Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Italian Clown

A story, more than a post. I needed to ramble and let this roll around in my mind. You may want a cuppa for this one.

I was finally on the last leg of my journey from Glenside, PA to Fabriano, Italy. The first gusts of Italy were just swaying my hair and I had a pizza margherita and grapes wrapped in paper for my train journey from Rome to Fabriano. Navigating Termini in Rome was not so hard for a city girl from Philly and the right train was waiting for me.

I found a seat, smiling and buon giorno-ing the older woman who sat opposite with her ticket on the small shelf under the window. Just as the train began to make its creaking sounds that assure you that shortly you'll be underway, the train door opened and striding on board was a young man. Tall and dark and untidy as young men can be. The burst stirred Madame's ticket which flew from it's perch and the young man, graceful as a dance, swooped down to retrieve it and settle it back with a gentle unhurried smile and pardone.

His backpack flew up to the rack above and he smiled and asked me, in English - how did he know? - if he could put mine up as well. Grazie. There was no way I could have gotten that bag to the rack without standing on my toes on the train seat after eating spinach, Pop-Eye style, for a couple of weeks. Up it went.

There were seven of us seated on the train.

Canio is the lead role in the Italian opera, Pagliaccio (The Clowsn)

The young man (I'll call him Canio) and older woman began speaking rapid Italian. Soon, the other four Italian passengers were engaged. I assumed that they were perhaps all from the same small town. I was smiling quite stupidly out the window, enjoying the lyrical sounds of their language, as they chatted and chortled, and the passing scenery.

A grove of cypress trees.

Canio's hair is shoulder length, a mass of curls, a rich nearly-coffee, brown, pulled back with a navy blue hairband. His mother's heart would brim at the sight of her beautiful boy. And that is what he is. Not handsome, not "hot." He is beautiful in the same non-sexual way that a painting or the Italian countryside might be. His eyes, slanting downward at the outside edges, are almost black. Despite the mournful shape, they are not sad. They are deep and you can see his soul there. His skin-tone is Mid-Eastern dark. His face is a long oval, full lower lip and sharp points on the upper lip. His nose is long and straight but in no way sharp. There is a soft roundness at the end of his nose, though his nostrils flare out. There are no angles at all to him. Rather a gentle bulkiness. 

In between, Canio translated some of what was being said for my benefit and seamlessly brought me into the circle. I made friends. The older woman wanted to know where I was going and where I was from. And, of course, I wanted the same. We shared and, I think, that my appreciation of what was passing out the window and through our part of the train was indeed "Bella Italia." Beautiful Italy. It translates nicely. Sometimes, you don't need language.

There is something magical about that young man. He is from Milano. He is a clown. He works at the hospital and saves his euro so that he can travel and work with needy children. He'd just returned from Africa where he clowned and before that, India. His eyes and posture reveal a soul filled with magic and kindness. He created a small community there on our train. Not focused on himself but focused on community.

I drew him later, quickly, in my sketchbook. My sketchbook was in the bag that blew up on the rack. I wouldn't have drawn him anyway right then. I was too much in the moment and that moment was given to a kind of gentle crackling that involved my concentration fiercely. Better to draw later - my impression of that moment.

Canio got off the train before me and, as promised, delivered my bag effortlessly at my feet and then, with another gust, was gone. The moment over. The new friends I'd met made certain that I got off at the correct stop and wish me a safe and happy visit.

Yes, the trip certainly started on a magical note. I need to explore Canio's face further, so will probably make more sketches and watercolors along the line. But this is a good beginning

So much of what I saw and experienced in Italy was quickly captured in my sketchbook. I feel it may be months before I've extracted all of it.

Thank you for your well wishes on my tendonitis. It feels somewhat better. I recommend a brace!


Jeannie said...

What a wonderful introduction to Italy! I am always drawn (no pun intended) to people with soulful eyes. Their eyes capture me and when they speak, my instinct is confirmed. They are magicians at bringing people together. Thanks for sharing your story and art.

Diana Trout {} said...

This guy was really special. I thank whatever fates put me on that train and in that seat.

Joy said...

I am so jealous! One - you've been to Italy! I'm Italian and an artist - definitely a required trip sometime in my lifetime! Two - you could draw his face LATER! Lol - OMG I'd be able to see it clearly in my head, but I assure you I would do irreparable rearranging of that poor child's face. LOVELY!! Can't wait to see more.

Jane Davies said...

WOW! THanks for sharing this! Tendonitis? Ick!

Jane Davies said...

Did I mention, the portrait is absolutely haunting! Beautiful!

Diana Trout {} said...

If I were 20 years younger, I would have a crush on Canio.

Hazel said...

What a lovely soulful portrait! Some people are just naturally life enhancers and it seems that yo met one in Canio.

Sorry to hear you have been suffering and hope you are healing well.

Judy said...


Thank you for sharing your delightful story.

lyric said...

sigh. Ahhhh - how lovely. How magical.
People are so wonderful

teri said...

I loved traveling by train in Italy! It was a bit like being on an airplane when they came up the aisles with beverages and snacks. I wish we could get reserved seats here in the U.S. as they have them on the Italian trains -- I've had days where I got a ticket to the Hamptons and then stood for 3 hours because there were no seats!

Jill Berry said...

What a lovely, Italian post. I can feel every nuance. Once on a similar train, the father across from me handed out sandwiches to his children, then set one on my knee. How did he know I had not eaten? I cannot wait to go back.


Anonymous said...

Such a lovely encounter - and a simply BEAUTIFUL retelling of it!!