A beep and bad news


Our 21st-century connectedness amplifies the good and the bad and everything in between. We hear from everyone, wanted and unwanted, and their messages intrude relentlessly through every day. We consume on their schedules. They report to us — to the world, really — their status. When it changes, we learn. The communication mechanism doesn’t matter, the bells, music, beeps, and ring tones sound when they want to, and we have become accustomed to answering each summons. The weight of the information doesn’t matter to the media. It may be tragic, hilarious, inconsequential, appalling, but it is merely delivered, and do with it what you like. But, under no circumstances, ignore it.

It wasn’t always so, of course. That’s not a judgment, but a distinction. (There may be a judgment lurking, but leave that alone for the moment.) Good news and bad, interesting and insipid, surprising and prosaic — news traveled slowly only a few years ago. Then, word of a friend who died an ocean away came in a handwritten note that landed in your mailbox, was collected two days later, lay on your desk for several hours or another day, and finally was opened at the breakfast table the next morning. News that broke your heart broke slowly.

That sort of news, delivered with a jingle and a blinking LED, does not wait these days. At a certain age, that sort of news is increasingly common, and soothing delay may be desirable. If it slipped silently in through the letter slot on the door or came in an envelope hidden in a pile of bills, the nerves would not jangle so, life might not crumble right in the middle of a cheery moment. But, here it is, the news is bad, its stark hopelessness is at the top of the email list. The bell, beep, or tune sounded for a death, inescapable and intruding.

The first time Salvatore Frallicciardi visited the Vineyard, he came in a tiny sailboat in 1969. We arrived after a blustery trip across Buzzards Bay, through Quicks Hole, down Vineyard Sound, to Vineyard Haven. Salvatore, not really a sailor, stepped ashore and planted a kiss on the Owen Park beach sand. He was a vigorous Florentine, an artist, and he was fond of the grand gesture, wedded to it really.

I stayed, but Salvatore returned to Italy, and despite his uncomfortable introduction to seafaring, he became a recreation director for an Italian cruise line that treated passengers to trips along the western Italian coast. He was lively, convivial, energetic, spoke Italian, English, French, and Spanish, and I am sure his passengers were delighted by his attention. Really though, he was an artist, a painter, a writer, an enthusiast for architecture and sculpture, and in retirement he devoted himself to all of these. Visiting with Salvatore in Italy or France, we, his entourage, toured museums, received instruction in art, sculpture, and history, and learned where the best food for the best price could be had. He marched through the streets, trailed by us and striking up conversations with anyone who passed, most often young women, speaking whatever language was required and leaving them charmed. He was very proud of his congenial nature and confident that the world was better for it.

Salvatore returned to the Vineyard by air a few years ago to stay for a month. Alex Preston of Chilmark generously offered accommodations, and Salvatore dug in. Because he lived almost at the Aquinnah-Chilmark line, he used the VTA daily, and he went everywhere, talking to everyone he met. He took a coffee here, had a glass of wine there, visited art galleries, and puzzled at the behavior of Islanders he met. Why do they live in the woods? How do they afford the prices? Where do you find a good cheese, or olive oil? You call it pizza, but it is not pizza. I will make a pizza for you.

Salvatore’s English was eccentric but vigorous, and musical too — the dog “barkled.” Why must the dog “barkle”? I should have said, he loved music, especially French, especially Piaf. He sang nearly every sound he made.

He enjoyed his stay, although he wondered how we got along without museums, musical performances, theater, and research libraries. He thought in terms of Florence, Venice, Paris, Madrid. He loved the beauty of the landscape, its variety, its volumes, its colors, but he loved it all with a painter’s eye and never imagined himself inhabiting it. Still, he said he would return.

But, of course, one cannot count on such things, and the other day the email, frigidly indifferent to the terrible news it delivered, reported that he had died in his house outside Florence. His daughter described the several months of discomfort and the ultimate collapse of hope that ended his joyful life.