Possibilities

I haven’t written a short story for awhile, so I’ll go with the prompt from Word of the Day: POSSIBILITIES

Dark Door

My spirits are as bright as the sky above as I hurry down the street of the small Italian village. I’m so thrilled to think of what Gabriel is doing for me. It’s beyond wonderful! A few more blocks — maybe fifteen minutes — and I may be meeting my great Aunt Vittoria. Oh, I hope I’ve really found her!

Just before the Second World War my grandparents, Arturo and Bianca Santini, emigrated to Toronto from this little town in the north of Italy. Still teenagers, and just married, they left most of their family behind, promising to send for the others once they’d made their fortune in the land where money grew on trees.

Talk about delusion! Life as an immigrant in Toronto turned out to be decades of hard scrabble. Yes, they’re comfortable in their old age, but never have had the cash to support other family members. Still, it’s been their intention to someday come back, revisit their childhood home and renew family ties. Grandfather’s heart problems have prevented them from making the trip now, but I determined that I would visit this village and do what I could to restore the lost family connections on their behalf.

I started working as a physiotherapist and saving my money; now, with a little help from folks and grandpas, I had enough cash to make this two-week trip. April 8, 1996 was the big day! My parents and grandparents drove me to the airport in Toronto and I was off and the adventure of a lifetime. Before I boarded Mom waved a finger at me: “Don’t let any handsome young Italian turn your head. We don’t want you staying there!”

I landed in Firenze, I rented a car and headed for Pisa — the Leaning Tower being one of the first tourist stops on my list. I visited several more spots, then headed north toward the Alps where I finally found the little village I’ve heard so much about from Grandpa and Grandma.

For the first couple of days I just wandered around, getting a feel of the place and practicing my poor Italian on the natives. If they shake their heads, I pull out my Italian phrases book and show them what I’m trying to say. They laugh, shake their heads again, and pronounce it properly, delighted when, after half a dozen tries at copying, I finally get it right.

I visited the cemetery and found the great-grandparent’s graves. I visited the town records office, where I learned that my grandfathers’ siblings all scattered after the war. There are no Santinis left here, sorry. Maybe in the next village? Grandma’s sisters likely remarried and changed their names. I should check the church records.

Those first few mornings I’ve been enjoying real Italian espressos at a little bistro that caters to tourists like me. I was there yesterday when a very handsome young man approached me. Thankfully he does okay in English and I didn’t need my little book of phrases. He introduced himself as Gabriel Venturi and excused himself for being so bold, but said I look so much like his Auntie Ginevra did when she was young. He asked where I’m from and if I have family here in the village?

Grasping at the possibility of a connection, I spilled out the story of my grandparents who left before the war. He studied me closely until I turned very pink, then he apologized for being rude and asked, “Was your Grandma a Ricci before she married?”

Hope flared like fireworks. “Yes! And her two sisters stayed here, Maria and Vittoria. Grandpa’s parents had died in an accident but three of his brothers and a sister were here when he left. All communication stopped after the war, though.”

He looked rather grave for a moment. “A lot of young men died in the war, out in the battlefields. Or in the ocean. And others emigrated, hoping for a more peaceful life elsewhere. Your grandparents did well to leave when they did. But I think I maybe can help you. Vittoria Lorenzo, my Auntie Ginevra’s mother is still alive, though she’s very old and not able to get out much. She was a Ricci before she married and I think she did have a sister who went to Canada. Of course these are very common names and perhaps no relation. Still, I’ll talk to my auntie. Meet me here tomorrow morning and I’ll see if I can arrange for you to meet them.”

My heart skipped a beat. Could this old lady really be Grandma’s sister?

Gabriel smiled. “If you would like to walk around the town with me, I’ll show you where the Ricci family lived when those girls were growing up.”

I’ll confess, my heart did flutter a bit as we walked along. This man could be a tour guide. I wondered for a moment just what he did for a living, but the chance never came up. He seems like a great person to talk to about any subject under the sun.

Not only did he show me around the town, but also bought us a delicious dinner at the hotel. I did wonder for a moment when the young waiter gave him a sly wink. They must be friends. Or maybe he thought I was Gabriel’s new girlfriend. I didn’t see any wedding ring, but I still made a point of asking him if he had a wife or sweetheart. He shook his head, looking — or trying hard to look— very dejected, then asked about my work in Toronto. Again I wanted to ask what he did for a living, but somehow we never got to that topic.

This morning he met me at the café as promised and told me he’d arranged for me to meet my possible Great-Aunt Vittoria. He said he’d go a few minutes early and explain things to her again — she’s old and very forgetful. I should wait five minutes and then walk straight uphill from the bistro, cross five streets, and turn right at Giordano. Half a block up I’d see #16. Vittoria’s daughter lives downstairs and keep a box of pink flowers in the window and there’s a birdhouse hanging by the door. He’d be sure to leave the door ajar for me; I should go up the stairs to the first floor and knock at the second door. He’ll be waiting in the apartment with Vittoria and Aunt Ginevra.

So I’m following instructions, hurrying along with high hopes my search will be rewarded. Won’t Grandma Bianca be thrilled to know her sister still lives here in the village! If it’s her…

Suddenly some other possibilities sweep through my mind. Suspicions. I’ve always had a suspicious nature and now it’s rearing its ugly head, growling like the Troll of Terror. “Is Gabriel really the helpful fellow he’s pretending to be? What if, instead of meeting a sweet old lady, I’ll be meeting a couple of thugs? How can I know?” My feet start to drag.

I turn the corner at Giordano Street and see an old man sitting on a bench. I greet him politely and ask about Vittoria… Oh, what was her married name? I ask about Ginevra. He nods and points to the house down the street. Number 16. He holds up fingers to show me, just in case I don’t get it. I wince, knowing how poor my Italian really is. He says something else and I catch it that Vittoria is very old, very old.

Somewhat reassured, I approach the door, standing ajar just as Gabriel said it would be, and see the dark stairway inside.

“I’ll gladly hand over my cash, if that’s what they want. Wait! I’m being foolish.” I take the first few steps up the shadowy staircase and heave a sigh. “At least my passport and ID are hidden at the Inn. If this is a robbery, they won’t get that.” I scold myself for being such a fraidy cat and walk up the rest of the stairs. Gabriel is too kind and friendly to be a crook. “He surely wouldn’t let anyone murder me.”

Now I’m facing the door. I give it a couple quick knocks and hold my breath. Such possibilities!

Gabriel opens the door and waves his hand, inviting me in with a flourish. I take a step forward and my eyes pop open. The little old lady sitting in a soft chair and smiling up at me is a perfect copy of Grandma Santini.

Word-lovers’ Camaraderie

A word-lovers’ fiesta that forgottenman started in Judy Dykstra-Brown‘s post, Cellar Door, has led to me writing this poem as my repartee. While I’m normally one who prefers simple words, I get into the spirit of weighty-words now and then. Now this collocation can be my response to the Word of the Day prompt: CAMARADERIE.

NOTE: I’ve given definitions at the end, so you won’t have to look up these heavy-weights like I did. 🙂

Ode to Periphrasis

The persiflage of my propinquity
Thanksgiving afternoon
led to my iniquity
of falling asleep to the croon
of Uncle Freddie’s monologue,
his riparian success
at anadromous angling—
and somehow in the mess

I muttered words inchoate
that enthralled my kith and kin
disrupting Fred’s rodomontade
in the middle of his spin.
Then all ears were attentive
to what I might reveal
of dissolute behaviour
in my half-conscious spiel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dictionary:
camaraderie – a spirit of friendly good-fellowship
repartee – a quick and witty reply
collocation – the act or result of arranging or placing together.
Specifically: arrangement or conjoining of linguistic elements (such as words)

periphrasis – use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form
persiflage – frivolous bantering talk
monologue – a long speech monopolizing conversation
riparian – relating to the bank of a natural watercourse, river, lake, or tidewater
anadromous – ascending rivers from the sea for breeding –like salmon that go upriver to spawn
inchoate – imperfectly or partly formed, incoherent
rhodomontade – a bragging speech
dissolute – lacking restraint, especially in things thought of as vices

“Are You A Nazi?”

An old BeeGees song comes to mind:
“It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
Or
to praise and honour you
to despise and insult you
to blame and incriminate you
to acquit and justify you
to inspire and encourage you

WORDS: Comfort or Cudgel?

Fandango’s prompt word for today is REPRESS
Words are our tools, with which we express, impress, repress
— or resist repression.

ME? A NAZI?

I was working at the doughnut shop one evening, doing a bit of clean-up during a slack time, when one of my co-workers, a young man in his early 20s, walked in. Totally off work and out of uniform, he strolled behind the counter — where he had no business being.

At almost the same moment the staff entrance door at the back opened an ex-employee strode in quite purposefully. He’d quit several months before, so he certainly had no business coming in that entrance. Age: mid-thirties, wearing a long black trench coat, he walked behind the counter like he owned the place and helped himself to a jumbo coffee. Then he turned and handed the first co-worker a fat roll of bills and left by the back door again. My co-worker pocketed the cash and remained standing behind the counter.

I was initially stunned. This was a flagrant violation of our rule about being on shift and in uniform when behind the counter. They were also displaying a major contempt for me — a contempt I’d often felt while working with either of them in the past. I didn’t see the need to speak, since neither of those guys were going to listen to a word I said. You don’t need to say one word to show your contempt for someone. I had a strong suspicion what this was all about, which made it all the more insulting. They were dealing right in my face, as it were.

A moment later I protested to my co-worker that he had no business being behind the counter in street clothes. Maybe he saw me as repressive because he lipped off with this reply: “What are you, a Nazi? Are you the Gestapo?”

I put on my best German accent and answered, “You haff to obey ze ru-els.” His response was a disgusted snort and he walked out.

Could I have claimed “defamation of character”? Since I’m not a racist nor a German, I could hardly be a Nazi. And since I’m not a member of Hitler’s private police, I couldn’t be one of the Gestapo.

Alas! We seem to be in an era where accusations are flying left and right without proof or legal repercussions. I’d better qualify that: unless the recipient of your vitriol is from some racial or ethnic minority or the remark is deemed to be sexist. My co-worker and I were both white and Nazi isn’t exactly sexist. So there I was.

Also without witness. He was always quite careful about that.

DEFINE “NAZI”

For some, the definition’s simple. “Anyone with rules I don’t like.”

In my understanding a Nazi is someone who belonged to the Nazi party in Germany, or at least subscribed to their political platform. Or someone who belongs to the new Neo-Nazi movement I’ve heard about. To my co-worker it meant, “I don’t like you or your ideas and I’m not going to listen to anything you say.” Which might include any parent, employer or worker who thinks their offspring, employees, or co-workers should follow the rules.

Ideologically, my rock-band-drummer-pusher co-worker and I were on opposite ends of the universe. “Nazi” was a handy rock to toss at me right at that moment. Maybe I shouldn’t complain, though. There are a lot worse verbal rocks flying these days.

Well, I have something in common with the US President now, seeing he’s often been called a Nazi. As far as actually subscribing to the Nazi political ideology or being a member of that party, I wonder if he’s any more of a Nazi than I am? I’ll leave that question to more informed people than myself, but to me the term seems to be saying, “I hate whatever he stands for.”

One thing I wonder: Do those folks who suffered such atrocities at the hands of the real Hitler and his real Nazis feel disgusted when we with such cushy lives sling this term around so freely?

WHAT’S A STUPID QUESTION?

I made a quick stroll around the internet this morning and stopped in for a discussion with Kristian (see Tales from the mind of Kristian) about the word STUPID. We’re in agreement: out with it!

If “I didn’t sleep a wink” and “It’s raining cats and dogs” are outdated clichés that must be avoided now, I propose we add the word Stupid to the list of outdated clichés and forget it. Along with Idiot and Imbecile. (Dough-head was one of my dad’s favourites.) You can probably think of a few more.

They’re only words, but cruel ones, and they’ve been around too long.

THE MOST HELPFUL WORDS

I visited J.S. Park’s blog this morning, too, and read his answers to a reader’s question about helping someone get through depression. “Working Through Depression As A Team.” His closing thought is worth echoing around the world. I trust he won’t mind me repeating it here:

What’s the Most Helpful?

Once in a while, tell a person you love them just because. No reason. Many of us who struggle with depression feel like we’re bothering everyone all the time. They need to know they’re loved in the middle of that. That’s a God type of love. “I love you just because.” That’s a really big deal, to be loved that way.

In life we’ll meet lots of people who sling angry words at us and point out our failings. Don’t we all wish for someone to come along side and just care? A friend who looks at us honestly and still sees a few good points, who encourages us and praises our efforts even if we’re down in the dumps? And to be a friend like that?

As the song says, by using our words wisely we can win hearts.

Being Inscrutable

When I saw Fandango’s word for today, BEING, I thought the passive voice in writing, and of this tongue-in-cheek discourse I once wrote. Warning: confusion ahead. 🙂

A PASSION FOR PASSIVE

Attending a writing workshop, the subject was raised as to passive voice, herein referred to as PV, versus the active voice. It was explained to us by the workshop leader that the PV is seen as a grave error by modern editors.

It was explained to us by our instructor that the verb “to be” is always used (by writers) to form the passive voice. Hence, we were told, a careful examination must be made of each “to be” verb in every form — is, are, was, were was, etc— lest a passive voice be allowed (by carelessness) to slip in. In fact we’re urged to avoid the state of being verbs in general, to use went instead of was/were going, go instead of am/are going, etc.

Later, while a lovely walk in the country was being enjoyed by me, my mind was being teased by a brilliant idea: a writing should be composed as completely in the PV as possible, that its virtues may be lauded (by me). Thus this writing is being offered to you as an alternative to thinking being promoted by short-sighted editors.

(Wherever a slip into the active voice is deemed necessary, proper notice will be given by the initials “AV”.)

The passive voice is formed when the subject of a sentence – the doer of the deed – is obscured (by the one telling the tale) somewhere among stated or implied end-of-sentence phrases, while the object of the sentence has been forced (by the writer) to lead the way. Whenever such convolutions are made in sentences (by said writer), there must always be a “by” — stated or not. For purposes of clarification during this whimsical writing, these shall be duly marked (by me) in brackets.

Hence the AV construction, “I slipped on a banana peel” is turned into the passive “A banana peel was slipped on.” By me, but that part need not be added, lest (subjunctive) I appear rather clumsy. After all, it might have been dropped by someone else, which (AV) makes it their fault anyway, right?

During our workshop it was explained to our instructor that the passive voice can be used (by writers) to remain anonymously humble – or leave someone else anonymously humble. The self-promoting “I” can be buried forever (by the writer) in the “back forty” of the sentence.

And not only “I + me” but any other indication of something outstanding being done by someone among us. Several reasons may be offered (by whoever wants to) for this: if some action has been taken (by whoever) that may be deemed (by the hearer) offensive, the perpetrators can be forever hidden (by the teller of the tale.)

Likewise, a solution can be found (by someone) without any congratulatory pat on the back (by recipients) to the finder. And if it was a poor solution it will be unknown (by the ones upset) on whom to put the blame. Thus the most words can be used (by the prudent) with the least information actually being revealed. This same policy has been specialized in by government officials for ages.

Passive voice can also be used (by writers spilling their lifeblood–or someone else’s) to avoid humiliation or acrimonious litigation. “Suggestions were made about the Mayor’s involvement,” sounds much safer than to have it admitted (by some blabbing reporter) that “Tom Smith suggested (AV) the Mayor was getting a kickback (from interested investors).” Especially if Tom Smith and/or the Mayor could sue. And if the investors are named, they might sue (AV) as well.

Of course, objections to the use of PV are usually raised by word-count-conscious editors. The most said (by writers) using the least number of words remains ever (AV) the passion of those insensitive red-pen types. That all shall be blabbed up front (by the writer) — subject first — is insisted upon (by modern editors)!

Nevertheless, a continuous demand shall always be held forth (by those afraid of offending) for the obscurity of PV. So let it be learned by us to execute it well in our writing endeavours. Should it be wished by modern editors to execute it literally, theirs will be the loss in the end. Much will remain unwritten to avoid embarrassment.

NOTE:
Dangling &/or confusing clauses are often (AV) one undesirable result. By using great vigilance, avoidance of these can be accomplished.

Anonymity is wished for by the author lest she be blacklisted by the aforesaid editors.

Getting a Handle on Better English

Verbs and Objects, Active and Passive Voice

I wrote these examples in connection with a writing class I took in 2010. I decided to post the lesson here, hoping it might help will someone who’s learning to write English.

As we learned back in school days, there are two types of verbs:
Transitive – verbs that transfer action:
Bess ate the cake; The child spilled his drink; Tom punched the pillow.

–Intransitive – verbs that cannot transfer action
To be is an intransitive verb–it cannot transfer any action.
You can be grouchy (adjective modifying you);
you can be in a hurry (preposition modifying you);
you can be a sweetheart; you can be on the ball,
but you can’t be (as in transfer action to) the ball.

Other verbs are seldom used in a transitive form:
She yelled at her sister; the babies cried for their milk;
the leopard leaped on the deer; the deer ran from the leopard
Take the sentence, He walked on the grass.
On the grass is a prepositional phrase used to modify the verb walked.

To have is a transitive verb, as are most others;
you can have the ball; you can toss the ball; you can bat the ball;
the leopard can chase the deer; Dad can mow the grass, etc.

To complete their meaning, transitive verbs must have an object:
The boy kicked the fence because he was angry.
But…
The child kicked and screamed. This is an intransitive use of the verb.
To be transitive, he must have kicked something: the floor; his mother.
But he couldn’t scream the floor, or scream his mother.
You can scream nasty words to somebody, but it wouldn’t be the clearest phrase to use.
You can toss or hurl nasty words at somebody and be grammatically correct — but very wrong socially. and dangerous if the somebody is bigger than you.

The passive voice is formed by turning the sentence around.
You start with a transitive verb and a direct object:
He hit the ball; she knocked the glass off the counter;
Tom slapped his sister; Mother kissed the cut on the child’s arm.

And you turn it around. To put the object first you would say:
The ball was hit by him;
The glass was knocked off the counter by her;
His sister was slapped by Tom;
The cut on the child’s arm was kissed by its mother.
But I will warn you that editors do not like passive voice.

There are also indirect objects, the to whom or to what:
He hit the ball to his sister; she lent the book to her friend;
the teacher handed the papers to the students;
Mother took the children to the zoo.

It’s harder to form passive voice with all these objects in the way:
The ball was hit to his sister by Tom;
the book was lent to her friend by her;
the papers were handed to the students by the teacher;
the children were taken to the zoo by Mother.

So the “by who”–the actual subject–tends to get dropped altogether.
The papers were handed to the students.
The children were taken to the zoo.

Adding another clause may confuse things even more:
While we were playing ball, Mother took the children to the zoo. Active voice, very clear.

Passive voice: confusing:
The children were taken to the zoo while we were playing ball by Mother.
(You were standing beside Mother while playing ball and someone else took the children to the zoo?)

While playing ball, the children were taken to the zoo by Mother.
(Now the original ball players are lost from view and the children seem to have been doing that.)

While playing ball, Mother took the children to the zoo.
(In the middle of her ball game, Mom left for the zoo?)

This is why editors don’t like passive voice and writers will mostly avoid it. There’s just too much potential for confusion. The time passive voice comes in handy is when you don’t know who did the action or it doesn’t matter.

A parrot was spotted in the park. (No one cares who saw it; it’s the parrot that’s important, though you could say “Someone saw a parrot in the park.”)

The bank doors were locked every day at 5pm. (It doesn’t matter who locked them.)

While the employees were on lunch break, the store was robbed. (No one saw who did it.)

A Stress-Full Language

Have you ever wondered why English is so hard to learn?

Comedian
If you’re laughing because you think I’m funny, that’s great.
But if you’re laughing because you think I’m funny, that’s not funny.

It’s because English is such a stress-full language.

Without stress on the right words, the caption under the speaker makes no sense at all. Just why English evolved this way no one knows, but most other languages (I’ve heard) don’t add this kind of stressing to change the meaning of a phrase.

“Amber’s going to play the part of Lady MacBeth in the school play?”
(Amber? I don’t believe it)

“Amber’s going to play the part of Lady MacBeth in the school play?”
(Why on earth would they give her that part?)

“Amber’s going to play the part of Lady MacBeth in the school play.”
(No, not in the movie, not on a stage. just in the play at her school.)

So let’s have a little compassion for the brave souls who undertake to learn this flexible, but quite complex, language of ours.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PS:
If you’re new to blogging,, you might like to know that WordPress has provided us with the ability to stress certain words. If you want to leave a comment on someone else’s blog, you can emphasize words  by typing in <em> then your words to be italicized and then finish with </em>.

This can come in handy at times, especially if you want to quote someone, but you must remember to do both sides of the command or else you’ll end up with <em> or else </em> in your text and everyone will see you forgot the other half.

Bold is made by typing in <strong> then the words and then </strong>.