Saturday, November 26, 2005

"Roman Arches" at the Waterworks

Paola CorsoToday at the Barnes and Noble Booksellers in the Waterworks Mall, Paola Corso read a portion from one of the stories in her new book Giovanna's 86 Circles and Other Stories.

The small crowd gathered for the reading included some of her old friends and extended family, some people like me who have discovered her through her writing, and some people who stopped at the edges of the event when they realized something wonderful was being read.

The Tarentum native read a portion of "Roman Arches," the final story in the collection, one that includes within it another story -- an Italian folk tale about a peasant with fallen arches. With magical hyperbole the story describes the villagers' changed perception of the peasant when he receives the free gift of lovingly handmade shoes with giant arches.
As he stood up ... the arches lifted him like a springboard. He soared into the sky, disappearing into the clouds. By then the villagers got word of the man's ascent and all eyes were in the heavens. There was nothing to see except white clouds sculpted across the sky like a lace tablecloth until suddenly the clouds dissolved in the sunlight. They spotted the man flying above their basillica as though he were hanging on the cross atop the church dome. The villagers threw themselves to their knees and bowed their heads on the cobblestone. When the peasant landed on the ground, they took turns kissing his feet.
It is a true gift to be able to receive a deepened perception of the dignity -- the magnificence -- of a person one might be inclined to write off as insignificant.

When the reading was over and people were greeting the author, I happened to overhear one woman tell her in a quiet voice, "You make us proud to be Italian." I suspect that this pride comes from more than merely recognizing Corso's accomplishments as an Italian-American woman. The stories she has written draw attention to the inner strengths and values that have formed people raised in working class river towns like Tarentum. By showing her readers who they are, Corso draws attention to the many reasons they have to be proud.

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