I’m the only resident staying at Via Palmerino for the next four weeks. The owner Federica has invited me to a function at the School of Music in Fiesole. A competition that’s held every January giving recognition & scholarships for student composers. I’m thrilled to attend my first cultural event in Italy. Our route to the event winds through the magnificent hills of Fiesole, with stunning views from every vantage point on the 10 minute drive.
Once inside the Auditorium, Federica translates as the professor explains the competition rules. Fortunately the music portion needs no explanation. I’m truly amazed by the calibre of music from these young students, and the charm of this historical building adds to my overall enjoyment.
During intermission, Federica excuses herself to speak to one of the professors. Two hours spent listening to music while also concentrating on a foreign language has me pleasantly overwhelmed. Fifty Italian teen music prodigies all speaking simultaneously creates a delightful chaos around me, and fills the room with the nervous anticipation of winning this prestigious competition. The booming voices and the unrestrained gestures of Italian hands overwhelm the room, causing a continuous sea of movement and sound. Fully immersed in the animated scene surrounding me, I imagine myself as the only actor without a script in a Fellini film.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a petite impeccably dressed woman running in my direction, and quickly step out of the way to give her room to pass.
To my astonishment she grabs me around my waist throwing me completely off balance. I stumble awkwardly into the gentleman standing directly behind me. He’s non-pulsed by the interruption and continues with his conversation, as if this were a daily occurrence. This level of enthusiasm is not uncommon in a country of passionate and high-spirited individuals. But for me, a sense of confusion and embarrassment is intensified by the fact that I’m unable to get a look at this pint-sized assertive woman cutting off the circulation below my waist. She’s not more than 5’2″ in height and because of her death grip around my mid-section, I see only a mass of curly black hair and her tiny shoulders below my chin. She screams SOUNA… this is how most Italians pronounce my name. She continues to call my name at ear-piercing decibels. Against my chest I hear her squeals of delight…SOUNA-SOUNA !!
Laughter envelopes me as I peel this woman from my torso. I instantly recognize the spunky Gia Romano, a woman I met on a train to Rome three years ago. I had liked her instantly with her radiating energy and infectious laugh. We lost contact in the past year, and seeing her face today is a welcome surprise.
I notice her husband Leonardo walking toward me with a warm and open smile. His outstretched arms and impeccably manicured hands reach for my shoulders. This combined with his steady strong gaze helps me regain my balance. He shakes his head and laughs as his wife dances enthusiastically between us. This tall, composed, remarkably handsome man is the unflappable husband of the petite, dramatic, hot-blooded, gorgeous Gia. It would be difficult to find two more opposite personalities, yet they are the perfect match for one another.
Our visit is brief, as they are heading to Venice to celebrate their 2nd wedding anniversary. Gia’s nephew was performing in the first half of tonight’s competition. We arrange to meet for dinner early next week. Leonardo and Gia walk toward the door pausing briefly to wave goodbye. Leonardo adjusts the wool scarf around Gia’s neck and affectionately traces his fingers down her cheek. They acknowledge me once again with friendly open smiles, and their arms intertwined around one other as they leave.
I return to my chair as the professor announces the second half of the competition. The gentleman I bumped into a few minutes earlier tips his hat and grins my way as he settles comfortably next to his wife. Looking around the room I admire this community gathered in support of sons & daughters, sisters & brothers, and nieces & nephews.
I adjust my dress that has twisted around my waist from Gia’s enthusiastic hug, and a smile bursts across my face. I’ve just been recognized…I have friends in Italy.