Rick Bailey grew up in Freeland, Michigan, on the banks of the Tittabawassee River. He taught writing for 38 years at Henry Ford College.
A Midwesterner long married to an Italian immigrant, he has learned the language and food of Italy, traveled around the country, and, in the process, he has been (partly) made over–italianizato. In retirement Rick and his wife divide their time between Michigan and the Republic of San Marino.
Tizi is on the phone with a health-care professional up the hill, at the hospital in San Marino. It’s the day before our departure. Both of us have just tested positive for Covid. Over here they call it a tampone–the skewers that go up your nose and into your sinus cavities, swabbing around for evidence of the plague. We get our test at the pharmacy in Grotta Rossa, a little drive-through village between San Marino and Rimini. The pharmacist takes us, one at a time, outside onto the drive, turns us in the direction of the sunlight, and in go the tampone and out they come, and we walk, blinking back the tears, back inside to pay the 15 euros each. The pharmacist says she’ll have results in 15 minutes.
I’m cursed with the gift of waking up early. It’s morning in Matera, in a cramped hotel room whose main redeeming quality is the view.
I always leave a hotel early in the morning, before Tizi gets up, before the breakfast service. I leave with a “biglietto di visita” in my pocket, so if I get run down by a car or knocked out and robbed, whoever stumbles upon my body will know what hotel I belong to and inform relevant parties of my temporarily compromised condition or, worse, my demise.
March 19 is St. Joseph day. Father’s Day in Italy. March 20 is Spring Equinox. We’re celebrating. Sort of. We’re cleaning the garage. Not something I ever imagined doing in Italy.
Three floors below us is one of two parking garages. Each of the ten apartments in this building comes with a designated garage space, complete with a locking door, behind it an area just large enough for one very small car and some garage-appropriate junk. We’ve never used the garage. I think most of the residents don’t use their garage because it would mean five minutes of back-and-forth maneuvering to get a car in or out of its little stall unscathed. Tizi and I have been coming here together since 1978. Until a few years ago, I’d never seen our garage. Tizi always said her Zio kept some stuff in there. Zio Pino. Pino short for, the diminutive of, Giuseppe. Joseph.
At the rental car desk some years back, in the pre-cellphone era, I asked the guy handing me car keys the best way into the city. Following his advice, from the tangenziale, which cruises through town next to the A-14 toll road, I took the Via Stalingrado exit and somehow found my way to Piazza VIII Agosto, where there is a large underground parking garage. Bologna is a big city. When I drove into Manhattan to visit our son, I found one way into the city and stuck with it. Same thing here. When I get to Via Stalingrado (formerly Via Masceralla, until 1949), I know the way. I can breathe easy.
We’ve just finished a satisfying lunch. In Italy a post-prandial blast of espresso adds an exclamation mark to the experience. Lately she’s been taking her coffee “corrected.” With a dash of “mistra,” the local anise flavored grappa. Typically my wine intake at the table is higher than hers, so I finish with straight coffee. This day the server gets the two coffees mixed up. As soon as I toss it I know, Yes, this one was hers. And Yes, this is how I should be drinking mine. Correct.
Driving into Rimini the other night, I saw a road sign that made no sense. To me the sign said, like, Do something. Or possibly, Don’t do something. And do it, or don’t do it, soon after you see this sign. Maybe right way. I didn’t do anything. In so not doing, I figured I had a 50 percent chance of being right. This is my modus operandi. Don’t do anything, and don’t do it very slowly so you can change course if needed.
Almost fifty years we’ve been coming together to this apartment in San Marino. Mornings I open a cupboard door, take down the stainless steel espresso pot, and make coffee. There are half a dozen cups from my mother-in-law’s China. Not the good stuff in the credenza in the little dining room. This is her every-day stuff. A cup holds half a pot of brewed espresso. Since she’s been gone, I’ve broken one or two of those cups. Dropped on the tile floor, they explode into pieces.
On this trip, in the back of the cupboard I found a special cup, white, glazed on the side of it a leafy bunch of oranges, one cut in half, and a couple goofy improbable white flowers.
Above the fruit, written in flowing cursive, Florida.
“Try,” I say. “You either hear something or you don’t.”
It’s 4:00 a.m. She wants me to hear a bird. I want to hear the bird. I get up and walk to the foot of the bed where there are double doors that open onto a balcony. We have the serrande lowered all the way to shut out most of the light and provide a little dead air space. Every morning, without fail, I hear a dove out there. Wherever I am in the apartment I hear the dove. Also a couple roosters will start up in another 30-45 minutes. I’ll hear those. But this bird, the one she has been remarking on the last few mornings, I do not hear.
We see Nicola, the son of one of Tizi’s cousins. He’s in the travel business. I ask him how things are, if work is picking up since Covid. He says, Yes, and now there is the war. Later, his sister’s husband, Tomaso, who is in the food business, when I ask how things are, says, Well, first there was Covid, now the war.
It’s over there. I read about the war every morning. But it’s over there.