Saturday, September 27, 2014

Linda’s unhappy biking tale turns out to be blessing in disguise for all

Linda gets off the train in Pescia
May 2014
My sister is a master story teller. No one who knows her well would oppose that statement. She doesn’t just tell children’s stories, although she’s great at that. She also tells stories about the interesting things that have happened to her, and she does a marvelous job at this as well. She’s not technically a professional story teller, although that can be debated, since she was an elementary school teacher for much of her life and thus was paid while she told stories to her students.

Since story telling is so much a part of her nature, it seemed a bit cruel to take her to a foreign country where she couldn’t speak the language well enough to tell any stories. But that’s what happened when Linda visited us in Italy for three weeks in late April and early May.

Of course, she could tell her stories to me and Lucy, but we’ve heard most of them (sometimes more than once, but I don’t stop her from repeating them). In Italy, she met many cousins on both the Spadoni and Seghieri sides of the family, but since few of them speak English and her Italian is limited to about a hundred words, she had to bottle up her stories She was stuck with amusing things to say and no way to express them except a few words and some sign language. She could tell Ivo that he had a “buon cuore,” a good heart, and that she enjoyed the fried snails he prepared for us and the sweet wine he gave us, but we could sense her frustration with not being able to say more. I could relate: I had lived through the same experience for the past three winters here. Finally this year I could communicate reasonably well enough to feel comfortable conversing with my Italian relatives. A couple of times I even said something clever or funny enough in Italian to make people smile or laugh—an important milestone by my reckoning.

A smiling Linda mounts the bike for the first time.
Finally, when something extremely story-worthy happened to Linda as she tried to ride a bike along Via Mattonaia, the need to tell about it became so strong that she broke the language barrier, spending hours on Google Translate and enlisting my help to write down what had happened so she could read it to our relatives. She would show it to me to smooth out the phrasing, and just when we thought she was done, she would go back to the dictionary to add more details. I’m sure my corrections were imperfect, but I knew that a little awkward wording along with Linda’s accent would just add to the charm, so I didn’t sweat the details.

Unfortunately, the first time she had a chance to tell it we were with Enrico Spadoni and his family, who had invited us over for an authentic pizza dinner at their house. Linda had borrowed the bike from Gilda Seghieri, the padrona of the Casolare dei Fiori agristurismo. Because Linda was writing the story for Gilda, she hadn’t thought to bring it along to the dinner. Thus she told it from memory, a little bit in Italian, quite a bit with gestures and pantomime, but mostly in English with me trying to translate. We did an adequate job, but Linda knew that next time she would need to be more prepared.

Linda gives a dramatic reading to Gilda.
That chance came when Francesca Seghieri and her mother Dosolina paid us a visit in our apart-
ment. They were about to leave when Linda pulled out the story and this time read it with polish and dramatic expression, even if she did mispronounce a handful of words. This time her audience was more impressed, as were Lucy and I.

Finally, on our last full day in Italy, we called Gilda away from her
Gilda shows her appreciation for the story.
kitchen at the agriturismo and sat her down in our apartment. Linda did a masterful job, and Gilda smiled and laughed throughout, although she did feel the need to apologize for the trouble Linda had encountered with the borrowed bike. We assured her that the problems were not her fault and that they had actually been the highlight of the trip for Linda, in a backwards sort of way. Without the unfortunate bike experience, Linda would have lacked a great story to tell her relatives, both in Italy and when she returned to America. “I told Gilda grazie mille,” Linda said, “and said that it was an experience I would never forget, that it would be a good memory of my visit, and it would be a great story to tell people when I got back home.”

And for Lucy and me, it also helped us feel more a part of our extended Italian family. Despite having lived at the Casolare dei Fiori for portions of four years, we had never really had an extended conversation with Gilda or shared any of our experiences in detail with her. Laughing together with her advanced our relationship more in those five minutes than the previous ten months we had lived in San Salvatore.

Here is the English version of Linda’s story, as she provided it to me in writing later:
Paul and Lucy had an extra bicycle, but it was too big for me. Gilda told Paul she would provide a bike and she brought it to the Casolare. She said it had been her mother’s and that her mother had been a short person, so she thought I’d be able to ride that bicycle. It did seem to be the right size, so after Paul adjusted the seat, I tried it out. It was different from bikes I’d ridden before—it had hand brakes, and the handlebars were straight across rather than curved.

"This is not the woman from my past."
Here is the story of the bicycle and me. Most of it is true.
On Monday I got on the bicycle and followed Paul and Lucy down the road. The bicycle thought, “This is not the woman from my past. She is not even Italian! She is not the woman I want riding on me! IF SHE DOESN’T GET OFF, I WILL PUT HER IN THE DITCH!” 

(The valley had been a vast wetland, and ditches had been dug to drain it, so the narrow lanes had deep ditches on both sides with varying amounts of water depending on whether it had rained recently.)

I didn’t know that the bicycle was unhappy, just that it was hard to keep the pedals going around unless I pedaled fast, and when I went fast, it was hard to go straight. I didn’t realize that the bike wanted me to get off, and when I didn’t, it followed through with its plan, took me to the side of the road and put me in the ditch. I didn’t know why the bike did it, but there I was, upside down in the ditch.

Paul and Lucy returned quickly and helped me out of there. I picked up the bike and walked it back home. I told Paul that I wished he’d taken a picture of me, and he replied that he had thought about it but decided it was more important to get me up and find out if I was hurt. I was muddy and wet, but I wasn’t hurt, and he did take a picture of me with the bike, which I’m sure was quite satisfied with itself.
Linda adds some dramatic expression,
but the mud stains are real.

On Tuesday I tried again, but it ended the same way—although at least this ditch was dry. I waited for Paul to get there and take a picture, but this time he didn’t have his camera!

I told the bike, “OK, now I understand. You and I are not to be together. I will leave you in peace with your memories of the woman from your past.” The bike and I walked back to the house one last time. We said good-bye.