English | Italian
Winners' Press Release: English | Italian
Second Round Finalist (English)
6 Finalist (English)
1st Place Winner of the Literary Contest: "Words of Salt"
Christine Recchia is an Italian translator and writer from Philadelphia. Struck by the overwhelming beauty of Rome and Italy during an undergraduate semester in Rome, a country she described in postcards sent home as “tailor-made” for her, she focused on Italian studies and earned and bachelor’s degree in Art History and Italian from Temple University, and then completed a Masters degree in Italian at the University of Pennsylvania. Her interests include everything Italian : music, cinema, wine and regional cuisine. At the table, as in life, Ms. Recchia likes to balance the salty with the spicy, and the bitter with the sweet, and looks forward to her next adventure in Italy. email: email@example.com
Bettina Werner: Christine, you obviously love writing and language, especially the Italian language. Where does this love come from?
Bettina Werner: Where in Italy do you feel most at home? Is there a certain area you love the most?
Bettina Werner: Do you follow Italian cinema? Italian music?
Bettina Werner: So what are you working on these days?
Bettina Werner: Other projects?
Bettina Werner: Why did you submit a story to “Words of Salt”?
TOO MUCH TO BEAR
Ah, so that’s what it was: oregano. Wild oregano. Sitting with my son on a quiet beach near Ostuni, in Puglia, I finally recognized it and cautiously allowed the scent to lead my thoughts, curious as to why it was so captivating.
I had been sitting in a chair, watching Paolino play in the water, still tired from the flight. I so wanted some peace, so wanted to ignore my inconvenient suspicions that no matter how much I didn’t want to, I would have to radically change my life or I would lose myself. There was no refuge from my thoughts, no refuge from the truth, no place of comfort without or within. It was almost too much to bear, and I would have shut down all my senses if I could. I dismissed every shade of blue my eye rested on, smoothed back every hair the wind blew out of place, and covered my bare legs from the bright sun. When a breeze carried the herbal scent to me I woke up, slightly tormented, trying to put my finger on it, because I knew it, I had smelled it a million times before, and yet…it didn’t belong here, not in this setting. I had never smelled that on a beach in America.
But it was oregano. Every breeze that carried that fragrance provoked me, determined to persuade me to look around, to notice what was around me. And the only thing to watch was a young couple who had joined us on this strip of sand and had pitched a tent at one end. The curved beach, the rocks that embraced the sea on either side, was a theater; the cerulean sky and the turquoise of the sea merged into a stage and backdrop. The couple was in the middle of this scene, swimming, never far apart; then coming together, laughing and kissing, her arms and legs wrapped around him as he carried her around in the water, effortlessly, buoyantly. As I sat and watched from behind my sunglasses, I dug my feet deeper into the cool part of the sand. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the last time someone kissed me, the last time I wrapped my legs around a man, the last time the prospect of carrying me around effortlessly inspired anyone to pick me up.
Paolino jumped on me, giggling delightedly because he startled me and got me wet. “Mommy, can I go see those people over there? They have a tent.”
What a beautiful boy, with his big, dark eyes and long, wet eyelashes. “No, sweetheart. They don’t speak English and you don’t speak much Italian. Why don’t you look for some crabs or find some shells for me?” I caressed his dripping hair and watched as he ran over to some rocks, and I noticed that the couple was entering the tent.
I looked out at the sea again, focusing on nothing in particular, and uncovered my legs to try to get some color. To feel the sun burn a little, actually. Before long another oregano-scented breeze aroused me once more, reminding me to pay attention. I glanced over to the tent, and realized that no one had come out for quite a while. The volume of the breaking waves spared me the temptation of trying to listen for any sounds that might be coming indiscreetly from that direction. I kept an eye on Paolino, cringing as he ran even a few feet in their direction, ready to call him back. I was relieved when he settled near me to make a sand castle, absorbed in his pail and shovel, and I found myself averting my eyes, trying to avoid looking over at them and imagining what was happening.
I ignored the next tease of oregano for as long as I could, until I had to look up. The couple was out of the tent, eating sandwiches on a blanket; there was nothing more romantic than their picnic, prosciutto e formaggio and a bottle of water passed back and forth. I looked at her, and at him, and wondered about their desire for each other. She was quite robust, almost indecently spilling out of her bikini, and he was very slight. They stretched out to sunbathe, and somehow those two ordinary, imperfect figures hand in hand brought an odd little lump to my throat. Maybe he finds her voluptuous, maybe she cooks all his favorite foods, and I imagine a silly, sweet scenario; maybe he plays the guitar, inventing little songs for her as she makes the orecchiette. I wonder if, in the sheltering tent, in their own little world, he sang that Gino Paoli song to her, softly, as he pulled off her bikini, kissing her all over. “Sapore di sale…sapore di mare…” Love should be like that, I think, as they lie on the blanket holding hands. My own hand, with its shiny gold band, is the secure mooring of that little boy with the big dark eyes, but no one has held it, has wanted to squeeze it, in a very long time.
The oregano comes and taunts me once again, but it’s different, and now strikes me as insipid. It reminds me of how often in cooking it’s the salt that is missing, not the herb. The essential thing. As the waves roll in and the breeze unties my hair, I slide down in my chair and my bathing suit straps slip off my shoulders, and my resistance ebbs away. So many times I had told myself that love is complicated, that by changing my perspective it would reveal its gifts to me. But here, played out in front of me, it seemed so simple. With a warmth spreading in my chest, that familiar ache, I wondered-- do these lovers know they have everything? Everything they need and, I realized, everything I want. The essential contact of someone’s salty skin, the elemental taste of every salty surface. These were love’s gifts to them: the water, the sun, the air perfumed by wild oregano, their arms and legs intertwined, a swim. And that surrender too, when wet skin to wet skin, and salty mouth to salty mouth, was too much to bear.
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