Sunday, March 18, 2018

Six days in an Italian jail

A story inspired by real-life events...

What would you do if, all of a sudden, you couldn’t drink wine? If the forces of destiny didn’t allow you the freedom you had become accustomed to? To go where you want to go. To see who you want to see and to eat and drink what you want to?

For those of you who have experienced Italy, whether by living there or by visiting, one of the great things about the place is the access to beauty in its many forms. And isn’t beauty a piece of the truth? To sit on a table next to a vineyard, with light spring weather, cool but not cold, and a breeze which is bringing in pollen and butterflies and sand from the Sahara. To tear apart a fresh loaf of crusty bread, to have a platter of salumi and cheese, and a bottle of fresh wine from the nearby vineyard. Things many of us take for granted. To be able to walk out into the field, to be able to sing, to dance, to hug someone you love.


This is the tale of a vineyard worker, Trenna, and the tale of how she arrived into Italy from her war and corruption ravaged country. She had lost her parents and her siblings scattered, each searching for respite from the constant war they grew up in. Trenna was in the flower of young womanhood and she lost all her traditional family moorings. She was adrift in a land of war and uncertainty. And she was beautiful, which only complicated her young life. But she was strong, and determined. And she was going to find a way out.

All her short life she had spent many happy moments in her grandparent’s garden which included a small vineyard. She loved the glistening jewels of the grapes and she loved even more to pick them off and eat them. Her grandfather would kid her not to eat too many of them, or it would shorten his crop for the family wine. Her little box of memories was small, but this was a treasured one.

When she approached her teen years, her land was rife with war and revolt. Laws, morality, justice, were nowhere to be found. As she made her way out of the troubled zone, she had to plan very carefully, for she was a target for rape or even worse, for being sold as a sex slave. Some of her friends had gone that way and Trenna couldn’t see a life going down that road. Who can?

When she finally reached Italy, by walking, swimming, hitching rides, jumping on and off trains, it was in a quiet little corner that reminded her of home. There were rolling hills and temperate climate. The fields were filled with vegetables and the sounds of church bells and sheep clanging across the pastures. And grapes.

“I remember tasting a grape in Italy and thought what a lovely taste of freedom it was. I also was sad for losing my grandparents, my whole family and my country. But there was nothing I could do now. I had to make a life, if I could, here in Italy.” Trenna was undocumented and even though the situation back home had gotten better, there were too many tragic memories. Trenna couldn’t go home. And so, she found herself, and her life, as young woman, strong but wary, in Italy.

How would Italy treat this young woman?

“Early on I was kidnapped by these men. They had lost one of the worker girls, women who have sex for money. And they were going to take me into the country to replace her. But they got drunk, on wine, and I escaped. The grapes saved me that night.” Trenna was somehow connected to the vine and her life was guarded by the grape and wine.

“I spent time in an Italian jail. They somehow thought I was Muslim woman from Albania or Syria, I don’t know who they thought I was. But I spoke Italian and a little English, and they held me. So, I waited in that cell, for six days. At night one of the guards would come in, his breath smelling of wine. He would touch me and try and get me on the small bed in the cell, but he was too drunk, and he fell asleep until the shift changed and the new guard, a good man, came in a pulled him out. The good man, Felice, had a family vineyard. Again, the vine saved me in more ways than one.”

“Felice was a family man and he had two daughters. He asked me what I was doing here in this part of Italy. I told him I was escaping war and destruction, and that my grandfather also has a little vineyard. Felice was kind, simpatico, they like to say in Italy. And he took pity on me. ‘I think I have an idea,’ he said to me. ‘I need someone who can help me in my little vineyard, someone who will be able to talk to the seasonal pickers, someone who I can depend on. Let me see about how I can arrange that and get you out of here.’ I couldn’t believe my ears. It was as if the vines, once again, were guiding me and saving me from prison, or worse, deportation.”

The last I heard, Trenna had been released, after six days, and was working for Felice. She is a latest generation of émigré who will find in Italy a new life. Like America, Italy is grappling with immigrants. And like America, Italy will find some of the best and brightest from faraway shores. Trenna lost everything and when she was so very young. All she wants is a peaceful life and a place in which she can contribute and integrate into a life. The vine is her lifeline. As it has been for many of us. Trenna only wants to be part of an ancient progression stretching back many thousands of years. And she wants to be part of that solution, so we never have to ask the question, “What would you do if, all of a sudden, you couldn’t drink wine?”



Freedom!


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