I discovered windows one afternoon
and after that, nothing was ever the same
– Anne Spollen –
When I was a child, we lived in a small ugly gold mining town on the highveld of South Africa. No, I didn’t consciously know it was ugly, what I felt was a longing for elsewhere. And thankfully there were windows that opened to that other place, doors that let me leave.
There was a strange movie house (or bioscope as we called it) that I was allowed to go to every Saturday afternoon. It was a real fleapit. Us children sat middle to front, teenagers and adults in the back. It was raucous! Once when an Elvis movie was showing big groups of teenage boys arrived, all with Elvis hair and clothes. They swaggered about, slamming and kicking the seats and promising there would be “trouble” later. I was scared but they were just making their own escape from where we were. Paid sixpence for a ticket and my parents, like most parents there back then, took no interest in what was being shown. So odd, but there was in particular one Peter Sellers movie that woke me up to the fact there were other worlds, other ways of living. I can clearly recall sitting there in that noisy dirty place and feeling that jolt of awareness. The movie was The World of Henry Orient. But the lasting window opened in that place was into the pleasure of movies, stories told in pictures.
One day my father took me to the town library and I was issued a card. Those days any book would do. I chose a shelf and took two off it to take home. And so began my love affair with books.
Now during the second world war my dad had enlisted very early to escape his particular world and he spent much of his war in Italy. In the course of those years, he learnt to speak a creditable Italian. And then to our amazement one day a large contingent of Italians arrived, not just in our town but in our suburb! If memory serves, they were fitters and turners come to find work at a time when such jobs were scarce in Italy.
Lovely fork given to us by our Italian neighbour
One afternoon two of these people arrived at our door with a document that had to be filled in and somehow they had heard of my dad’s Italian. That was the beginning. Soon Italians were moving into our street to be closer to the interpreter. In just a short while we were living in an Italian suburb! We ate ragu. We ate pasta. We ate pumpkin flowers in batter. After a meal one of the men would start singing Mama and Arrivederci Roma and we would fall silent and listen. And the Italians would long for home and for mama. Soon there was an Italian cafe in town where we drank cappuccino and ate panettone at Christmas. Only much later did I look back and think how truly extraordinary it was that in that dusty town by the mine dumps I got to experience Italian cuisine and culture.
At high school two teachers took a small group of us to the city to see an opera. It was La Bohème and to this day Che Gelida Manina (your tiny hand is frozen) is my favourite aria. How could it not be? I was overwhelmed by the romance and the tragedy and the spectacle!
Remembering, looking back, has me changing my mind. I think I was lucky to be a child in that town by the dumps and the slimes dam. See what riches I came away with: books, movies, la dolce vita, a love of opera and yes, a real appreciation for beautiful places! I found gold after all.
The magic of the window is not in itself
but in the view it shows outside!
– Mehmet Murat Ildan –