|This photo is more than ten years old, and the wreath is a|
memorial, not a Christmas decoration. It marks the spot
where the ashes of the Risiera's victims are kept.
I mean, you hear all the time that a book can take you to another time and place, but Chris helped me put that cliche` to the test.
It all started in a living room in Trieste, Italy, in the early 1990s. I had just visited the Risiera, a little-known concentration camp that operated under Nazi rule during the end of World War II. I asked my host about it.
I had the same feeling as when I asked people at home about Viet Nam. Nobody wanted to talk about it. But my host did tell me a little.
It was a bit of a shock to discover the place I loved had a dark past. A concentration camp. Violence between fascist and communist, Italian and Slav. Continued violence even after the war was supposed to be over. A British/American occupation. And I knew just enough about it to be curious.
That curiosity was shelved while I went home, finished my education, got married, found a reporter job, quit the job, became a mom. But eventually the children were old enough that I could focus on something for more than five minutes, and that old curiosity was still burning.
|These Roman ruins were really interesting, but I later learned|
they had their own controversy. Buildings in the Slavic side of
town were destroyed when Mussolini unearthed them,
presumably to strengthen Italy's historic claim on the region.
All of this was good, but very little of the research material I was laboring over had been written in the 1930s and 40s. For that, I turned to Interlibrary Loan. I can't remember how I found the books I ordered from our small town library. I just remember that Chris helped me order them. One--an account of the suffering of Slavic peoples under Mussolini's rule in Trieste--was so old its glue binding had failed. It was held together with rubber bands. Chris was there with me as I scratched my head, wondering if there was any way I could return that book the way I found it. As soon as I opened the pages, they fell apart.
Another book--my favorite of them all, because it was written in conversational English--was by Colonel Alfred Bowman, the military government officer who oversaw the American occupation of the city following the war. (The Allied Military Government stayed and ran the place into the 1960s. Apparently it's always been hard to come up with an exit strategy.) He shared my awe of the gulf-side view as the sun went down. It was amazing that watching night fall by the water could be shared between strangers across the decades.
|Chris. You can't tell, but she's on Santa's knee.|
That article stunk. (I read it again recently. It's terrible. There's a reason my writing buddies told me to stay with fiction.)
Later I went to the library and found something fun. Chris was at the desk. "What?" she said. "You're reading a mystery?"
"Well, it is summer," I said.
Lately I've missed the mind-stretching, though. I'll be rolling that work into my next fiction project, I think.
Chris has moved on, so I'll have to find another librarian to shepherd me through the questions I will undoubtedly need to answer. I can find more online now than I could then, but I'll probably be hanging out with dusty books again.
The beauty of it--the true miracle--is that it can be done from a small town in a mountain valley across an ocean.