Today I am pleased to share something different with an extract of Valeria Vescina’s ‘That Summer in Puglia’ as the final stop on the blog tour hosted by Bookollective.
That Summer in Puglia
By Valeria Vescina
Publisher: Eyewear Publishing
Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts? THAT SUMMER IN PUGLIA is a tale of love, loss, the perils of self-deception and the power of compassion. Puglia offers an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story, itself an excavation of a man’s past; Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt to love and be loved, eventually transform the discomforting tone with which he at first tries to keep Will and painful truths at a distance. This remarkable debut combines a gripping plot and perceptive insights into human nature with delicate lyricism.
Extract From Chapter 4 of That Summer in Puglia
‘I wish I hadn’t fallen in love with you. You’re going to break my heart, I know it already.’
‘I’ll never do that.’ We kissed again. Her perfume, flowery and faint, almost made me light-headed. ‘My God, you’re so beautiful,’ I said.
‘I hope I’m not your God.’
We both laughed.
Anna might have said it in jest, but that sentence – ‘I hope I’m not your God’ – has rung in my ears again and again. Anna’s love felt like an unparalleled blessing. For her and with her I would have perfected any aspect of myself, though she made me feel loved in my entirety; for a time, she could have said the same. If there’s a God, love between human beings can bring us as close to Him as we’ll ever get. Cynics scoff at the mention of loves like ours, but their arguments sow misery: too many people settle for second-best in the belief they’re being ‘realistic’, and before long become cynics in turn. Countless human beings will never experience the kind of love I’m describing, and there it was, being served to Anna and me on a plate. So young. Too young.
How, you might ask, can I have the arrogance of asserting that it wasn’t the elation of ‘first love’, or of the early phase of love, that made ours feel so extraordinary?
The stubborn rationalist I once was – before falling in love with Anna – would almost certainly have answered by listing some facts: the generous dose of interests we shared; presumably a sprinkling of unconscious mutual needs; a fortunate correspondence and complementarity of qualities… It wouldn’t be untrue. But it would deny the magic – the most important, yet most elusive, of all facts. How tragically reductive that would be. All I can do is to leave you with my certainty of how it felt to be loved by, and to love, Anna – and with a thought: the man who concluded that ‘The Heart knows reasons whereof Reason knows nothing’ wasn’t a hopeless romantic but a stern mathematician.
In the days which followed the evening in Villanova, we spent every spare moment together, at and outside school. We dived into our pasts and resurfaced with fragments of memory which the other greeted like priceless finds – stories about our childhoods, our families, friends, old schools, trips… We shared hidden moments – the hilarious, the painful and the most embarrassing ones – without inhibitions. It’s difficult to remember examples of them now, to fish them out of what feels like a torrent. But I do recall telling Anna of my maternal grandfather.
He and my grandmother died when I was thirteen. During my childhood, at our customary Sunday lunch with them, he sometimes offered me two one-hundred-lire coins, provided I managed to keep them under my armpits for the whole meal – an old-fashioned method for teaching table manners. At age five I was unable to keep my elbows stuck to my ribcage and the coins dropped within seconds onto the floor; at age seven they slid inexorably down my arms until their high-pitched ding on the ceramic tiles chimed my fiasco. Dad’s regular protestations against this practice – a surreptitious cruelty to which I was a willing party, lured by those elusive coins – provoked periods of grudging silences between him and my grandparents. I must have been eight when at another of Grandpa’s attempts my father’s exasperation spilt over.
‘Isn’t it bad enough that you… already did this to Emma?’
My grandfather stiffened in his chair. ‘Did what?’
‘Drummed that pernicious sense of your family’s bygone ‘rightful place in the world’ into her head, and – now I understand – even into her movements. You want to do the same to my son? Never.’ He poured himself a glass of wine, and took a swig.
Grandma clutched Grandpa’s arm. He pulled his glasses closer, the better to glare at Dad.
Mum looked from him to her parents, and back again. ‘How can you be so disrespectful?’ Her voice was shaky. ‘To my father, to me…’
‘Darling, I have huge respect for you. More than that. You’re the love of my life. But the whole attitude behind such things – ’ he pointed to the coins on the tablecloth – ‘hasn’t done you any good, has it?’
‘Ha!’ My mother crossed her arms.
I watched, uneasy. I had never witnessed a flare-up between my parents. Dad’s humour, or Mum’s fondness for him, normally defused their little disagreements.
‘It’s painful to watch how hard you have to work to overcome your snootiness – whether towards other guests at a party, or towards the grocer, the…’ Dad said. ‘Being able to enjoy conversations with perfectly nice people shouldn’t require such effort. And that’s progress, compared to when we first met.’
‘You – ’ Mum stammered. ‘Blowing things out of proportion like this. Father was only encouraging good manners in Tommaso. You should be grateful.’
Grandpa nodded, his eyebrows a scowl, his cheeks hollow.
Dad sighed, and said nothing.
But my grandfather never subjected me to the exercise of the coins again.
So you see? Episodes and feelings of which I had never spoken – presumably considering them unworthy of anyone’s interest or maybe fearful of others’ judgment – tumbled out of my lips and were met with understanding, warmth and humour. To the example I have given you, I believe Anna quipped she had never thought of coins as torture instruments. I can still see her, shaking her head in sympathy as you have done, while I recounted this and other incidents, or laughing with me when I told her of happier ones. I, in turn, couldn’t get enough of the glimpses of the life she had led until then, of the slivers of time that had gone into who she was.
‘I wish I had known you years ago,’ I kept saying.
‘I wish I had known you, too.’
I suppose that, through the sharing of details from our past and present, we were seeking to overcome that impossibility.
About The Author
Valeria Vescina is from Puglia, was educated in Switzerland and the UK, and has lived for years in London with her family. After a successful career in management, she gained an MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths (University of London). THAT SUMMER IN PUGLIA (Eyewear Publishing, 2018) is her debut novel. Her activity as a critic includes reviews for Seen And Heard International, Talking Humanities and the European Literature Network . She has taught creative writing workshops on the narrative potential of various art forms. Valeria also holds a degree in International Studies (University of Birmingham) and a Sloan Msc. in Management (London Business School).
I want to extend a special thank you to Aimee with Bookollective and the author for allowing me to particpate and providing the extract today!