My parents, sister and I landed in Naples, ending our 33-day peaceful voyage from China and crashing into reality. I’ll skim over that part, which I have included in my novel Journey from Shanghai. With no money and nowhere to go, we ended up on a train to Sicily, final destination Catania, in a bombed-out school. Our accommodations were a segment of a large room screened off by a ragged tarpaulin. My father had just had a heart attack. Again, we’ll gloss over that. Too many things, too much to reprise. I leave 1952 gladly in the past.
We were met at the gates of the place by a young Sicilian man, a cub reporter for his newspaper, Tempo Etna, who got all our names wrong in the paper next day. Undaunted, he returned a couple of days later to ask me out of an evening. Well, sure, I was interested. The camp food was tomatoes and bread and I looked forward to a real meal at a restaurant.
Totuccio Biondi duly showed me the town of Catania, all the time with the live volcano Etna brooding over us, he showed me and showed me: the opera house with its interior designed by Bellini, a miracle that it was still standing under Allied bombardment. He then walked us to the ruins of their ancient royal palace, a view of the beach, and past a movie theater. I remember the film being shown, “The Yanks Are Coming.” Then, finally, he bought me an ice cream, and walked me back to the camp.
And do you know what? Next day, the Sicilian women in the camp would not speak to me, snubbing me good and properly. A kindly soul, another woman WHO HAD BEEN NORTH TO NAPLES and had acquaintance with customs there informed me that it was because I had gone out, unchaperoned, with a man.
But Totuccio knew well and good what he was going to my reputation. In Rome a few months later, I received a letter from him wishing me well, and signed “tuo fidanzato” Your fiancé. My sister Maria laughed heartily at that. I didn’t then, but I do now.