Bruce and I are on our final European bus at this very moment, leaving Italy behind, at least for now. I could definitely go back there. Maybe permanently! Right now however, we’re headed to Barcelona, Spain. Bruce will depart back to reality from Barcelona on Monday. I, on the other hand, have made a complete disaster of a mistake and will be forced to spend 12 days in Spain, departing on the 30th for Prague, to play in the inaugural Frank Menschner Cup.
12 days in Spain? Woe is me. Like the rest of our trip, I’m sure it will be amazing. Much like Italy!
We had four days in Italy, if my computations are correct. We arrived on a Sunday, left on Wednesday. Yep. That sounds about right. We specifically headed for Turin, because I had spent some time there previously. Roughly 18 months or so ago, I quit my job at the ski resort and headed over to play/coach/live in the Piedmont region of Italy. The Torino Taurus (Turin is English, Torino is Italian) invited me over, and less than two weeks later I was on a flight.
Living in Turin and being part of the Taurus club was simply something I can not say enough good things about. The club is relatively new, with most of the players learning everything they knew about lacrosse from YouTube. Everything I said and everything I did, they soaked up like sponges. If I had held a 24 hour long practice I believe I wouldn’t have been alone a single minute of that day.
While the lacrosse aspect was an unforgettable experience that I can talk about for days on end, it was the living side of things that really made it imperative for me to get back for another visit on this trip.
Part of the deal of going out there was that I would stay with a player and his girlfriend, and my “rent” would be to teach them English. I still remember making the joke that if my Dad can teach English to the kids in his tiny farm-town high school, I can certainly teach an Italian couple. I gained a new respect for teaching after that.
I didn’t habla any Italian when I left the states that February. One of my coworkers at the ski resort, Vince, had done his Mormon mission in Italy, and gave me his Rick Steves Tourist Guidebook to Italy to help me in my endeavor. I hopped on the plane and read the thing cover to cover, making notes in my composition book. However, that international flight served unlimited free wine, and I didn’t remember a single word. Reason #498 to always carry a notebook.
The first time I sat down at the kitchen table with Michele and Marta, we just stared at each other.
Some awkward pantomimes were attempted, but wouldn’t have cut it even in the simplest game of charades. Miki stood up, went to the fridge, and plopped a bottle down on the table. “Biere” he said. I smiled, and responded with “Beer”. After 3 months of confusion and slowly spoken and very broken sentences, I could honestly claim to speak Italian.
Fast forward to last week. I hadn’t spoken Italian in 18 months, and Michele hadn’t had much reason to
speak a word of English. Bruce and I stepped off the bus, we hugged, smiled, and said hello – all the usual stuff – in our own native tongues, and then we realized that neither of us remembered a word of each other’s languages. We rode back from Turin to the small town of Buttigliera Alta in silence for a while. Another buddy of mine, Fabio, had come with Miki to pick us up. Eventually, Bruce and I spoke English in the back seat, and Miki and Fabio spoke Italian up front.
We arrived home still stewing in our quiet conundrum. Bruce and I dropped our bags up in the spare
room I had occupied when I lived there. We came back down, and Miki plopped a beer on the table. I had a glass, Miki had a glass. Bruce and Bubu had a glass. A third glass went down, and some words came back to the front of my skull. As I finished off a fourth, three complete sentences strung themselves together off the tip of my tongue. I was speaking Italian again. Molto bene.
Funny enough, Miki was remembering English at a similar rate. And it wasn’t the alcohol. Alcohol has never really made my brain do ANYTHING intelligent. It was the fact that I was getting comfortable with the setting again. I had learned in an environment where I was really the only one who spoke English. Most of the guys on the team knew some English, but when everyone would come over for dinner, Italian was the only thing spoke. I had to learn, or be left out of the conversation.
The next day we headed off to Genova to pick up Marta and Sara from the airport. Genova was the next
closest city and had the cheapest flights to and from Sicily, where they had been vacationing for the
summer holiday. We picked them up from the airport and walked around Genova a bit. Being a busy port city, it reminded me of Mos Eisley – “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”. After a few short minutes of walking around the city, I was ever thankful that I had been in the quiet of the Italian countryside coaching and not this dangerous and bizarre port city.
We spent the next few days revisiting all the things I had come to love while I was there. We threw a ball around on top of the ruins of the Avigliana Castle, which was destroyed more than 400 years ago. We went down by the lake and had a look about. We visited with Marta’s family, who was almost as happy
to see me as I was to see them. They live in a multi-story family compound type home, with the grandparents on one floor, Marta’s Aunt’s family on the other floor, and her Mother’s apartment on the
very top floor in a flat all her own.
While I had been living there, this was my family. I ate dozens of meals with kind people I could barely/rarely communicate with. We worked through the language situation, as it was more about the
company kept and shared than it was about what could be expressed with words. I would go over there to use the internet to call my own mother, as well as plot out the impending logistics of my travels. After I’d figured out the daily allotment of logistics before my head would threaten to explode, I’d take my sticks and a couple balls out to the empty lot next to the house.
There, I would release Miki’s dogs from their run, as well as their dog, Dago, who lives in the apartment with them. Marta’s young cousin Matteo (Meo) would accompany me as well. I’d give him a stick and we’d play catch. When one of us would miss a pass, the German Shepherds would pounce and then it was time to pull out a different ball. In the shadow of some beautiful mountains on a cool spring days, it really wasn’t a bad way to spend some time.
Our second full day in Turin, we planned to have dinner at the local lake. We invited all the Taurus guys to come. Unfortunately, in the Summer months like these, all the Italians up north head down to the beaches and beautiful places in the South of the country. Alessandro, Robbie, and Damiano joined us for dinner. I had actually just seen the three of them in Hungary, playing for the Italian National Team in the European Championship. It was pretty damn cool watching players I’ve coached play for their national team.
We ate great food, we drank great drinks. We laughed and carried on until the last bite was had and the drinks had run dry. We then went on a short two second stroll away from the restaurant, navigated our way through a very ineffective fence, and sat on a floating dock in the lake. The moon was two nights from full, but that didn’t seem to limit the illumination of the glass lake in even the slightest sense. Two overturned dinghies occupied the bobbing dock, and we sat there, if only for a minute, enjoying the calm.
Calm can be nice, but calm hasn’t gotten me this far. We simultaneously all stood up, and swapped our
dinner attire for something more suitable for the water. Some of us had planned ahead and brought shorts. Bruce and I had not. As we had our backpack situations to think about, we opted not to get any
of our clothes wet and strip down to our 100% authentic American birthday suits for the swim.
Your belly full. Your body caressed by the warm summer waters of an Italian mountain lake. Surrounded by good friends. It was the scene that every movie tries to capture, but can’t.
The next day we headed to my favorite little spot. There’s a bombed out old factory of some sort the
next town over. Roughly a ten minute drive, it’s a concrete wall ball wonderland with a healthy coating of broken glass and vulgar graffiti. Robbie, Damiano, Miki, Bruce and I descended upon the industrial wreckage with sticks and balls and just threw the ball around for a couple of hours. I don’t condone trespassing or whatever, but it’s definitely a pretty cool experience to have all that dilapidated mess to play with. We lost pretty much every ball we brought, which was embarrassing, and even found one or two from the last time we were there 18 months prior.
That night we headed out for our final night down by a different lake. The local café has a party every Wednesday night where there’s free food and decent music played by a bizarre DJ tag team. Throw in some classic European fashion statements, and you’ve got all the people watching gold you can handle. The winner goes to the grown man in acid wash jeans who had laced his Chuck Taylors all the way up his leg like a ballerina would tie her slippers.
It was great. It had a very calm relaxing vibe to it, no thanks to the DJ who insisted on mashing rap and death metal over the same four Bob Marley samples. We sat and talked. It was like I never left, nor would I ever leave. I can tell you with all certainty that I’m on a bus right now and that bus is not in Italy, but there’s part of me that will always live in Buttigliera Alta.
It’s a place I can definitely see myself living. I can’t speak with certainty for Bruce, (I’ll do it anyway) but I think he really felt what I felt while visiting. It’s an extremely warm and welcoming place. It’s naturally beautiful, and culturally rich in a way that people can be proud of who they are without seeming boastful. Honestly, after the election in November, I’ll definitely have a pretty good reason to get out of the US for a while.
We had an equally silent exit as to our entrance. It wasn’t for lack of ability to speak, more for a
reluctance to say goodbye. Things were as they had been when I was living there, and those times were
very good and very fun, and now they had to be put on pause once again. Miki and Marta drove us to the bus station in the city in the morning. Our three hours of sleep the night before might have had something to do with the quiet morning and somber moods.
We hugged, said our goodbyes, and away we went. Off to Marseilles for what would turn out to be a gong-show of a night before boarding our final bus to Barcelona.
I am most honest when I simply say that this truly is an amazing trip.
I would call it the trip of a lifetime, but I have a hard time saying when this trip actually started and when it will end. Are we just talking about the European part? Not the two weeks up and down the East coast prior? Living in the RV this summer? Utah last winter? Australia for a year? Couple trips to Prague? When I lived in Italy last time?
I can keep backtracking, but I think the line is just too difficult to draw. I can say that I hadn’t done anything like this until I got out of college and failed at moving to Colorado. I’ll draw the line there. Starting the minute I totaled my father’s 2005 Dodge Stratus on the corner of 30th and Valmont in Boulder, Colorado, it’s been the trip of a lifetime.