Sunday, February 13, 2011

The nail I hang my purpose on

Driving back to the airport in a fog. After a week with my compadres it’s time to go back home. Leave Italy. Again.

I have this thing I do when I am getting ready to leave Italy. I get nostalgic. Must be something I inherited from my immigrant grandfather. I look at the ledges of windows in a bathroom and imagine all the people who will come in and use this space when I am gone. Or looking down a walkway in a town, when on Saturday night, in the summer, people will walk, arm in arm, doing their little passegiata through their time on earth. I won’t be there, but Italy will be just fine.

A week in Friuli, one place, Colli Orientali, how valuable is that for one to get an idea of this Italianita? Who really knows? Traveling with folks who have such a command of the language, who confirm to me that I have no idea what the Italians are talking about, it has been like a forty year walk along the Italian landscape as a deaf man. I know nothing. Thank God I took my camera with me all those times.

So, what? Nothing. Just that I will continue to walk in my own way and see, if not hear, what it is that Italy is now.

When I first came to Italy I thought, “How wonderful, all these people are Italians. They are just like me. They are honest. They are kind. They all love me and I love all of them.” And then the reality of coming back, even without having the intellectual understanding of what was being said all around me, and seeing how Italy is not like that at all. They are humans. They are imperfect. They lie. They cheat, they steal. They dream. Just like the rest of us.

So, language and customs aside, what is it that keeps me coming back? After all, my immigrant grandfather, once he made it to America, he pretty much kissed this place off. He became the American and for 82 years of his 97 he was.

And me? What? Why here? And who cares? Don’t answer; I know out there are ones who don’t care. I am not writing this for you. I am writing this for my sleepy compadres, who sprawl about the van as we sail through the fog on a February day in Friuli.

“So answer it, will you?” One of the passengers flashes to my mind. “I want to know.”

I think I come to Italy because I have dreams of a place that fits my mind from time to time. A place where I can be the person I really am and no one will make fun of it. I can walk around with my camera and take pictures of snails or young girls walking to school or platters of prosciutto or fountains. Or even sunsets, if I so desire. And no one will mock me, or make fun of my sensibility. Not that they are really paying any attention to me. Which is perfect. Because I can be the same person I was when I was 14 with my little camera as my shield, walking around the world and peering into every little corner that caught my attention. I am the outsider, here and at home. But here I can be the person that looked in and 40 years later someone looks at the picture and tells me that I have caught something historical in this country that they didn’t realize. It’s the nail I hang my purpose on.

Last night, our last night, we had a little party. And the music and the wine were turned up and my American compadres were dancing. I went over to out Italian colleague, Sabrina, a young woman with her life ahead of her. She is engaged and building a home. “Sabrina, we Americans are fearless.” She looked at me (can I say wistfully?) and nodded, yes.

Sure Italy is broken. Broken as I have never seen it broken. And so it America. And Egypt and almost anywhere else on earth. But it will continue - this little passegiata everyone takes through their time on earth. I won’t be here when young Nico is my age. He can report then. But Italy and America will be just fine. As fine as a broken branch can be as it falls to the earth and becomes something else for another use, another need.

We are here. Our bags are packed, we're ready to go. Everything will be alright. Alright.

-for Sam and Sabrina


Hande said...

I hear you.
PS: Zidarich, Skerk, Maule, Kante - one fine line up, Alfonso. Wish I was there.

Samantha Dugan said...

I remember long ago reading a piece you wrote and telling you that your words were like a paintbrush on my skin. The way the little hairs spread when they hit the surface...the way the paint feels thick, wet and indelible, how that unusual sensation can induce a powerful craving. I craved Italy when I read you, wanted to feel at least a little of the passion that inspired you to take that shot...write that piece and want to share it with the rest of us. Being with you and your beloved camera in the place that inspires such beautiful and open expressions of love, adoration, frustration and unwavering was an honor Alfonso, truly.

Thank you for being an outsider my friend....we need the company and a voice that reminds us that sometimes, well sometimes that is a good thing. You are a remarkable human and I feel honored to know you.
PS Dammit with the pictures and you made me cry this morning!!

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