when there was a third
knock at the front door.
Two teenage boys from Iraq - Hussein and
Mohammed. They had been living in Qatar for the past four
years studying engineering. English good, Wanted to go to
Canada. More pasta carbonara. More caesar salad. Much
conversation in Arabic. Full house.
Great. I couldn't have been happier. I saw Vittorio
looking a little bewildered but he joined right in. "And
how did you get here? Certainly you can use the phone."
Very soon we were a very happy family. The children
playing. We let them stay up, though the two-year-old
Yasmeen had fallen asleep on the sofa beside her mother.
Laura called the next morning. They had been in
Australia. She was glad to hear I had a full house again.
Azdin would probably come to meet everyone.
"Why don't you come over this afternoon? We
haven't really arranged yet what everyone is going to do
next. But it's Friday. I suppose I'll be taking them to
the consulate in Milan next week. How's your Arabic?"
"Funnily enough I do know something."
"A smattering might help very nicely."
"And the Algerian girl is a professional artist. Very
sophisticated. I shouldn't call her a girl - she's 35 years
"How was Canada?"
"Oh, okay. Not that hot, which was good. Quiet really.
We went to the cottage and we went amping with an
immigrant Chinese family and a Polish family who were
staying at my house. Dushenka is on her own now in subsidized
housing. Dzanita seems fine. The children keep her totally busy.
Mila has a boyfriend in Montreal. They visit each other every second
weekend. But that's good. She says she is in love.
Greta is looking for work as a actress in Toronto.
Illya should be graduating this year. And Tatiana is doing
an MA in architecture at U of T."
"Oh, good. He loves Canada. He thinks he might write
a play this year."
"And how's Julia?"
"Oh fine. My book got published. It seems to be
doing nicely. Well received. A few reviews in the
"What's it called?"
"Oh, you'll probably think the title a bit cliched
but I finally decided on 'A Thing of Beauty'."
"Oh, that's lovely. And very fitting."
But just then there was another knock at the door.
"Just a second, Laura, I'll call you back."
Oh dear, I though. Not more refugees. Where
will I put them all.
And guess who it was.
"Dimitri, how delightful to see you."
"And you. You're looking very beautiful."
"Well, thanks Dimitri, and what brings you to Italy?"
"Can I come in?"
"Actually, I prefer that you didn't. What
can I do for you this time?"
"I just wanted to see you."
"Fine, you've seen me. Dosvedanya, tovarish."
"Oh Julia, do you make fun of me?"
"Dimitri, I really don't have time for this
now. I have a house full of people. Can't you take no for
"I just wanted to see you. Talk to you."
"You've seen me. We've talked.
Why don't you go to a gallery. Or better
yet, go to Toronto and visit Tatiana and Illya. You haven't
seen them in months."
"I phone them."
"You could spend some time with them."
"Illya doesn't like me."
"Only because you deserted him at the age
of 7 and never visited, never called."
"I think it is deeper than that."
"Well, you could always work on mending the
relationship. You have four children. What kind of a father
are you? You probably never see any of them. Of course they
"Tatiana is coming to stay with me in London
"Oh good. Well, I can't do anything about
Illya. If he's got something against you that's between you
"But Julia, you don't forgive me either."
"Oh God, Dimitri. I don't trust you. Now
I've got things to do."
"It won't last."
"What won't last?"
"This marriage. You are my woman."
"Oh great, Dimitri. Is this why you
came? I've really had enough of this. Dimitri ciao, I
really don't have time for this."
"I'll be back. You'll never find another
"Praise be to Allah."
With that I slammed the door.
Oh dear, I was upset the rest of the evening.
What was I to do about that man?
Oh well, I finally said to myself. Let it be. I would
talk to Laura. She might have some good advice. I would
tell Vittorio, but not now. It could really upset him too.
He was off buying rose plants.
We spent the rest of the morning doing endless
amounts of laundry and then went for a drive to the sea.
Azdin came and Laura took Leyla and Sameh. I took the five
others in our van with Vittorio.
We drove north along the coast and then
stopped and walked along the beach and collected seashells.
Then we had dinner - one long table - in a seafood
restaurant I knew.
It was a beautiful day. Azdin was a great asset, and
Laura too with her smattering of Arabic, and gracious ways.
By the end of the evening, we were all fast friends and
everyone seemed so relaxed as though a thousand weights had
been lifted from their shoulders.
Monday I must take some of them - I decided Jamal and
his family first - to the consulate in Milan. Now I must
explain that I had nine more guests. They knew me of course.
Leyla had decided that she wanted to go o Montreal. If
possible. She had relatives there and of course her French
was much better than her English. I thought she would do
well in Montreal. I wondered who had told her about me.
She had met a Muslim girl in the Uffizzi. Oh good. Zahara.
She was Chechnyan. Oh how interesting. How was she doing?
She was studying medicine at the University of Florence.
Married to an Italian doctor. Well, that was nice.
Sunday we rested for the most part. That is, the
adults rested. The children, four of them, tried to catch
the goldfish in my pond. Oddly enough, they did. Oddly
enough, they had survived the heat and in fact there were
more. Yasmeen had never seen a fish and Paulo had a lovely
time playing with her and the others and showing them the
fish and even showed them how to plant some bulbs. Paulo
and Francesca were grandparents and loved children - loved
people period - and dogs and I loved them. They spoke no
English though they seemed to understand more than they let on
but I enjoyed talking to them in Italian. They adored
Vittorio but then they even liked Dimitri. I gave them
strict instructions not to let Signor Ivanov in the house
but their response was "But he is so 'gentile'."
"No Paulo, send him away. Tell him I am in Canada."
"Si, Signora Julia. Come vuole."
I talked to Greta on the phone after we arrived
and she told me that a Russian family from Odessa were
living there. A husband, a wife, a two-year-old boy and a
teenage boy about 18. So nice. She was learning a little
Russian. Boris and Anna and their two-year-old Misha and
their teenage Sergei. She was a Russian translator and he
a maritime "model" maker. A what? He made models of ships
for the Odessa maritime museum. But he had already landed a job
as a carpenter in North York. They would soon be moving to an
apartment in North York. Immigrants, of course. Not refugees.
And Greta said that Tatiana and Illya and she were really enjoying
Russian food. Tatiana could talk to her in Russian, though
her English was quite good.
Then I had a phone call from Illya. He was engaged
to an English girl. Another medical student. She had been
in Canada two years, but her family lived in London. How
interesting. How nice. How wonderful really. My first
born. He was going to fly to London at Christmas to meet
her parents. Did she have a name? Isabella. Isabella
Duncan. Could I fly to London at Christmas to meet them?
Oh dear, I wasn't sure. Not with a full house like this. We
left it open. How exciting. My first born. They both
wanted to join Doctors without Borders next year and go to
It would be interesting to visit London again after 25
years. They said it had changed a lot. London was cheap in
my day. In the late seventies. Apparently not so now.
Those were good days. Illya getting married. The wedding
was planned in London for June. Well, that I would have to
make. He and Tatiana were planning on taking the same
flight at Christmas.
Oh dear. Dimitri. Must avoid Dimitri at all costs.
Oh dear, he would be at the wedding. Take Vittorio to deal
I took Jamal and Mona to the Canadian Consulate in
Milan on Monday, leaving Paulo and Francesca in charge of
the three children, who already adored them. We didn't have
to wait long and I went in though Jamal's English was fairly
good. They scored fairly highly in the point system as they
were both professionals and Jamal spoke English. They would
have to wait about nine months to be processed.
I wondered how on earth they had gotten from Sudan to
Tuscany but he had been working in Saudi Arabia for three
years as an accountant for an oil magnate. His family with
him. They were quite well off and would qualify as
immigrants, not refugees. He had a brother who had been
studying medicine in Rome, so they had decided to come and
Now. I managed to get all my people into immigration
at the consulate. It was a mater of waiting. What were
they to do? Well. first I commissioned Leyla to do a
painting for the master bedroom which she seemed quite happy
to do. And then I asked the Iraqi boys if they would like
to help Paulo getting the vineyards back in shape again and
the garden. I would pay them of course and Mona had her
hands full with the children but Jamal was an accountant.
How could we use Jamal? He suggested that he keep my books
here at the villa and started a system that I could readily
Then we had to go to doctors, eye doctors, clothing
stores, pediatricians. September was a busy month.
Vittorio was working on his play and I was ferreting about
for a new project. Oh, but September is such a beautiful
month in Tuscany. I found myself writing reams and reams of
poetry. Vittorio thought it was good enough to be
published so I started sending it off to literary magazines
in Canada and the U.S. and England.
At my home in Toronto everything was going
along smoothly enough. The Russian family were still there
but were planning to move to North York soon. I wondered
about Dushenka. I gave her a call.
"Julia, I am happy you call me."
"What are you doing? Are you back in school? How do
you like it?"
"How's your health?"
"Not too bad. And you?"
"I am okay. I have new people here."
"Good, good for you. When are you coming to Canada?"
"I don't know. Illya is getting married."
"Oh wonderful, wonderful."
"His girlfriend is from England."
"Illya good boy."
"Yes, I think so."
"How about Dimitri?"
"Oh dear, big problem Dushenka. Dimitri was here a
few days ago."
"I think he likes you."
"And I don't like him."
"How is Vittorio?"
"Fine. All is good."
"Well, it will be nice to have one married child. I
can't imagine Greta will ever get married. Anyhow Tatiana,
e-mail me. Ciao, buona notte. Take care. I love
"When are you coming back?"
"No idea. I might spend Christmas here. Maybe
Greta can come. Okay. Talk to you soon. Love you, Mom."
I spent the next week writing poetry in the garden,
what was left of it but actually I would drive to San
Geminiano and go to the cafe where I met Sveta and write.
Vittorio was busy working on his play on the computer
upstairs and I just fancied getting away and back to that
cafe where I used to write sometimes before my villa became
My Arabs had found a language school and the Sudanese
couple and the Iraqis were in the same class. Leyla was in
an advanced class. Mona and Jamal and Leyla paid Francesca
and Paulo to look after the children, which they loved to
do. So we were a happy family again. At night we had a
smorgasbord of mixed Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine
which I loved and then afterwards we watched Al Jazeera and
played with the children. Mohammed and Hossein were
especially good with them as well and Vittorio and both love
children so we were quite happy to have them. I began to
think of taking a little side trip to Paris. I had sold the
apartment but Laura wanted me to come and stay for a couple
of weeks in October. It seemed a nice idea. Vittorio was
going to go visit his children in Rome. They were all
living on their own. His daughter was studying aeronautical
engineering and Emiliano wanted to be a director so he was
taking drama at the university of Rome too. Giovanni was
living out at Vittorio's villa, which was useful. He had
completely recovered from his liver transplant - oh, he had
gotten a donor - a man in a car accident, and he was doing
fine. Sylvia still wanted to go to NASA and be an astronaut. I
suggested to Vittorio that we have them all here for
Christmas. Now what would my Arabs make of Christmas? I
didn't know, but we would see.
Oh, it was lovely being back in Italy. The architecture
and speaking Italian here and there with people! The owner
of the cafe remembered me. Ther were waiters now too, some
Italians, but one boy looked to be Ethiopian. I sat
outside on the patio and let the muse find me. Poems about
Haliburton came to me. Robert and Vittorio and about
Toronto and friends I had known. One lengthy one was about
Paris. I just wrote and wrote. Then I would edit and type
them on the computer and send them off to poetry magazines
in Canada. And surprisingly enough, they were accepted.
Slowly I was developing a collection of poems that had been
published. I figured I needed about 100 acceptances. Then
I would approach a publisher to publish me. My publisher
didn't publish poetry.
The September sunlight was just right for poetry -
not too hot, not humid at all. And in October I would go to
Paris for ten days, my beloved Paris. I would sit in cafes
and write. Pretend I was Hemingway or something. What fun!
Larry did indeed contact Dushenka and the next we
learned he had gotten an apartment in the same subsidized
building. Dushenka admitted to me on the phone that she
"Boyfriend," she said shyly.
"And I think Larry likes Dushenka as girlfriend."
"Yes, it is so. But he have to get job. I have to
get job before we get married."
"You are talking of getting married?"
"Just little talk. Have little baby."
"Would be nice. Would be nice."
"Oh Dushenka, it would be nice!"
"Tibetan men very romantic."
"I can imagine."
"I am learning Tibetan language."
"And I teach Larry Serbo-Croatian."
"Larry like movies. We have VCR. Larry
have CD player. Go to library. Bring home CD and movies.
Larry go to English class now. But not same school me.
Humber College. I George Brown."
Greta was getting along well with rehearsals, but
the director was not interested in her. This was very
heartbreaking for Greta who loved him all the more because
she couldn't have him.
Tatiana still hadn't found anyone but I wasn't worried
about that. I'm more surprised when people find someone
suitable. Her teaching was going fine and she was still
living at my house with and Greta and the Russian family.
They were slated to leave at the end of September. Pity -
wouldn't get to know them. I am fascinated by things
Russian - the language and the culture - and would have loved
to get to know them. Perhaps when I next got back to
I e-mailed Illya and asked him if perhaps he and
Isabella could make a stop-off after London and come to
visit me in Tuscany this Christmas. I'd like to meet her.
He thought that could be arranged - say New Year's. Yeah.
That would please me so much.
Greta e-mailed and said that she and a girlfriend
would like to go to Cuba for Christmas.
She would have her own money. Then after Christmas she was
scheduled to do another play at the National Theatre in
Well good for her. I was so glad things were coming
together her. My Arab friends were in school six hours of the
day and then came home and we talked or toured Tuscany a
bit. They were interested in the art and the architecture
and they particularly liked me to talk to them about
Canada. How cold does it get? Oh, minus 10-20. How cold is
snow? Can you really see your breath?
At night Vittorio would read his play to me and I
would read my poetry to him. Some of it was love poetry.
We seldom watched TV, except the news, or we would rent a
video in English which we all watched.
In October I flew to Paris to stay with Laura and
Azdin. My Paris, my lovely Paris.
This time I wanted to spend time writing poetry in the
little cafes and bistros in the Latin Quarter and on the
Isle St. Louis, my favourites areas. I would sit outside in
the bright October sunshine at my favourite Alsatian
brasserie on the Isle St. Louis and scribble away. I had a
view of the spires of Notre Dame and the Pantheon and the
Seine. What could be better except m garden at my villa in
I wrote about Paris, I wrote about Haliburton, I
wrote about Vittorio. I even wrote about Dimitri and
Robert. And I wrote about my villa, about Toronto, about my
friends Jasmine and
and Susanne who had died in their fourties. I really
enjoyed myself. This was the life for me. The writer in
Paris. And I met people. People at other tables would
speak to me or I would speak to them. My French was still
better than my Italian. And one day I wrote in the
Luxembourg Gardens with the leaves golden brown and turning
all around me.
At night Laura and Azdin and I would go to a
restaurant. I paid - usually French as they don't have
French restaurants in Florence though Toronto has some good
ones, and French cuisine is one of my favourites. But we
also ate in an Algerian restaurant and a Japanese and
Laura and I visited art galleries and showings by
metro as we were both afraid to drive. And we took the
train one day to Monet's home Giverny about an hour from
Paris, where there is an exquisite garden where the artist
used to paint. I wrote two or three poems about the garden
Laura was such good company. Always cheerful and we
could make each other laugh so easily. I often wondered
whether Laura had any problems. She didn't talk about them -
always the blithe spirit. And such a sweet nature,
combined with what was a brilliant intelligence.
Azdin's first language was Arabic and his second French
but his English wasn't very good so when Azdin was there we
always spoke French. Which I didn't mind.
On some days I would take photographs for the book on
Paris I was planning to do - eventually. I don't paint or
draw, but I love photography. And where more photogenic
than Paris. Just people sitting in cafes, the way a bouquet
of flowers is arranged. A beautiful woman or a handsome
man walking by. The buildings. When I am in Paris or Italy
I admire humanity for the beauty they have created. It
pleases me enormously.
It was November already. I began to think about
Christmas. None of my children would be here apparently but
we planned to have Vittorio's two children. Then there
would be my Arabs. They were already fasting for Ramadan.
World events were not unfolding too nicely. I only hoped
the Democrats could get in next year.
I decided to be brave and call home. Tatiana
answered the phone.
"So. How are things at the house?"
"Something's wrong. What's wrong?"
"Greta has a new talent agent."
"And I'm going out with him."
"Fine. What's he like? He's not married, is he?"
"No, but he's Russian."
"Oh well, he's gotta be something. Just be careful."
"My Russian is really improving."
"I can imagine. Have you seen your father?"
"Not in a long time."
"Is there anyone staying there now?"
"Not at the moment. It's pretty quiet."
"That's unusual. I'll talk to you next
week anyway. Do you like this Russian?"
"Okay, you're an adult. I'm happy to
hear you're going out with someone."
"Okay, ciao for now. Talk to you soon. I love you."
So, that was an interesting development. Tatiana, though quite
attractive, hadn't had a serious relationship since high school. Or
was this serious?
I decided to call Dushenka. Dushenka now
had an answering machine, but she was there. Actually,
Larry picked up the phone.
"I get Dushenka."
"Hi Julie. Listen, big news. Larry and I
make restaurant. One half Serbo-Croatian, one half
Tibetan. On Queen's Street."
"Why, that's wonderful, Dushenka. When does it open?"
"Next March. The Happy Bosnian. And what else?"
"Larry and I going to get married. You have
to come to the wedding. Be in January."
"I'll try to, Dushenka. That is great news."
I set off fr San Giminiano the next day, with my
notebook in my bag to write some more poetry, which had
become a passion. It was a nice sunny day, so I hoped my
muses would be with me. I found my seat in my cafe outside
cafe free so I was quite happy. I wrote about
Paris mainly - Montmartre, my brasserie, the Luxembourg
Vittorio found me after a while. I wasn't
expecting him, so it was a pleasant surprise.
"Did the muse visit you?"
"Not exactly, today. How about you?"
"For a while."
"Mine doesn't like November period, I think."
"Why don't you like November?
"Oh, the slant of the sunlight. The rain.
It's a sort of in-between month. Even in Italy."
"Are you feeling homesick?"
"Not exactly. Perhaps we can go home in
January. Dushenka and Larry are getting married, I forgot to
tell you. Are your children coming for Christmas?"
"Yes, together by car."
"That will be fun, I wonder what our Arab
friends will make of Christmas?"
"Oh, they are pretty enlightened people.
They celebrate Ramadan. We celebrate Christmas."
"Then we can fly home to see my children,
go to the wedding. I wonder where they will have it.
Perhaps I could pay for the reception someplace."
"That's a good idea. Call Dushenka."
I decided that November to give more
money to combat AIDS in Africa. It is not a particularly
comfortable position to fiddle while Rome is burning.
I phoned Dzanita to find that she was
pregnant with her third child. She and Darko wanted to
have four so she was pretty happy.
I also phoned the sister of my best friend,
Eva, to say hello. They had moved back from New York to
Toronto to be nearer family. She was a dear and had many of
the qualities that had drawn me to Jasmine.
Vittorio was looking forward to Christmas and
having all three of his children there. It would be odd to
me, my two daughters were planning to go to Cuba. Illya
would be with his father in London though they might make a
stopover on the way home.
We began to prepare for Christmas. I put up
strings of coloured lights like you see in Canada, and we
managed to find a spruce tree and decorated that. I made a
nativity scene of various miniatures that I had accrued in
my travels - some Korean, some Japanese and arranged them
around a Tuscan birdhouse. I had a miniature Jesus in a
manger and German wooden angel. I thought it looked rather
nice in the window. My Arabs were intrigued and mystified.
Christmas unfolded slowly as it usually does. One
was just thinking that it didn't seem like Christmas when
suddenly it was upon you and you were caught up in the
razzle-dazzle and the excitement.
My Arabs were astonished but they enjoyed it too.
And the children. No, I wasn't trying to convert them.
And then they found Sadam Hossein. My two Iraqi
boys were very happy. Leyla, my Algerian girl too. Mona
and Jama were surprised that he had given up without a fight,
that it was a humiliation for the Muslims. He should have
at least committed suicide. They weren't extremists and
were both educated but still, there was a sense of Arabic
I was happy that Illya and his bride-to-be, Isabella,
were going to be able to make a stopover at the Pisa airport on
the way back and come and see us. My daughter-in-law. I
wanted to meet this girl.
And then Orange Alert in the States. And it
affected air travel everywhere. So there was a shadow over
Christmas, and card sending and phone calls and fun.
Vittorio's son and daughter arrived December 20th.
They all came up by car from Rome. Christmas was a great
success. Then Illya and Isabella
arrived on the 27th and that was a special
pleasure for me. She was utterly charming and beautiful,
very posh really yet not condescending. Quite warm but very
well-mannered and quite witty. When I commented on how
good Illya was looking she said, "Yes, he does clean up
So a daughter-in-law, an Enlish daughter-in-law.
I approved of her. And she of me fortunately, in fact
we hit it off wonderfully well. She thought I had done a
fine job of my kids, liked Vittorio, liked my involvement
with refugees. In fact she said she admired me. How
refreshing. We'll keep her, I thought. She can marry my son
Vittorio and I thought we'd take the plane to
Canada with Illya and Isabella for Dushenka's wedding on
January 17th. Left Francesca and Paulo in charge again.
Dushenka and Larry were to be married in a
Serb-Orthodox church - Larry had no choice in the matter. Then
the reception for the wedding was to be held at my house.
In March their restaurant - the Happy Bosnian - was to
open. They would have a menu with Bosnian dishes on one side
and Tibetan dishes on the other. I had tasted Dushenka's
cooking and Larry's and both were excellent. Larry had
cooked at a monastery in Nepal so he had some experience.
God, it's quite a shock to get off the plane from
Italy and land in -20 degrees Celcius weather.
Now I know why I wanted a villa in Tuscany.
Vittorio said that Canada in the winter is quite an
Well, we got Dushenka safely married. Now she could
have babies. And quite the lovely bride she was too. The
service unfortunately was in Serbo-Croatian. Larry probably
understood some of it, more than I did at any rate.
Then we went back to my house ,where Larry and
Dushenka had cooked all the food the night before, and sat
down to a real feast. Larry had never been married before
and he was beaming from ear to ear. I was rather happy too.
And I gave them a wedding present of a honeymoon in Bosnia
where Dushenka's mother lived. She missed her mother so
"Trip to Sarejevo," said Dushenka "is best present
you can give me I be so homesick sometimes. Now I married
woman with my husband, have everything I need in the life."
"Good Dushenka," I said, "I am happy for you."
"And do you know what, Julia?"
"One baby in oven."
"One baby in oven?"
"Yes, two months in oven. I just tell you now.
I thinking to tell you but I said, no wait. But I can't
"But Dushenka, that's wonderful. One baby in
"Yes, don't tell anybody. You can tell Vittorio
I decided to go and see Dzanita in Pickering who
also had one baby in oven. Third baby. I wondered how she
was doing. She had been here about five years. Three kids,
new life. My little Dzanita. They actually had quite a
beautiful home in a subdivision. Dzanita looked gorgeous.
She was twenty-eight now and maturing very nicely. The
children - that is, Melina - spoke some English. Zoran 18 months
understood but wasn't speaking yet. What a jump from
Croatia to Pickering. Still her husband was Bosnian. Born
there at any rate. Dzanita's English was excellent.
Dzanita had a baby girl named Susanna in April - eight
pounds. Home birth. Dzanita was very much into things
natural. Mila called to tell me. How was Mila? Doing
really well I would say - she had a boyfriend but didn't
feel they were ready financially for marriage. She had a
job at a health care centre for immigrants as a sort of
secretary. She was a computer expert and Tatiana had called
her to fix her computer the other day. 32. She missed my
villa. She missed the days at the villa. With the war in
Iraq everything seemed to have a kind of pall over it.
Laura was a big help that Spring. She would come over to my
villa or I would go over to hers. I really looked up to her
in a way. She was such a calm stable person. Deplored what
the Israelis were doing to the Palestinians. Deplored
Bush. We were both non-violent and when I heard that the
Dali Lama was coming to Canada I was anxious to hear what he
had to say. The world seemed such a long way off from
finding non-violent solutions to issues. It seemed that the
cruelty and barbarity in the world had only increased n the
past few years. We needed Dali Lamas - an ocean of Dali
Dushenka and Larry were doing well apparently.
Dushenka served while Larry cooked mammas and buric in the
kitchen. They had hired another waitress and cook.
Greta was still in Ottawa acting in a play. No
boyfriend. She was taking a hiatus for some reason.
Tatiana still seeing the Russian talent agent.
Illya of course was getting married on June 19th.
Vittorio and I were scheduled to go. Seeing Dimitri - that
would be awkward to say the least. Perhaps I had better
call him before hand or would he misinterpret that?
I still had my Arabs living with me. They were in
the process of getting papers and were slated to leave in
September or so. They were still going to school and Paulo
and Francesca were taking care of the children during the
day. Vittorio had almost finished his play. We would go
for long walks together to the villages around. We would
meet people too - chat. Locals and foreigners living in the
villas in the area.
I called Dushenka one evening. She was home.
"Take day off. Put feet up."
"How are you feeling?"
"Oh tired, but okay. Baby kick. Baby kick me.
Kick me now."
"Kick you now. How wonderful!"
"Yes, is nice."
"What are you going to call it?"
"Ted if boy, if girl, Susan."
"Very nice. What about Tibetan names?"
"No, Larry say me. I name this one. He name
"That sounds fair. How is the restaurant doing?"
"Fine, restaurant good. I six and half months
pregnant now. Only work part time. We have two waitresses
and one Yugoslav cook. Everybody like restaurant. Larry
happy. I happy too. You happy Julia?"
"Yes I happy. I am going to London in June for
"I guess so."
"Oh, oh problem."
"Vittorio will be with me."
"Dimitri crazy man. Yes I guess so. How are
Tatiana and Greta?"
"Oh, fine I think Greta is in Ottawa acting. No
"Something is wrong. She be sick maybe."
"Tatiana is going out with Greta's agent."
"I met him. He crazy too."
"Tatiana and Greta go Illya's wedding?"
"Yes. They'll both stay at Dimitri's."
"Isabella very nice. I like. They live Toronto?"
"Yes, Toronto. Then Africa maybe."
"My mother say to thank you for trip to Bosnia.
So happy see me. And see Larry."
Well the next thing to do was to get Illya
married. We flew to London from Milan and had a very nice
Italian stewardess who had only been flying for two weeks
and was very excited to be going to London.
We stayed in a small B&B in Chelsea right around the
corner from the church, where I had stayed once in my
illustrious youth. But then it had been for young
travelers. Now it was quite the posh place. Isabella and
Illya were to be married in the same church Thomas More had
attended - an interesting choice. Then the reception at
Isabella's parents apartment. No word from Dimitri though
I instructed Vittorio to stay with me at all times.
The day dawned bright and sunny which was nice. We were
able to walk to the church and whom should I espy walking
towards us from the church but the mad Russian himself. But
he had in tow a very pretty brunette, possibly in her
fourties. Quite striking.
"Julia, I want you to meet Beatrice. Beatrice and I
are going to be married. Beatrice is my soul mate."
Well. that was good news.
"Beatrice is half Russian, half Greek. A
"How do you do, Beatrice."
"And your name is Julia? Are you a friend of the
"I'm Illya's mother."
"Oh. I see."
"Illya will be very happy to see you," said Dimitri,
rescuing us all. Former and new soul mates.
The wedding went smoothly, then afterwards Vittorio and
I took a taxi to Knightsbridge where Isabella's parents had
a large flat. I do so love taking taxis in London. You can
see so muc. Oh I hadn't done it that often but it was a
The reception went well. Dimitri seemed genuinely
interested in Beatrice and didn't even accost me any more
that evening. Only once to ask me where the bathroom was,
which was strange because he could have asked any one of a
number of other people. Keep me on my toes I imagine.
So Illya and Isabella left that night for Paris and
Vittorio and I for my villa the next morning. And that was
that. I was now a mother-in-law.
Oh, Tatiana and Greta came back with us to Italy and
we had a nice visit.
On July second I had a call from Larry to say that
Dushenka had had an eight-pound baby girl on July first,
just after the citizenship ceremony. They had to take her
by ambulance, just after she had been given her certificate.
But she was so happy. I asked if I could speak to her.
Larry was calling from his cell phone at the hospital.
"Julia, baby girl. I name her Susan."
"Great name, Dushenka. Why do you like the name Susan
"I just like."
"How are you feeling?"
"I am okay. Very hard have baby, Why so hard?
"Did you get your citizenship?"
"Yes, I Canadian now. Now I can travel anywhere. I
come visit you."
"Good Dushenka. I will send you the money. You and
Larry come visit me with Susan." Dushenka, Vittorio and I
are planning a trip after Christmas around the world so it
must be before Christmas.
"Around the world?"
"Yes, places we'd like to see. I would like to see
Russia. Take the Trans-Siberian express from Moscow to
"Are you crazy? It be winter."
"But my dream is to do it in winter."
"You be crazy."
"And then we want to go to Tibet. Tell Larry."
"Tibet! Wonderful. You send my baby pictures."
"And also Bosnia."
"You go Bosnia?"
"Yes I want to see Sarajevo."
"But Dushenka, I have an idea. Vittorio and I
may be away from the villa three years or so. Vittorio
says it would be an ideal place for a restaurant. How
would you like to start another Happy Bosnian at my villa in
"Really Julia? I would love so much. I love
Tuscany like my home."
"Okay Dushenka. Discuss it with Larry. I will
help you. Now you rest and give my love to Susan and Larry.
Lots to look forward to."
"So your villa no longer have refugees?"
"Not for a while Dushenka. Now it will be the
Happy Bosnian restaurant."
Yes, it was true. Vittorio and I had decided to
travel for a few years. No, I wouldn't sell my villa. I
would never sell it. But there was so much we wanted to
see. I was 55 now.
Greta was finally settling down - looking for a permanent
relationship. Tatiana? Well Tatiana was just beginning to
bloom. She and Vladimir were partners now but they might
marry. Tatiana is a little shy of commitment but I think
she will come round to it Vladimir was not at all like
Dimitri. Again, more like Robert.
But think of it. Traveling. The Trans-Siberian Express.
In winter. Wouldn't that be glorious? You think not. To each
I began to make plans for a restaurant. And I
also thought I would have a farewell party at my villa. Fly
my friends over. Oh, not all of them. Dzanita and Mila, Lana
and Dragan, Nasir and his wife - oh Nasir now had a job as a
neurosurgeon in Winnipeg and two little girls. Yes I would
fly them over. And my Albanians and Ethiopians, and Azeri's
and Sudanese And Syrians and Algerians...
Oh it would be magnificent! What a Merry
Christmas this would be!
Two Italian architects came Monday to assess the
house for making a restaurant. Work was to begin in
September when my Arabs would be leaving. Lana came over.
She said she would love to come with me on my trip. I said
let's meet at certain destinations like Santorini. Great,
she had never been to Greece. I was happy about the World
Cup. But the Portuguese looke so nice too and played so
But I digress.
A lot had happened in the five years since I had bought my
villa. My Global House as someone called it. But we needed
a change really - new vistas, new horizons and I hoped
really to learn better how to help more.
A new husband, one child married, all three finished
university and on their own. Two books published, so many
new friends. I was rich in so many ways. Who knows what
the future would hold. "Quo fata ferunt", my father used to
say. What the fates decree. Or he used to say. "Play the
hand you dealt yourself." I liked that one too. I wonder
what Aunt Elizabeth would make of it all, or my mother.
Would they be pleased? I missed Tatty enormously. Perhaps
when I got back I would get another dog. A golden retriever
just like Tatty - Tatty 2. How bizarre, and wonderful and
wretched and meaningful and meaningless all at the same
time. A feast. I must begin to make arrangements for my
Christmas party. I wonder how many could come. How many
would I invite? All of them. The more the merrier!
"My Villa In Tuscany" is copyright (c) by Donna Bamford 2005
All poems copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of
these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is
YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2005 by
Klaus J. Gerken.
The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's
World-Wide Web site http://users.synapse.net/~kgerken. No other
version shall be deemed "authorized" unless downloaded from there.
Distribution is allowed and encouraged as long as the issue is unchanged.
COMMENTS & SUBMISSIONS
* Klaus Gerken, Chief Editor - for general messages and ASCII text
Or mailed with a self addressed stamped envelope, to: