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Roadblocks to A Dream

Day One: Goals*

Nearly five years ago my longtime boyfriend broke up with me so that he could move to Mexico to start a new life in Baja, California.  It wasn’t so maddening that he had ended things with me, after all, couples split up every day of the week.  What really angered me was the fact that he had a dream, a really big dream, a dream he’d planned to implement for a long time but held close to his chest.  He had been plotting his escape and kept me in the dark until the very last minute when he announced, “I am moving to Mexico, but you can come and visit”. To say that I was shocked and enraged would be an understatement.  The door didn’t hit him on his way out.

That afternoon I remember sitting in a cafe feeling extremely stunned, rejected and sorry for myself.  I was saying things like, “How could he do this to me?  Who does he think he is? Who needs this”?  You know, the basic vitriol one spews when one is feeling the pain of knifelike emotions from being “dumped” – it’s a jagged pill to swallow.  But then it hit me!  The words flew out of my mouth, literally while the thought was forming in my head…”I don’t need him, I can move to Italy now”.  There it was: the truth. I’d been keeping my dream under wraps as well.

I couldn’t really see it clearly before because I was blinded inside a relationship with someone I cared for.  After the sting of a bruised ego had subsided, I knew in my heart that we weren’t meant to be together.  We wanted different lives on different continents.  Suddenly there was no one to impede my dream, just like there was no one blocking his.  He was on his way to La Paz, Mexico and I was on my way to Orvieto, Italy.  I was free to direct my energies toward my goal and in that moment the project of living in Italy began in earnest with actions, not just with words.

Yesterday, five years later, I wrote him a letter thanking him for cutting the ties that kept both of us anchored in a place we no longer wanted to be.  I know I’m slow, but I get there.

* During this entire month of November Bootsnall is inviting bloggers from around the world to participate in 30 Days of Indie Travel : a daily blogging effort to look back on our past travel experiences.  Today’s chosen topic Goals

Photograph of Sign by Manuela Calvet, 2011

by Toni DeBella

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I Nonni DeBella

I used to make the same mistake most Italian Americans make. When someone asked my nationality I always responded “I’m Italian.”  It was when I moved to Italy and became immersed in its culture that I began to detect the distinct differences between us: Italians vs. Italian Americans.  We are cousins for sure – we share ancestors, history, traditions and certain sensibilities, but we are also completely different.  It comes down to that aged-old question: nature of nurture?  Nationality: I believe it’s in our DNA.

Sono italo americana

Many Italian Americans grow up in an environment that is quintessentially American but with undertones of Italian culture threaded through everything.  Mine, I think, is typical of a lot of first and second generation families whose descendants immigrated from Italy in the late 1800s to early 1900s.  My Sicilian grandparents, Gioachino DiBella and Nimfa Pizzo, were born in small towns near Palermo, and although they were very young children when they left their homeland, they remained “from the old country” their entire lives.  The photo at the top, for example, was taken in our backyard in San Jose, California around 1965.  At the time bell bottoms and the Beatles were in fashion, but looking at my grandparents in this photo, it could have been taken in 1865!

Born in America: Parts from Italy

My parents Luke and Nancy

I would say that Italian Americans are born with an identity crisis.  We are “hybrids” – the Prius’ of American society. We feel part of a culture and experience that is in stark contrast to the Ward and June Clever-types portrayed in TV sitcoms.  Our large, loud and chaotic families are the center of our universe.  At birthdays, Baptisms, Christmas, etc., the house is filled with people from the same gene pool.  Sunday dinner is served at 1:00 p.m. at our grandparents’ house (who live with us, next door to us, or down the street from us).  Thanksgiving dinner includes the traditional turkey, stuffing, yams and homemade ravioli.  Italian American friends never call – they just stop by after dinner, often bearing brown paper bags filled with cherries, zucchini, tomatoes…whatever they have in abundance from their trees or in their gardens.

Il Segreto: The Secret

I can’t really list for you all the differences between Italians from Italy and Italian Americans, I just know we are different.  I try to resist the urge to boil people down to stereotypes because it’s never useful and not quite that simple.  However, when I am surrounded by Italians, I can feel it.  It’s like they know something that I don’t know.  It’s in their eyes, in the way they carry themselves, a sort of special grin that says to me “I have the secret” to: 1) happiness, 2) living well, 3) the meaning of life.  Italians are a fascinating composite of intelligence, cynicism, superstition, generosity, warmth, hyper-criticism, style, emotionality and humanism. You certainly have to consider that their civilization has been in existence for thousands of years.  It’s a culture of people who have seen it all, done it all and have the T-shirt. Americans are the “teenagers” of civilizations – we have a lot to learn.  We may be the most powerful country in the free world, but we are “cultural pipsqueaks” in comparison.

“Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” ~Author Unknown

A family camping trip

Despite all our differences, when it comes down to it, what makes us most alike – two separate people from two different countries – is our regard for family.  Family is the cornerstone of our lives: we hold it in highest esteem – even if we don’t understand each other, fight with one another, or at times hate each other.  We never forget that home and family is where we started. And if we are lucky to have been born into a good and loving one, we hope it is where we will be in the end.  So, here’s to the family…”Alla Famiglia”. That’s Italian and Italian American.

by Toni DeBella

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One morning while I was getting ready for work, I realized my precious cameo ring had gone missing! It was not on top of the dresser where I always leave it before going to bed. Frantic, I looked everywhere but couldn’t find it. I was late for work and had to dash out the door – I only hoped that I would find it when I got home that evening. You can’t imagine how heartbroken I felt to think that I may have lost this ring forever!

On one of my trips, I practically scoured the entire country of Italy to find this ring – at street vendors in Rome, at a weekend antique market in Arezzo, in every-single vintage jewelery store I passed throughout Umbria and Toscana.  I saw many beautiful cameos, but they were set in gold and I prefer silver. I was becoming very discouraged. I am not really a jewelery-kind-of-girl, but there is something very special about cameos. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had an affection for them. My father fought in North Africa and Sicily during WWII and when he returned home, he brought with him loose cameos for his mother and sisters. As a wedding gift to my mother, my father had a bracelet made of six different size and colored cameos strung together in a rose-colored base metal. It is a lovely piece, full of significance and the closest our family has to an “heirloom”.  At my own wedding I wore it as “something borrowed”. Although my marriage didn’t last, my fascination with cameos remained.

Cameos from ancient and Renaissance times were carved from semi-precious gemstones, but later they were more typically produced out of shell and glass.  Cameos almost always have a raised, positive relief image – contrasting with a negative image.  Although the Romans sometimes used shell for carving cameos, it was not until the 15th and 16th centuries that the use of this material became prevalent. By the 18th Century, the demand for cameos grew. In fact, Queen Victoria became one of the major “trend-setters” of cameos in the second half of the 19th century. Modern cameos are often carved by ultrasonic machines because very few people work in this field today. Cameo carving by hand requires artistic ability, skilled craftsmanship and many years of experience in order to create these tiny life-like portraits. The world center for cameo carving in shell is Torre del Greco, in the Campania region of Italy.

With only two days left before my departure, I was running out of time.  On a stroll down the main Corso in Orvieto, I passed what could only be described as a “thrift shop” (negozio l’usato).  Filled with mostly Pinocchio key chains and tacky refrigerator magnets – there on a table in the window among the tourists’ souvenirs – was my ring!  It is a coffee-colored cameo, oval in shape and about one inch in length.  It’s encircled by a setting of patinaed silver with tiny marcasites around the perimeter.  When the shop owner told me the price, the deal was done!  The ring was soon riding on my right middle-finger and the little women in the portrait seemed to smile up at me, as pleased as I was at our good fortune.

Finally home from work that night, I completely tore apart my apartment in search of my lost ring.  I looked behind the dresser, under the dresser, inside the dresser drawers, retraced my steps from the day before – it seemed to have vanished into thin air.  I called my friend AnnaMaria to tell her my distressing news and she recommended I ask Sant’Antonio, the Patron Saint of Lost Things (and also of love and friendship), to help me.  I can’t explain it, but the next morning my ring reappeared!  I opened the top drawer of my dresser and perched right in the middle of an empty space between my sweaters, was my cameo.  It was as if someone had carefully and delicately placed it there.  I am not particularly superstitious or religious, but there have been moments in my life that have gone unexplained.  I wonder if there could be souls or “guardian angels” in the universe that sometimes answer our prayers.  If they do exist, then I hope that someday when you need his services, a prayer to Sant’Antonio will help you to find what you are searching for.
by Toni DeBella

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Many people have written articles about artist Alberto Bellini, and they say about him what, I’m ashamed to admit, I originally thought myself.   He has been described as a Medieval man, a throw-back from another era, a Renaissance man – summed up as an almost mystical figure.   But in reality he is of this world, of this time, modern and free-thinking and I’m lucky to have seen beyond his “persona” to catch a small glimpse of the person behind the myth.

I met Alberto the way I’ve met most of my friends in Orvieto…in a bar. We started a conversation while taking an afternoon coffee side-by-side.   He invited me to stop by his workshop (located around the corner) to see his terracotta sculptures. Sometimes his bicycle is parked outside, which means he is probably inside and working.  We began chatting about lighthearted subjects – he told me about his work and recounted stories about tourist visits that were comical or maddening.

I remember one day in particular ,near the end of my 4-month stay: I was sitting at the Blu Bar and he stopped at my table and could see I was sad about my impending return to San Francisco. I was teary-eyed and he said something comforting to me (although I don’t remember exactly what it was), then he went around the corner to the counter, bought me a “Bacio” (chocolate kiss), placed it in front of me and left. It was a sweet gesture that I appreciated and, though I’m not sure why, made me feel better.

Each year I return to Orvieto and often walk by his workshop. I wave, or stop to have a chat.  I don’t know a lot about Alberto other than he was born and raised in Orvieto, that his art is his passion and also that he seems to be a man who knows who he is and what he was meant to do. On my most recent visit, we discussed his views on social media and the effect it has on human contact – or rather the lack of it.  He says he isn’t comfortable owning a computer – too afraid his curious nature might make it difficult for him to resist spending all his time “online” instead of “in the moment”.   He prefers to hold a book in his hand, feel the paper, smell the ink, and use his imagination to form ideas about the world.  He owns a cell phone, but it’s a model so basic that it performs almost the same functions as a land-line.  I think Alberto chooses “real” over “virtual” and I admire his resistance to progress.  As much as the flow of information can be an asset to human beings, it also changes the dynamics of who we are as a society.

I happen to think he’s right – ultimately we are nothing without the “human touch”. And in a world where “friends” are made with a click of a mouse, I find that my friendship is developing very slowly and deliberately with Alberto. Each time we meet I learn another small, intimate detail about him – forming an impression of a man as he is – no more and no less.   He isn’t anything but Alberto – a self-described “strange man” – and you know, that’s what I like most about him. inspired-clay-accompanyin Terrecotta Artisan Alberto Bellini can be found in his shop, La Corte dei Miracoli, p.zza Ranieri, 13 – 05018 Orvieto. by Toni DeBella

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