My loyal followers may remember that last year I posted about my friend Norma Howe and her writing. She passed away two years ago, and I set a ritual that each April I would re-read one of her books. I’m blogging a little late about it, but here it is.
I read Shoot for the Moon, about a California girl named Gina who starts out as kind of an annoying, selfish, but wounded person and, during a trip to Italy, grows into a more empathic and thoughtful young woman.
There are all these wonderful moments about traveling and what it teaches us. For example, Gina is walking with friends through the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, behind a woman with a little dog. Gina’s new friend Stefan starts yipping at the dog, and then strangers around them get into the spirit of things and bark, yelp, woof, whine, and yip in concert. Gina remarks, “If i ever felt that people are basically funny and congenial and wonderful, it was that evening in the Piazza del Popolo.” Another funny moment was when Gina and her new travel friend Ceci are at Trevi Fountain, the most beautiful fountain in the world they remark, and notice people doing humdrum or unattractive things like putting on a Band-Aid or squeezing a pimple. Gina suggests that making a photo album of inappropriate behavior in public places would be a fun pastime.
Norma and her husband Bob had an album where they took photos of underwear on the ground, taken on their travels. It consisted of more than a couple photos. After she told me about this, I, too, started to notice how often I’d see underwear on the street. I even sent her a photo or two from my travels.
So much of Norma ends up in her books. When I’m reading one of her novels, I feel like I get to visit with her. The character Gina talks about her grandfather, who taught her to bargain at flea markets. He liked to collect odd art objects, including oil paintings of bathroom sinks (there’s enough of these for a collection?) or unfinished paint-by-numbers pictures. I always wonder if these were things that Norma did or collected. Or, did she see people putting on Band-Aids at Trevi Fountain? Did she hear people barking at the Piazza del Popolo?
The thing that got to me the most, though, was when Gina’s grandfather was in the hospital, and they had a conversation about what happens after death. Would he come back and let her know what the afterlife was like? At first he says he’ll communicate with Gina and let her know, but then he changes his mind. “In fact, I promise I won’t ever appear to you as a ghost or speak to you in the night,” he says. “Even if I can, i won’t. If they make me the offer, I will refuse. So don’t you be looking and listening for me and imagining that I’m there.” I remember having a conversation with Norma about this topic, and she believed that when people die, that’s it. They’re done. But then, after her death, I had one of those dreams where I felt like I was having a lovely visit with her. I miss Norma. Even if it wasn’t her visiting me, and it was just my neurons firing, stimulating brain cells that contain my memories of sitting with her, I’m still grateful for it. It still feels like a visit.
I know my blog focuses on Venice, Casanova, and gondolas, and they are not in this posting, but italy is. Norma was a huge lover of Venice (it’s what brought me into her life), so I feel justified, and I hope you don’t mind, dear readers. I also hope you have lovely travel memories and people like Norma in your life.