Been Here a Thousand Years: A Novel

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9780374208912: Been Here a Thousand Years: A Novel
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In a tiny, ancient Italian hill town, where the land gives littleand money and food are scarce, Don Francesco Falcone is a man to be reckoned with: rich, powerful, restless, intransigent. When he meets another force of nature, Concetta, a penniless but fiercely indestructible farmworker, the stage is set for the creation of an exceptional family: generations of strong, complicated boys and, especially, girls. The battles between them are many as they live through historical upheaval and private passions.

Their stories are told by Gioia, the last of the line, a womanof our times who fights tirelessly against convention. She is the product of a family of memorable women who know how to survive, and also how to make something fantastical and rich out of their lives: with their hands they create delicate and complex embroideries, while their minds embroider endless, elaborate stories.

In this sweeping, unforgettable novel, Mariolina Venezia portrays five generations of the Falcone family. Through their complicated, funny, tragic, and astonishing stories, Venezia also recounts a century and a half of Italy’s tumultuous history. Been Here a Thousand Years is a testament to the Falcone family, and also to the vibrant, irrational, irresistible country that produced it.

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About the Author:

Mariolina Venezia was born in 1961 and has written poetry as well as for television and film. She lives in Rome.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One At around three o’clock in the afternoon of March 27, 1861, in the town of Grottole, which is in the part of Basilicata that lies about one hundred kilometers from the Puglia coastline, an event took place that would be the subject of stories for years to come. In the hours that followed, the inhabitants of the town discussed all the possible meanings of this event, weighing every potential explanation. To some, it was a miracle, to others, witchcraft, or, if seen from a slightly more orthodox angle, a temptation of the Devil; only to a select few, the most educated residents, did it seem like a simple natural occurrence. Perhaps it was somehow the fault of ZíUel the Potter, but given how things turned out, no one dwelt on this notion forlong. Sometimes, when a nodule in the clay was not completely ground down, the jar would develop cracks. But this hardly ever happened with his pots. His hands worked quickly and precisely on the potter’s wheel, and his singed fingertips delicately caressed the rounded sides of the pots and pitchers, just as God’s hands must have caressed Eve’s flanks on the day of her creation. He kneaded, modeled, baked. His kiln produced lamps, crocks, jars, which he marked with concentric circles like the ones used long ago to communicate with the dead in a language no longer spoken by the living. His delicately resonant terra-cotta pots were porous and damp, oozing moisture. His pitchers kept water cool. His pottery was so perfect and so delicate that a scream could have shattered it. On the same day that the city of Rome, which had not yet been conquered, was chosen as the capital of an Italy that was finally united, the first person to notice the aforementioned event—altogether different, but no less prodigious—was the little Della Rabbia boy. When it happened, he was wandering around the old neighborhood known to locals as "S’rretiedd," a tight maze of streets and houses that the sun could not penetrate; he held a string attached to a sewer rat.His stomach rumbled with hunger. He was pulling at the rat, who did not want to follow, when he saw a yellow liquid slowly cascading down the Saracen Straits; it gathered in small pools between the paving stones, and then descended, step by step, slithering over the stones that had been worn smooth by the hooves of mules and making its way down alleys and passageways until finally it plunged over the edge of the escarpment. At first he thought it was mule piss, but no mule he had ever seen, or even Totonno’s cow, could piss for so long. Nor could it be the contents of Don Filippo Cocca’s bedpans, because no matter how many guests his son, a student at the University of Salerno, brought home, it would have taken a battalion to produce so much urine. The boy was so intrigued that he did not even notice when his pet rat scampered off. He bent down and stared at the rivulet, his face so close that his nose almost touched the yellow liquid. It was still cascading down. It came down, its consistency fluid and viscous, limpid and golden in the sunlight, forming thick bubbles here and there, its flow increasing as if the source was growing rather than diminishing. Finally, Rocchino stuck his finger in the liquid, sniffed it, and put it in his mouth. He made a face, whether of pain or pleasure it was unclear. At that time of day, there were only women, children, cripples, and crazy people in the town. All the men of sound body were working in the fields. Rocchino began to lap up the liquid, immersing his face, then his entire body, in the current, rubbing his feet, hands, and even his bare head, and finally rolling around like a pig in shit. It was oil! Olive oil! The ringing of the town bells boomed in his ears as he felt life flowing into him, thick and unctuous, and the aridity and brittleness of death released its hold. People said that during a particularly deadly winter, the Della Rabbias had eaten one of their own children at birth, grilled. A deliciously unforgettable aroma had lingered in the town for days. As Rocchino growled with pleasure and almost suffocated with gluttony, the second person to encounter this extraordinary phenomenon was Felice la Campanella. When he saw the Devil’s piss pouring down the muddy lane that led to ZíTitt’s orchard, he was sitting absolutely still on a stone bench, waiting in vain for the afternoon sun to warm his heart. He was roused momentarily from the image that had filled him for the last twenty years: that of his wife’s ample body cut down by thirty stabs of his knife. By the time he had returned from the Royal Prison in Naples, he had lost the power of speech, except for the curses he mumbled like Ave Marias. The nightmares that tormented his soul seemed to have surfaced on his skin. From his neck to his waist— and surely also over the rest of his body, including his hands, the tips of his fingers, and perhaps even his private parts—he was covered in a snarl of devils, broken hearts, naked women, and obscenities. When he was younger, the figures came to life when he flexed his muscles, but now they seemed to conceal themselves beneath the graying fur that covered his upper body. Devoured by his solitude, he wandered around the town with his hands behind his back, his black cloak fluttering in the wind. In a hopeless attempt to stave off bad luck, he made horns with his fingers and his waistband jangled with the sound of countless horn-shaped amulets of all sizes. Only children paid him any mind; they threw rocks when he wasn’t looking, and then scampered off to hide behind a wall or in a doorway. When he noticed the oil, Felice la Campanella took it for the Devil’s bile, convinced that the Evil One had finally come for him. He blurted out a tremendous oath and prepared to follow, almost with a sense of relief. A WOMAN IN THE TOWN had the bright idea. Comare Teresa, or Cumma Tar’socc’, as she was known to all, was sneaking furtively along the cracked walls, diving into shadows and then emerging cautiously into the sunlight, wrapped in a brown shawl under which she hid a stinking bedpan that she was planning to dump out onto Largo Sant’Andrea. At that time of day, no one would see her; anyone who was not working in the fields was surely sleeping. She emptied the pot furtively onto the stones, worn smooth by cart wheels, just across from her sister-in-law Agnese’s house. Imagine her surprise when she saw the turds floating in a yellow lake much larger than anything the members of her family, numerous as they were, could have produced. She stood there, trying to make heads or tails of what she was seeing, teetering on her tiptoes, her neck stretched and tense as a chicken’s, the bedpan resting on her hip. Suddenly her sister-in-law’s scream sliced through the stagnant air of the early afternoon, waking clouds of flies and the rest of the dozing town: "Ca pzz scttà u’ sagn’da n’gann!" ("May you vomit blood!") The prolonged ululation of the a in "n’gann" ricocheted against the stone walls and reverberated threateningly from street to street through the warren of alleys, and finall

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9780312429782: Been Here a Thousand Years: A Novel

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ISBN 10:  0312429789 ISBN 13:  9780312429782
Publisher: Picador, 2010
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