Volume 34, Number 1

Stories of Sardinia

Jonathan B. Ferrini

“You’re not the ‘rainmaker’ you once were, so the partners have decided to exercise your partnership buyout. This generous check represents your decades of brilliant service to this law firm and its corporate clients.”

I admired the many framed photos of smiling children and grandchildren adorning his desk. I resented this once grandfatherly mentor pushing me to become a great attorney at the expense of a creating a family.

The firm and its clients were my life. When I began as a young attorney, maternity leave wasn’t possible. I was an only child and both my parents had passed. I didn’t know my grandparents. I felt alone in the world without purpose.

Walking down the plush red carpet felt like walking on broken glass as I passed the mahogany paneled walls displaying portraits of former senior partners. I felt the “boys’ club” was taunting me, suggesting my goal of becoming the first female managing partner was foolhardy.

Only a man can have it all!

It was the worst time of my life. No sooner had I received my diagnosis recommending radiation treatment, and if unsuccessful, a double mastectomy, I was handed a petition for divorce. My husband, Paul, found a woman less than half his age and planned a family together.

Our apartment felt cold and distant.

I gathered up the framed photos of me and Paul, the clothing he left behind, which I carefully selected for him with love, placed all of it in a box and opened the door to the empty bedroom intended for the child we never got around to conceiving, reminding me of my empty womb described by my physician as “void of eggs” I shuttered the door closing the dream of marriage and family forever.

My heart felt dead as my womb. I became a recluse. I alternated between bouts of insomnia and sleeping too much; a diet of saltines and water, or ice cream binges. The succession of anti-depressant medications didn’t help. My only interaction with people was with the doorman who I dispatched to retrieve food and drink items with instructions to “knock once, leave at the front door” so I’d have no face-to-face interaction with him. I refrained from answering the phone, checking emails, and opening my computer.

I self-published a legal thriller titled “Subrogation Clause” about a young, ambitious female corporate attorney engaged in mergers and acquisitions law around the globe. A literary agent agreed to represent me and take the book straight to film. For months, the agent was negotiating an option by a Hollywood production company, and my lifelong dream of becoming a working author would sustain me through my illness, divorce and firing.

I feared “no news was bad news” regarding the movie deal. Surely, the agent would have phoned me with good news. As I scanned the subject line of the many unopened emails, there it was: Option dead. They passed.

I slammed the laptop closed, took it to the trash chute and let the notebook computer slide down the many floors, crashing into the trash bin below, splintering into many shards like my life.

It was my unfortunate habit to revisit the past when faced with disappointment. I streamed an old movie favorite, “Love Story.” I recall them shooting the film on campus back in the early seventies. I was reminded what a glorious time it was. The NOW movement was underway and a glimmer of hope that women, too, could “have it all.” Time seemed infinite. I was dating Paul, and we began to formulate plans for a future together. Paul was a “planner” and the first of many plans included marriage after graduation from law school, finding partnership tracks at prestigious Wall Street firms and building a family after one or both of us made partner.

Time isn’t infinite. It slips away. By the time we were ready to begin a family, I had difficulty conceiving. Paul’s frustration wasn’t lost upon me. When a nationally recognized expert on reproductive medicine presented his negative findings, I realized that I made a “Faustian Bargain” with time. The movie’s end resembled my own.

I was experiencing a severe bout of depression and contemplated suicide by “killing” a bottle of Cabernet with a chaser of high-potency pain pills. Instead, I buried my head within my pillow and cried myself to sleep.

I was awakened by a phone call. I would have resisted answering the call but the caller I.D. showed an international prefix, 39. The voice on the telephone sounded like an elderly Italian woman speaking broken English,

“Signora, I’m the friend and neighbor of your grandma, Bella. My name is Laura Ricci. I’m sorry but Bella die in hospital and buried by church. She give me key to home, and I will watch over until you can come and make your plans for the property. She very proud of her lawyer granddaughter, and I will greet you when you come. Buona Notte.”

Bella was my paternal grandmother I never met. My family didn’t travel, and my priorities were always career centered with no time for travel. I recall photos of her villa and orchard in Sardinia.

The “walls were closing in on me,” and I welcomed the opportunity to travel and connect with a semblance of family. The phone call from Laura was a timely “Rx.”


The Cat from Castelsardo

Caesar lived on Bella’s orchard. He was a scrawny tabby with a large expressive face resulting from scar tissue garnered from a life of fighting. He proudly wore long distinguished whiskers like a well-manicured moustache. His tail was tall and thin serving as radar antenna of sorts. He lived alone outside but enjoyed the company of Bella who fed him fish, meat and vegetables. It was his routine to leave a rodent at the back door for Bella.

The rodents began to pile up, and the large windows Caesar was accustomed to peeking in were closed, and the drapes pulled. Bella was nowhere to be found.

Signora Ricci came over to sweep up and remove the collection of rodents and insects Caesar collected before my arrival.

“Bella no comes back here. She died in hospital. Ninty-nine years old. God bless her soul. I’m told her granddaughter come here. Maybe you make friends with the granddaughter, Caesar?”

The day I moved into the villa, Caesar was cautious, hiding about the property and watching me for days. He left “gifts” of rodents and insects at the back door for me to find.

I was greeted by Signora Ricci holding Caesar who welcomed me to the villa situated within the small village named Castelsardo. She introduced Caesar who was “harmless” but had a “personality of a human.” She speculated he was the reincarnation of an ancient owner of the property.

Signora Ricci and her husband, Mauricio, maintained the olive and fruit orchard in exchange for a portion of the harvest. Bella left a car. Her farmhouse was centuries old and quarried from local stones held together by mortar. The floor was made of timber, and the walls were built from thick plaster. The home was simple but warm and welcoming as if Bella was still alive to greet me. I felt a heartfelt connection to my family I never met.

Castelsardo is located on the Mediterranean. The climate is similar to the beach towns of Southern California but the coastline is reminiscent of the rugged California coast of one hundred years earlier. Only small pastel-colored homes dot the hillside like portraits hung with beautiful views of the turquoise ocean. A two-lane road connects the town to the island. The only traffic congestion is waiting patiently for a herd of sheep to cross the road. Sardinia is Italian but with a unique heritage and dialect.

Caesar befriended me, and I was delighted to receive his daily greetings. I reciprocated with Laura’s recommended diet of minced fish, beef, chicken, vegetables and rice.

Caesar followed me everywhere; inside, outside, jumping into the front seat of the car, and reveled in travelling to the market where he would covertly fill my shopping bag with fish and meats he secreted from the outdoor vendors until one day he was carried by the scruff of the neck to me and I was told,

“Signora, Caesar is stealing from my fish stand. Please keep him away!”

I worried for Caesar’s safety and attempted to keep him inside. Caesar wasn’t happy. He clawed at the door and cried to leave in the evenings to venture about, returning in the morning with his “catch of the day.” I came to appreciate the importance of his daily routine and installed a “cat door” for Caesar to come and go as he pleased.

We spent time together in a rustic living room with a stone fireplace providing warmth and beautiful amber light. I marveled at Caesar’s tenacity, living each day as if his last. Caesar provided unconditional love I hadn’t known since childhood. Caesar taught me about resilience and to savor each day as it comes.

I began to heal from the quiet surroundings and the Mediterranean diet.

I garnered the courage to check my smartphone to find the many unread emails including invitations to join the boards of distinguished philanthropic concerns, and an invitation from the Dean of a New York law school to join the faculty as a professor of Corporation Law. I welcomed the opportunity to explain to the brilliant, impressionable, female students that time is not “infinite” and to make their life choices carefully.

New York began to burn like a flame in my soul, glowing brightly, dancing about, as it did when I was a young woman beginning my career. I longed for the hustle bustle and was ready to return and begin a new life.

I worried about bringing Caesar with me to live in a New York high-rise. My mind turned to the shuttered bedroom and envisioned a feline paradise with a cat terrace, toys and view of Central Park from the floor to ceiling window.

I decided it would be Caesar’s decision. I laid out a large map of Central Park in front of a cat carrier lined with a soft wool blanket. In the evenings as he lay on my lap, I showed him videos of the city and photos of my expansive apartment. He never went near the cage.

Caesar left one evening and didn’t return home. I feared the worst. I needed to relieve the stress of the move back to New York without him, and I decided to take a drive into Sardinia’s main town, Cagliari.


A Chance Encounter

I posted my stories published by literary magazines on social media producing a growing following of readers. With each published story, the variety of geographical representations was expanding. In particular, Cagliari, showed up regularly.

I completed an internet search for anybody in Cagliari with an association to my name, publishing, or show business. Nothing!

After a three-hour picturesque drive, I arrived in town.

I found a small café to enjoy an espresso and spied a small book store across the plaza. I finished my espresso and entered the quaint store with the familiar fragrance of vintage pages filled with prose and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville playing softly.

The book shelves revealed an impressive collection of classics, international selections and an American section. There was a comfortable nook including armchairs and a table with a chess board where old men were contemplating their moves. I chuckled imagining the managing partners of my former firm bested by these locals.

I was approached by a clerk who was a thin, maybe thirty, pretty woman with black hair. She resembled somebody I had seen before.



“Where are you from in America?”

“New York.”

She extended her hand to shake. “I’m Pietra. This is my shop, not much business but affords me a nice apartment upstairs and just enough income to support myself.”

“I’m Isabella DeCarlo. I’ve come to visit my grandmother’s home who recently passed.”

“Are you a writer, Isabella?.”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Did you write a story about a female attorney who travels around the world titled, ‘Subrogation Clause’?”


“Does the lawyer, Alma, marry the handsome investment banker, Roberto?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t written a sequel. What do you think?”

“I hope so. It was a beautiful story of perseverance and romance. I wished I was Alma.”

“Have you been following me on social media, Pietra?”

“Yes. I read each one of your stories posted.”


“I’m interested in the legal profession, and you’re from New York which is a city I want to visit.”

“I don’t see a ring on your finger. Why haven’t you married, Pietra?”

“All the men leave Sardinia for jobs in Rome, Milan, or Naples. The only people left are old people and lonely girls like me.”

“Why do you stay here?”

“I have nowhere else to go?”

“No family in Italy?”

“I was orphaned during the Croatian war for independence. One-night soldiers entered our home and removed me, father and mother. Father was placed on the back of a military truck and driven away. Mama and me were put on the back of another truck with women and children. I can still hear mama and papa cry out for each other as the trucks drove in opposite directions.

“Mama held me close as we shivered in the cold night air. The truck stopped at a UN checkpoint and all of the children were lifted off the back of the truck. We cried as the truck carrying our mama’s drove away. The UN soldiers were kind. They fed us and provided a safe place to sleep, eat and bathe.

“Sisters from an Order in Rome came to visit. We were told they operated an orphanage with a Catholic school just outside the Vatican. A handful of girls were selected to return to Rome with them. I was one of the fortunate children.

“Mother Superior was an educated woman who ran our school. It was a strict environment but we were provided a comprehensive education including philosophy, literature, history, mathematics, and the sciences. Mother Superior encouraged the girls to attend college. I began to think about law school.

“We had the benefit of many scholarly priests visit from the Vatican and enjoyed lectures on topics ranging from Anthropology to Zoology. We visited the Vatican after hours, up close and personal, in a way no tourist will ever see.”

“Did you meet the Pope?”

“He never approached but smiled and waved to us.”

“Did you learn about the fate of your parents?”

“Mother Superior informed me I was awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Bologna and study law. She attempted to invite my parents to the graduation ceremony but learned my father was conscripted to fight in the war and killed. My mother was ravished by soldiers and left for dead.”

“Pietra, darling, I feel your loss and abandonment. It’s terrible to feel alone in the world. I’m also grieving.”

“It gets worse! I fell in love with a boy named Marko who attended the boy’s Catholic school nearby. Marko was also brought to Rome as a child from Croatia. He was very ambitious and planned to study architecture.

“We decided to spend the summer before university touring Italy. We traveled to the Alps and back down to Florence, Venice, Milan, Sicily and ending up in Sardinia.

“Cagliari is a popular tourist town in the summer and a contingent of beautiful blonde girls from northern Europe were visiting and caught Marko’s attention.

“He was becoming distant from me and absent for periods of time he wouldn’t account for.

“One morning I awoke and found a short note reading ‘Arrivaderci e buona fortuna.

“I was desperate with no money and nowhere to go. I approached the Italian Consulate office, which offered to put me in touch with family. I had nobody but Mother Superior who was contacted. She was prepared to make arrangements for me to return to the school but suggested I first visit Signora Cardenale who operated this bookstore.

“Signora Cardenale was an elderly former member of Mother Superior’s Order who was an academic. She was very kind and required a helper around the shop. I would be provided room, board, and a small spending allowance in return for my work.

“She was an excellent cook and a scholar of literature. We’d enjoy her fabulous cooking while discussing Homer, Socrates, Milton, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Jane Austen, Joyce and Fitzgerald, to name a few.

“She became too old to work and returned to Tuscany to live with family. She handed me the keys and asked me to run the shop until she passed.

“Within a year, I was informed by her family attorney she gifted me the shop and property within her Will. I’ve been here ever since.”

“Your life story is the subject of a novel, Pietra. Despite the personal loss you’ve suffered, you were provided a fabulous education. I would be disappointed to see it not put to good use. Would you consider visiting me in New York if you can get away from the store?”

“Yes, oh yes, Isabella. The baker across the plaza has been after my property for some time. I can sell or rent it to him.”

Afternoon quickly turned to dusk, and it was time for Pietra to close up shop. I was disappointed our time together would end but astonished how fate brought the two of us together.

“What are your plans for the evening, Isabella?”

“I thought I’d eat dinner before driving home.”

“Would you like a home-cooked dinner?”

“Yes, I would.”

“I’ll make you an Italian dinner with a Sardinian twist.”

Pietra had a cozy flat above the bookstore similar to a studio apartment. I watched her don an apron and work culinary magic all the while Verdi’s La Traviata filled the room with romance and drama.

We ate by candlelight on the small balcony overlooking the plaza accompanied by an Italian moon. I enjoyed the most delicious acorn squash pureed soup, a fresh antipasto salad and warm artisan garlic bread. The bottle of wine was delicious. For dessert, we enjoyed biscotti cookies drizzled with warm chocolate and vanilla gelato.

I awoke to the heavenly smell of ground coffee covered by a comfy blanket and a fluffy pillow. I was greeted by Pietra with a frothy cup of cappuccino and cherry-misu.

“I’m sorry I overstayed my welcome, Pietra. It was your wonderful company, delicious food, wine and Verdi. I slept better than I have in many, many years.”

“I will miss you, Isabella.”

I broke into tears and brought Pietra close to me in a warm embrace. “Would you really like to visit me?”

“Yes. I know you’re frightened about your surgery, and I’ll comfort and care for you.”

“How did you know about my breast surgery?”

“You tossed and turned all night muttering about the procedure. I also learned about your divorce.”

“I’m sorry to have burdened you, Pietra.”

“Your mind was freeing itself of pain. I had bad dreams during my time in school. Mother Superior explained it’s the ‘Mind cleansing itself of pain and readying itself for happiness.’”

I longed for the morning together but gathered my things. Caesar was heavy on my heart. I feared not being able to say goodbye to him and anguished about his possible feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Pietra handed me a “Café Americano to go.”

She was weeping and waving reminding me of Verdi’s Violetta as I drove away and down the winding street away from the plaza. I held my sleeve to my face and wept. Pietra provoked love and maternal yearnings, which I stored away for decades for a darling daughter. I relished the opportunity to mentor her.

I embraced my scheduled surgery and follow-up treatment knowing I may have a devoted friend at my side.

I rounded the hall, entered the living room, and to my relief, Caesar was inside the carrier, greeting me with his customary scratchy “Meow.”

Caesar’s eyes and expressive face suggested he was ready to meet his new adventure “head on” and without concern for the uncertainty of life in New York. I stroked him, whispering, “Thank you, Caesar, for the many life lessons you’ve taught me. Let’s go grab life by the horns.”

I left a bouquet of flowers at Bella’s gravesite and thanked her for making a spiritual connection with me. I gifted Bella’s property to Signora Ricci and Mauricio, knowing it would remain in good hands.


Evening Out

Caesar sat atop the coffee table enjoying the beautiful fall leaves of Central Park, mesmerizing light show of the headlights and many people walking about. He gained weight and was content living inside our comfortable apartment.

We were happy together in New York.

“Which dress should I wear, Isabella?”

“Are you wearing your hair up or down?”

“I feel like wearing it up.”

“The black evening gown will look spectacular with the cashmere coat. Go into my bedroom and open the jewel box. Find the matching set of pearl earrings, bracelet and necklace.”

“I have a pair of black-framed sunglasses to wear with the outfit, Isabella.”

“You’ll look fabulous. So Audrey!”

I carefully prepared Caesar’s Saturday night favorite of liver pâté with minced vegetables and placed the Herringbone China dish near him on the coffee table.

Pietra emerged from her bedroom looking stunning for our night out at the Met savoring Verdi’s scrumptious lyrics followed by an equally delectable gourmet dinner.

With Pietra’s love and comfort, I emerged from surgery strong, happy and ready to move forward with life. We were touring local colleges the following week.

Pietra’s Internship at the United Nations.

To be continued.