Ciao bello….

I was slightly surprised that my aunt was up so early. It was half past eight and normally she doesn’t surface until around ten. I had been up since seven watching the Chelsea game from the night before, which I missed as I was in the hospital with my father.
I had stayed for several hours, talking to him about everything from Bach to my children and football. He was, as my aunt had warned me, “closer to death than to life”. There were flashes of him, but mostly he just lay there, breathing heavily, eyes closed, moaning and now and again yelling “Ostia!” 523931_466908883349736_884495519_n

So I chatted on. I told him at one stage that he’d been a wonderful father, and he opened his eyes almost in shock. I suppose the fact that I didn’t see him between the ages of two and 12 might preclude him from the category of ‘really good dad’. Also his method of fathering would not meet with universal approval. To him the most important thing was that I could speak five languages and quote Dante, he didn’t really care if I ate my greens or had casual sex.
Next door to my father in another bed was a man my aunt called “il mostro“. It is true he was not attractive. He didn’t say much, but now and again shouted out “mamma” to which his ever-present and ever-patient wife would respond: “No I’m not your mother, I’m your wife.” She repeated this sentence with the same regularity that she repeated one other. “Let’s hope Napoli won.” I felt terribly sorry for my father. Not only was he bed-ridden and in pain, but he had a couple of Naples fans next door, one uglier than the other. I could just imagine the abuse they would have received if he had been able to speak.
“This isn’t real,” I told him. “You’re not here. You’re at La Scala, we’re about to see Don Giovanni and at the moment you’re reciting Dante to some beautiful unsuspecting woman. ‘Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria….'” There I had to stop, because even though he has recited this canto to me thousands of times, I couldn’t remember any more. I felt I had let him down. “You’ll have to finish it,” I told him. He looked at me and clutched my hand. “Let’s hope Napoli won,” said the monster’s wife.
When my aunt knocked on my door yesterday morning I was still in my underwear. I had got distracted after the football by the Australian Open. She was fully dressed. I was about to ask her a question I had been thinking about all morning. Could we take some nail scissors and cut my father’s eyebrows? They were really unwieldy. And as I know he likes to shave them off and send them to his enemies I figured we could pop them straight into an envelope and put them under il mostro‘s pillow. I didn’t mention the eyebrow stuff, partly because this is a joke he shares with my children and she would not have understood, but mainly because I didn’t have the chance to open my mouth before she hugged me and said “He’s dead. He waited to see you and then he died. If you want to know what love means, it is that.”24598_101777316529563_3127801_n
To be honest I still don’t really know how his death will affect me, because even though I have met countless people who keep telling me they’re sorry, and I’ve been to the funeral parlour and I’ve met the doctor who treated him and I’ve even seen his body, it just doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. Forever. That’s it. Finito Benito as my father would say. To me he just doesn’t seem to be gone if that makes sense.
He is now lying in state like Stalin (whom he once played in a film). Unlike the other dead there who all have pictures of themselves aged about 80, my father has adopted the columnist’s trick of using a picture from about 50 years ago. So instead of looking like some old codger, he looks like a cross between a young Richard Burton and a less gay Burt Lancaster.24238_108594169181211_1327112_n















Friends and relations are invited to come and pay their respects until tomorrow when he is driven to the crematorium in Ravenna. When the funeral director told my aunt that was where it was she told him that Benedetto would be so pleased, because it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476. The funeral director nodded and looked sympathetic.
“Take a card,” he said, I suspect in an effort to change the subject.
“I’d prefer not to,” said my aunt.
I am on my way to England where I have the difficult task of breaking the news to the children. The girls especially were really close to him, they loved his zany ways and crazy imagination. No one could make them laugh like he could. I’m just so happy they all saw him as I want to remember him, sitting on a rock in a beautiful garden close to Rome reciting Dante.
In life as in death my father did as he wanted. I believe he decided when to die, and I guess that makes it easier to bear.
He has one last act of rebellion too. We forgot to bring his underwear. So although he is dressed in his Sunday best, he’ll be heading to the crematorium commando.
He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

11 thoughts on “Ciao bello….

  1. Hels. You write beautifully about your father. What a handsome, mischievous maverick who has brought a year to my eye. Much love to you and the children.

  2. I read your book Ciao Bella years ago and felt very close to you in many ways. I felt what you tried to express when describing your unique relationship with your father and, a part of me, really really liked this charming self-centered intelilgent man. Just want to say I am sorry and, once again, feel close to you.

  3. Je connaissais ton père seulement par ton roman Ciao Bella et par les différentes allusions dans d’autres articles. Il était sans aucun doute un personnage hors du commun. Je suis désolé pour lui, pour toi et ta famille. Jacques

  4. So sorry for your loss. I am a friend of your mother’s, I lived in Italy for several years in my twenties and enjoy reading your blog. So much of what you wrote here resonates with my own experience of losing my dad, now five years ago. I simply could not believe I would never see him again, as you say it just does not seem real. I also believe that my dad knew what was happening and did it his way in the end until he could fight no longer; this still brings me some comfort when I think of this incredibly painful time.
    In the words of Helen Keller: “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us”.

  5. sto leggendo ciao bella, non conoscevo i suoi libri e mi sto divertendo molto. ho cercato il suo blog perchevolevo segnalarle un’ imprecisione all’inizio del terzo capitolo ( l’autore di Cristo si e fermato a eboli si chiama Carlo Levi, non Primo) e ho letto la triste notizia della morte di suo padre. mi dispiace molto per la sua perdita, ma e`bello pensare al rapporto cosi`affettuoso che ha avuto con lui in questi anni. il ricordo sara`di consolazione, come anche la grande impressione che la persona di suo padre suscta in chi legge il libro. se permette, la abbraccio affettuosamente.

  6. Your father would be annoyed at the inadequacy of my comment, but my thoughts are with you and your family. He seemed like a very special person, and I think his 5-language goal for you certainly was an admirable one. I’m sure that he was pleased with you for passing it along to his grandchildren!

  7. Just caught up on reading this and so sorry to read that your father had passed. I sent you an email a long time ago, that you graciously replied too, thanking you for writing Ciao Bella because it mirroed my own upbringing and father so much. Your book means a lot to me and your father will always live in your words. Grazie

  8. Visited your blog after a long time. Sorry to read that you lost your father a few months ago.

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