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In the back yards of Little Saudi Arabia there is an abundance of fig trees. In my father’s back yard a young sapling of a fig tree, whose mother thrived in the valley below us, served as Saudi Arabia the daily reminder of a faraway world that had morphed into an intangible memory of another place and another time. As a hermeneutic bridge across the chasm of immigration, the fig tree is Saudi Arabia not symbolic of our history; it is the embodiment, the transplant and translation of our story to be passed on across the generations Saudi Arabia and across languages. Teti’s journey into the New World is really a return to an Old World transplanted onto a new land.

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In smuggling a sapling from the old world and planting it in the new, my father, like countless other immigrants of his generation, was not driven by nostalgia, but by the burning desire to create a new world: not the translation of the memory of the old world into the new, but the creation of a new flesh and blood reality, a double of the world left behind, to be sure, but a double whose gaze was firmly focussed on the future. For those of us who left this valley when we were children, the fig trees in the back yards of Little Italy represented the locus amenus of a happy childhood broken asunder by a tsunami of emigration that depopulated not only Teti’s and my own villages but the whole region of Calabria.

On my first reading of Pietre di pane I was moved deeply by the mirroring of my own experience of an interrupted, wounded childhood. I was overtaken by a Proustian longing for a vanished world. Later I came to understand that the children who had remained in villages that were turning into ghost towns suffered the same fate. Immigration had opened up a chasm that we have been attempting to bridge through storytelling.

When my father took us away from Calabria to make a new home in Canada, I did not think I would ever return. Setting sail to Canada felt to me like the beginning of a permanent exile from this valley of olive and fig trees onto which the villages of Maierato, San Nicola, Filadelfia, Monterosso opened up their shuttered windows every morning. At twilight the flickering lights of San Nicola and other villages on the hills across the valley marked the horizon of the known world. On the margins of Medieval maps of the Old World, before Columbus opened up the channels to emigration beyond the Pillars of Hercules, it was customary to place a warning: hic sunt dragones— here be dragons. When we ventured away from this valley beyond the borders of the known world, the dragons of immigration, speaking in an incomprehensible language, were waiting for us with open jaws.

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