“History Imagined” invited me to participate on their historical fiction blog. The premise was for me to interview the antagonist in my novel “Bridge of Sighs and Dreams.” Since the protagonist, Angelina Rosini, and the antagonist, Lidia Corsini, shared center stage in the story, I felt it appropriate to include both women in this interview. As the two women are adversaries, I had to employ some fancy footwork in order to persuade these two rivals to sit together for this interview. On several occasions, one or the other threatened to walk out, but in the end, we completed the interview without bloodshed.
Many thanks to “History Imagined” for including me alongside such gifted authors.
The complete interview can be found at:
A partial interview is pasted below.
PA: The year is 1944. I am in Nazi-occupied Rome, sitting in Lidia Corsini’s parlor. First, I want to thank you both for agreeing to this interview. I’ll begin with asking each of you to tell me about where you grew up and your family backgrounds. Angelina, will you start?
AR: Thank you, Miss Allegretto, for your interest in our lives. I regret that we should meet while our beloved Italy is in such a dire situation. I grew up an only child in a centuries-old farmhouse in Faicchio, a small village in Southern Italy, about 60 kilometers inland from Naples. Although my parents were not school educated, nor were quite a few Southern Italians farmers at that time, they were at least literate. They understood the value of an education and insisted that I attend school. Art was my favorite subject. When I was not in school, or helping with the farm chores, I dedicated that time to drawing. Paints, brushes, and canvas were a luxury we could not afford, so I worked on old newspapers with pencils and sometimes bits of charcoal. My parents acknowledged my talent and made countless personal sacrifices in order to pay for my advanced art studies.
PA: Lidia, did you also grow up in Faicchio?
LC: Absolutely not. Do I look like some illiterate farm girl? And may I say, your lack of this rudimentary information tells me that your ability to conduct an intelligent interview is questionable. I grew up in prestigious Vico Equense on the North Coast of the Sorrento peninsula that over-looks the Bay of Naples. My parents died when I was twelve-years-old and my brother, Pietro, was two. Our Zia Carmela took us in. And although she was well set financially, she was an incompetent, pathetic old cow, who left me the task of guardian and authoritarian to Pietro. Naturally, Pietro and I enjoyed proper schooling, unlike the hodge-podge education, if you even want to call it an education, offered in the farm districts.
PA: Yes, well, let’s move on. I understand that you are sisters-in-law. Angelina, you are married to Lidia’s brother, Pietro Rosini. Tell me about him and how you met.
AR: Ah, Pietro, he is my light. He is compassionate and selfless, with a delightful sense of humor and an unwavering optimism. I had gone to study painting in Vico Equense the summer after my high school graduation. I stayed with my uncle, Antonio Lombardi, who was devoted to intarsio, which is the complex process of the inlaid wood art form. I met Pietro on my first visit to my uncle’s workshop. I was immediately intrigued at how Pietro’s muscular arms and broad hands contradicted his delicate intarsio application, as he cut and fit each wood fragment onto an intricate pastoral scene. He had a kindness in his eyes that immediately touched my heart. His compassionate spirit, animated charm, and delightful sense of humor won me over. We had a lovely 3-year courtship before we married.
PA: Lidia, your husband, Aldo Corsini, is quite a renowned portrait artist. How did you meet, and what is he like?
LC: I never “settle.” I have always set my sights on the prize. Aldo was the most suitable bachelor in Vico Equense, so naturally, I determined to have him. He is a generous provider and a kind man, but his passion is directed at his art, not toward me. As for having sex with Aldo, for me, that is just another wifely duty no different from preparing meals and scrubbing floors. He has never been able to satisfy me, and I have little interest in letting him know what I want. However, out of the bedroom, I tell him exactly what I want, and one way or another, I always get it.
PA: Hmmm… Okay, so, let’s talk about your children, and how you see this war and the Nazi occupation affecting them. Angelina?
AR: Gina is just now five-years-old. But this war, the hardships she has endured, and the atrocities she has witnessed, have robbed her childhood. She’s had to flee a rain of bombs and machinegun fire. She has suffered piercing cold and biting hunger and thirst while forced to take refuge in a vile hog shed. Still, her delightful nature seldom dims. Gina is short for Regina, and she is our little queen. She is resilient. Most adults would have been brought to their knees had they experienced even a fraction of what my sweet angel has suffered. She is a bit small for her age, and I blame this on her extended time suffering from malnutrition. Now that we are in Rome, I am certain that she will thrive. She has inherited my tight curls and enthusiastic nature, and Pietro’s round, intense eyes and inquiring mind. Her long lashes that flutter like little wings and the notion of tinkling bells when she giggles are her own.
PA: Lidia, tell me about your son, Carmine.
LC: Carmine is a perfect child. He is eight-years-old but has what many refer to as an “old soul,” whatever that means. He is introspective to a point that often irritates me, as I contemplate what he’s thinking. However, it’s really of no consequence what he thinks, as long as he obeys my orders, which, of course, he always does without faltering. He seldom smiles and almost never laughs but then during these difficult times there is little for which to smile or laugh. He has impeccable manners and never balks at my demands. I suppose I already said that, but it is an important point that deserves repeating. I know that under my astute supervision he will grow to be a successful and powerful man. With me guiding his life, there will be no position out of his reach.
PA: Let’s move on to the war. The Germans occupy your country, and here in Rome, the Nazis have executed a mass roundup of the Jewish population. What are your thoughts on this development, and how does it impact your sensibilities? Angelina?
AR: I am horrified. The Jewish population is comprised of hardworking, creative, compassionate people. Their contribution to the betterment of the city has been significant. Many are doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers, writers, poets, and artists. They have committed no crimes. Some are elderly and infirm. Many are children. These roundups are horrific. Most have been dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and loaded onto trucks like livestock. This bigotry and hate gnaw at my very soul. We are all human beings and should not be judged and persecuted simply by our religious affiliation.
PA: Lidia, your thoughts?
LC: Angelina has always had her head stuck in the sand, maybe it’s her lack of education and cultural refinements, I don’t know and honestly don’t care. Here are the facts: the Nazis occupy Rome. We can all moan and groan and wallow in self-pity, or we can seize the situation and benefit. The Jews just happen to be an unfortunate lot. The ones who were rounded up and shipped off to who knows where were just not smart enough to flee the city when they had the chance. I have no pity for ignorance. They heard the rumors of roundups weeks in advance and should have acted then.
AR: Lidia, how can you be so callous?
LC: And how can you be such a pathetic dreamer? You see the world as though it were a painting on your canvas: all blues and reds and yellows and greens. Well, that is not the real world. The world we live in is black and white and shades of gray. Get used to it!
PA: Lidia, let’s go back to your comment where you said, “We can seize the situation and benefit.” What did you mean?
LC: Look, I am accustomed to a certain lifestyle and will do whatever it takes to not only maintain it but to better it. Certainly, I’m not about to divulge my intentions. However, let me just say that no matter how this war turns out, I intend to be a winner.
PA: So, moving forward, I’d like to play a little word game. I’ll say a word, and you each give me a brief, personal definition: Empathy.
AR: I believe to have empathy is to have strength. When we put ourselves in another’s shoes, we gain knowledge we might not have imagined. To be empathetic makes our lives if you will pardon the cliché, worth living.
LC: Ha! Do you see why I say Angelina has her head in the sand? Empathy is a weakness. The minute you start trying to “put yourself in another’s shoes,” you have lost your power.
PA: Lidia, power seems to be quite important to you.
LC: Power is everything.
PA: Let’s try a different word: Joy.
AR: Joy is the pleasure I feel when I see the delight in my daughter’s eyes as she inspects the petals on a wildflower. Joy is the sound of Pietro’s laughter.
LC: Joy is a fraud. There are only degrees of gratification.
PA: Okay, so, let’s try one more: Guilt.
AR: My sense of failure to do more for the Italian Jews. The emotion I feel when I see the countless homeless Roman mothers and children dressed in rags and begging for scraps of bread while I am fortunate to have Lidia’s hospitality.
LC: Guilt is a useless emotion that I have never experienced. I believe we all make our own destinies, regardless of circumstances beyond our control. Only fools with their heads in the clouds submit themselves to such a foolish sentiment as guilt. Those who seek power cannot afford this weak trait.
PA: I’d like to close this interview by asking each of you to tell me your dreams for the future.
AR: My dream is that Pietro is alive and well and that he will return to us. I also dream of a country free from war. I dream of a happy future for our Gina and also for Lidia’s sweet Carmine.
LC: You can keep Carmine out of your dreams. Carmine doesn’t need your useless dreams. Carmine will be fine with reality, as long as I am in charge of his life. Dreamers are losers. Dreamers are weaklings, incapable of seeing the real world and what must be done to get ahead in it. Dreams are for losers.
AR: Lidia, you can’t mean that. Dreams are what keep our spirits alive.
PA: Maybe we should end this interview here. I know that as an interviewer, I am supposed to remain impartial, but on this last point, I must agree with Angelina. So, I will close this interview on that positive note: Dreams do keep our spirits alive. I thank you both for your time, and I offer my most sincere wish that this war will end soon.