The first love
Mother had always been a fantastic storyteller. I well remember in my younger days of those evenings in Tolmezzo, where we spent our summer time at grandmother’s place, and she narrated, to me, Sergio and the other friends of ours, tales that sprung out of her fervid imagination. Evening after evening, we sat in the courtyard under the mulberry tree fronting Grandmother’s place. She theatrically narrated, changing the timbre of her voice, to emphasize and embellish the story, using the motion of hands and looks, leaving us lost in the dream of her narration, intently listening to her with dilated pupils and open mouths, following the way such an amazing story was developing, chapter after chapter. In her narration she usually used to have as protagonist pet animals which became alive out of Mother’s fantasy and creation, for our enjoyment.
I have realized that Mother hasn’t lost any flavor in her present day narrative. She still possesses her fascinating way of description. In fact over the last week I followed her, day after day, in the narration of my grandmother’s days in Buda, in that enchanted world that was that city in the far away time in the beginning of the 1900 s’.
Through her narration I recalled vividly the life of my grandmother, the young Luigia, that had just turned sixteen, in that enchanted world of Buda, so much different from what it was for her, away from her home in Nimis, the leading capital city of that time, full of life, lights, colors. I could see through Mother’s narration the so many poetical, musical, enchanting places of that city; I could visualize the large calm river that the locals call Dana, and where ships could navigate, from the far away Black Sea, to Vienna and further up to where it springs from the German Black Forest. I imagined being on board one of those special boats cruising along the river, where unbelievable parties were reviled with dances, music, lights and the people drinking bubbling Rhine wines and French champagne. I admired the ladies in their fashionable long silky dresses, engaged in dances with those stiff gentlemen that conducted them into waltzes and mazurkas.
Through Mother’s stories I could imagine my Grandmother Luigia’s life and I followed her through those days of dreams and passions which existed in a young lady of those times.
Of course, to see all this, we have to adjust our time back to the clocks of the beginning of the twenty century. We have to see life through their eyes, dressing in the way they used to, and to think in the way they were educated. Their mentality was quite different then the open mentality of our days, where, particularly for young people, all is granted and possible. Conception of what one could or couldn’t do was limited in those old days.
A young woman like Luigia wouldn’t have had the freedom that the young women have in our days. She had to speak in a certain way and observe strict rules imposed by the family and the judicial times. She would never have been allowed to openly express her thoughts even with her closest friend or sister. She would have been restricted in her mind and soul. For this reason her dreams became larger than expectation, because all of them would have been seen in a reasonably restricted horizon with many fears to deepen her real feelings.
In this way, I will try to reconstruct her days and dreams, in the best way that I possibly can. I would have to focus on much different kind of living and mentality.
~ * ~
It was a calm night with the air thick with the sent of roses from the garden behind the terrace.
Several tables were set up over the large patio fronting the Danube and candle lantern hanged on the patio and the branches of trees in the garden. Behind tall windows and door opening to the outside area was possible to hear the orchestra play the rhythm of a mazurka and see those in the ballroom dancing to such a fashionable dance.
Luigia was there with her cousins Erika and Ilona, at the Grand Hotel, celebrating for her arrival in Buda.
Luigia had her sixteen birthdays a weeks earlier, and was enjoying a different atmosphere, quite different from the used austerity of her family style in Nimis.
She came with her father Francesco that left her in good care of Auntie Alexandra’s family in Buda, and to live there for sometime. She immediately liked the better house with many more luxuries that wasn’t at home, and soon Luigia adjusted to the easier life offered by the comfort of her new place.
Luigia was tall, slender and had an aristocratic look. She had large chestnut eyes, with her abundant brown hair styled into a chignon. She was adorned with a golden chain holding a cameo.
It was the beginning if summer by the time they went to The Grand Hotel for a party where most of the aristocracy and wealthy people had been invited. Ilona, the elder of the cousins was the one who took care of Luigia and wanted to present her to the many friends she had there. Giggling Ilona took Luigia over to a table and introduced her to a group of young ladies, their cousin’s friends, and the two young men wearing evening clothes. Apparently the group had an happy evening and a bottle of sparkling wine with a few glasses was on the table.
‘This is my cousin Luigia, she had just arrived from Friuli, and she will be with us for sometime… Please, stay where you are, Frederick.’ Ilona said.
But the young man with a dark blond hair was already on his feet, clicking his boots in attendance, customary of a soldier, with his head bent low. He lifted Luigia’s hand to his lips, while his mustaches tickled her fingers.
‘How can I possibly sit still?’ He murmured ‘She his so charming.’
Luigia wasn’t ready for such open comment in her still remained the young country girl not so much converse to men gallantries. But since she was in Buda had start to learn fast and became more open minded how was city life.
Immediately realize that been mixed with this new friends in that exotic place, with the orchestra playing magnificent waltz tunes and mazurkas, many young well breed men at the party had easily noticed her in the evening who had rose their looks in admiration of her.
‘Frederic Karl, Captain of the Fifth Hussars,’ the young man in front of her murmured. Then releasing her hand stood up straight. He was slim, reasonably tall, with a burning light in his blue eyes and somewhere a captivating smile.
Frederick, despite his well tailored evening jacket and the appearance of enjoying the good life of the party, drinking champagne and smoking cigars, in the company of other young women and men, had the image of a young man more conversed to an open life in the country than in a ballroom. His face was sunburned, indicating he used to live freely, and the shadow in his eyes contradicted the thought he enjoyed the playful lifestyle.
‘How do you do?’ Luigia replied.
‘Look at our Luigia, my dear friends, don’t you see how nice she looks?’
Ilona was saying with a giggle,
‘She is a good young lady from a respectable family in north Italy. Her father, since well before I was born use to have business here in Hungary. He now builds a new railway in Transylvania.’
Ilona, the elders of the cousins, liked to present Luigia under the best view desiring her to have equally the many numerous friends, she had in the city.
New chairs were taken over, and two tables joined together to make room for all.
With Frederick was another officer, named Bruno and eagerly they were giving full attentions and used their gallantry to the group of five young ladies with them. They offered champagne to the new arrival and filled the other glasses already there.
‘So what do you think of Buda? If you like one day I will take you around the city and I’ll show the most characteristic monuments that the city is rich of.’
Frederick said to Luigia.
Ilona in the meantime was intent to exchange hilarious anecdotes with the others and laughs were around in the group. The laugh of the others distracted Luigia and Frederick tried to attract again her attentions. He asked her,
‘Have you any time available to dance with me? Could you please add my name in your carnet for tonight’s dances?’
At that time a blare of music reached them from the dancing floor, followed by a burst of applause as the orchestra rested. Luigia, confused from Frederick question reddened a bit, replaying,
“Matter of facts I haven’t any carnet or any reservation. I’m quite new around the party and I think no one will be much interested to dance with me.’
Bruno who had listened, came in between the two; and in a sarcastic smile, amused commanded,
‘Don’t dance with Frederick, if you have to take a change choose me, I’m a much a better dancer then him.’
‘Bruno…!’ warned Frederick.
‘We may dance later,’ said Luigia with a calm voice to the two ‘Beside I need someone who is patient enough and capable to teach me…’
‘Fine Luigia, nothing better then a walk in the garden then, would you like to come with me?
Saying so, Frederick rose and drew back Luigia chair. She stood up while gallantry he put his hand under her arm. They walked across the lawn, following two rows of peach trees, loaded with perfumed flowers and having in between a path of white pebbles. The lawn carpet, well manicured, was of a rich green under the reflection of the candle lamps, hung along lines on the branches above.
Luigia was relaxed and felt good, for her was a trilling moment, the best since she had left home and she wasn’t embarrassed to be alone with her new male friend.
‘Those are the lights of The Chain Bridge, and further down, you can distinguish, on the other side of the river, in the moonlight, a large building, with the cupola and towers. That is Parliament House.’
Saying so, he pointed to Luigia, while at the same time supported her with the other hand.
Slowly they walked around the park, to the end where they could smell the roses. They were inundated by the intense perfumed and they saw the reds and the whites of the rose buds contrasting over the deep green of the lawns. Frederick still pointed to Luigia the salient points of the city as they became into view. His voice was gentle, even if it had an authoritarian tone. Luigia came to like instinctively the man next to her. But was hesitant, Frederick was her first man. She had never been alone, and in the dark of a park with a man. It was so trilling and emotion buckled her knees. She knew she didn’t have to panicking. She had realized by now that he was a perfect gentleman. She knew that to be an officer he must be from one of the finest family in the country and that reassured and pleased her.
They walked back until they reached the hall. People were dancing on the floor at the rhythms of a Vienna Waltz. Frederick had a smile and with a suave expression, without asking whether or not, took Luigia by the hand and guided her to the dancing floor. She didn’t object, and moved to it. It was such a beautiful tune and the ladies moved swiftly, light like butterflies conducted by their leading men.
She accepted silently the invitation and then they just danced. Frederick was a good dancer and took her delicately into the rhythm of music and guided Luigia sweetly into the steps of that dreaming waltz and spinning at the tempo of the Vienna waltz.
A smile shone in his face and his contentment was evident in guiding her on the crowded floor. His heart beat rapidly and the pulsation where transmitted to Luigia through their hands. Pleasure was evident in them.
They were absorbed in dancing well. Their eyes joined, without need of talking, communicating their feelings in a language that had never been used before.
The first dance ran into the next, and the one after that.
Luigia was intoxicated with excitement. It appeared to her that was nothing better then dancing with him, dreaming while spinning in such splendid waltzes. She noticed other couples glancing at them, and smiling back, but that wasn’t important. She was taken by the pleasure to be with Frederick, with him completely absorbed from her graces. They exchanged only a few wards, but that wasn’t relevant to Luigia. She thought it was like she knew him for long time. She was possessed from a new sensation, under a spell and in her was a sort of drunkenness, running fast to her brain, intoxicating much more then the champagne she had drunk before.
Her soul floated with happiness; in her existed mixed desires and anticipation for what the morrow will bring. She felt inebriated, a drunken happiness possessed her.
Frederick swung her around the floor in the fast movement commanded from the music. Suddenly Luigia lost a step and tripped over her high hill. A hot shiver of pain rose from her ankle up the leg, and she certainly would have fallen if he wouldn’t have supported her with his harm that was over her waist.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Just twisted, I think.’
She had whitened in her face and the pain was visible in her.
‘Support yourself on my harm, I’ll help you.’
Slowly they left the dancing floor. She limped badly, and that called the attention of the others in the group sitting at the table, they thought it was something wrong. Ilona and Bruno came along enquiringly.
‘What’s going on?’ They asked in unison.
‘I’m helping Miss. Tullio to a chair. She had just twisted her ankle.’ Frederick explained.
Luigia tried to stand on herself, but shivers rose in her and made her twist her lips in a grimace of pain.
Ilona intervened saying to the others,
‘Please help Luigia to the table, while I’ll look for Mother’s couch outside. I’ll take her home.’
The pain in Luigia’s ankle became intense and faint nausea made her feel weaker. Frederick and Bruno at each side of Luigia and supported her across the room.
It was then that Ilona’s mother came along and looked at Luigia. She saw pain painted in her. She gently said,
‘Your ankle will be swallowing soon. You need to rest your foot over a high stool and made icy water packs to stop it. Ilona will look after you properly. I’ll see you in the morning.’