Italian Language Blog

Carmela’s Story Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 in Italian Language

A year ago I began writing the story of Carmela and her shoe obsession. Originally intended as a one off article, the story took on a life of its own, becoming five separate chapters. Then our little white kitten Bianca, inspiration for Carmela’s cat, fell ill and died in my arms. Distraught, I avoided writing the final chapter, time passed, the story remained incomplete, occasionally nagging somewhere at the back of my mind.

But now it’s October again, and something in the air, or perhaps the particular hue of the autumn light, has brought back fond memories of the fun that I had writing about Carmela. And I finally wrote that closing chapter.

So, here’s the complete story, all six chapters in one extra long blog. Are you sitting comfortably?

Photo ©Geoff Chamberlain

Photo © Geoff Chamberlain


A young lady walks out of a fashionable negozio di calzature. Turning down a shady vicolo, she leans against the wall and slips into the beautiful black ankle boots which she has just bought.
She glances around furtively and, seeing that she is unobserved, removes a pistol from her shoulder bag and places it in her jacket pocket. “Va bene, andiamo a ritirare dei soldi” she says.
She drops her old shoes into a cassonetto, leaves the vicolo, and heads towards a bank on the other side of the piazza

Chapter 1 – Shoes

Carmela boarded the 07:21 train bound for Modena. Wearing a Bonnie Parker style beret, an old faded red hoodie and worn out jeans, she blended in like a chameleon with the early morning workers on their way to just another day on the production line.

But Carmela’s was a different line of work. It had its risks of course, but it paid well and the hours were short. Which gave her plenty of time for her real passion: her extensive collection of Italian footwear.

She glanced down at her latest acquisition, a gorgeous pair of black ankle boots that she’d managed to pick up for only 260 Euro. Smiling furtively, she shuffled her feet back under her seat. It wouldn’t do to have any of these factory workers noticing the incongruity between her generally shabby appearance and the extravagant footwear.

She looked up suddenly, and found herself staring directly into the eyes of a young vigile urbano. The local policeman, also on his way to another day at work, glanced down at her feet, and saying “Permesso”, reached forward as if to grab her ankles and drag the exotic boot out into the light of day where he could get a better look at them.

Carmela started and gave a small gasp. “Non si preoccupi signora” said the vigile, “E’ solo che avevo notato che le è caduto questo libretto dal suo zaino … eccolo!”

Swallowing back the huge sigh of relief that welled up in her chest, Carmela gave him her most radiant smile. “Grazie infinite signore, lei è troppo gentile” she said, as she recovered the small black leather bound notebook from his outstretched hand.

Al suo servizio signora” he replied, with an equally radiant smile.

Hmmmm, questo vigile non è mica brutto” thought Carmela, “però, avere un poliziotto intorno non è il massimo nel mio mestiere … sì, meglio lasciar perdere … peccato però!”

The vigile maintained his smile for just long enough to make his interests in Carmela quite clear, then turned to look out of the window as the mist shrouded landscape of the pianura slipped by.

Later, the squealing and hissing of brakes combined with the usual indecipherable announcement over the PA foretold their imminent arrival at La Stazione di Modena. The young policeman arose from his seat and grabbed his heavy bag from the rack above their heads. He gave Carmela another of his charming smiles. “Ma com’è alto e prestante questo … proprio bello!” thought Carmela, “però ….”

Non scende qui a Modena signora?” he asked her. Carmela hesitated, she had to make a decision, and quickly. “Uh, sì, no, no io … vado a visitare la mia vecchia zia che sta male. Abita a Mantova, sa ….” stammered Carmela.

Allora, le auguro una buonissima giornata, e arrivederci” said the vigile. “Grazie, grazie altrettanto …. la ringrazio di nuovo per avermi recuperato il libretto che per me è una cosina molto preziosa!” Replied Carmela with a slightly lost look in her eyes that seemed to say …… “magari ………”

Chapter 2 – Better to Dream

When the train pulled out of La Stazione Di Mantova just before midday, Carmela was still on board. Mantova had been on her list of ‘luoghi da visitare’ along with the name of an expensive shoe shop and a conveniently located bank, but having told the young vigile that silly story about visiting her poorly aunt there, she had immediately penned rimandato alongside that particular entry, just as she had for Modena.

Vabbè, a volte succede così”, she told herself, “meglio non correre il rischio … non è mica che non ci sono altri negozi di calzature o altre banche! Scendo invece a Verona, mi hanno sempre detto che è carina come città.”

By the time Carmela exited the glass and concrete structure of Verona’s Porta Nuova railway station the sun had dissolved the morning mist to reveal a limpid azure canopy. The shadows now cut clean into the pavement as she headed across the piazza in search of a bus to the centro città.

A poster advertising La Tempesta di Shakespeare at l’Anfiteatro Romano reminded her to try and visit the famous balcone di Giulietta … depending on how things went with her ‘business affairs’ of course. Sometimes it was necessary to leave town rather more rapidly than one would have liked! “Vediamo un po’ … mi piacerebbe davvero visitarlo!”

Despite unpleasant childhood memories of her dysfunctional family, Carmela remained at heart a romantic. But, “è meglio sognare” she always told herself, “alla fine i sogni sono quasi sempre più belli della realtà.”

Yet she was also a pragmatist, and now she had work to do. A cappuccio and pasta alle mele was her lunch. If she ate too much she wouldn’t be able to concentrate, and she’d already snacked on the train. Now to find an anonymous and inexpensive pensione where she could settle down to peruse her little black book … and draw up her plans. “Meno male che quel poliziotto me l’ha ritrovato sul treno! Devo essere più attenta in futuro.”

At the Ufficio Turistico in the nearby piazza she picked up a map of Verona and a list of pensioni economiche, then set off.

Later in a small cosy room at La Pensione La Rosa, with her few belonging laid neatly out on the dresser, she sat on the edge of the bed, removed the expensive black ankle boots, and swung herself round until she was propped up comfortable against a couple of pillows with her legs stretched out before her. She glanced at the Glock 18 placed within easy reach on the bedside table, broke off a chunk of cioccolata fondente from the bar in her lap, and opened her precious libretto nero.

Allora, dove cominciare?” she asked herself.

A look of pure pleasure lit her face as she turned the pages.

Chapter 3 – The Little Black Book

She awoke suddenly in darkness, a strange light flickered around the door frame sending menacing shadows dancing across the walls. Smoke … her throat was parched, she began to cough. Stumbling across the room she reached for the door handle and cried out in pain as it burnt her palm. An intense panic welled up in her chest, her eyes watered and she gasped for air. She tried the small window, fumbling with the catch as the burning door cracked and fell behind her. Fiery beasts breathed an intense blast of heat into her bedroom.

Finally she managed to tear the window open, fill her lungs with fresh air and scream “aiuto! … aiuto! … sono intrappolata, non riesco a uscire, oddio, aiutami!

Arriviamo, arriviamo”, shouted a voice from the darkness outside, “dai ragazzi, sbrigatevi con quel cazzo di scala …. di qua, di qua, vedete, quella finestra lassù … ecco … occhio, piano, ecco così!”

Aiutatemi, sto quasi bruciando, oddio!”

Eccomi fanciulla, eccomi che arrivo ……..”

She awoke suddenly in darkness, the digital clock flickered on the night stand ….. 03:21. Outside the hissing of rain, a distant siren, and the low rumbling of thunder. “Dio quell’incubo, sempre lo stesso, non arriva mai quel signore a salvarmi dall’incendio. Quella maledetta scala infinita. Vedo lui che sale, sale, sale ma la scala si allunga sempre di più e non arriva mai a salvarmi … poi mi sveglio … è sempre così … porca miseria!”

Carmela reached out and switched on the bedside lamp, the Glock lay reassuringly where she’d placed it. Gradually her head began to clear … “mi sono addormentata guardando il libretto” she realised seeing her little black book still lying in her lap, “ma è difficile che mi riaddormenti ora … allora, su, finiamo questo lavoretto, poi vado a trovarmi un buon caffè da qualche parte.

She pulled herself upright, noticed the bar of dark chocolate lying beside her, hesitated, then broke off a chunk and popped it into her mouth. “… tanto, mi aiuta a concentrarmi …”

Chapter 4 – Nightmare

Carmela picked up the faded newspaper clipping that had slipped out of her libretto and nestled it amongst a small collection of photos, letters, and other memoirs held together by an elastic band. She had no need to look at it, she new the contents off by heart, but its presence served to remind her that her nightmare had its origins in reality.

Everything is temporary, no matter how secure we believe ourselves to be, no matter how tight we may hold on …. things, people, can be taken from us, everything can change in an instant, never to be the same again.

Gazzetta della Garfagnana 17 Ottobre 1998

Valico di Sotto, incendio in casa: muoiono tre persone. Salvata una ragazza di 11 anni.

Valico di Sotto, house fire, three dead. 11 year old girl rescued.

Le vittime, Antonio Santini (47 anni), Maria Carmela de Rossi (41), e Alda Gentiloni (78) sono morti nella loro casa a causa di un incendio divampato nella notte. Le fiamme sono scaturite poco dopo le 3 in un casolare vicino al paese.

The victims, Antonio Santini (47 years old), Maria Carmela de Rossi (41), e Alda Gentiloni (78) died in their home due to a fire that broke out during the night. The flames rose up just after 3 a.m. in a farmhouse near the village.

E’ ancora da verificare se si è trattato di una fiamma libera o di un cortocircuito. Di sicuro c’è che quella casa di Valico di Sotto, nei pressi di Lucca, è diventata un inferno, provocando la morte per asfissia di un uomo di 47 anni, padre di due figli, sua moglie di 41 anni e la 78enne madre di quest’ultima. L’unica superstite è stata la figlia che ha tentato invano di uscire dal rogo ma è stata salvata alla fine da un vicino di casa e i suoi due figli. Il vicino Roberto Zerbini (56) è riuscito a salire su una scala a pioli e afferrare la ragazza, Carmela Santini (11), dalla finestra della sua camera da letto al secondo piano.

It hasn’t yet been verified if it was caused by a naked flame or a short circuit. What is certain however is that the house in Vallico di Sotto near Lucca became an inferno, causing the death by asphyxiation of a 47 year old father of 2, his 41 year old wife and her 78 year old mother. The only survivor was the daughter, who tried in vain to get out of the blaze, but was finally rescued by a neighbour and his two sons. The neighbour, Roberto Zerbini (56) managed to climb up a ladder and grab the girl, Carmela Santini (11), from her bedroom window on the second floor.

La polizia sta provando a contattare il fratello della ragazza, Federico Santini (22) che è attualmente dislocato all’estero con le forze speciali italiane.

The police are trying to contact the girl’s brother, Federico Santini (22) who is presently on deployment abroad with the Italian special forces.

Carmela knew the real story behind this rather empty and anonymous news article. Sooner or later it had been bound to happen, but who had listened then, and what difference would it make now anyway. What had happened had happened: “sono stanca … stanca di viaggiare, di stare in pensioni low-cost, di mangiare nelle pizzerie e i bar … è ora che torni a casa e che finisca il mio lavoro, quello di creare l’unico posto dove posso proprio riposarmi” she told herself, “quindi, domani ritiro i soldi, faccio l’ultimo acquisto, mi compro il biglietto … e poi me ne vado a casa.”

Chapter 5 – Bianchina

Bianchina first appeared one cold November morning. Carmela opened the shutters of her living room window letting in the slanting autumn sunlight and found the kitten stretched across the window sill next to the geraniums.

Allora, tu chi sei?” Carmela asked the little white creature, “da dove sei arrivato?”

The kitten turned her head towards Carmela and replied with a weak “miao”. Carmela was immediately captivated by two tiny crossed china blue eyes.

Avrai fame immagino?” she asked, noticing the sharp outlines of the little one’s ribs, “sì, sei proprio affamato, vero? Dai, vieni ….” she reached out towards the kitten which made a half hearted attempt to hide itself behind a pot of geraniums, “dai, non avere paura, ho fame anch’io … dai, vieni piccolino, vieni a fare colazione con me” she said scooping the little creature up and cupping it in her warm hands.

Mamma mia, che freddo che c’hai! Vieni che c’è la stufa già accesa in cucina” she said wrapping the kitten in the folds of her old sweater and carrying it through to the kitchen where the freshly lit wood stove crackled and hissed in one corner.

Next to the stove stood an old scranno, the wooden high backed bench on which her mamma and nonna used to sit together in the evenings, knitting socks, and occasionally feeding logs into the fire.

Eccoci, accomodati pure”, she said, delicately placing the cold and hungry creature onto the knitted patchwork blanket which served as a cushion. “E adesso vado a trovarci qualcosa da mangiare, va bene?” she pulled one corner of the blanket over the kitten to keep it warm, rearranged the glowing logs in the stove, and went off to heat up some milk.

Stamattina latte caldo con brioche, ti va bene piccolino?”

Three years later

Scratch, scratch …. “miao!”

Carmela opened the living room shutters …

Chi c’è? …. ciao bellissima!”

miao miao”

Sì sì, hai ragione, è ora di fare colazione, scusami, sono molto in ritardo stamattina, ma sai come sono dopo le mie gite in città, torno sempre cotta, vero amore?”

Bianchina purred loudly, took a few steps forward, looked up at Carmela with her lovely china blue slightly crossed eyes, and rubbed her head against her friend’s chin.

Su, cosa mangiamo stamani, una bella brioche col latte caldo, cosa ne dici?”


Ecco, come al solito abbiamo deciso assieme subito … poi, ho una cosa speciale per te amore mio, sai cos’è oggi?”


Sì, infatti, oggi è il nostro terzo anniversario, pensa un po’, son già passati tre anni da quando ti ho trovato piccina piccina e affamata sul mio davanzale, e quindi ti ho portato una cosa bellissima dalla città.

L’ho notato nella vetrina di un negozio di roba per gli animali proprio accanto alla banca. Il ragazzo ha insistito che lo prendessi gratis, mi ha addirittura implorato …… che strano, mi sono detta. Poi mi sono resa conto che avevo già la pistola in mano, tutta pronta per entrare in banca …. che scema!”

Comunque, eccotela!” Carmela opened a blue silk lined box to reveal a beautiful grey velvet cat collar with the name Bianchina embroidered in white thread.

Bianchina gazed indifferently past the collar and began to move towards the kitchen “Ma non ti piace amore? … oddio, come sono cretina, hai fame, vero? … sì, infatti anch’io ce l’ho!”

Bianchina twisted and caressed her way around her friend’s legs whilst Carmela warmed up the milk and brioche.

Afterwards, they sat together on the patchwork blanket in front of the glowing wood stove.

E adesso ti racconto tutte le mie avventure in città … poi ti faccio vedere le ultime scarpe che ho acquistato …..”

Chapter 6 – My Special Place

Bianchina nudged open the door with her forehead. “È ora di svegliarla, ho bisogna di compagnia e croccantini.”

Carmela’s room looked perfectly normal to the little white cat, but to an outsider (what outsider, Carmela never had visitors) it would have been immediately apparent that the empty bed had not been slept in. In fact it never was.

The cat crossed the room diagonally, zebra stripes of sunlight caressing her back as she passed before the shuttered window. She pushed open another door, this time belonging to the enormous walk in wardrobe that completely dominated one side of the bedroom.

Ecco la mia piccola sveglia”, said Carmela sleepily. “Sarà ora di colazione, vero amore?”

Bianchina climbed upon her friend, and began rythmically purring and kneading Carmela’s stomach.

Dai, basta Bianca, mi arrendo, sì fra un attimo mi alzo! Ah se solo mi potessi portare il caffè a letto la mia vita sarebbe quasi perfetta!”

The girl pulled herself up into a sitting position and began to caress the cat who now moved up into her lap. She glanced around at the inside of her special place as she did every morning.

Shoes, shoes of all types and colours, stacked upon shelves lining the walls, and reaching up to the ceiling.

Sì, quasi perfetto”, she thought.

This was Carmela’s version of the enormous armadio in her nonna‘s room, the shoe filled wardrobe which had been her hiding place and bed during the violent times of her father’s drunkenness. Recreating nonna‘s wardrobe had been her passion, and now it was finished, now she could sleep soundly again, with only the occasional nightmare.

Sicuramente meglio di prima”, she reflected.

Miaow, the cat reminded her, “Ho fame!”

Sì, anch’io ce l’ho, su alziamoci!”

She crossed the room to open the shutters, transforming the zebra stripes on the floor into a dazzling golden rectangle. Bianchina, running slightly ahead, stopped a moment to look back, and seeing that Carmela was now heading in the right direction, scattered swiftly downstairs to the kitchen.

Dear readers, if you need help with the Italian dialogue in this story don’t hesitate to send me a comment.
Alla prossima, Geoff

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  1. Natalia Krawetz:

    An absolutely charming story.

  2. Joan Engelhaupt:

    I had wondered what happened to this story and thought you’d simply lost interest. I’m so sorry that the real reason was the death of Bianca, your kitty muse. I remember when that happened. You write well! How nice to be so competent in two languages!

    • Geoff:

      @Joan Engelhaupt Thanks for the lovely comment Joan, it means a lot.
      Last year was a tough one. Serena’s father passed away and her mother had a stroke. We spent endless hours in hospitals and trying to rearrange things to provide care for my mother in law. We gave Bianchina to her to keep her company after the death of my father in law. And then the kitten got sick, so I brought her back to our place to look after her. She died that evening wrapped in a blanket on my lap.
      It was the last straw, I can’t tell you the grief, and rage at the cruelty of life, that Bianchina’s death caused.

      So yes, the blog was pretty much abandoned, but not forgotten. It was good to get it finished … and I’ve already got ideas for another short story, perhaps linked to this one.

      Stammi bene, Geoff 🙂

  3. Suzi N:

    Grazie Geoff! Sono contento era un finale felice per i nostri amici nella storia.

    I have a grammar question about ‘ne’. Here is it used
    ‘e poi me ne vado a casa’ e ‘cosa ne dici?’
    In class we are learning it has many meanings, such as any / some / of it / of them and I am confused when to use it in everyday Italian. Is there a past blog you can refer me to for further information?

  4. Suzanne:

    What a sweet story, a good balance between the dark undertone and the optimism brought by the cat. Your own story is sad and I felt great sympathy as I read your reply to Joan, above. Clearly an awful time off loss for you both. I haven’t seen the expression “non è il massimo” before. In this context I imagine it means “not the best thing (in my line of work)” I also found it on the net variously meaning “not much to look at”, “no great shakes”, “not the greatest”, “not much fun”, and even “no great beauty”. Would you agree with these, and would you add any others? Thanks so much for your blog posts which both supplement and enrich my Italian studies.

    • Geoff:

      @Suzanne Thanks for your comment Suzanne, it’s very much appreciated.

      Non è il massimo is fairly generic, and can be used in lots of situations, e.g. com’è il tempo li da voi? Insomma, non è il massimo! (What’s the weather like where you are? Well, it’s not the best). Some of the translations that you found would apply better than others. It would depend on the situation, or the question that had been asked. For example: Com’è la fidanzata di Giovanni? Non è il massimo (di bellezza)! (What’s Giovanni’s girlfriend like? She no great beauty!).
      You could also add ‘not ideal’ to the list.

      Hope that helps. A presto, Geoff 🙂

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