Calabrian Chronicles: Caulonia outside the walls – The Story of Mimmo and Peppe’s Ovile

In the spaces between the rains the sky runs and falls; gathers itself and plunges again towards the sea. Cumulonimbus titans strike their shins on the horizon line as they stumble through the Mediterranean, dead drunk and anxious to reach Ithaca. This is a place where mothers still name their sons Ulysses.

The houses are like barnacles on a rock; roof tiles buried in lichen and slathered with concrete where they meet at the crown in an uneasy sea-sick ridge. Below the rust-eaten white iron boundary of the balcony-rail I can see two flaps of a prickly pear struggling out from between two heavy arcs of terracotta.

The edge of the sky at dawn over the water is like Montale’s description, a singing strip of metal lath, a kite string straining against the rebounding vault of blue. His was the western sea, the Ligurian coast, a sunset light. Here the Ionian dawn makes eastern music…Jove’s mute mistress writes her name in the sand with a round hoof…IO.

Despite lying just above the Ionian Sea, named for Jove’s mythic mistress transformed into a cow, Caulonia Superiore is a place of goats. The goats, along with a few sheep, are kept in enclosures called ‘ovile’ just outside the town walls. There should be a better English translation for the Italian word, “ovile” (oh-VEE-layh) but there is not. “Fold” is inadequate, it’s too short in sound and too broad in meaning. “Goat fold” although accurate, is just plain ugly, clanking off the tongue like a broken carburetor. I mention this translation difficulty because I am about to tell the story of “The Ovile of Mimmo and Pepe” and I don’t want to leave readers scratching their heads as to what an “OH-vile” is until they reach the third paragraph. And so we begin…

View of the land below the Piazza della Carmine - Caulonia Superiore
View of the land below the Piazza della Carmine in Caulonia Superiore – the Ovile is on the far right towards the bottom…way down there.


This morning Matthew, Robin and I woke up early to go and visit the ovile of Mimmo and Peppe so that Robin could see the baby goats and we could all have a breakfast of fresh ricotta. The three of us piled into my big blue van and Matthew managed to squeeze, nudge, and coerce it through the slender streets of Caulonia Superiore until we found ourselves on the dirt road that meandered below the vaulting walls that are still (just barely) sustaining Piazza della Carmine above. Matthew parked the van atilt on the shoulder of the road, leaving room for another car to pass, maybe.

The ovile was what you would expect: a big fenced in plot of land for the grown sheep and goats in which every hint of something green had been eaten. Three rambunctious, gangly white puppies tumbled over one another, and a minor river of water, goat shit and urine ran across the road and under the front tires of my van. Adjacent to the large open pen was a roofed enclosure where the baby animals were kept separate and which was abutted by a cinder block shed where Peppe and Mimmo were working making the cheese.

As we walked up the path towards the porch that fronted the shed we passed by a fluffy white dog whose eyes were badly infected, the skin all around them pitted and inflamed. Robin wanted to pet it until she got a little closer and her good will towards animals banged flat up against something sad and ugly. She solved the struggle by resorting to reassuring herself with words, “Bobbie give sad puppy hug, now she happy puppy!” She looked obliquely at the dog while hugging her own round, pink arms. I found my self wondering when we should start teaching her to look at the ugly things straight on and with compassion instead of looking at the ground and calling them beautiful; then I remembered that I was still working on that one myself and our daughter was not yet two years old. Today would not be the day.

We passed by a small fenced in garden with olive and lemon trees. Across from this were a series of low-walled concrete pens one of which housed two large, pink pigs. Matthew held his hand down to their wiggly snouts saying, “See, it’s a pig. He has a wiggly nose.”  Robin edged nervously against my leg saying, “Mama gonna pick you up. Don’t want pigs.” For the first time she was seeing the real animals and they were not wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans like the small, shiny, cartoon pigs in her picture book. They were twice as big as she, I would have been nervous too. I lifted her up. “Lets go see Mimmo and Peppe and the BABY goats,” I said.

As we neared the shed we saw another white dog, this one young and healthy, tied up near a large tree. He was lapping up the water and whey and bits of curd that came from a tube functioning as a drain that led from the cheese making shed out the door and on to the concrete sluice that angled down from the porch. As we reached the open door to the shed Matthew said the obligatory “con permesso” as we walked in.

To Be Continued….(click here for part two)

Calabrian Chronicles: Translations of poetry by Lucia d’Amato

I found these poems by chance in a book amongst a pile of books and papers on a side table in an efficency apartment loaned to us in Caulonia (RC). I had never heard of Lucia d’Amato and, unfortunately, I don’t think you will find her book “Sostenere il sogno” anywhere other than this table, next to its clot of dusty papers. These few poems express the dense and lovely reflections of what I saw everyday that late winter and early spring in Caulonia Superiore.
casa a piazza della carmine caulonia


Caldi passatempi nell'aria,
E un vago color mattone
nel cuore,
parla di case abitate.
Un sonno silenzioso.
L'inverno passa.


Warm passtimes in the air
and a vague brick colour
in the heart,
speaks of inhabited habitations.
A silent sleep.
Wintertime passes.

view towards the sea from caulonia superioreLE PRIME ORE D’UN POMERIGGIO

Le prime ore
d'un pomeriggio brullo,
color di terra, di sabbia, e d'oro,
e la solennità
dei gochi più sereni
del tempo.
Dall'autunno al'inverno
andando verso l'estate,
come un grosso pacco
la campagna si svolge.
Un gregge sta,
come una nevicata sporca
Da un rotolio di nuvole
sguscia il sole.


The first hours
of a bare afternoon,
Colour of earth, of sand,
and of gold,
and the solomnity
of weather's more serene games.
From Autumn to Winter
now tending towards summer,
the countryside unwraps herself
like a fat package.
A flock stands
like dirty snow fallen
from a roll of clouds
that just slip-shelled the sun.
nota bene: Original poems in Italian by Calabrian poet Lucia D’Amato as published in “Sostenere il Sogno”. Translations in English copyright 2009 Bonnie M. McClellan.

Photographing New York: di Cesare Bedognè

This poem has disappeared from the site, if you’re wondering why, click HERE.

Per ascoltare o scaricare un podcast, clickare QUI

Per vedere la fotografia di Cesare Bedognè clickare QUI



(37° 47′ 27.32″ N 13° 1′ 34.31″ E)

The written version of this poem has disappeared. If you’re wondering why, click HERE.

To listen to the podcast, click on the player below:

Tango: Anonimo


The written version of this poem has disappeared. If you’re wondering why, click HERE.

Per ascoltare lo podcast di questo lavoro in Italiano clickka qui sotto:





The Geologists’ Sacrament: The first to become a mineral wins


I would I were a wingéd thing
And these white stones not bruised my feet.
From half sky’s arc this groundscape see;
Like girasoleil and moth at once.
Face then Gomorrah’s candled sun,
And false to God like Mrs. Lot
Turn arbre-form in Halite caught;
Qualcosa utile, quotidienne.
Ground down and lightly sown across
Unrisen flower and fragrant oil;
Then in the mouth of Adam lost
Mineral dust to dust returned.

poem copyright Bonnie McClellan 2009

“The eye comes always ancient to its work, obsessed by its own past and by old and new insinuations of the ear, nose, tongue, fingers, heart, and brain. It functions not as an instrument self-powered and alone, but as a dutiful memeber of a complex and capricious organism.”

– Nelson Goodman from “Languages of Art

This poem is one in a series that I am currently writing that takes it’s inspiration from the rhythms and subject matter of sacred texts varied and sundry. It is also the fruit of my continuing struggle as a poet to reconcile the three languages that jostle for position in my work as I am searching for exactly the right word. This particular piece is inspired by the rhythm of the Latin Hymn “O SALUTARIAS HOSTIA”. The content inspired by conversations had with the Artist, Matthew Broussard and the film director, Michangelo Frammartino about Pythagoras’ four states of being: Human, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. The concept of the observed walk as a transformative experience  is also inspired in part by the work of sculptor Richard Long.

New Translation: Eugenio Montale’s “Corno Inglese”

Eugenio Montale

English Horn

The wind this evening attentively plays
-bringing to mind the ringing metallic
slip of a blade-
the instrument of thick trees and open
copper horizon
where the lath of light yanks itself straight
like kites to the sky rebounding

(Traveling clouds, pale realms
of above! Of the high Eldoradeans
ill-closed door!)

and the sea that flake by flake
of mute, livid colours
thrusts at the ground a blast
of twisted foam;
the wind that births and dies
within the slowly darkening hour
may also be singing to you this evening,
disused instrument,

Corno Inglese

Il vento che stasera suona attento
-ricorda un forte scuotere di lame-
gli strumenti di fitti alberi e spazza
l’orizzonte di rame
dove strisce di luce si protendono
come aquiloni al cielo che rimbomba

(Nuovole in viaggio, chiari
reami di lassu! D’alti Eldoradi
malchiuse porte!)

e il mare che scaglia a scaglia
livido, muta colore
lancia a terra una tromba
di schiume intorte;
il vento che nasce e muore
nell’ora che lenta s’annera
suonasse te pure stasera
scordato strumento,

White Christmas: Part Two

The Garden of the White Prince
The Garden of the White Prince

This is the garden of the ‘White Prince’, the name given by Matthew’s younger brother Frank to our friend Philippe Bredael perhaps because he likes everything around him to be as beautiful and harmonious as his garden. Full of palm trees and sunset light it’s hard to believe that I took this photo in late December.  Philippe is the second person that Matthew met in Italy when he was on his vagabond’s tour of Europe in 1990 and one of the reasons that that tour stopped here; their friendship spans 19 years. It was in the palace of the White Prince that little Robin spent her first Christmas and slept through her first new year’s.

In December of 2007 we had been living in Torano for seven months (for more about Torano/Carrara see my post: Carrara: adventures in quarryland) and in this short time had made only a few friends. I never imagined how difficult holidays would be with no social structure to hold us up, no friends or family to visit, no one to attend a Christmas Eve dinner or a New Year’s Eve party if we planned them. Here we were face to face with a clean slate on which to write out our new family traditions, a nine month old baby and a toaster oven that was not big enough to roast a goose…it was time to ask for help.

Manger scene semi-submerged in Lago Maggiore
Manger scene semi-submerged in Lago Maggiore

Philippe and his large oven came to our rescue and so we decided to spend the week of Christmas and New Years a little closer to the North Pole. Many of Matthew’s ‘amici del cuore’ live near Lago Maggiore, he calls them ‘La Tribu’, The Tribe. Matthew has a slew of wonderful stories about Philippe and The Tribe, carnivals spent in Venice as wandering face painters, fantastic parties, summer afternoons by the lake diving from Sasso Galletto. These adventure stories are best heard straight from the horse’s mouth in our kitchen with a good glass of Refosco in hand. I mention them briefly in this context to try and sketch with a few light strokes the backdrop of Robin’s first Christmas.

With our friend Chemda and I illegally riding in the cargo compartment of Matthew’s van and the baby on the passenger side nested safely and legally in her car seat, we embarked from the relative warmth of the Tuscan seaside towards the cold grey north…Lombardy. I have to say that I felt a bit as if I were in the middle of a movie about an immigrant circus family on holiday. After a few hours on the road we arrived in Milan and stopped to visit with our friend Michelangelo and his friend Barbara. They gave Robin her first Christmas present, a ‘Piglet’ from Winnie-the-Pooh that burst into song when his tummy was squeezed. Robin’s fourth word after “Mama”, “Papa” and “Banana” was “Pag-lat”. I’m not much for electronic toys but I am deeply grateful to this magic singing Piglet and to Chemda’s mothering experience for getting Robin through the last hour in the van from Milan to Varese.

Bundled Bobbie Kay arrives at Zio Pippo's house
Bundled Bobbie Kay arrives at Zio Pippo's house

There was supper on the table, there were people smiling and happy to see us. Philippe is a consummate host and I immediately felt a sense of ‘home’ despite the fact that he was the only person at the table that I knew. We ate well, we slept well, we woke up and began the first of  a series of dilatory days involving eating, visiting, and sightseeing. The landscape was stunning, the white snow capped Alps in the distance, the placid surface of the lake, a profusion of evergreen palm, pine, laurel and magnolia trees interlaced with the black and white bareness of elm and beech. During the day the sun shone with a force equal to the cold, as it went down the air bit.

sun through the trees campo di fiore
sun through the trees in campo di fiore
Robin on Christmas Morning
Robin on Christmas Morning

On the 24th we went to get a fresh goose for Christmas day dinner from a local farm. On Christmas morning while Robin opened her second package (with a lot of help from Mama) and enjoyed looking at her new book about farm animals, the grown up’s started discussions about cooking.

Le chef
Le chef

Matthew went down to the van where we’d left our lovely goose overnight to discover that she was now frozen…we let her warm up on the kitchen counter while working on dressing and pie. Little Robin pulled herself up for the first time on the ladder back chairs in Uncle Pippo’s kitchen. Matthew had given me a copy of The Gnostic Gospels and I read the first story which was The Pearl, a sweet coincidence since he often calls me ‘Pearl’. Matthew cooked. The goose was perfect, even vegetarians were tempted to taste a bit of the stuffing. The house was full of people (with the exception of ourselves) who had been to India so exotic travel stories were exchanged as plates and glasses were refilled.

The Monastary of Santa Caterina
The Monastery of Santa Caterina

Between Christmas and New Year’s eve we went to visit the Monastery of Santa Caterina and a Buddhist meditation center across the lake above a town called Bee. We took walks in the national forest at Campo dei Fiore, went ice skating at a tiny rink in the Lakeside town of Laveno, and had dinner at the homes of some of Matthew’s other friends. There was an exhibition at a local museum with work by some artists Matthew knew from Milan. After seeing the show we went for drinks at a little bar in Caldana where some people were vigorously playing oom-pa-pa music on accordion, trumpet and tuba to the vast delight of our daughter who squealed and clapped when she wasn’t cheerfully jamming potato chips into her mouth. Despite the social whirlwind, or perhaps because of it, I often felt terribly lonely and exhausted. I was surrounded by people who all had an shared history with one another, a involved story that was communicated in a language that I was just beginning to speak among men and women who were not yet my friends.

Matthew, Robin, and Philippe by the Lake

My sombre mood probably had as much to do with homesickness as to my eternally cold feet and the lack of sleep. Little Robin was on the third week of her first cold and so she (and I and Matthew) woke up often durring the night. Durring the day she was her normal easygoing self, happy to see new people or to fall asleep in the car seat. Everyone was completely in love with her…it’s hard not to be. New Year’s eve was great fun, Matthew and I dressed up, he in his best suit and a red tie, I in a strappy red dress and heels (red is the New Years colour in Italy). We danced, we snacked, we drank good wine and bad. Robin fell asleep early and we tucked her safely into her travel bed moved to the relative quiet of Philippe’s bedroom and then obsessivly checked every 10 min. to make sure she was alright…the new parents’ waltz.

At midnight we kissed, first each other and then, in a secular version of  exchanging the peace, everyone else…hugs, kisses on both cheeks, the tapping of glasses filled with prosecco; “Buon Anno, Aguri, Aguroni, Buona 2008”. Finally everyone settled into the ancient ritual of eating lentils for good luck and the contemporary ritual of frantically transmitting one’s best wishes for the new year via text message to jammed satellites that would then deliver them at inopportune early hours to groggy friends not present. Guests began to shift towards home; we moved Robin’s little bed back into the room where we were sleeping and where a fire remained burning in the fireplace. She woke up and watched the fire, still sleepy and hypnotized by the warmth and movement.

The next day there was snow…a walk was proposed by the guests who had remained for the night but for once I said no. I loaned my hiking boots to a photographer who’d arrived for the weekend from Milan in suede flats and started the hot water running in the bath tub. The bundled crowd went out to walk in the falling flakes and I wrapped my little girl inside my coat and carried her out on the balcony to see the white filtering through the palm trees.

White Christmas: Part One

Snowfall from my window, Epiphany, 2009
Snowfall from my window, Epiphany, 2009

Kings Day, La Befana, Epiphany, the last day of Christmas. Right now I am looking out at the snow sifting down steadily from the white blankness of the sky that brooks no horizon. Mountains, tree tops, and atmosphere all are one.  In Italian I might say ‘sfondo sfondata’…a background with the bottom broken out. This is the whitest Christmas I have ever known. It has been a beautiful season for us, the first one we have spent at home, as a family.

My first Christmas in Italy I was a little more than 4 months pregnant with little Robin. Matthew and I were living in a small apartment under a converted mill where our friends Sandro and Adele live in the hills outside of Pontassieve just south-east of Florence. It was our first Christmas together and for me one of only a handful that I had not spent at the home of my maternal grandparents. Matthew suggested that we spend the holiday in Florence at a bed and breakfast called Il Giglio Bianco (the white lilly). It was owned some friends of his and was officially closed so we were the only guests and had our run of the well equipped kitchen and the occasional company of one of the owners, Eduardo.

Florence from piazza belvedere
Florence from piazza belvedere

I will not speak for Matthew other than to say that I think we were both feeling lost. Having walked away from the traditions we had known with our former spouses we were reaching for a sense of how to form a mutual tradition, something new and whole that we could offer our daughter when she was born. Tradition is, of course, a function of time so we talked about what little Robin’s coming Christmases might be like. the things that when she was our age she would remember; “at Christmas we always…”. I think that it was this idea of how to create a family together that helped us through what was, despite being together and in one of the most beautiful cities I know, a lonely and wistful Christmas.

On Christmas eve we went to midnight mass. We’d chosen the church at random, one on a side street and not too long of a walk. Santa Trinita is relatively small and unfamous if such a thing is possible in a city like Florence, we did not know who had painted the paintings but we liked them. I remember being tired, the weight of my belly, the umbral darkness of the church and the snatches of the liturgy in Italian that I was able to understand. I also remember the sharing of the peace, strangers turning to shake my hand or kiss me on both cheeks and I, returning the gesture and echoing their words: “pace, pace, pace”.

When we got back to Il Giglio Bianco and were getting in Bed I felt Robin rolling and kicking and called Matthew and he felt her moving for the first time. I still remember the look on his face though for the life of me I am without words to describe it to you, perhaps it is sufficient to say that it was a moment of grace.

The next morning (late) we began cooking: roasted goose with chestnut stuffing, giblet gravy, apple pie. We served ourselves in the empty but still cozy dining room with a view over the top of a wall into a garden. Later we walked to the centre of the ponte Santa Trinita and looked down at the Arno  and then crossed over into the old city centre. We walked through the streets lined with luxury shop windows and strung with white lights, full of people but not Disneyland packed like it is in the spring and summer. The piazza del Duomo was her own beautiful self, the facade of the cathedral always gives me the impression of whiteness when I see it despite the multi-colored stone decorations and iconic black stripes.

Apoxyòmenos, the Croatian AthleteThe following day on the advice of Eduardo, we went to see an exhibition at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi of a first century Roman Bronze that had been discovered off the coast of Croatia and sent to Florence for restoration. I remember that it was the end of the day and the museum was only open for one more hour. The blindingly white room where the statue was exhibited was empty except for the two of us and an occasional other visitor who passed through. Matthew and I spent 45 minutes just looking, something that now seems like an incredible luxury for the parents of a 21 month old girl who gets faster on her feet every day.

Apoxyòmenos, the Bronze Statue from Lussino, Florence
Apoxyòmenos, the Bronze Statue from Lussino, Florence

My first Christmas in Italy had it’s whitness, even without snow. The ‘White Lilly’ the clean sheets on the bed, the lights hanging over the streets, the white stripes on the Duomo and the labratory white of the exhibition space. It is this white background this sfondo bianco, that I thought of this morning looking out at the snow. An horizionless space out of time where an infinitely old and etrnally young athlete is still scraping the oil and sweat from his bronze forearm, where the only point of refrence is what is present to the eyes and what is present internally. The white of snow would come the next Christmas, Robin’s first in the outside world…

Google Translator vs. The poet.

Obviously translating into one’s mother tongue is easier (and hopefully more accurate) than translating into a language that you’ve studied in adulthood. My daughter will be truly bi-lingual, growing up with the two languages simultaneously. I will never be, even learning Italian from the ground up with the aid of her children’s books. But I have to ask, what’s a ‘serious’ translation? Signs, labels, menus, operating instructions for military equipment, legal documents? One you’re getting paid for?

Poetry is pretty serious business language wise; a distillation of the heart of a language that stretches sense and usage to its limits, layers multiple meanings, half-meanings, wry jokes, and rhythms into the briefest possible space sometimes into a single word. For this reason poetry is almost untranslatable; a poetic translation of the work is often a re-composing in a different language that strives to maintain the tone of the original, a literal translation can easily miss the nuances of individual words (see Robert Pinsky’s translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’ vs. the classic scholastic text of Mandlebaum). Translating instructions, menus, and traffic signs is comparatively straightforward (it is perhaps because of this that overconfidence or laziness causes so many charming and laughable errors).

The wonderful thing about translating is that it opens a door between two cultures. Grazie to all those who studied Russian so that I could read “The Idiot”  and “Crime and Punishment”. Despite the challenges, as a poet and a translator I take the work seriously and have had wonderful moments when my American friends read (and are interested in and excited by) the work of an Italian (or French) poet they might never have  otherwise encountered and when my Italian friends start asking me who William Carlos Williams is.

I do have to extend my sympathy to Google Translate, at least they offer (along with the unintended comedy) the option of suggesting a better translation.
My desktop widget translator is worse. If I translate from English to Italian “I’m a big fan of Mike!” (even with the proper name capitalized) it becomes: “Sono un ventilatore grande del microfono!” I have now become a large exhaust fan for a microphone…pazienza