The Apartment on Via Dante

By Bryan Jansing

The first time we saw the apartment on Via Dante my mother thought it too small, so we returned to our hotel disappointed. August was nearly ending, and school was about to begin. Even though my father became more and more frustrated with my mother’s indecisiveness, we continued to look at other places. Eventually, we had exhausted our options. With no other places available, we moved to the apartment on Via Dante.

I don’t live here anymore. My belongings are no longer on Via Dante, but that makes little difference; it’s still my home. The shelves are still full of books, some in English, some in Italian. The encyclopedia set my father received as payment for writing an article, the one I marveled at as a little boy because of the connecting pictures along the spine of an astronaut and dinosaurs, is still there. Later, when I learned how to count, I followed the row of orange and yellow books as far as I could until I could count past twenty-six.

This is the stuff of home. My father’s paintings still hang in the same place we hung them fifteen years ago. It wouldn’t be my living room without those paintings. The walls resemble a gallery: my aunt’s paintings, my grandmother’s needlepoint of Cincinnati, of the Ohio River. Sculptures of wood and brass rest on the same furniture I remember from childhood. The living room set made of ash, light and modern. We bought that in Sicily. We had dragged all this with us to Indiana, to Maryland, and finally to Vicenza, to this apartment on Via Dante.

My sister and I had hopes. We wanted to become totally Italian; we wanted to forget about America, never return. Things didn’t work that way, but this was still our home. My room is a different place now, a place without the clutter of clothes or tennis shoes. The stereo doesn’t play so loud in here anymore, and the walls aren’t covered with Poison, Motley Crüe, or Samantha Fox posters. The Matisse print still hangs by the door, but it’s no longer my room, even though they still call it my bedroom. 

My parent’s bedroom has not changed; a time capsule. Though there is a different bedspread, it’s the same bed frame. The nightstands aren’t brown anymore, but they are still the same shape. A few more pictures hang from wall to wall, paintings of up-and-coming artists, friends of my parents, more sculptures by my father, who still carves them in the garage, his studio. 

The apartment on Via Dante is still my home, even though my friend Skippy now lives in New York and no longer right up the street. There are new buildings, new apartments, new people I don’t recognize. The bakery has changed owners, but the faded blue curtain that divides the bakery from the store is still hanging, and when you walk in, the people still say, buongiorno in chorus. Even though I can no longer enter the Army Post where my father works, the place I went to school, played football, wrestled, and met all my friends, Via Dante is still my home. The roses in the yard around my apartment are taller, but they smell the same. The yard is lush with memories where I often sat in the darkness too drunk to sneak in yet, and dreamed of the future, wondering if God was watching me, and praying I would never leave.

I sit at the patio table on the kitchen balcony. My father is smoking his cigarette, reading yet another book. He has not changed. His hair is a little thinner, a little grayer, but his strong American features have not changed since we moved to Via Dante. I remember why this is my home, even though I have not lived here in ten years. I remember how my father had isolated himself from us in America, though I don’t really know why. Here he had changed, become part of us. This place had a bonding quality; it had brought us together, tighter than before.  

I try not to stare at my father, reading his book with one arm propped on an elbow and cigarette smoke fading into the dark beyond the balcony. I try not to look at him too hard so that I do not disturb the scene, but it’s inevitable that he will soon look up at me. I’ll say something stupid like, “Oh, I was trying to read the title of your book” or “Watcha reading?” 

I can hear my mother’s television program blaring on the other side of the apartment. She has not changed much either, perhaps a little more deaf and a little more stubborn, but always loving, cleaning the apartment until it shines like a museum.

Signor Bevilacqua next door is putting his pigeons away, clearing things in his garage and getting ready to go upstairs. A cat waits quietly in the bushes nearby. Tomorrow, the sparrows will be so loud I will wake at dawn. I’ll sit at this table on the balcony watching one more time as the sun crawls over the Dolomites, over the muddy fields, and pinches the pine tree that hangs over my father’s new car on the same old gravel driveway. 

I’ll drink my coffee one last time before saying goodbye to Via Dante and this apartment that someday soon will belong to another family, perhaps one just like us who longs for nothing more than to be together. I’ll watch them from a distance with all the love of a person who longs to never leave home.


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