Thursday, January 3, 2008

I is for Italy

Yesterday we placed a phone call to Italy.

A decade ago, Tim’s job was such that he would make biannual trips to Verona to check color separation on the catalog. On four occasions, I was invited to come along. By invited, I mean that the company in Italy invited me. They bought my plane ticket and treated me as their guest, complete with weekend trips to Venice or Florence.

I know it was business, but in the end, it was more than that. Proprietors Pier and Sergio were good to us beyond business. Their kindness and generosity—their personal interest and time—exceeded anything they had to do to make the client happy. And without them, it’s possible I may never have gotten to Italy.

After maybe a half-dozen years, things changed—the economy, the technology—and Tim’s company stopped using the Italian separators. Pier and Sergio were close to retirement age and would soon be moving on themselves; still, it was a sad ending.

They call us every Christmas.

This year, Pier called while Tim was away, so I was the only one to get to talk with him that evening. (Did he later call Tim at work? I think so.) Pier had a small stroke a couple of years ago and is doing well now, but he’s given up golf, a passion of his, because he can’t play at the level to which he’d grown accustomed. (Those frustrations await all who live long enough to enjoy them.) Pier lives near Milan, and now that he and Sergio are retired, they rarely see each other.

Sergio recently sent a Christmas card (the Piazza Bra and its holiday star) and included photos from his 70th birthday party. There he is with his wife Anna and his four grandchildren—Francesca, Alice, Alberto, Giovanni—and they are standing in front of his new house, the one he and Anna were planning ten years ago. It is a happy, beautiful picture.

We went away for the Christmas holidays, and I left a detailed message on the answering machine as to when we’d be back, knowing in my heart of hearts that Sergio would call while we were gone. And he did, within a couple of days of our departure. He said he’d call again January 2, the day I’d be back in my office. We beat him to the punch.

Tim always calls, and Anna always answers. Tim doesn’t speak Italian, and Anna doesn’t speak English, and it always works out fine. Sergio was home, and we had a wonderful conversation, catching up just a little, hearing each other’s voices. Sergio may visit the states this year. I so wish we could get to Italy.

I am ridiculously fond of Sergio. He is a lover of life and humanity. He is devoted to his loved ones. I used to think I would name something after him were I ever to have occasion: a child, a pet. We recently drank a bottle of Prosecco called Sergio, which I had bought because of its label. I kept the bottle.

I realize this post is beginning to sound like “I is for sergIo,” so perhaps I should reiterate that I is for Italy. Italy is Verona: the Piazza Bra, the Arena, and their beautiful shooting star and markets at Santa Lucia. Verona is the Porta Bosari, Piazza delle Erbe, Juliet’s balcony. It is Castelvecchio, the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore, and Sant’Anastasia. It is all the hours I spent alone, walking and exploring while Tim worked. It is Pier and Sergio each time wondering if my unfortunate delicate traveling constitution was actually a pregnancy. (It never was.)

Italy is Venice, where I felt I must have lived a previous life: It felt so familiar and right to wander the streets and bridges. Italy is Florence, where the art overtook me and the marble Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore astounded me and where I climbed the campanile. Italy is Siena, where Sergio and Anna took us one day to wander the beautiful streets and see the piazza and have a pastry in a famous café. Italy is northern Italian pizza, the most perfect in the world. Italy is my daily fix of gelato (more often than not of the nocciola variety).

In fact, in all this time that I haven’t been posting, I’ve been planning to write “I is for Ice Cream,” a topic I expect I could go on and on about. One of the stories I would have told had to do with Sergio, although, sadly, I was not there to witness it. One hot July day, Tim was with Sergio and Anna, and I believe they were in Verona, near the Arena. They stopped for gelato, and Sergio ordered “three balls” of it. This proved to be too tall an order, and the balls toppled onto him. “Cioccolata disastro!” he exclaimed. It is an expression Tim and I use to this day.


Bridgett said...

Ah. I feel like I'm standing in that photograph with his wife and grandchildren. What wonderful people you have found along the way.

Cedar Waxwing said...

It's wonderful that you've kept up with Sergio for so many years.

Mali said...

Italy is fabulous - how wonderful to discover it and the pizza and gelato with Italians you have come to love. Even if there was a cioccolata disastro.

Helen said...

Thanks (gracias?) for a few minutes of magical armchair travel.
If I wasn't sure before, your post has definitely convinced me I need to go to Italy.

Deloney said...

Indigo has got her groove back, or do I mean mojo? Anywho, a lovely read.

Who She She said...

I love this story.

DG said...

I have heard a lot about Italy, made friends with Italians I've met abroad, but have never been there.

What I have discovered in the course of my travels, most of which has been in the orient, is that each country has its own positives and negatives. For the citizens, the culture of their country has either of two things : a cosy familiarity, or a jaded companionship.

For those who have come from the outside however, it almost always holds a certain charm, no matter how long or short the stay. There are always new and completely fascinating things to discover....I have told myself I shall visit Italy one day, and it is a promise to myself I hope to keep.

For me, Italy is a land of luscious history, splendid poetry, exotic architecture, a vibrant culture, of green vineyard vistas and ebullient wine, of bursting red tomatoes and peppers at a farmer's market, of a hundred types of pasta, of the smells of a bakery--fresh, strong coffee and frothy creams in the mornings, of the whiteness of winter and azure sea-side summers, of big families, of flirtatious men and earthy, sensuous women, of classic fashions, of a language that feels like butter on your tongue, of operas and folk dances, I could go on....but then, I guess all of that is mainly in my imagination.

I hope when I finally go there, the magic stays with me: I hope it is love at first sight.

For now, I have to do with reading about those who went there and actually never really left.

I had written these lines once before on a website on Italy. Your post brought them back to me, and I could not resist posting them here again.

Please write more about Italy as seen through your eyes,please.