About the Book:In this multigenerational memoir, My Father's Daughter, From Rome to Sicily, our author travels with her Italian-born father, Italian-American mother, and very-American husband to the villages of her ancestors. This trilogy tale leads the reader through ancient sites of Rome, landscapes of a picturesque countryside, seaside villages of Sicily, olive trees in the valley of Mount Etna, while contrasting an emotional journey between a father and daughter.
Former North Carolina Poet Laureate, Joseph Bathanti, says, "My Father's Daughter: From Rome to Sicily is a travel book in every sense. Syverson - a savvy, funny, elegant tour guide - expertly escorts us through the gorgeous time-locked terrain of Italy, but also along the often precarious byways of the heart. This book risks everything: its humanity, its courage, its sheer unbridled candor, the moving sweep of its poetic language, and its refusal to turn away from the breathtaking mystery of love and ancestry.
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INTERVIEW WITH GILDA MORINA SYVERSONDo you have another job outside of writing?
Yes, I also teach memoir writing!
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
Truth be told, I probably most enjoyed writing my father because I could say exactly what I was thinking, like he always did. When the book was finished and he read it, he didn't mind what I said one bit.
What would your main character say about you?
There are really a few main characters. My character, me, would say: "A bit obsessive, perhaps?" Dad's character would say, "I don't care what you say, as long as you talk about me."
What song would you pick to go with your book?
Andrea Bocelli's "Time to Say Goodbye."
What book are you currently reading and in what format?
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Paperback.
Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
I love to start writing by sitting up in bed and writing in my journal, either early in the morning or late at night.
Where’s home for you?
Now, home is in North Carolina.
Where did you grow up?
Syracuse, New York.
What’s your favorite memory?
I write memoir and poetry and have a slew of memories. One that has made a difference in my life was traveling to Quebec city from Syracuse when I was about six years old with my father, my mother, my sister Nicki, my brother Anthony, and my grandmother that I was named after, Nonna Egidia. Nonna is a character in my memoir that readers have commented on.
Have you been in any natural disasters?
Mostly ones I create in my head.
What makes you happy?
Stu. In the book you'll see why. I take life way too seriously, and Stu makes me laugh a lot, even at myself.
What makes you excited?
Traveling. I love to travel, if I can get past the thought of leaving my home, I'm ready to fly.
How did you meet your spouse?
I met my husband Stu at a Halloween party. Love at first sight? I tried to ignore that possibility, but there was real attraction there that day and it has never gone away.
Would you rather work in a library or a bookstore?
They are both appealing. Probably a library.
Where is your favorite library, and what do you love about it?
I love Boston Public Library on Boylston Street. Probably because it's in Boston, and I love that city. Although the main branch of the New York Public is appealing too. There are so many layers to large libraries. While I'm at it, I've always been impressed with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library System, because they will transport any book from anywhere in the county for you. And then there is that wonderful little red library I fell in love with as a child - it's no longer there on Nichols Avenue. A new one was built in its place, although it is hardly new anymore. I remember the exact corner that drew me in. Can you tell I love libraries!
You can be any fictional character for one day. Who would you be?
Pippi Longstocking! For today anyway. Tomorrow I could make another choice.
Why did you decide to publish with a traditional publisher)?
I decided to publish with Laura Ponticello of Divine Phoenix and Pegasus Books because she was as passionate about my story as I have been. We immediately connected.
Are you happy with your decision to publish with them?
I can't imagine any other publisher giving my story and me as much attention and as much caring as Laura Ponticello has given. I am beyond happy with my decision.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to walk in the woods, on greenways, on the beach - anywhere in nature.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where in the world would it be?
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on supporting my memoir and the message behind why I think memoir is so important. If we don't write our own stories they will die with us.
I am teaching classes and workshops, sending out articles about my own recent memoir writing experiences.
BOOK EXCERPT:Sunday, October 15
Bright lights on the digital alarm blink 5:00 a.m. Five o’clock? What in the world am I doing awake? And what is this inner voice nagging me about room reservations in Rome? Something doesn’t feel right. Today? Sunday. Tomorrow is Monday. We’re leaving — Mom, Dad, Stu and me — for our trip to Italy and Sicily.
Why this message now and not when the itinerary arrived two months ago? Wait. I did wonder why the address for the hotel was different from what Carol, our travel agent, gave me on the phone. Why didn’t I pay attention to those feelings when the reservations first arrived?
I’ve been to Italy half a dozen times. Anything’s possible there. The building could be on a side alley, the address on the main road. Carol referred to the place as Hotel Columbus, and in her next breath called it Hotel Cristoforo Colombo.
It didn’t seem unusual to hear her use English and then Italian. After all, we both have Italian backgrounds. That’s why I used Carol to make the flight arrangements. I even chuckled when she rolled those rich flowing vowels off her tongue. Maybe I shouldn’t be so friendly and focus strictly on business.
One night on the Internet, I looked up the Hotel Columbus. Just like Carol had said, the address was Via della Conciliazione, Numero 34. The ad even touted that they were only blocks from the Vatican. I assumed the street address on the itinerary was simply an error. How many Christopher Columbus Hotels could there be, anyway? It wasn’t a chain — that much I knew.
At different times in my life, I’ve learned to let go and let others do things for me. But it didn’t come easy. Being the second oldest of eight children, I’ve often felt overly responsible.
I can’t be in charge of absolutely everything. At least that’s what I’ve tried to tell myself after having moved away from my large Italian-American family. Besides, our agent is not just any fly-by-night. She’s been in the business for over thirty years specializing in trips to Italy.
Now, here I am the morning before we’re supposed to leave, and I can’t stop churning. If I don’t get back to sleep, I’ll wake my husband. There’s no sense in both Stu and me being sleep deprived. I slip out of bed, climb the stairs to my art studio and quietly close the door. I hate following up after Carol, but I’m calling that hotel in Rome.
“Buon giorno,” I say in my best Italian. “Parla Inglese?”
I’ve learned that if anyone there admits to speaking English, his or her verbal skills are much more fluent than my broken Italian. Luigi, the person on the other end of the phone, takes my last name and my parents‟ name, then asks for our reservation numbers.
“No problema,” Luigi says in his rich accent; we are booked.
To be absolutely sure, I say, “Now this is the Hotel Columbus two blocks from the Vatican, correct?”
“No, not correct,” Luigi replies. “We are about fifteen kilometers from the Vatican.”
Fifteen kilometers doesn’t register. I envision fifteen yards, fifteen feet, fifteen anything but kilometers.
“Si,” I repeat, “fifteen kilometers is right down the street from the Vatican, correct?”
“No, not correct,” he says again. “Kilometers, kilometers,” he repeats, pronouncing each syllable—key lom e tours.
And then it hits me.
“KILOMETERS?” I bellow, “But my travel agent said that you were in walking distance of the Vatican.”
“We are not,” he says. “You will have to take a bus or a tassi.”
Frantic, I hang up furious with myself for not having listened to my intuition after the itinerary arrived months ago. I ignored that internal voice trying to tell me something was awry and assumed my imagination had gotten the best of me, as I’ve been told most of my life it did.
I click on the Internet and find the phone number for the other Hotel Columbus and call. A woman named Stefania also replies yes to my question about speaking English.
“I’m sorry, Madam,” she says, “We do not have your name.”
She doesn’t have the reservation number that I read off either. Obviously, the confirmation system at one hotel is different from another. But I am grasping here. It’s pretty apparent that our reservations are with the first place I called.
I’m going to Rome with my mother and father, seventy- three and seventy-six, respectively. Although they’re not old, they’re not young and used to traveling either. And we’re not even staying close to the Vatican.
My father attends Mass every day, sometimes twice. Mom is not compulsive about daily Mass, but she is excited about being within walking distance from what we’ve always been taught is the seat of Catholicism.
Thanks to Stu, my Episcopalian husband, we’re scheduled to see Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's piazza the morning after we arrive in Italy. Stu's nephew's wife’s father, a colonel in the U.S. Army, had once been stationed at the American Embassy in Rome, and he was able to arrange a papal audience for us. Well, the four of us and about 8,000 other people.
The plan is to walk to the piazza from our hotel. Since the year 2000 is the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Celebration, we do not want to fight the traffic with the thousands of pilgrims who will be flooding Vatican City from all areas of the capital. Even though the main impetus for the trip is to visit my parents' ancestral towns in Sicily, how can we go to Italy with my folks and not visit Rome?
Now on the other end of the phone, Stefania, the woman from the hotel near the Vatican, is trying to calm my rattled nerves.
“Madam, stay in the hotel that you have a reservation for and then try to find another place after you arrive. Rooms are scarce here,” she continues. “You are lucky to have one at all.”
Lucky is not how I’m feeling. I explain to Stefania how my parents are older, that it’s my mother’s first trip abroad, and we are willing take any available rooms. After several apologies and her sympathy, Stefania says they are totally booked. Exasperated, I go back to bed and crawl beneath the covers. So much for trying not to rouse my husband.
“Stu,” I whisper, “Those hotel reservations in Rome... they’re not at all near the Vatican.”
His eyes pop open.
Now we’re both awake for the day. I wait until almost 8:30 before I call our travel agent at home. Carol and I spend most of Sunday on and off the phone. Even though she looks on numerous Internet sites for another place near the Vatican, none of her attempts meet with success.
About the Author
Gilda’s award-winning poems and prose have appeared in literary journals, magazines and anthologies in the United States and Canada. She is also the author of the full-length poetry book, Facing the Dragon, and the chapbook, In This Dream Everything Remains Inside. Her commentaries have been aired on WFAE, Charlotte, N.C.’s public radio station.
Gilda moved to Charlotte, North Carolina after having received an MFA in Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education from Buffalo State College. Gilda has taught in the Creative Arts for over 35 years including memoir classes and workshops for Queens University of Charlotte, The Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius, North Carolina and at various other locations. Her fine art has been exhibited regionally, nationally, and internationally. Her angel drawings and prints are in a number of collections throughout the United States, Canada, and Italy.
Gilda lives outside of Charlotte, N.C. with her husband Stu.
Connect with Gilda:
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