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A reporter's notebook.

From Milan
From Venice
From Florence

MILAN, Italy [February 26, 2000] --
I know my wife Chris in many ways, and we share many things. But I was unprepared for what I awoke to this morning. She lay in our hotel bed, sweating and squirming; her feet tangled in the bed linens.

"What's wrong?' I inquired, lying beside her.

She was shaken. "I had a bad dream," she said. "Something bad happened. I don't remember it all."

But with my best bedside manner I coaxed it out of her.

First, it was the revelation that in the course of the bigger bad dream was a sub bad dream plot: Her ex-husband called to say he was taking our dog on his vacation. The nerve of this guy; it was our dog and he had no right butting into our lives, even if it was only a dream.

But then she recounted the main bad dream story line, the one that filled her with such unhappiness and discomfort: Something bad happened to Heidi! Oh, my God! Not to Heidi! Doesn't Heidi have enough misery in her life, with all those goats running loose and her paralyzed friend?

I held Chris close, comforting her in the way a parent holds a child.

She was upset about poor Heidi, a character from a book she read when she was about eight years old.

I never read Heidi, but now maybe I will. The books I read had names like Faraway Ports and they had characters like swearing parrots.

How differently boys and girls experience life, and how we compliment each other and communicate through our innocence and caring and basic decency.


VENICE, Italy [February 27, 2000] --
Carnival began here today with a burst of color and light and music and art.

But while the costumed throngs paraded in San Marcos Square anticipating the upcoming festivities, another type of preparation was underway a few minutes away.

Those who knew "Elena" would gather to mourn her death. A notice was pasted to the door of a Calle Chioverette apartment:

a elena
morta da un anno
[26 febbraio1999]

i fiori
chinano invano
sulle strade
dove un tempo camminava ed ora non cammina
ma è simile a persona
appena partita
come una poesia
elena rimarrà sempre nel cuore di chi l'ha amata

Reproduced on the plain photocopied paper was the face of a young woman, in her early 20s at most. She wore immense hoop ear rings and big eyeglasses that accentuated her face like frosting across the center of a Hostess cupcake.

At 6:30 p.m., the notice informed us, would be a gathering.

I don't know Elena, but the premature passing of a life not yet fully in blossom is universally tragic whether or not we know the individual.

What medical breakthrough might she have discovered to alleviate suffering had her life been as long as mine? What song might she have written to touch all our hearts? What child comforted?

Instead, on this unassuming street on this gayest of days, those who knew her missed the potential and the fact of her lost life.

Sad as this was in contrast to the Mardi Gras atmosphere, it could have been sadder.

She might have lived a full life acquiring wealth to buy prestige or political influence. She might have gone to law school then defended cigarette companies in wrongful death cases, or represented the government in civil rights cases.

Elena might have had every opportunity -- wealth, education connections -- and done nothing of consequence. 

She might have been a politician who gave favors to her friends and unjustly punished those who opposed her. She might have given thumbs down at the coliseum because the entertainment did not amuse her. 

But she didn't. What is mourned in Elena, beyond the person, is the loss of potential and hope.

What will be mourned a year after my death, or yours?

What will be on the photocopied page on our doors?

Geoff Davidian