As I’ve grown older, family and friends have taken on a new meaning. Of course, I’ve always loved my family and my friends, but that love now seems deepened and I don’t know if it is simply something that has happened as I age or it is a result of having my eyes open wide to how Italians look at their famiglia e amici. I suspect it’s a combination of the two.
As much as I ‘think’ I’m still in my thirties, the truth is I passed my thirties some four decades ago – Yikes! And, as I approach 80 I cannot but ask myself how many years do I have left. I’ve already surpassed the longevity of the male members of my family and I am approaching the longevity of the female members of my family, most of whom lived, like my mom, until the age of 85. Unlike my mom, who until the day she died, insisted she was 39, albeit always with a smile on her face, I can easily admit to my 77 years on this earth. This admission may be due, in part, to my brain that often does tell me I’m still in my thirties and in part due to the fact that I eat well – yes, for those of you who know me, sometimes too well. I exercise regularly, and I walk all over the place, all of which further convinces me that I will live a long time. This confidence is abetted by my doctor who says I should live another 15 to 20 years – well, that’s what he said last year – and our financial people, who have me departing this planet at the age of 90. Or, perhaps, all this is just folly.
At any rate, I do feel young and a part of me believes, and there is much evidence to prove, that the fact I have learned to speak Italian – my Italian friends call it, the “Italiano di Bob” or the “Italiano di Roberto“- as any researcher in this arena knows, keeps the mind and the spirits young and alert. And, I buy that. Well, why not?
Regardless of how ‘young’ I think I am, I am getting on in years and that makes me very aware of the time I have left to spend with friends and family members, especially my daughter and her family, but also my sister, and my sole remaining cousin and his wife. I now feel a much deeper love for them than in any other decade of my life. The same is true for friends, especially longtime friends. My friend Georgia once sent me a card that said, “Old friends are best,” and I immediately took to that sentiment. All friends are wonderful; old friends are best.
Having the opportunity to spend so much of the last two plus decades in Lucca, I can now count many old friends here: Giulio Taddeucci and his wife, Manuela D’Angina; Paolo Indrgoli and Yuriko Hirao; Emanuele Sarti and Marco Marconi, Francesco Casadio and Stefania Spada, plus Patrizio and Monica, Francesco and others, including “The Danes,” Bent and Anette Petersen, who are as close to us, despite the physical distance separately us, as any two people can be.
There is something special about making friends from different cultures, with differing languages. It may be harder, but in many ways it is more genuine, in that one’s politics, social, religious and other views are not learned until one has already established a relationship and then, if the friendship was built on solid ground, differences in these areas do not destroy the friendship. Contrast this to most friendships made in the United States for example. It’s easy to suss out one’s political, social, religious or other views and if they differ greatly from the views one has, the relationship generally goes nowhere. In fact, it never begins.
In learning Italian for example, it was impossible for me to carryon a conversation at a deep level. First, my conversations were about the weather, food, and travel. Only as I developed my ability to speak could I even begin to ask questions about serious issues. And, usually, after asking such questions, I had no ability to explore the answers. It took years to come to understand how my friends viewed the world and when those views differed from mine we talked about the differences in a way that few in the States do. In some way, these conversations, because they were so real, deepened my friendships with Italians – the Danes were a different story as they spoke English quite well and our relationship developed and grew more quickly.
In the process of establishing these new friendships, I began to see stark differences in the way Italians viewed family and friendships from the way I had viewed them. Italians, it seemed, established their closest friendship in grade school and held onto these relationships for the rest of their lives, while I collected friends, from college, the workplace, social groups and so on, over the years. Surprisingly a number of ex-pats told me that Italians don’t make friendship with foreigners, stranieri in Italian. In fact, several told me that Italians would never invite stranieri into their homes. It’s true that several years passed before Donald and I were invited into the home of Italians, but once that happened, it seemed to open the floodgate of invitations. I came to conclude that once Italians recognized that Donald and I were more than just occasional visitors, many, not all, opened their arms to the two of us and our friendships began to blossom.
As I was able to participate in Italian family life I saw how I could strengthen my family ties. It wasn’t that I thought the way the Italians held family was perfect – they too have their own dysfunctions – but I liked how they came together as a whole family unit and not just on holidays, but regularly and often. In the beginning it never dawned on my that spending time in Italy, with Italians, would impact the way I view my family and my friends. But, it has. I very much want to spend more time, and more quality time, with my family, most of whom live many hours away, as well as with my friends.
I love my daughter Courtney, her husband Dan, and our three grandkids, Kendall, Brady and Chase. I always have, but now that love feels even stronger. It’s the same with how I view my old, and even some new, friends. And whether this desire comes from aging, the result of learning a new language, or from seeing and participating in a new culture doesn’t really make a difference. I’m grateful to have found the depth of feeling I have for friends and family members. I couldn’t be happier.
Alla mia famiglia e ai miei amici,