Alone: A Love Story

Chapter 10: Forza

A trip to Italy, the world’s BEST water and the forza I’ll need to keep going.
Standing inside something so big, so majestic, so ancient, so barbaric. It's like looking at the inside of love itself. (Ben Shannon/CBC)
Listen to the full episode23:52

Across the sea

Forza means strength in Italian, and this whole chapter takes place in Italy, the country that runs in my veins. The time frame is July 2012, five months after the The Husband hit me with The Bomb.

You know when you just know you have to do something? This is me, knowing, deeply, that I had to go to Italy and I had to bring my daughter and niece with me, even though everyone said I was crazy to do that after what I'd just been through.

In the most beautiful, confounding way, it was was the best trip I've ever had. Even though I was still so consumed by grief and my own unknowable future, travelling with the two girls was wonderful.

They were angels. They never argued with me or each other. We never once looked at a screen for 11 days — no phones, computers or TVs. We just looked at the sea and the sky and the mountains and the ruins. We just went to be with our people. 

La tavola

This scene is a nice counter to the table (oh, the table) scene in Chapter 8 — Left and Leaving.

My friend in Italy, the most generous, open-hearted person I have ever known, calls the sea that day "la tavola" (the table) and she was right. It was a metaphor for how I was feeling too, finally calm there beside her, my anchor. Finally calm in Italy, my anchor.

I mention the Tyrrhenian Sea a lot in these scenes. Everyone always says "Mediterranean" when they talk about Italy, but actually there are many seas that all empty into the Mediterranean.

The beach we are at in this vignette is called Lungomare di Sabaudia, 10 kilometers of gorgeous seaside perfect for sunbathing, swimming, eating tiny squares of pizza and emptying out the contents of your heart.

Treading water

We alternated days between the sea and the city. I never get tired of Rome. There's so much to see and experience, and I love to get lost in the crowded streets or just sit on a bench and watch all the people go by.

You'd think a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old would get tired of walking all day sightseeing in 45 degree Celsius heat, but no. They walked and walked and never complained and we had the most wonderful time and I spent $50 a day, easy, on ice cream alone. It was totally worth it.

Music nerd alert!

The song I use in this part of the vignette, is called A Me Me Vene a Risa, by Gerardo Casiello & Raffaele Pinelli. The title loosely translates to "It's making me laugh" or "To me, it's a laugh". The song sounds much more melancholy than you'd expect from one with the word laugh in the title, but that's Italians for you! A people of contrasts.

This vignette ends with the scene where my friend's father makes the spectacular speech about The Husband treading water.

That very night, after we had this talk, I wrote down everything he said into my little notebook, which is how I can be so specific with his dialogue. He is an amazing man with an expansive heart, so I hope I do him justice when I paraphrase him in this scene.


Oh, Calabria. The birthplace of my father and home of the Parise family. It means so much to me, this place.

Music nerd alert!

You hear an instrumental version of the song Calabrisella Mia, as I talk about my dad and his cousin with the exact same name. Calabrisella Mia is one of the most famous traditional songs of Calabria. The lyrics are from the point of view of a man who is totally besotted with a "Calabrisella" named Nina. Classic stuff.

Here is just part of the massive 500-year-old chestnut tree I talk about in the story, the one they call "U curciu di Catalano" for some reason (my dad once gave me a sort-of translation and explanation that makes zero sense, so I won't even bother writing it here!).

There's a lot of stuff about my dad in this episode. Hard things, and wonderful things about my dad.

In many ways, this is my favourite vignette in the entire series. There's something special to me about how so many things come full circle — a return to my roots after my marriage ends, the story of the return of "the new dad" ten years after my parents' marriage ended, and the way I suddenly feel connected to him in a new and unexpected way.

And then, there's the Parise family farm, which we call "Villa Tacciolina". Again, there isn't really a good translation and explanation for the name. Rather, there is a translation, but you'd need a whole other podcast to explain it!

Villa Tacciolina is my favourite place on earth. Just looking at these photos I took while on the trip in 2012, makes me feel instantly calm.

We pick figs and yellow plums off trees. We pluck flowers off zucchinis, gathering them in our skirts for me to fry up later for a snack.

I imagine all the generations of women in our family doing this exact thing in this exact spot.

If you're wondering what I'm talking about when I say we picked the zucchini flowers to fry up for a snack, I'm talking about the best, most delicious thing in the world, zucchini flower fritters, or what we call piteyi i hiuri di cucuzze in our Calabrese dialect.

Here is what they look like as I'm making them.

It's so simple and delicious, I can't believe in Canada we just throw the flowers away, and you can't even buy them in grocery stores! I'm always begging people with gardens to give me theirs. If you live in Toronto and grow zucchinis in your backyard ... save me the flowers!

Calabrians (if you ask me) make the best food, have the best hot peppers, and give dishes the best names — like milunciane chijne which translates(ish) to "eggplant full of pleasure". I mean, who wouldn't want to eat THAT!

I want to say just a little more about my dad. He's the reason I'm a writer in the first place, after all.

My dad encouraged me to write a lot as a child. He set up a little desk for me in his home office, and I just loved to sit there with him, our backs to each other as we did our "work". I was in Grade 7 when I wrote a novella as a response to a book we were reading; he let me use his typewriter to bang out the "good copy" after he had proof-read it.

Here's my dad comforting me, tears in his eyes. I lean my head on his shoulder.- Michelle Parise

When I was in my 30s, my dad wrote two memoirs himself, which he self-published, and which I proof-read for him. He's a strong writer with a knack for remembering the smallest details, like the mortgage rates the year he started working for the Canadian Bank of Commerce, or what Toronto intersection he was standing on in 1956 when his mom went into labour with his sister. Stuff like that!

It was hardest for me to tell my dad about Alone: A Love Story though. I knew he would be proud of me but also not that thrilled that I've chosen to speak so openly about things like sex, drinking, and smoking cigarettes.

It turns out the thing he is most unhappy about is that I swear a lot throughout the whole thing. Sorry, Pop. If you ever do listen to the podcast or read these words, I hope you're impressed more than you're disappointed. You mean the world to me.

At the very end of this vignette and the series, I return from Italy to Toronto and get a new tattoo on my right wrist that says forza e coraggio ... strength and courage.

My tattoo is by the super-talented and lovely Glennie at The Pearl Harbour, a tattoo shop in Kensington Market, one of my favourite places in this city.

Final music nerd alert!

If I could use commercial music in this podcast, then the whole thing would have ended with a decidedly un-Italian song, Frank Ocean's Swim Good. I'm going to guess that there isn't one song I've listened to more in the past five years.

I'm about to drive in the ocean
I'ma try to swim from something bigger than me
Kick off my shoes and swim good, and swim good
Take off this suit and swim good, and swim good, good

Thank you so much for listening to Alone: A Love Story and for reading all my stories behind the stories. 

Swim good, everyone. Swim good.

xo Michelle