Giovanni has been married nearly three decades, the time I have been gone since I ran away to make a new life in the New World. But even today we remember our carefree childhood and riding together is a way for us to reminisce. He looked so young on his wedding day.
Giovanni has spent his life in his home town becoming one of the leading cardiologists in this city of 120,000, even as I have spent my life wandering hither and yon. But now in middle age we come together as often as we can and compare notes. Always best done when riding. He is well known at the Terni BMW dealer where he changes cars and bikes regularly so it is a small matter for him to rent some exotica at an extraordinaryly low price for my annual visits. Giovanni is a wheeler and dealer and he loves to make a deal, a skill I have never developed. I pay sticker price much to my wife's disgust and Giovanni's amusement. "Noblesse oblige" he says ironically referring to my upbringing in a castle.
We stop now and then for an espresso, Giovanni smokes his abiding sin much to the fury of his unforgiving wife left out of sight at home, and answers a few of the many iPhone messages from his anxious patients. He works eight hours a day in the hospital, covering shifts day and night as he has done for twenty years, waiting to qualify for his state pension and then he works several hours a day in his private practice. Thats so he can afford the toys that make his life more fun. His is not the stereotypical dolce vita lifestyle so often attributed to modern Italians. He works very long and very hard for his vacations; for instance he has just left for two weeks in his RV in Croatia and before leaving he sent me an e-mail, "Just as well you left, it has never stopped raining all week..." even the Gods approved of my departure apparently.
We are old fashioned childs we two. We like serendipity to infuse our rides so we eschew the use of GPS, we read maps take chances and follow our luck. When luck runs out we stop to regroup with coffee and talk, and review the map. We usually ride alone in every day life, so when we are together on these rides we ride at our own pace and meet up at the next intersection if we get separated.
Making time for the inevitable caffe is critically important, coffee is often taken standing up, one adds a packet of sugar, stirs mightily till the granules are dissipated and then one tosses the caffeine down in a single quick gulp. 20 ounces of Starbucks finest would appall your average Italian. Giovanni likes Starbucks espresso but he calls American coffee "brodo" -soup- with deep contempt.
Giovanni is a take charge kind of guy and he takes my visits seriously,so he plans our outings with military precision. "I've been studying the maps..." he says and we throw in a historic sight, a well known eatery, a wine shop or just some excellent view and off we go corner carving and chasing the perfect line.
I tend to ignore my phone more than usual as I am away and unobtainable and my wife knows Giovanni's number.
A large part of our daily rides is talking, discussing the news of the day, the meaning of life, our hopes for the future, our families, our fears. Put the goddamn camera away is a frequent order that I like to ignore. Just as Giovanni can't stop talking when we pause for a pee break so can I not stop recording my life. "America," he explains to his family, " is different. Just as they have no brakes on social mobility upwards when things are good, so they have no parachutes on social mobility downward when things are bad. A prince today and a peasant tomorrow," he says. He still sees America as Europe's Marshall Plan, supporter of last resort, and defender. I am not so sure, but he brushes my fears aside. "America will always be strong," and he waves his arm for emphasis.
As I grow older the more I value our friendship which feels more like a blood relationship, as unbreakable as any family bond. People come and go from our lives, unfortunately as life intervenes in our choices. This year I didn't come away feeling as talked out as I do usually. I wanted more time, more talk, more debate, more thought provocation. We don't do goodbyes very well and his departure from the airport was hurried and sudden, a tearing asunder and it will be months till we meet again. With things the way they are I hope it isn't years. That would be tough to take and not just because I would miss riding mountain roads in three dimensions. Every now and then one needs to be a child once again.
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