In Britain, there are ghosts everywhere. Here in Los Angeles, there are none. My house is nevertheless infestata (haunted), according to my Italian client.
Apparently, the Devil and his cohorts are busy 24/7 casting malefici (evil spells) on me and Ditto (the cat). Who else, for example, but Il Grande Disturbatore (The Great Disturber) himself could have deposited those strange bones outside our front door the other day? Ditto again, perhaps? Maybe, but if it’s Ditto, the lethal barn cat, she was obviously acting on the orders of L’Astuta Serpe. The client says I am not exactly posseduto (possessed) but am clearly un portatore sano (a symptom-free carrier) of nasty malefici.
In Italy, Virgin Mary statues weep tears of blood all the time and miracles are two a penny. Sometimes, but only in Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary herself appears to peasants and talks to them. In the Bosnian town of Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother has apparently appeared regularly since 1981 to local Catholics. Anja has taken me there more than once, but the only miracle I spotted was that you can still smoke in bars and restaurants. But who am I to say? I’m an agnostic Methodist heretic and therefore worse off even than a Jehovah’s Witness according to my client.
Yet in Italy I cannot remember anyone ever talking about any house, however old, that is haunted by a ghost. It is all so different than the English countryside, where ghosts were as common as muck.
Near Canterbury in Kent my eccentric mother and I visited a dilapidated 17th-century country house called Broome Park. It had once belonged to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. I never once managed to get a decent night’s sleep in that vast decaying old place whose pitch-black unlit corridors and locked doors to secret rooms terrified me. Its ornamental gardens contained huge urns which had goat’s heads for handles. Among the rumored resident ghosts was the late wife of the building’s owner, Major Gel. The Major drove an old Bentley and looked like a ghost even though he was alive. It was said that his wife had once been a glamorous avant-garde artist who had known Hemingway in Paris. She died mysteriously after falling down the house’s huge main staircase. Her paintings were everywhere and I was petrified of seeing her ghost, but I never did. Broome Park is now a swanky golf club and holds no fear because the soul of its past has been ripped out of it.
(Moon rising at Broome Park. The devil made them do it?)
I had assumed there are no ghosts in Italy because when Catholics die, their souls do not hang around here on Earth but go either straight to heaven or to hell.
Italian ghosts, according to the client, are not ghosts but are instead demons the Devil deploys to vex and possess human beings. If I understand her correctly, ghosts cannot be the souls of dead humans marooned in purgatory. They are therefore in no way human.
Purgatory? That place between heaven and hell where souls too pure for hell but not yet fit for eternal salvation linger until their venial sins are purged? Well, yes, there is always that. But surely purgatory is not down here, either.
With the Devil, who is extremely cunning, anything is possible. So it is entirely feasible that a ghost is indeed the soul of a human being the Devil has hijacked, hopefully after death.
How empty my life seems by comparison. I have never seen the Virgin Mary. Neither have I seen an angel. Nor have I seen the Devil and all those demons of his. I have seen nary a fairy, hobgoblin, or imp. And I have definitely never seen a ghost, except in movies.