In 1969, I began working summers at a day camp called Camp Kiwi, named for the flightless bird of New Zealand. A peculiar name for a camp in the City of New York. And more peculiar still given the fact that the camp served children with disabilities.
Camp Kiwi ran for two months each year. I got paid a whopping $100 for the entire first summer. And I loved it. It also helped that, in addition to my getting a summer job, The Kid Brother had a summer camp. Our second summer at “camp,” The Kid Brother’s head counselor was Josephine. She was amazing. He — well, we all — adored her.
|CAMP KIWI VISITING DAY, SUMMER ’72.
JOSEPHINE IS SECOND FROM RIGHT. (I’M THE LONG-HAIRED STICK FIGURE.)
For me, at first, Josephine was exotic. She was from Sicily and arrived in Brooklyn with some of her extended family when she was 12. She was six years my senior and already well-educated, with her first of several degrees in psychology. She remained very Italian… more specifically, very Sicilian. She drove a little white Lancia with rear doors that opened backwards. The car didn’t survive another year, but oh how I loved it. Within a year or so, Josephine and I were the best of friends. She opened my eyes to so much more of the world. We remained exceptionally close for years and then our lives went in different directions for a while. We re-connected only to lose touch again. Josephine is always hard to find. Unlisted phone numbers. Moving to new homes — New York to Italy and back and gone again. As you know, I too can be challenging to keep track of. But, she found me online several weeks ago and it’s been a joy to be re-connected. She’s back in Sicily. So, we’re both living on the Southern Mediterranean (unfortunately, too far to swim).
BEING ITALIAN: ON JOSEPHINE’S TERRACE IN CARRARA, ITALY,
AFTER MY SKINNY BUTT TORE THROUGH THE OLD CANVAS CHAIR AND HIT THE TILE FLOOR.
In addition to being a clinical psychologist, Josephine partnered with her sister, an architect, exporting Italian marble to the United States. Her family had a house not far from our apartment in Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time there. Since she would spend some months each year in Carrara, Italy, tending to the marble business, I would spend time there, too. I loved it and them so much, I tried to transform myself into an Italian.
|AT PINOCCHIO PARK IN THE TOWN OF COLLODI, 1976.
WE LOOK LIKE CARTOONS!
Josephine is currently renovating a house in Sicily that was built in 1700. It was used as a jail in the mid-20th-century. She told me she’s thinking of leaving the iron bars in place on her sister’s door and window. (Don’t tell her sister.) San Geraldo and I are hoping to get there for a visit one of these days.
|JOSEPHINE’S ACCOUNTANT DROVE US UP TO THE QUARRIES IN A TINY FIAT.
HE DROVE LIKE AN ITALIAN. SO, WE NEARLY WENT OVER THE EDGE SEVERAL TIMES.
SHE GOT OUT AND CLIMBED/CRAWLED (I PRETENDED TO NOT BE TERRIFIED IN THE CAR).
|AS FAR AS THE CAR COULD CLIMB.|
|AMAZING. WHERE MICHELANGELO GOT HIS MARBLE.|
The first time I ever saw a bidet was in Josephine’s apartment in Carrara. I was 19 years old. I went to use the bathroom and there it sat next to the toilet. I had to pee. I thought it was a urinal. I peed. When I couldn’t figure out how to flush the thing, I realized it probably wasn’t a urinal. I thought maybe it was a foot bath. Then I decided it was a special tub for washing fine underwear. (I have no idea why…) I did my best to clean it.
The next year (a year older, but not a year smarter), I stayed with their neighbor, Bruna (she called me “MEE-chay”). When Bruna first gave me my towels, I dropped them in the “underwear sink.” I couldn’t figure out why she so quickly moved them. Another time, she asked me to help her hang something in the bathroom. I had just come home from clothes shopping. I dropped my bag in the “underwear sink.” She quickly moved it. I thought, well, everyone has their little quirks.
Now, I’m a grown-up living in Europe. We have our own bidet and I know what it’s for. It’s another place for the cats to sleep.