Mia cara Madam Mariana:
I am corresponding with someone I may have feelings for. Our letters have to cross the Mediterranean Sea as I live in Ancona, Italy, and my friend is in Egypt serving with General Napoleon Bonaparte. It generally takes three months for letters to be sent and received – and who knows what may happen in the interim? I’ve heard a rumor that the French are being blockaded by the British fleet, which may be why I haven’t heard from him in such a long time. What should I do? Should I give up on him? How do I manage the waiting and wondering?
With trepidation, awaiting your response,
Ah, signorina Mirelle,
Such heartfelt longing comes across in your letter. What young lady doesn’t ache for her beau’s tender missives when they’re apart? Especially if she is at home, under Mamma’s stern and watchful eye, while he serves his General in…Egypt? What on earth is this gentleman doing in Egypt? General Bonaparte must have some big ideas of World Domination!
In the future, a long time from now, there will be such a thing as the Internet, and texting, and instant messaging, and you will be barraged with constant contact with no excuses, no escape, the dinging and binging and toning and ringing will invade your meals, your reading time, your sleep, and when you don’t hear from your swain it will be on purpose.
But now that I have terrified you with visions of an overwhelmed future of relentless communication, I hope that you will appreciate your relative isolation.
I didn’t think so. So, let’s examine the path of your letter to him, and his letter’s reply-journey. You take your letter, carefully sealed, to the gates of your ghetto, now opened by the grand Bonaparte. You wait for the opportune moment to sneak away from Mamma, and quickly walk to the small building where the remaining military occupation has its headquarters. With a winning smile and a coin, you ask that your letter be included in the mail pouch headed to the supply line.
There, it joins so many other billets-doux on their way to the brave men in uniform from their lady loves, their mammas, their creditors. Madam Mariana will now excuse herself and consult a map, while you tell us a bit about yourself.
Affectionately, Madam Mariana
Ah, bene, my name is Mirelle d’Ancona. I am a Jewish maiden who was emancipated with my Jewish neighbors when Napoleon Bonaparte entered the harbor city of Ancona. There is a book written about our liberation called BEYOND THE GHETTO GATES, written by another emancipated woman, Michelle Cameron. How she got permission to write such a long story is a mystery, but I am glad she did. Maybe she will write a book about me, and call it NAPOLEON’S MIRAGE.
Now about my question…
we Americans are sometimes a little weak on our geography, since we take up more space than all of Europe. So, looking at the map, I see our little letter going along the coast of Italy, and across the Mediterranean Sea to Tripoli. There, it may continue over land, making stops along the way, to Cairo…or it may go by sea. Madam Mariana isn’t sure. But if the British are blockading French ships in the Tyrrhenian Sea, perhaps they will go straight to Bengazi, leave a few emails there for future political candidates, and on to Alexandria. Whew!
Now, our delightful Corporal, or Captain, or whatever (I hope he’s at least an officer, dear; all this geography is a lot of work for a foot-soldier!) reads your missive, and his heart pines for you. He longs for his little Mirelle, and dreams of the day he’ll eat the Passover Seder off your best Italian plates. He pens a response that very night, ignoring the sultry glances of the wannabe-Cleopatras and other assorted asps, and that morning puts his own letter in the supply-line pouch, to wend its way back across the rough terrain of Northern Africa, stopping for a delicious bowl of couscous in Tunisia—oh wait, letters don’t eat, just hungry advice columnists—and onward, across the water, dodging the bloody British, and into the letters pouch headed back across Italy to Ancona, where it is delivered into your…
What? Now married to that nice Jewish boy with dark curly hair and a gleam in his eye, and there’s a little bambino in the oven? That is what your soldier fears most. Just as you are trembling for his safety, from shells, mortars, disease, starvation, infection, and Cleopatra, he’s quaking at the thought of young Jacopo, lithe and strong and learned in Torah, and…present…sweet-talking you into a ketubah and scheduling a bris.
So, sweet Mirelle, if you can only hold on a little longer, and hope that your swain is not on the road to Russia, where, trust me, it’s a lot worse, he will be back in your arms before you know it. And if not, Jacopo is pretty cute, and he’s got a bakery that will ensure that you’ll never be hungry.
Con amore, Madam Mariana