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.