Every evening before we convene for dinner on my dig—some of us coming down from the convent freshly showered, others driving in from the containers a bit outside of town—we stop at the bar. Conversation drifts through the patio in English and Italian with the inevitable cigarette smoke that accompanies us. As the dinner hour nears, chairs scrape against the ground and we stroll across the street to the renovated schoolhouse where we eat. Mealtime is often loud, as I think it should be. Not noisy, but loud with friends catching up on the day’s finds, joking, and the cultural exchange that takes place when Italians, Americans, Swiss, and Dutch unite.
As the meal winds down and cups of coffee replace cups of wine, often someone brings out a guitar. We have a great many someones who are skilled guitarists and singers among our crowd, and on nights like this music is what overcomes any linguistic barriers or cultural miscommunication. We gather chairs around in the front yard or lean against the doorway, creating silhouettes in that threshold between the dining room’s light and the nighttime blackness. Soon, more English and Italian drifts, but this time not in conversation but in song:
the familiar Hello, darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again and On a dark desert highway/cool wind in my hair begin many of these evening recitals, but more often we hear native voices and tunes of Italian folk and rock songs.
I don’t know the lyrics to most of these Italian songs. Neither do the rest of the Americans. But I will never forget when a very special person would accept our pleas for her to play. I see her, as I always will, bashfully refusing the guitar before gently accepting it with a close-lipped grin and a bob of her head. It is her old friend and confidante, it seems. And she plays it that way. To her, we listen more raptly, more deeply, than to anyone else. She really felt that music, and in turn channeled that feeling to us. Eyes closed, she would strum and raise her voice with a strength and melody we’d never hear during our daily work.
I wish I had a video of this to share. I could have sworn that in the many seasons of digging at Campo della Fiera I was sneaky enough to record one of her solos. Claudia, wherever you are right now, I hope you are at peace. Whenever we sing on those dark dig nights, we’ll think of you and hope you can hear us and sing, too.
Claudia’s was the first rendition I heard of this tragically haunting and beautiful song, “Ballad of Blind Love” by Fabrizio De Andrè.