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Familiar and beautiful things
Taking my mother to Italy

July 14, 2007

A few weeks ago I took my 89 year old mother back to Italy and my 20 year old son, who had never been there. He took over 4,500 digital photos but we were constantly looking for batteries...LOL

What impressed me most about Italy this time was not what had changed but what had not changed especially the old friends, more than 30 of them who acted as if no time had passed at all. Some of them I had not seen for 27 years, while in the case of my mother, she had not been there in 37 years. Not only did friends treat us with great kindess but so did every Italian we had any dealings with...they were especially solicitous of my mother...

In Rome we were hosted by the Persian film maker Parvin Ansary, whom I interviewed for in an article entitled: "The last colony" back in 2003. She is the aunt of one of my best friends and first Persian friend, Touss Sepehr, whom I also wrote an article about: "My Friend Touss," whom I went to both Parioli Day School with and Notre Dame Int'l School in Rome in the '60's.

We also spent time with Jim Guida and his family in the Parioli district of Rome. Jim Guida and I went to Notre Dame for 5 years together, then to George Washington U. in DC at the same time and finally we worked together and were neighbors in Tehran for 5 years back in the '70's before we finally went on different life paths. Now the interesting thing is that while I was visiting Touss's aunt and telling her about Jim Guida, whom she didn't know, but whom Touss had known while we were in Tehran, we figured out that her two grandchildren are going to Mary Mount Int'l School in Rome, as are Jim's two sons. Although they were not in the same year classes they knew of each other but had not been introduced... so I had come half way round the world to introduce them to each other when they went to the same school... another one of life's little ironies.

Back in the 1960's we had intermural basketball tournaments in which NDI varsity played other American schools from all around the Mediterranean. There was a team called "The Livorno Lions" from the Livorno American High School at Camp Darby, the US Army Base. The Lions never won but they had great spirit. One of the reasons that I decided to take my 89 year old mother back to Italy besides her obvious love for this country, was to attend a reunion at the final graduation ceremony of the Livorno American High School, which is closing after 50 years. My mother taught for 10 years at the elementary school affiliated with the high school on the base. She was the only faculty alumni to attend the event. It was reminiscent of the closing of my old school, Notre Dame Int'l in Rome, which also closed but back in 1988 after 40+ years; not without sadness and nostalgia but also with pride for our past glory...

The amazing thing to me was to go into the same ice cream store in Tirrenia, where we had lived near the base and find out that it was the same owner's daughters who now ran it where I had enjoyed their ice cream 46 years earlier. At Villa D'Este, Tivoli, while touring it with my son, I realized that the last time I was there was 46 years earlier with a schoolmate from Parioli, Nick Mattoni and his family. I picked up my cell phone and I called him in L.A. from there and blew him away after not having spoken to him in about 10 years.

In Rome I went to the same tropical fish store which had supplied me fish for my childhood and life long hobby and found it now run by Aldo's son. It was the same everywhere we went. In Pisa, we went to a restaurant called "I 7 Nani" (The Seven Dwarfs), where our late former neighbor, the Greek Sea Captain Anastassio Kouvaras, would take my brother and I when I was 11. When I told the wine steward this, he went and brought out his mom, the chef, out of the kitchen to meet us and she said that her dad would have been the chef then and then she regaled us with gifts of bottles of wine and post cards from the '50's and posed with my mom for photos and exchanged e-mail addresses.

In Siena, I went into a stationary store (Tabacchaio) on the right side of Piazza del Campo as you face the tower and I told the proprietor, whose name I did not remember that I had been an artist in Siena 36 years ago and had sold him two little statues I had made. He said: "That would have been my father and if you wait 15 minutes, he will be here and you can say hello to him."

The point of all this is that it is a welcome change from Silicon Valley, where whatever you own is obsolete in 6 months. Some people may feel my story only reveals a stagnant economy where a person is stuck in the economic class into which they are born but I cannot help but feel that there is a certain sense of psychological security and a sense of well being that such continuity remains and that a person can count on always being surrounded by familiar and beautiful things, places and friends that give a soul peace and comfort.

As I got off a bus at Piazza Di Argentina one afternoon in Rome three weeks ago, I was struck by the Roman ruins there which I had taken for granted or hardly noticed as a student. Being surrounded by antiquity gives one a sense of continuity with the past which the constant upheaval of modern life does not provide... in fact the constant changes contribute to our existential nausea...

Also with the ancient heritage comes a cafe society in which people talk about everything under the sun, everyday, with friends, neighbors and strangers while in the good old USA people pay therapists to listen...

Sounds of Siena at Dawn
Silently the darkness turns to light
And then the swallows begin to stream
Their whistles, the first sound to greet the day
Followed by the drone of courting male pigeons
And the shrill chirping of baby sparrows in the eves

The air is clear, still and cool in early morning
And now the Tuscan hills are rolling to the horizon
In every direction studded with dark majestic cypress trees
Amid a tapestry of golden wheat and silver gray olive orchards
Here and there fields of red poppies and the portent of jade vineyards

Now the clatter of rising metal shudders
Shopkeepers' repetitive sweeping of stone pavers
A row of vespas suddenly parked in front of Garibaldi
As well as a few blue city busses and the sound of footsteps
Buon giornos, the rattle of coffee cups and hissing espresso machines

Another day begins in the heart of this medieval town
Like every dawn has risen looking for me these past long years
Thirty-five in all, the only difference now is that I am here this time
In the place that I have never left in my nostalgic heart and longing soul
In the Contrada of the giraffe, a woman dear to me awakes and readies for work

In a few hours all of this I know so well
A family name for every house and palazzo
A memory of someone's laughter at every corner and alley
Recollections flooding my mind like the wheeling swallows above
It will all return into the treasure chest I carry in my mind and I am gone

For letters section
Brian Appleton

Brian Appleton



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