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I don’t know why, but the sight of my friend Brian “putting” about Orvieto in his 2000 forest green Piaggio Ape makes me smile.  Perhaps it’s because he’s such a distinguished and elegant Englishman that the visual of him in that little Italian pickup truck (“ape” means “bee”) creates a contrasting effect – as if one is looking at an enigma.  But once you get to know Brian you’ll discover the many facets of his personality: father, grandfather, friend, soul mate to the lovely Antonella, and an adventuresome, rugged, country-boy-at-heart hobby farmer.

I got to wondering about how Brian happened to land in Italy, so on one of our morning jaunts around the Rupe I asked him, and he graciously agreed to spin his wonderful tale of two teenage boys, a yellow and grey 150 LD Lambretta scooter and 4,000 kilometers of roads that began the dream to live in Italy.

Just sixteen and eighteen years of age respectively, he and his friend Michael Williams set out from Rotherham, England for Italian parts unknown.  It was 1957 (a very good year) – a decade post-World War II when Italy was a much different country than it is today.  He remembers it as a simple and innocent time.  

Brian  doesn’t recall the girl in the photo’s name, only that “she didn’t fancy me.”

The exchange rate to lire was good, the girls were pretty and exotic, and the boys’ youthful exuberance and open hearts bought them life lessons you couldn’t pay a million euros for today.  Per esempio, a collision with the back of a tractor ended amicably with a “wine” summit on the tractor owner’s portico.  Both parties agreed to assume equal fault in the matter with just a gentleman’s handshake, a “grazie” and a “ciao”

As with most journeys, this one came to an end and Brian dutifully returned to England to join the family’s tile business.  When it came time for a trade course, his father sent him off to Malmö, Sweden – knowing full well the risk of sending him to the training in Modena, Italy – Brian might never have returned!

Enjoying a visit with the grandchildren

Brian worked hard and raised his family, venturing back to Italy whenever he could.  With his children grown and his tile business sold, he retired at the young age of 51 and made a “bee” line straight for Italy where he has now lived for 21 years…and counting. 

Although today he drives around on three wheels instead of two, I think it would be safe to say that life in Italy is very sweet for Brian and his little Ape

by Toni DeBella

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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

In a perfect world there would be no boundaries and we would all be citizens of the world, free to roam from place to place at our heart’s desire. Until that day comes, you’re going to need a government-issued passport.

Passport 101

King Henry V of England, most noted for his great military mind is also credited with inventing what is considered the modern version of the passport. Earlier references to the passport have also been found in the Hebrew Bible. In medieval Europe a document was required in order to pass through the gates of a city wall or traverse a territory.

American in Paris?

The latest statistic regarding the percentage of Americans (less than 30%) who own passports is a little sobering and quite frankly, a bit suspect. I disagree with the popular assumption that Americans are fundamentally unadventurous, isolation-loving people without a global perspective. I assert that the low number of passports issued is misleading and actually a reflection of many mitigating factors including: 1) The geographical make-up of the United States. It is a vast, diverse land filled with amazing places (national parks, big cities, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, etc.,) that keep Americans sightseeing within its borders; 2) The U.S. neighbors only two other nations, unlike Europe which has nearly a total of 50 border-crossings on its continent. For example, an Austrian boards a one-hour flight or sets out on an eight-hour car trip and reaches a myriad of foreign countries. A one-hour flight from San Francisco takes me as far as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland, and somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; 3) If you are a member of the working middle-class it is likely you have only two-weeks vacation a year and on top of that; 4) foreign excursions can be quite expensive.

But for those who choose to hold a passport, they hold unlimited possibilities in their hands. This tiny book has power. With it you have permission to pick-up and jet-off to strange and exotic locations at a moments notice. My son has let his passport expire and I am continually nagging him to get it renewed. “You never know when you might need to fly to Paris for lunch”, I say. He rolls his eyes. He’s right, this situation doesn’t come up too often – but it never hurts to be ready just in case. As for me, I caught the “travel bug” later in life and I caught it with a vengeance. Just recently I renewed my passport and sweated those few weeks without it. It was a relief to find it in the post safe and sound. I look forward to the next 10 years of gallivanting.

My recent passport is only the third in my lifetime. Growing up in our family meant we never ventured farther than our Ford Country Squire station wagon could take us. In college, I went to Mexico quite a few times, but back in “the day” you weren’t required to carry documents to go south or north of the border. In 1982 I took my first international flight to Sydney, Australia for a friend’s wedding and joined the prestigious group “world traveller”. Since that time I’ve been to only a handful of different countries: Mexico (twice), Costa Rica, The Bahamas, England (twice), Germany (twice) and of course, Italy (dozens of times). In two months time I will be adding France to that list. My Passport Personality: Late Bloomer.

On this ever-changing, fluid planet it is nearly impossible to maintain an accurate list of countries in the world. The Travelers’ Century Club has compiled a “Master List” of countries, territories, autonomous regions, island groups, states and provinces that theoretically make up the world. Currently there are 872 places pinpointed. No one person has visited them all, but a few have come close. My friend Marisa is in her 30s and has one of the most impressive passports I’ve ever seen. (The photo at the top is from a page in her actual passbook). She considers it among her most prized possession. She’s travelled since she was a baby and in her teens and early 20s lived many years abroad (both on land and on boats). She is now gainfully employed as a maritime attorney, so her globe-trotting has stalled a bit. But deep down inside she will always have the heart of a vagabond and wanderlust in her veins. Her Passport Personality: Marco Polo.

So, what does your passport say about you?

by Toni DeBella

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