FRom AUSTRIA I WENT to Italy. Every morning, during my brief stay in the battered little Italian village of Castelmare, near Livorno, I would see old Maria Bendetti. Small, slight, and shrunken, barefooted, clad in rusty black, a black scarf bound about her head, her frail shoulders bowed beneath the big wicker basket on her back, she typified the prevailing tragedy. Her thin brown face, so set and careworn, seemed moulded by calamity into lines of irreparable sadness.
She sold fish, those odd and unappetizing Mediterranean fishes which, eked out by a scant ration of macaroni or spaghetti, formed the meagre diet of this broken seaside community. I had known the village in its days of carefree, joyous peace. Now there was no music and laughter in the little square, where bomb-gutted buildings sprawled drunkenly among the dusty rubble, a scene of utter heartbreak, over which the scent of flowering oleanders lay poignantly, as upon a tomb. The place was dead, and because I had loved it so well, its final desolation saddened me anew.
Most of the young men and women had moved away. But the children and older people remained, moving, it seemed to me, like ghosts, wresting a hand-to-mouth existence from the sea with their patched-up boats and mended nets.
And among these was Maria. Occasionally she was accompanied by her niece, a thin barelegged waif of ten, who trotted beside her and cried in a shrill insistent voice, "Pesci. . . pesci freschil" as