On the Origin of "The Rose Tattoo"
An excerpt from Follies of God by James Grissom
(Alfred A. Knopf)
“Now, I can recall a summer in Italy, in a small pensione, simple and rustic, with the most luxurious towels. No grand hotel of Europe ever had such plush towels, as white as this tablecloth, fresh-smelling, nubby. I remember that the shower had a loud, slow drain, and as you began to rub your body down with the towel, you would stand ankle-deep in warm, soapy water. The air was full of the smell of castile soap—those bars that are as large and as heavy as Baptist hymnals—and the sweet smell of onions and peppers slowly cooking in olive oil. When I would begin to dry my face, I would press the towel against my eyes and I would feel—and be—totally blind. There was blackness as stark as this cloth is white, and I was ankle-deep in the water, and I was casting off the poisons of the previous night, so I was not strong or sure on my feet, and the smells were there, and I would suddenly hear a woman’s voice, hear her words, and she was reciting her Rosary, in Italian, a language that was still new to me, so I could only decipher a few words of her prayers, but I could hear, I could feel, her intent, her desire, and I could begin to write. That voice ultimately became the voice of Serafina [the primary character in The Rose Tattoo], and I just followed that voice from prayer to prayer, from room to room, and that woman and I completed that play, on a different evening, in a different setting, on a night that was balmy and smelled of lemons.”