A Circular Journey

A Circular Journey

Helen Barolini
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    A Circular Journey
    Book Description:

    A Circular Journey collects for the first time in one book the essays that most powerfully define the unique gifts of one of America's most distinctive voices. These fifteen pieces, tracking some thirty years of a writer's life, come together to illuminate the stages and themes and places that mark Helen Barolini's art. Divided into three closely linked sections-Home,Abroad,Return,-the essays move through Barolini's worlds. Her love of literature began when, as a child growing up as an avid reader in Syracuse, New York, she was presented with a diary and told to write in it. Returning to the heritage of her Italian immigrant grandparents, she moved to Italy as a young writer. There she lived for many years, becoming acquainted with the brightest of Italy's literary lights. The accomplished poet, novelist, and critic she became now lives at home in two nurturing cultures, America and Italy both.The essays are memoirs of her house on a street named for Henry James's grandfather, tales of literary journeys from Taos to Taormina, and Paris to Rome, as the young bride of a poet from the Veneto and, later on, as a distinguished writer whose explorations of identity and dislocation took her back to Italian inspirations.From a delightful account of a writing fellowship in an exquisite villa overlooking the Italian lakes to her first trip back to discover distant family roots in the hills of Calabria, Barolini moves lyrically through the generations of her life, giving form to the influences that shaped her art and her sense of self-as an American, a woman, and a gifted daughter of the two cultures she has so powerfully imagined.Praise for Helen BaroliniAn impassioned and magnificent contribution to our knowledge of what it has meant and means still to be an ethnic American and woman . . . . a book of heroic recovery and affirmation.-Alice Walker (on The Dream Book)Large in scope, in depth, and in the gift of narrative.-Cynthia Ozick (on Umbertina)

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4756-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. I Home
    • 2004 James Street
      (pp. 3-32)

      James Street, where I lived from infancy through my twenty-second year, begins in downtown Syracuse at Clinton Square, continues a straight course eastbound reaching an elevated point at Oak Street, then proceeds on to become a commercial artery in the Eastwood neighborhood, ending miles from start in East Syracuse. The James Street I knew was the city’s grandest residential thoroughfare, flanked in its lower numbered blocks by full-growth, stately trees and mansions in a range of opulent architectural styles. One visitor of the last century called it “the 5th Avenue of Syracuse,” one of the handsomest American streets he had...

    • My Mother’s Wedding Day
      (pp. 33-49)

      It seemed a remarkable coincidence when the mail brought me a page from a long-defunct Utica newspaper calledIl Pensiero Italiano, which gave an account of my mother’s wedding day, for it arrived just three days before the anniversary of that event. The paper was dated November 17, 1923; it was sent by a researcher of Utica’s Italian American community whom I had met the past summer at a book reception and who seemed interested in my mother’s Utica background.

      The Italian Cultural Center where the reception was held had been a convent for the nuns who taught at nearby...

    • Zio Filippo at Summer Camp
      (pp. 50-55)

      Imagine this: it’s a heavy, humid summer day even in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. My brother Jack and I are at adjoining summer camps at Eagle Bay on Fourth Lake. Cedar Cove is for boys and Sunny Ledge for girls. These are very tony camps and are more indicators of my father’s business success than my wish to be there. The campers and counselors dress in uniform every day but, since the day I am now recollecting is family visiting day, we are wearing our special dress outfits.

      I am a pudgy preadolescent in puffy brown bloomer-shorts (old-fashioned even then...

  4. The Spinsters of Taos
    (pp. 56-66)

    One summer in Venice I finally met the person, a friend and countryman of my husband’s, to whom we were to have sent a postcard from Taos, New Mexico, seven summers earlier. Antonio spotted his friend and introduced him to me in a splendid courtyard on the island of San Giorgio just across the lagoon from the Ducal Palace on the occasion of the Campiello Literary Prize awards, and over drinks and an elegant buffet I explained why he had never gotten that card from Taos.

    When Antonio was American correspondent for Turin’s daily paperLa Stampaand we were...

  5. II Abroad
    • A Fish Tale
      (pp. 69-79)

      It was a long time ago, just a few years after the end of World War II, and there I was, a bride in mist-wrapped, sodden-aired, graying and bombed-out Vicenza in the north of Italy. With my husband Antonio, Vicenza-born of a Venetian paternal line, I was temporarily ensconced in a walk-up, top-floor apartment carved from an old palazzo where Antonio’s family had lived and only one sister now remained. The apartment was a modest one with a front room, a kitchen, and bedrooms off a long corridor that led to the bathroom, but it harbored the remains of a...

    • Montale and Mosca in a Train
      (pp. 80-88)

      Growing up I was given Nancy Drew books for my birthday, and other reading came from my visits to the Eastwood branch of the Syracuse Public Library. The first book purchase at a bookstore I ever made for myself was T. S. Eliot’sFour Quartets. Perhaps from my childhood readings inMy Bookhouseand Longfellow’sCollected PoemsI had begun to value poetry. When my mother chided me in my high school years for not being popular and going out on dates, I responded, “Popular! Who cares about popular! I’m going to marry a poet … be a poet!” It...

    • Sicily, Light and Dark
      (pp. 89-99)

      On a school vacation when we were living in Rome, my husband and I decided to take our children to Taormina in Sicily for Easter. High above the sea that laps on Sicilian shores, Taormina is one of earth’s beauty spots; as scenery it is superb, but as a town it is, alas, an artifice, a package showpiece more than a living place.

      If, as my first boss once confided to me, position in life is everything, then Taormina has it. The town sits perfectly terraced and gardened on Mt. Tauro on the eastern coast of Sicily, facing the Ionian...

    • A Classical Excursion
      (pp. 100-109)

      When I learned that my liberal arts Wells College, founded for women in 1870 by Henry Wells of Wells Fargo fame, had, not long after celebrating its centennary, eliminated its Classics Department, I was staggered and saddened. How could an institution fostering the liberal arts eliminate the very bedrock of those arts, the Greek and Latin classics? After years of Latin at my convent school, I chose to continue it when I went on to Wells. Under the tutelage of gentle, erudite Miss Grether the two others and I who took her Latin courses read the elegiac poets of Rome,...

    • Neruda vs. Sartre at the Sea
      (pp. 110-119)

      They tell of certain years in the Italian literary-prize business as the French would speak of a good or bad vintage year: the giddy splendors of 1970 prize-feting and fighting, the multiple crises of ’68 culminating in the sad death of Nobel poet Salvatore Quasimodo while presiding at some minor poetry prize event at Amalfi and the year Moravia, out of pique or paradox, went on to found his own prize, giving the first award to his ex-wife in lieu (it’s said) of support payments.

      Italian literati have more prizes for each other than there are grapes in all of...

    • Souvenirs of Venice
      (pp. 120-130)

      Whiffs of death: the reading group I lead at the library is discussingDeath in Venice. My thoughts wander as the dozen or so readers extract the story’s symbols—the cemetery and the ominous sense of fatigue and storm enveloping Aschenbach on the opening page; the coffin-like gondola, the gondolier as Charon crossing the Styx; the smell of plague, the flight of the vacationers, the sickliness of Tadzio. They talk, they assume I listen. I do not. I am thinking not of Death, but of Antonio (who was my husband), in Venice.

      I see him in a photo as I...

    • Being at Bellagio
      (pp. 131-152)

      In a late spring of some years ago I was racked with doubts: a completed novel, still unpublished, was in a drawer awaiting not only a publisher but even an agent who would represent it and send it out to some welcoming editor. And I was planning another book about six American women writers and how Italy had played into their lives. Their stories connected with my own discovery of Italy where I had begun to write, had married an Italian writer, and had lived for some years. But entwined with the pleasure I took in planning a new book...

  6. III Return
    • Shutting the Door on Someone
      (pp. 155-163)

      It’s been a long time since I’ve cared to remember the day I shut the front door of our Croton house in John Cheever’s face. My weird response to his ring and to seeing him on our porch, dwarfed by the columns of that large, four-square grey stucco house, so dismayed me at the time that I chose to obliterate it. I never mentioned it to anyone. Nor did I ever refer to it on any occasion I ever saw John again, not to apologize, not to explain, not even to laugh it off as I might have since he...

    • Paris in the Boondocks
      (pp. 164-173)

      Not long ago, invited to return to my old college in upstate New York to give a reading, I decided in a fit of romanticism that for the occasion I would wear my mother’s honeymoon blouse.

      It still hangs in my closet. It is no ordinary blouse. It is cut velvet lined with silk and was acquired in Paris on my parents’ honeymoon trip of 1923. The cut velvet is of a leaden gray-green color, between khaki and loden, something like the sheen of spring mud, appliqued over a darker hue of chiffon and thinly banded at the neckline with...

    • A Story of Rings
      (pp. 174-187)

      One March I was in Arizona—vast stretches of desert, ringed by strange, contorted mountains that look thrust out of the earth by volcanic forces as, indeed, they were.

      Many years before, on a summer college program, I had had my first experience of Mexico and of seeing among its arts some stunning turquoise and silver jewelry; in Arizona I was seeing the jewelry again—this time of Navajo, Hopi, and contemporary American artisan origin. And I learned how turquoise is mined, extracted from a copper matrix in the Mule Mountains near Bisbee; how high-grade turquoise has an orangey bronze...

    • A Circular Journey
      (pp. 188-210)

      The place names in my personal lexicon—where I was born, where my family came from, and where I have lived and studied—are classical: Syracuse, Croton, Utica, Magna Graecia, Rome, Aurora. They are in America, or they are in Italy; some are in both places.

      My hometown was Syracuse but at the time I was growing up the name gave off no Old World, classical ring to me; it was a hard-nosed upstate New York locale committed to commercial interests. It was a place not much given to “culture,” where opera or ballet, when they came by, had to...