I was strolling alone along the Clyde river, as the sunset colored the evening sky, when a woman looked toward me – I wanted to just keep going straight. Bagpipes sounded somewhere in the distance as she moved toward me under the porticoes, her eyes still fixed on me, but I didn’t stop her. She reminded me of another woman I’d left behind in Italy: I’ve been in Glasgow for a good while now, and I never thought that fate would pull a joke like this on me. I’d opened my own Fish&Chips stand and even wore a kilt; I went to church on Sundays but wasn’t around other Italians that much, avoiding the dialect. Scottish people respected me: “your fried fish is just as good as ours,” they’d say. But the gaze of that woman gave me a chill that seeped down to my bones: I’d been able to keep Barga and the Garfagnana off my mind for years, and look at what had to come along and happen to me.
I was helping Domenico sand the planks of the church beams. Lamb Holm was frigid, just like all the Orkneys. Every now and then I’d wonder if her hair was still copper colored. Ever since Churchill had ordered Collar the Lot, everyone up there had beaten us. I called it a church—it was really two military shacksleaning against each other, but their white-red walls would still warm the heart—there were even those who came to see this church from other islands. People said that it was a sin, that everything was over-the-top, and that in Scotland we weren’t bothering anyone. People would talk about the Duomo di San Cristoforo, the strange inscription on the stone, the lions sculpted into the marble; I, on the other hand, kept on looking for her in the face of every woman who docked on the pier. I was still convinced that she was my soulmate, and I hoped that everything had gone well for her. There were those on the Arandora Star who were now gazing up at the stars from the depths of the Atlantic, but the news seemed to say they had all been men.
Today there’s the festa, and I return to buy the fried codfish. I don’t know if it’s as good as how I used to make it, but in Glasgow those fish were fresh out of the water, or maybe it was just my youth. From piazza Angello the sound of the bagpipes rises, yes, even right here in Barga. Now and then I go to see Keane, pick up a book from his shop, and promise him that I’ll bring it back. He greets me with a wave as he continues to paint the decorations of the Duomo. The air is crisp like it was when I was a child: I go back to the Fish&Chips stand and my grandson smiles at me with his copper-colored hair. “The baccalà was better,” I tell him, but I’ve never eaten any potatoes this good.