During the night we had a little snowfall with twinkly flakes swirling around in the light of the streetlamps. In the morning there was a white outline to all the fire escapes. Rain was coming down and turning everything to slush, making it feel very good to stay inside with the radiator.


A few days ago I unearthed some old notebooks from the closet, and today I decided to open one of them and have a look. As always, I was surprised by things I have no memory of, and glad that I wrote them down. This one, from a visit I made to Gianni Menichetti not long after Vali had died, was full of notes about Napoli.


When Vali was still alive, whenever I visited her in the Valley in Italy, one of the highlights was always making a trip to Napoli to wander the streets, each one its own little drama. Vali knew where everything was, and she loved shopping for her favorite necessities, stopping for ice cream, and saying hello to everyone whether she knew them or not (and she did in fact know a lot of them). I remember large size ladies’ underwear for sale beside big tuna and swordfish in the fish market, where one could also buy hand made slippers for 1000 lire, lavender-scented brilliantine that Vali always liked, and coffee. She would buy enough coffee to last several months until the next trip from Positano. Gianni would buy cartons of black-market cigarettes, and there were always old ladies in house dresses sitting in chairs on the street selling Bic lighters. We would stop at a very old-fashioned caffe near the train station just after arriving, and just before leaving, to have a coffee, or if the weather was hot, a te alla frutta. They had a little case full of pastries that were very good, and it was in that caffe by myself once where I suddenly fainted, and two ladies working behind the counter like magic brought a chair in the nick of time.


In the notebook, I wrote about watching three little boys, ten years old or so, pile newspapers against the side of a church and then light a match. A few old ladies came out of the church as the flames took off. Another lady rushed from a caffe with a cup of water to douse the little fire while all of them shouted after the boys scattering into the streets. Also in the notebook, I found one of Gianni’s police jokes that I hadn’t remembered. Someone asks a policeman why he had a suppository behind his ear. “Oh, shit,” says he, “what did I do with my pen?”


A few pages later, while sitting in the Bar Internazionale at the top of Positano, Gianni had written:


“At George Plimpton’s place in New York once, when Vali was showing the Death in Port Jackson Hotel documentary, she met Charles Adams and liked him very much. The showing of the movie was a disaster: nothing worked, the lightbulbs were blown and George had to go on his bicycle to get new ones. By the time the show was on, everyone had left except Charles Adams and very few others. Vali told me he was a very gentle sweet soul, and once he was brained by his woman with a high-heeled shoe.”


Also on that page I had noted: Read Njal's Saga. A book that Vali liked very much. 


One night some months later, on a dark and nearly-deserted block of East Houston Street, I came upon an old storefront where someone was living and having a “sale,” in which I found a copy for fifty cents. 


This 900-year-old story took me almost twenty years to finally read, which I very gladly did last summer. Vali named one of her foxes after a main character in that book, a fierce and beautiful girl called Halgerd. In Gianni's book of animal stories that I worked on with him recently, just published as Animal Loves of My Life, there’s a photograph of Vali holding that fox. Gianni and I both marvel sometimes over the phone about our still being here, and what a miracle of luck or chance it is that we are.

Photo of "Foxy" by Vali Myers

Near the end of the notebook, I wrote in 2004 about meeting a kitty with very green eyes on 22nd Street, and also about an old boxer dog with a tricked-out set of wheels for his hind end, very springy and efficient, and a miniature collie approaching him, transfixed with curiosity.


Some pages later, in the middle of my random jottings and phone numbers, I'd written about sitting atop the lightship Frying Pan over on the Hudson, watching people take tango lessons before it rained. On my walk home I passed an invitation-only party happening on the ground floor of one of the newer tall buildings, with a big ugly guard stationed on the sidewalk, and I wrote that I felt lost, not because I wanted to be at the party, but because of the big, delicious looking buffet they had. Going up onto the roof of my building after the rain had stopped, the buildings were all steamy and the Empire State Building had vanished in mist “except for her syringe all blue, emerging from the fog, and a full moon.” Now, twenty years on, my roof-top view of the Empire State Building  is no more, blocked by a very drab new building, which is a shame, but the mist still comes. That same day, in 2004, I saw a kitty sitting in the window of a furniture store, and on her collar I could read her name tag: Minouche.



This morning I looked out my bedroom window at the building across the way where, in his own quiet window, there sat a black and white kitty, looking out at the snow and the seagulls sailing by. And before he could disappear from his spot, I took his picture.


Across the Avenue, 16 January 2024

Copyright 2024 Romy Ashby

Copies of Gianni's new book can be ordered from  https://www.spdbooks.org


  1. Just wonderful. So evocative of so much. Thank you

  2. Wonderful, as always. It makes me wish I had kept notebooks over the years, but it just wasn't me. I've forgotten so much, too.

    My sister has a very snufflish long-haired, black and white cat named Minouche. Not a cat name you find every day.