TWICE IN A LIFETIME
T minus two days till D-day. D as in, departure for Italy. And once again I’m in that state of subliminal exhiliration that doesn’t quite keep me up at night—Sandy and I both are so exhausted from a year of teaching that falling asleep is no problem, it’s the opposite that’s an issue. —but in the wee hours of the morning I’ll start thinking about beautiful Italy and all the incredible memories I have and the anticipation of good times to come...and I’m wired for the rest of the night. From 3:30 on, I’m bug-eyed and grinning.
In an earlier blog I spoke of last summer as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance for us. A little background for anyone who didn’t follow our trip last year. Several years ago at a conference in Italy I met a wonderful young man named Fabio Astone who, when he heard I was working on a book on ancient Roman viticulture and viniculture and needed to spend time in Italy to see some of the archaeology of Roman wine, offered me the use of an apartment in a beautiful little coastal town on the Bay of Salerno called Agropoli. For as long as I cared to stay there. Rent-free! Needless to say I was skeptical that such a generous offer would ever work out, but absolutely thrilled at the prospect. But as the summer approached and all the cards fell neatly into place, travel arrangements made, itinerary planned, logistics clarified...with each passing day our excitement grew. Now, Fabio had cautioned that the apartment was ‘quite basic’, but needless to say we would have been thrilled to sleep in an outhouse under such conditions. In the event we discovered that the apartment was on the ground floor of the Astones’ villa on the outskirts of Agropoli and was absolutely gorgeous. Nothing fancy, you understand, but beautifully decorated, nicely appointed and eminently comfortable. Plus it came with the most luxurious of amenities, proximity to the Astones themselves, easily the most gracious people with whom God ever graced the planet. Add to that the fact that my intellectual soulmate and brother, Professor Fernando La Greca of the University of Salerno, lived about two miles away, and you can perhaps imagine that Dave was in heaven. Feel free to check the archives of this blog if you have any doubt of that.
By the end of the summer we were all fast friends, not only with Fabio and Fernando, but with Fabio's parents, Rolando and Filomena, as well as Fabio’s beautiful, charming girlfriend Katiuscea. Sandy and I have discussed the trip endlessly afterwards and both agree that despite longing for our kids and grandson, it was quite simply the best summer of our lives. The night before departure we were all tearful as we said our goodbyes (we were scheduled to leave at five am), a sadness made more poignant by the fact that lurking in the backs of our minds was the notion we might never see each other again. Once in a lifetime indeed.
But sometimes God gives us second chances, as often as not completely undeserved. The Astones had begged us to return the next summer, and of course we said we would. Sandy and I thought they were perfectly sincere, but asking a guest for a return visit is a universal social amenity, perhaps to be discounted as ‘one of those things’. Plus, who knew what obstacles might intrude in the interval? To name but one, in an earlier blog I alluded to the fact that our health has been ridiculously good for the last, what, ten years? But that we had enough exposure to death, disability and illness among family and friends of our cohort to realize that that could change at any minute. Look, we’re not spring chickens, let’s face it. To reinforce that fact, we’ve watched a dear, warm, generous, beloved friend battle cancer for over a year now. Thankfully she is through with chemo and increasingly able to enjoy life. Sandy’s sister, Suzanne, was not so fortunate. After a long and courageous struggle with colon cancer, Suzanne finally succumbed this past winter. Meanwhile, Dave and Sandy just keep plugging along like two little Energizer bunnies. Grunting and groaning, mind you. Thank God for Alleve. And for our commitment to good food and exercise.
Then there were the logistics of the trip. Fabio’s grandparents had thought of coming from Brazil for a summer visit, and naturally that meant the apartment would not be available. No problem, Fernando insisted, we’ll just find you another place to live. But how realistic is that for two public school teachers paying a king’s ransom in out-of-state tuition? But in the event, the senior Astones decided to postpone the visit till the fall, and the apartment was available after all!
The upshot is that we will be taking a group of students and adults to central Italy for nine days, after which we will drive to Agropoli and spend several more weeks with our Italian ‘family’. And we’d love for you to come along for the ride if you’re so inclined.