COF2011: The Nail I Hang My Purpose On

Alfonso Cevola says goodbye to Friuli


A group of fearless bloggers has been in Friuli, Italy, reporting daily on their adventures. All of their blog posts can be found at the website as well as on each individual's blog. We have been thrilled to be able to bring their reporting to you and encourage you to visit their blogs daily for exciting Friulian posts from Jeremy Parzen, David McDuff, Samantha Dugan, Wayne Young, Alfonso Cevola, and Nicolas Contenta.

What follows was originally posted by Alfonso Cevola on 2/13/11 on his blog On the Wine Trail in Italy

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

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  • Snooth User: zaraf
    773930 10

    Can i tell you i feel the same everytime i leave California? Strange as it may seem, i'm italian and i live in Milano. A long time ago i lived and worked for three years in Palo Alto, and loved every minute of it. For my entire life i had dreamed of living in a place where i was going to be only myself, because nobody knew me, nobody had pre-conceived ideas about me and nobody pretended me to do things i did not want to. I was not EXPECTED to do thingsor to behave in any given way and i just finally strolled through life and space, and it was a grand tour where everyday another page would unfold. Remember the music nights in La Honda, the cold ocean breeze on the beach in Davemport, the lights at night on El Camino, the music, music everywhere in every minute of my days and most of my nights. San Francisco with its dives and its crazy people, the friends, hangin-out, girls, some of them totally crazy, some of them shy, just as you said, human beings just like me. And the light, that amazing, translucent glare that makes the Bay Area almost unique! This was California and the Bay Area to me, and still is. And when i left last year (i was there twice in three months, on business trips) i felt so sad and so sad this year i'm not probably gonna make it there (my next business trip is to Chicago!). So many thanks for your piece (i don't know how to call it) and thanksfor finding out we're human too. Sometimes, when i ride my bike to work or cross the street at night to walk my dogs, i seriously doubt it, but it's good to know. And yes right now we're REALLY broke and need all the help we can get. So a small page like yours gave me the chills.
    Hope you'll come back. Hope i'll drink anothe Irish coffe at the Buena Vista, too!

    Feb 17, 2011 at 11:42 AM

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