Monday, December 28, 2009

Out Of Season

It's the time of year when people start compiling their year-end lists and Christmas sentimentalities and New Year's resolutions and my mind strayed back to my last ten day vacation in Italy. I arrived in time for a family gathering at my sister's place and got to scarf traditional Umbrian pork sandwiches. Food is a big motivator I guess when one thinks back to the past. These are sandwiches made from a whole pig stuffed with rosemary and roasted on a spit. The meat and crispy skin are sliced and stuffed inside kaiser rolls, but there is no lettuce mayo mustard or anything else, just meat and bread in a true Italian sandwich. Wash down with a glass of local red wine and repeat.My sister opened her shoe box of old pictures and we pored over the memories. She (and her twin) are ten years older than me which makes her a rather startling 62 now. After a lifetime spent in Italy she speaks English with a rather weird vocabulary, stuck back in the 1960s when she last lived in England, and she sounds like an extra from an Austin Powers movie. For some reason we speak English with each other, even when we reminisce about our Italian childhood:
I recall this vacation on the Island of Ischia off Naples. The woman in the picture above, Elizabeth is on the right in the picture below, while her twin, Patricia has the bee hive on the left. I am naturally in the middle with the short black hair and an expression that wouldn't melt butter. I came down with a fever and remember being stuck in bed in some palatial Neopolitan hotel room while they took time off and went to see the movie Dr Zhivago which dates the picture around 1965. We have spent a few Christmases since then.A few years later I was whisked out of school by my impetuous family and flown to see the erupting Mount Etna in Sicily, a dramatic event that buried villages and made headlines. My father in his execrable Italian asked a local where the lava was, which set the poor peasant off. "La lava, la lava!" he shouted waving his arms around. "It's everywhere!" And it was. Of tourists there were only us dicing with the hot lava flows in our rental car driving wildly around the mountain slopes. I have always enjoyed renting cars and driving ever since those experiences in my childhood. It is a point of honor for me to dice with death mixing it up on the roadways with the locals wherever I go.
My sisters were always fans of the less-is-more theory of life and while I was seeking horsepower on two wheels they contented themselves driving what have become incredible status symbols and fashionable icons- Fiat 500 automobiles. They were air cooled 500cc twin cylinder engines producing 17 horsepower capable of moving them at speeds up to about 60 miles per hour supposedly, on the flat with a tail wind. They were dead cute though. The canvas roof rolled back and there was a full bench seat on the back of the car. It was ten feet long, four feet wide and four foot tall such that when you stand next to one today they look tiny:
My wife has decided she deserves one of her own and she is hoping Chrysler, now owned by Fiat gets a move on and starts importing the Nuova ("New") 500, an entirely modern, speedy and desperately cute car based only vaguely on the looks of its predecessor. Nostalgia strikes again:
My childhood buddy Giovanni is in the throes of new motorcycle-itis and he wrote to me mentioning his desire to replace his five year old BMW 1200RT with something new. It's a great bike, a flat twin tourer that is as dry in a rainstorm and comfortable as any motorcycle built and he frequently rides the length of Italy on the freeway at 120 miles per hour. Yet he has a hankering for something new and he doesn't know whether to buy a water cooled four cylinder replacement in the 1300 version or whether to stick with the air cooled flat twin. He also has a hankering for change and he saw a scarlet Moto Guzzi Griso in the BMW dealership on offer for a smoking deal. It was in the dealership when I was in Italy last summer and Giovanni checked it out at the time. I hope he strikes a deal, as i would love to ride it next summer when my wife and I return:
In fact I wrote back and said he should get the Guzzi for a back up, and for when friends come to visit so they have something to ride. I still have fond memories of my 1200cc BMW four cylinder, the fully faired S model that I rode in the mountains last year:
I'm looking forward to more of the same this summer with my wife who is already planning our vacation. Umbria is as far from the flatlands of florida as you can imagine:
If you're going to break speed limits in Italy you need to know exactly where the speed traps are, like this Autovelox on the Valnerina Highway between Terni and Spoleto. When I was a kid riding these roads there were essentially no speed limits. I think back to the incredible freedom I had riding these mountain roads with no cops, no speed traps, no one to even enforce DUI laws- it wa sall down to me and my good common sense on my 100 mile-per-hour 350cc twins. I mad eit through unscathed amazingly enough. Nowadays the countryside is littered with these automated speed traps:It photographs your tag and sends you a speeding ticket to your home. Points are deducted later from your license and no court appearance is necessary. Welcome to the Nanny state! However health care is free and rated as second best in the world (behind France) by the World Health organization. The US rates 37th on the same scale behind Dominica and Costa Rica, just to make us all a little embarrassed. Riding a BMW K1200S through the Tuscan Alps was a blast. Even if it rained cats and dogs the last day. Memories are made nostalgic by a little adversity.How I came to live in Florida from the mountians of Italy is a long and winding tale full of nostalgia, and I feel lucky to have made it.
I feel a little embarrassed that my wife and I have jobs, health care and a happy dog to end the year. A national health care system seems out of reach, as does the ever popular hope for world peace. I can only say it has been a long strange windingly tortuous journey thus far and I remain somewhat surprised to find myself still alive and riding at the ripe old age of 52. I hope you are so lucky. The important thing I find as I grow older is to take notice and remain curious. I fear life is short enough as it is. Holding on to the good memories is important. giovanni's 14 year old daughter Eleonora hasn't figured the lesson out yet and every time she forced to sit at table with her elders and betters is an act of torture. She is too young to learn from our mistakes.May your table always be full (and may your children always be grateful).