This being an anniversary of sorts, my thoughts turn to our voyage from China to Italy. Our vessel of transport was a cargo ship, the Sebastiano Caboto of Italy’s Lloyd Triestino Lines. My parents, sister Maria and I lived on it for 33 days in virtual suspension from the reality of relocating to a new country. For a few minutes at a time the adults were able to detach themselves from worry about that prospect, while I at 18 was yet an incomplete grownup and fell wholehearted into the community of other young people aboard ship. My resumé included one date with a boy and practically nothing in the way of parties and dancing, much less preparation for working for a living. The communist occupation of Shanghai had thrown into chaos any normal progression I might have had. Maria was 11 years older and knew what was what. She was to act as head of family in our settlement in Italy.
Also on board were two deserters from the French Foreign Legion, Italian nationals, who one night on deck attempted to rape me. I was rescued in time by the Far Eastern agent for the shipping line. The two men spent the rest of the voyage in an improvised brig in the ship’s hold.
Our first stop was at Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. We three went ashore with a group while my father, who was deathly ill, stayed aboard ship. I recall a pleasant sunny day, fair sands and palm trees, and a tour of a temple. Everyone was obliged to enter shoeless but what confused me was the high relief sculpting on the stone wall alongside the entryway: the 12 apostles! Yet I understood this was not a Christian church, so why the apostles? I have no memory at all of the interior, or I would now be able to figure something out.
And something else, much to my sister’s amusement. The tour guide, a Ceylonese man, asked me to marry him. My surprised answer was “But my ship is leaving tonight!”
My novels contain much of the grist of those years; much still unused.