This month marks 40 years since I first set foot in Italy. Arriving on the plane from the U.S., landing at Malpensa
(north of Milan), we needed to get a domestic flight from Linate (closer to Milan). This meant a bus ride through parts of Milan to get from one airport to the other.
Having to change airports in a foreign land was in itself an adventure. On that bus, gazing out the window, I realized I wasn’t in “Kansas” anymore. My preconceived notions of Italy, were disappearing like water in the desert. The billboards of naked women advertising something or other, were the final straw. I vowed then and there to accept what is and to make no assumptions. Now, 40 years later, I’ve tried to do this in every new country, new town, new face.
There was never a saying so apt, as “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” So I did.
Starting with an open mind always helps, fate of personalities and timing are also clearly important. Now, 40 years later, my Italian friends are more like family. In that strange paragon that allows us different family roles, sometimes simultaneously. Thus, in Budoia, I am both the oldest son and the younger sibling. It’s great having an older sister. With Gino, I am the younger brother, carefree, always up for an adventure. Slipping from my real life, I cocoon myself from my “normal” responsibilities.
So, in this little corner of Italy, nestled against the Dolomiti, in an area that mixes Friuli with the Veneto, I find myself ensconced in the familiarity of friends who are more than family. The family one chose.
My only jobs here are pretty much limited to opening the next bottle of Prosecco, getting up in time to eat, or my favorite, being the chauffeur (picture Driving Miss Daisy). I love driving and in the western world, much of Europe is still the best. The recent program to change intersections to roundabouts, traffic circles, has made the driving even sweeter. Now every road has been transformed into a F1 track. From Gino’s car showroom to Budoia, a distance of 14 miles, the route takes you thru Pordenone and two other towns, there are only two stoplights. All the rest of the intersections having been converted to the above mentioned circles, (maybe 25). A 20-minute trip during the day with traffic, becomes a 14-minute exercise late at night with empty roads. A pure joy to drive, rain or snow, sun or fog. (Not even on Dauntless have I encountered fog so thick with visibility so bad, less than 20 feet!).
But as usual I digress.
This is post is about friendship or better stated, the value of friendship. Though maybe the driving allows me to be in a space in which I can free my mind to see and appreciate what is? Forse, Perhaps.
Hanging around Gino’s car dealership, waiting for him to finish work, so we can do what we always do, eat! I thought of the last 40 years since I have known Gino. This car dealership is actually Gino’s third. Some years were good, some were not, sort of like Trump losing $20 billion. However, in Italy, one does not get those who did pay taxes to reimburse you for the next 20 years!
In my wanderings, in both body and mind, I noticed a picture portrait hanging on the wall of Gino’s disorganized office. You can tell it’s his office because he has 50 pipes sitting on his desk. My father liked smoking pipes and much like Gino had different pipes or combinations of pipes. But I never understood why he needed more than one and he was certainly not going explain it to me, as he understood I only had a fleeting interest in the answer. (I think there is a lesson here for me in regards to my own nephews!).
But I was touched by that picture on his wall. Oh, I certainly knew who it was.
It’s his friend, or really mentor, Senor Carini from Gino’s first car dealership. I remember meeting and seeing Carini often in the Alfa Romeo dealership that Gino had for 25 years. A tall, very elegant man, with a chiseled face that always had a pleasant smile and a kind word for someone like me in my stumbling Italian.
Back then, Gino was a young wheeler-dealer, (now he is an old wheeler-dealer), but he always deferred to Carini due to the man’s vast experience and steadfast style.
So, it was appropriate that Gino has Carini’s picture on his office wall, while having no other pictures, not even of his devoted wife and brilliant daughter. (though there may be a picture of them on this cluttered desk)
Carini passed away a long time ago. But seeing his picture on the wall reminded me of how faithful Gino has also been to our friendship. Though good times and bad, more family than friend. Always there to help, advise, console, even during times that were not so good for him.
That evening, as I thought of Gino and his life, his successes and disasters, one thing remained firm and fast in his life, his devotion to family and friends. His acknowledgement that his success was due to people like his mentor Carini and his wife and now, also, his daughter.
So now, in his third car dealership, and probably, hopefully, his most successful, his humility is evident for all to see.
Because whose name is on the building? Not his, as it was in the past; but that of his mentor and friend, Carini.
Had Donald Trump had even an iota of this humility, he would be our next President.
I have written a lot; but getting it posted is another issue. Issues related to no internet access or most recently just related to my lack of focus.
I try to write all the time, at least every couple of days. But as I re-read my last half dozen writings, I am all over the place. I’ve written about driving in Europe in in the 70’s and 80’s, some of the most wonderful cars in my life, women, countries, Italy, Portugal, and even Dauntless.
But the problem with these writings is that simply that, they are all over the place, so for the reader, it’s a bit disconcerting. One moment he’s in Portugal and all of a sudden in Italy driving through the Alps, 30 years ago!
I wondered why have written so little and so unfocused?
Yesterday, having had a fantastic day with the family of Diogo, my new found Portuguese friend, we got back to the boat and in the ultimate downer after a wonderful day, it was hot and buggy.
Maybe for you in the Caribbean or Florida it would seem pretty good. But for me and D, who have spent the last two years in the north, basking in the sun and breeze that have made Northern Europe the vacation capital of the world, it was HOT.
How hot you wonder?
Good picture this: 30 years ago, my Trevisiana and I went to the beach in Holland in mid-August. I was now stationed in an airbase in the Netherlands and she had come for a short visit. In August, what does everyone do? We went to the beach. In Holland.
Picture this, as we parked the car, we thought it was a bit cool. Luckily, we brought sweaters for that cool night time breeze. As we walked from the car to the beach, we noticed it seemed even cooler than anticipated.
Upon gazing at the beach along the North Sea for the first time, we realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Everyone was wearing overcoats! The temperature was 50F at best. Maybe colder. No wonder the Dutch took vacations in July, when the temperature is up in the 60’s. Clearly winter was over.
So now fast forward 30 years. Remember those stories of Richard and Dauntless being so happy because he had heat on the first of September as he crossed the North Sea?
Remember how the heat percolated up to the pilot house and actually defrosted (demisted) the windows of the pilot house??
So now, only a year later, early September and I’m f…ing melting. It’s 90F at 9:00 and 105F at 14:00. Yes, these are real official temperatures, not the made up crap on TV.
So I’m dying. This is the August in NYC that I have avoided for years. The heat that makes one want to jump into the river and never come out. Now, the industrial foam that goes by four times a day slaked the desire somewhat, but if it was blue water, I’d be all in.
Now, I know you are wondering, why doesn’t he just turn-on the air conditioning? Oh, it would be so simple. Maybe in my old days, you know three years ago, it would be that simple. But now? Having spent the last three summers in the North Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic, nothing was simple. Hot weather was this animal that you thought you had tamed. Instead you woke up day to find it eating you.
So all of a sudden, you were dying. You, everyone around you, the world. Dying in a way Al Gore never envisioned.
So being a man of action, I had been thinking day and night of solutions. Dauntless has two air conditioning units. How can we best utilize them? Yes, we do think of the environment despite of Al Gore.
Well, the first step is to get them to work! Yes, read the above; do you think in my jaunts in the North Sea I was running the air conditioning all the time? Or even once?? A Year???
The two A/c units, Fore and Aft, on Dauntless need 120 volt 60 hertz power. Period.
That power is obtained in two ways, from the shore in a country based on 120 v and 60 hertz, like the USA, or from the generator on Dauntless, aka Genny, a square shape, but with hips to get the job done, therefore a beauty in every definition of the word.
So Genny powers the circuits to get the air conditioning units to come on. But in the last few days, since I have entered this inferno, no matter how much Genny implores, both A/C units have ignored her.
The forward A/C did not even wake up, just sleeping though it all, despite my pushing her buttons with the most delicate of touches.
Now, the Aft A/C unit, taking a different tack, was all talk and no action. She blew, blew & blew, but when it came down to it, it was all hot air. I would have died in her mistral if it was up to her.
After having talked to my electrical guru in Florida, David Arnold, a true Kadey Krogen guru, who luckily for us is a well-kept secret only known to a select few, (you did not get his name from me); I set out this morning to at least solve the forward A/C issue, how did she want to be touched that would produce the action I so desperately needed??
Now, the Policy of Truth (actually not, if you listen carefully) demands that I at least tell you the middle man here who was the true maestro. The water pump, who depending on 120 v power was the key to everything. Oh, sure, without him, you can get action for a bit, but within minutes you will realize you are taking a shower with a raincoat on. In other words, No Joy; something ain’t working.
Rewind a few months, as we applied a new International undercoat (anti-foul) to Dauntless’ bottom, I noticed a thru-hull (a water intake) that had been painted over. Umm, I wonder what that was? I dutifully scrapped the old paint off and made sure it was clear. I wonder why I had not noticed?
Now a few months later, Genny, having woken up the forward and aft A/C units, was getting no satisfaction in getting the water pump to do his thing. Was he pouting having been ignored for two years? Did he just get tired of pumping his life for a bunch of women and a clueless owner??
I certainly suspected the latter. So this morning, I awoke with a plan and the first plan was to get mister water pump to put up or shut up.
But first, having this day well planned, after 60 years, I knew a thing or two and the first thing is that everyone needs a little foreplay, some more than others, even the Marina Captain, but that’s another story.
So first I checked the forward A/C and discovered that like on all boats, one thing leads to another. I discovered the containers of spares and tools that were carefully stowed under the helm, had moved enough to disturb the RJ45 connector to the forward A/C unit. This only controlled the control panel, but electrons are so picky these days, it was enough. I spent the next hour making new connections that would not come off in the next storm.
Now it was time to put Genny to work. Poor Genny, neglected in body and soul for months, no years, now she has to put out in seconds or else. Or else what, I won’t change her oil for another year or two??
So Genny never complaining (we’ll just forget about the indiscretion in Maine. But you know those Maine men, one touch, and all is right with the world. Yes, George was masterful, but you would be too if you worked at the Bath Boat Works).
Genny powered up and making hay while the sun shines, I turned on all the breakers for the 120v circuits and the two A/C units.
Like before Aft A/C was blowing air, but it seemed like hot air to me, as in not really putting her heart into it; Are you done yet? As in just the Fan working.
But the Forward A/C was on, awake and actually cool. I felt the water pump, it felt like it was actually working. I ran outside, yes, water was coming out for the first time in years!! What a glorious emission!
I got my IR temperature gun, Aft A/C 75F, Forward A/C 55F. Now that’s more like it.
For the first time in more than two years, at least one A/C was working. I was on a roll. Let’s figure out what’s going on with the Aft A/C.
I felt her all over. Oh she ooh’d and ahd’d, but nothing changed. Her coils were as cold as fish, as was the compressor. Maybe I was too abrupt in the past (sure, maybe in the middle of the night, I turned her on without realizing her buddy the water pump was not along for the ride? I never said she was not kinky! She is older after all and we all want something a little different. She had knobs to turn after all; not push buttons like the little princess, the newer, younger forward A/C.) maybe I boiled off her Freon?
So now I figured I needed to get even more kinky. Both Yes, that meant both at the same time; then one, then the other, in every combination possible and a few that have been outlawed in 28 countries and 8 states.
But mister water pump did not want to play with the Aft A/C. If she wasn’t playing, neither was he.
Umm, I ‘d dealt with this before. I have had cats you know. (maybe one day, I shall have to tell you the story of Yum Yum and Gigi, aka Blackie, aka Stockings, but I digress).
These A/C units had two relays that powered the three units: Forward A/C, Aft A/C and Water Pump. Whenever either A/C unit was turned on, the water pump would come on.
But now it wasn’t.
Easiest step, but also one not without peril, for anyone who knows digital electricity meters, they also know that all those digits don’t mean a thing. So I also had my trusty analog meter along for the ride. Why, you wonder? Because the digital meter will tell you no voltage exists if it doesn’t like the looks of it. The Analog meter has no such rules; she just tells you what is and in this case, it’s enough voltage to kill.
If I die because of the digital meter, who can I sue? OK I digress.
So now, I always check with both meters initially, so I don’t waste HOURS trying to figure out why what is supposed to be there is not when it actually is. Yes, do this at home.
In short order I figured out that of the two relays that power the whole system, one was not working. Therefore, the water pump was only coming on when the compressor of the forward A/C unit engaged.
Once I figured that out, I then tried powering the aft A/C unit and sure enough, it was more than happy to cool off my hot body.
I put a jumper to the Aft A/C directly to the terminal block that runs to the circuit breaker in the salon, thus bypassing the relay. The only issue is that if I want the Aft A/C now, I must also turn on the forward A/C to turn on the water pump.
Problems solved. Now I can focus and write and that’s just the way it is.
We’re Good to Go; but if you don’t like that book, check out “Triad” by the David Crosby and Jefferson Airplane.
*Al Stewart’s haunting song about the last time the Germans were in charge. Now you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Dauntless and how are events from 75 years ago applicable to today. Having Dauntless in Europe, gives me the freedom to visit my friends in Italy at a more leisurely pace than any time in the past. Besides drinking Prosecco, I have the time to think and observe. It’s quite nice really, but I’m seeing many disquieting signs and the fact that I am at this moment, sitting on the couch, writing this while wearing a tee shirt, a turtle neck, a sweater and a vest, while wondering if I could type with gloves on, says more than I could ever explain about the anemic Italian economy.
Driving from my friend’s house on the outskirts of Treviso to the little mountain village of Budoia, is a route I have taken countless times in the last 38 years. It’s a route that provides a lot of variety, from the large factories, stores and shops along the main Venezia to Pordenone state road to the road that skirts the mountains from just north of Conegliano and passes through towns, each with its town center and stores common to almost every town.
This trip however has been an eye opener: shuttered factories, vacant parking lots, closed stores. During the last 20 years, I have probably come to Italy almost 20 times and seen the same towns and roads. By not living here, it is easier to see the gradual changes that have taken place. Even in a Province like Treviso, probably one of the richest in the country, one sees vacant stores and prices that hare far higher for virtually everything than one would pay in Germany or the Netherlands.
This annual snapshot shows a continual decline, only stopped at times with a leveling, a plateau, but not real growth. The advent of the Euro has locked in this decline, but the last few years have seen an acceleration of this decline.
Oh my friends are hopeful, yes, things are tight, but they will get better… it’s a refrain I hear every year.
I on the other hand, see a picture, not so bright and getting even darker. I’ve never seen so many vacant shops as I see today, but in those vacant shops and factories, I also see the Euro and its impact on the places south of the Alps. The refrain throughout Europe is the Germans, that altruistic lot; do not mind paying large subsidizes to help their less fortunate neighbors. But in those vacant places, I see the real motive; whatever Germany must pay to keep the southern littoral in the Euro is worth it, as it eliminates European competition.
Having close friends in Germany also, and visiting there only a bit less than Italy, I see another side of the story. I wonder why prices are actually lower in Germany and the Netherlands, yet their average salaries are much higher than in Italy. In the old days, I did most of my shopping in Italy, with Germany second and the Netherlands third, and that was based on price. While the quality of goods was a bit better in Germany, especially clothes, the prices were significantly higher.
With the advent of the Euro, everything got turned on its head. I have not done any significant shopping in Italy in 15 years. Prices are totally out of whack; whatever it is, I know I will find it cheaper in Holland or now, Ireland. Italy is also flooded with items made in China. It’s become the Wal-Mart of Europe. So now the land is flooded with LED light bulbs that inexplicitly, turn off for a second or two every couple of hours. Houses are heated or not, to an ever lower temperature. Every few years I must add an extra layer. Soon I’ll be as tasty as a 6 layer cake.
Here is a little story I first heard on CNBC’s Squawk Box I think it’s worth repeating:
Michelle Caruso-Cabrera recounted the comments made by Margaret Thatcher in the 1990’s. Ms. Thatcher was saying how she had asked the Italian Prime Minister why he thought joining the Euro zone was going to help Italy? He responded that it was the only way for Italians to have any fiscal discipline.
I had not planned on recounting this story until one of my Italian friends used the Euro as the same excuse. But I wonder, what fiscal discipline have the Italians shown in the last 15 years?
In fact, to a certain extent, the Italian bond market certainly does not reflect the coming train wreck and has contributed to spending that cannot be sustained, well, it can be as long as the Germans are there to help!
This brings us full circle back to Al Stewart’s haunting song, Road to Moscow. The last time the Germans were calling the shots, the Italians lost an entire division of Alpini on the eastern front, never to be seen again. In this region of Italy, the Veneto, it’s not been forgotten. Who knows if the Italians will ever have the discipline to cut the waste and fat that so many in this society benefit from, but one thing I have figured out in my life, it’s far better to suffer the consequences of one’s own mistakes, than those of others.
So, let’s see if the Italians can be their own masters and become competitive again, while they won’t be cannon fodder, they will be Euro fodder.