Saturday, September 7, 2013

Italy

As this page appears on my blog I ought to be switching planes in Berlin, with my arrival planned for lunch local time, barely breakfast time in the Keys. Between now and the 18th I will with any luck spend my days getting ready to go for bright sunlit rides. Perhaps somewhere like this, Bramante's (attributed) Church of Our Lady of Consolation, la Consolazione, in Todi, province of Perugia.

I am posting these pictures, taken on several trips since 2007 as a frontispiece to what I hope will be essays from Italy. However wireless Internet access is surprisingly iffy in Italy, especially among the Web rejectionists among whom I live, while there. Neither my buddy Giovanni, nor my sisters care much for connectivity. I will do what I can. This is Positano to which we rode in 2007, Giovanni and I, on the Amalfi Coast.

We also went to Pompeii which I had longed to see all my life. This floor in a doorway to a Roman villa says Cave Canem - beware of the dog- proving some thing haven't changed in thousands of years. I will already be missing Cheyenne who will treat me as a stranger when I get home.

The village kids when we were growing up in the mid 1960s. Mopeds and bicycles were a critical part of our isolated lives. I believe I was the wobbly photographer here. One of my sisters, Patricia is on the right in white. She is ten years older than me, and she and her twin are married and inconceivably old, 66 now after a life spent in this very same spot.

The countryside of my youth. I started rising the gravel roads of these hills in 1970 when I was twelve years old on an orange Vespa 50. My mother bought it for me after my parents were divorced. She loved motorcycles while my father hated them. Here I learned to tour on two wheels at a young age:

Giovanni the cardiologist never gets a break from his patients. "Signora, I am on vacation for a few days..." Italians are hypochondriacs so he has plenty of EKG work in his private office. He also works in the local hospital to pay back his state medical education and also to get a state pension. His father was a cardiologist before him and he has been one for the twenty years five i have been goofing off around the world and yet he smokes! I used to help him hide his cigarettes from his disapproving parents when we were teenagers riding together.

The brothers by different parents, as we describe ourselves, trip planning. Giovanni has lots of ideas where to go, we pick a direction based on the weather, then we ride. He is a state employee with a very nice home. Free health care doesn't make doctors impoverished, and he firmly believes in the right to single payer. He appreciates Americans paying through the nose for second rate care as he gets the benefit of NIH research. Italy is rated as the second best health care system in the world by the UN. I think more and more about retiring here as old age and American anti-aging bias impinge.

Giovanni and his dad. Hid Dad Melito looks as old as Giovanni's grandfather used to look when I was a kid. Temps fugit.

And his very energetic Mom making us a feast of left overs for dinner. She used to give me severe takings to when I was abandoned at home by my warring family, telling me to ignore the chaos and keep studying, and then she'd give me lunch and I craved the order and peace of Giovanni's family home. I love eating real Italian food where it's all about the freshest ingredients.

My brother in law has got over my desertion from the family farm and he enjoys showing off his grand kids. His home is a haven of peace these days. He cures his own meat, makes his own olive oil and takes his grand kids to church. He got drunk once fifty years ago and hated it so much he never drank again. He makes a decent barrel of wine when has a mind to. Since Italy passed a helmet law a few years ago he refuses to ride his Vespa anymore, saying he'd feel stupid wearing a helmet on a machine that doesn't go over forty miles an hour. He is stubborn beyond anyone I have known.

Here he is from about 45 years ago when he was courting my sister on his Vespa. He still has the Vespa and they are still married. I used to ride on the front holding the handlebars while my sister was riding side saddle on the back...

Nowadays Giovanni and I ride and stop from time to time for coffee and cigarettes (him) and pictures (me). We talk about the past and the present, politics which in Italy are too complex to explain, and his hopes for his boy and girl,and the prospect of no real retirement. Work and riding are all he does and lots of family vacations.

And we stop for a "quick lunch" which turns into... And Giovanni has the same sweet tooth I do so we end up with dessert.

I do enjoy the riding too on motorcycles absurdly more powerful and better equipped than the motorized bicycles of my youth. My first motorcycle purchased used in 1975, an MV Agusta 350 (photo below from the Internet), which cost me half a million lire ($300). I rode it to Austria, Germany, Holland, Britain and France over the two years I owned it, camping along the way. Totally inappropriate touring motorcycle but I loved crouching over the long red tank with its decal "World Champion Motorcycles" ( as seen at the Barber museum)...

 

...while imagining myself and my luggage alongside Giacomo Agostini, world champion factory rider! I suppose it's little wonder I am impatient with modern riders who need the exact right motorcycle and the exact right gear, and a lot of it before they go riding.

Modern riders like this oaf and his 170 horsepower electronic everything equipped BMW K1200S. What a ride! 125 mph on the freeway felt like 55 on the Overseas Highway on my venerable Hinckley Bonneville.

From the road to home life. Giovanni's wife and daughter, Rossana met Giovanni just before I emigrated and she remembers me a lot better than I remember her. I think Giovanni has more wistfulness about what might have been than she does. His dream has always been to become a general practitioner in a small western town in the US. He never learned fluent English as a kid and his father had his life planned for him and he the dutiful son put his shoulder to the wheel.

The square in my village has been renamed in honor of my grandfather. He had a wild life which came to him rather than him going to it. He kee five years before I was born but everyone said I looked just like him as a youth. I was supposed to be baptized Cesare but living in a bi-lingual family they had to find a transnational name for me as Caesar in England is reserved for Julius of historic fame. So I was named for my celibate great uncle a priest whose vocation kept the family land holdings from being split among descendants. My grandfather loved cars and motorcycles and when I was a kid they told stories about how he kept one step ahead of the Gestapo by riding into the mountains on his pre war Harley Davidson. He drove coast to coast across the US in 1925 in a Packard convertible. When it was stolen while he was at lunch he went to the nearest dealer and bought a replacement to complete the trip to San Francisco. That any of his fortune was left was thanks to World War Two which ruined lives but made farm products highly valued commodities and he owned all the land you could see from the top of the castle.

I used to never talk about my childhood or of my rather imposing ancestral home when I ran away to California by way of Key West in 1981. I stayed away for 25 years making my own life in the new world where I didn't have to be Cesare's grandson or Maria Luisa's son. When I went back in 2007 for the first time I was a real anxious prodigal son. I needn't have worried, as everyone seemed quite pleased to see me, even if at first they didn't recognize, some of them.

Where we used to gather when we were kids. Hardly anyone lives in the village anymore. Of the seven in this picture two are dead and only the guy sitting on his brother's knee still lives there as the not well liked local cop!

And this was before they paved the roads in 1973, when running water was turned on at the public faucet two hours a day. Seeing women with jugs on their heads was a common sight in the 1960s. The Vespa in the background, an inconsequential background detail to my sister taking the picture of her friend Dolores doing her chores, would be a valued by modern Vespa fanatics in my adopted country.

When I was a child farm workers commuted on rough gravel roads on these mass produced little red motorcycles and they were quite ready to abandon them where they stood when their children old afford cars. Now they are little red cultural icons stored and revered in places like the Barber Mueum in Alabama. Sometimes I feel as old as Methuselah, a relic from a distant era. And I'm only 55!

And the other side of my life was at Hogwarts in England where they tried to turn me into a proper English gentleman. I'm the black haired eight year old grinning widely in the middle of the group, in the back row.

It didn't work! Which is hardly surprising as I spent my summers in a Huckleberry Finn delirium of endless summer days riding empty mountain roads, by bicycle first and Vespa later, walking fields and trails with my home made slingshot ambushing innocent shepherds herding their biblical flocks or springing with deadly intent on housewives hanging laundry on the line. If I got into town, Todi, now a tourist Mecca for the well traveled sophisticate but in those days hardly know to anyone but art historians, I would come across lost Americans wrapped in bright clothes and an air of fearful anticipation and I would delight in popping out of the crowd, startle the shit out of them by giving them directions in my plummy English schoolboy accent before melting back into the crowds like the little street urchin I was.

I preferred my Italian wilderness. And I still do especially on two wheels.


It would have been tough for me to settle down in Umbria with the wanderlust I was born with, not to mention the uncommunicative melodramatic family I was born into. I was half pushed and half leapt out of the life of privilege I grew up in and I don't regret a minute of it. I am growing older and wiser and though there are things left undone that can no longer be done I did the best I could with the hand I was dealt and I face old age if I'm lucky and death if I'm not, with no qualms. I have a happy home and valuable patient friends and my dog who I miss even before I am properly out the door. I have even found a motorcycle that suits me perfectly after a lifetime of looking and one day soon I hope my new/ancient Vespa will be restored and returned to me for another great nostalgia trip. All that and a job I love. Could I have found all that in Italy? I doubt it, and now I'll never know.
So be it. Così sia.