ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 271: True Friends
One of the joys of finding a writer I like is re-reading that writer’s work. Just now I’m re-reading One Thousand Days in Tuscany, Marlena de Blasi’s account of her life with her husband, Fernando.
Fernando’s a Venetian banker and she’s an American chef and food critic visiting wintry Venice on a writing assignment when he catches a glimpse of her from a cafe window as she crosses Piazza San Marco in a long white coat. “Love at half sight,” he tells her later.
Her trip ends. She goes home. When she returns to Venice a year later, he sees her again, this time at a table in a wine bar with two friends on a stormy night. He asks the waiter to hand her a note. Fernando will not let her leave his sight this time without introducing himself and finding out who this woman is who has made such a strong visual impression on him.
And so Fernando and Marlena meet and marry. Three years later he leaves the bank, where he’s worked his whole adult life, sells his apartment on the Lido where he’s lived his whole adult life, and moves with Marlena to a restored farmhouse near a tiny Tuscan village surrounded by grapes and olives, wild boar, squash blossoms, and church bells.
One evening she calls Fernando to dinner. She’s set their outdoor table, uncovered the chicken dish, uncorked the wine. All that’s wanting is Fernando, and he won’t come out. Instead, he’s bemoaning this new life in Tuscany.
“It was you who made me believe that I could grow to become someone else besides good old Fernando,” he calls down to her from an upstairs window. And she answers: “And do you want me to take on the blame for this, when it was you who resigned from your job without even discussing it with me, when it was you who couldn’t wait to sell the house and begin to be a beginner?”
Marlena writes: I am stunned as I watch from some safe place inside me while this other woman who is me bites the side of her hand, stamps her feet, tosses her hair. Is that really me screaming oaths? . . . Yes, it’s me. Tiny me who just cries when things hurt or smiles, saying something profound and soothing to whoever might be near. Not knowing where she’s headed, Marlena walks into the darkening night wearing only a thin silk dress and flimsy sandals. After a while Fernando goes after her, finally finds her, and they talk.
“When I met you, you were tired of being Fernando, that other Fernando who was poorly used in many quarters. You said you’d always been an honorable and patient and sacrificing person and still people handled you ever more brutally. They knew you’d take it. The bank, the family, the friends, they all trusted your resilience. . . . Why are you making me into your Fernando? Don’t you see that sometimes you treat me just a little in the way others treated you. . . . I just can’t hear you when you scream. And so, in defense, I’m learning to scream, too. And I think I could get very good at it, but then neither one of us will be heard, and there’ll be nothing left to do but walk away.”
Bless the person who tells us the truth about ourselves in a loving way. Bless that true friend.