But first, the contest rules:
1. Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles, was a guest blogger yesterday at Bleeding Espresso and today (see below) at My Bella Vita.
2. To be eligible to win a free, signed copy of Justin’s book, you must leave a question for Justin in the comments on one or both of his guest posts. You can leave as many questions as you like, but only one comment on each blog will count toward the contest (maximum of two entries per person).
3. Justin will select some of your questions and answer them at his blog, JustinCatanoso.com. We’ll let you know when to look for the answers.
4. You must leave your questions by 11:59 pm CEST on October 17, 2008 to be eligible for the contest. This contest is open to readers throughout the world – None of that North America only mess that usually excludes us!
5. One winner will be drawn randomly from the eligible comments at Bleeding Espresso, another winner will be drawn from the eligible comments at My Bella Vita, and winners will be announced on the respective blogs October 20, 2008, marking the day of St. Gaetano’s canonization.
And now, here is Justin.
I feel very fortunate to be hosted on this wonderful web site to tell you a bit about my new book, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles (Morrow/HarperCollins) and share a story that is the essence of “la bella vita.”
Like this site, much of my book is centered in Calabria, where my grandfather was born and left, and where his cousin, Gaetano Catanoso, stayed to become a priest and lead a life of remarkable sacrifice and service. He earned his place in the communion of saint’s in 2005. In the summer of 2006, I spent nearly a month in Calabria on my own to learn as much as I could about my family there, why my grandfather emigrated and what the life of the saint was all about.
At the end of each day, I would compose a detailed journal entry of my thoughts and experiences. The brief story that follows, which I called “Almost like falling in love,” did not fit into my book. But it seems perfect to share here:
“I’ve been in Reggio di Calabria nearly a week, and feel more and more Italian every day. My language skills, while poor, seem to be improving and I’m gaining confidence. So I walk into a corner pizza shop intent on buying a slice and hiking back up to my B&B. The woman behind the counter — early 30s, light brown hair pulled back off a friendly, open face — asks me, I suppose, what I would like. I quickly scan the glass cases and point to a rectangular slice of thick-crusted pizza. She says something to me and I don’t catch a word. I assume, though, that she has asked if I would like it heated.
“Intent on giving the impression that I am a local (after all, I certainly look local), I casually say, “Si.” But she looks at me like I’ve just teased her, and I’m suddenly caught off guard by the lovely, playful smile she offers. She repeats slowly what she said with just a touch of attitude, and it seems she has not asked me a yes or no question. What she asked was: Are you eating here or taking out? Embarrassed, I close my eyes and shake my head, before smiling back.
“At that moment, the looks we exchange are what make Italy, north and south, so universally beloved by travelers. There is a kindness and playfulness in the simplest of encounters that seem to arise out of nowhere. Her eyes say it all. “You’re not from here. You can’t speak Italian. But you’re giving it a shot and you’ve made me laugh. I’m glad you came in.” At least, that’s what I read in her eyes.
“Please understand, I had just talked with my wife and each of my daughters on the phone back in America a few hours earlier; I’m entirely devoted and committed to them. And yet, I feel like I’m falling in love, right there in the pizzeria with the woman with the light brown hair. I want to lean across the counter and speak Italian like Al Pacino did in Godfather III – brooding softly and confidently. I am an American writer here to research the life of a saint, my cousin, of course. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, San Gaetano Catanoso? Oh, and if you like, I’ll drop by later and take you out for a glass of wine. I know a great little place on the Corso.
“Yet as is always the case at times like this, my hard-earned ability to butcher the Italian language completely evaporates. I watch as she carefully wraps the pizza in paper, tapes the package closed and asks if I’d like a bag (she holds one up, which is how I know what she said). Si, I manage. Ok, at least I remember that. She smiles one more time, her eyes as lovely as stars, and hands me the package. I resist telling her that I love her and quietly depart. My wife would be proud of me.”
Speaking of Justin’s wife and family, here is a photo of them taken at St. Gaetano’s canonization — Rosalie, Emilia, Sophia, Justin and his wife Laurelyn.
Thank you, Justin for touching on the flirtatious connection that keeps us all in love with Italy.
In Bocca al Lupo … Good luck!