Thursday, September 13, 2001

After September 11

It has probably been a while since my last communique.

I could claim the terror that has gripped the world during the last 30 hours since the attacks on New York and Washington. Yet this would be a convenient excuse for ten days that have not been as significant to the rest of society.

Thank you so much to those of you who have responded with news or responses to what I have sent; it is greatly appreciated. The best address to use for Bob and I is; either our names or which is forwarded to everything, everywhere to enable access whenever we have access to email of any colour.

When I was in Italy eleven years ago, retelling the tale seems more the production of an overactive imagination and bluster than fact.

Although most tourists on a day trip to Firenze (Florence) would have seen more of the great wonders of the art world at the Uffizi and during my visits to Rome than I did throughout that month, they would not have become a Florentina, nor driven over Tuscany and Umbria in their new friends BMW, driving the Dutch football team to their 1990 World Cup match at 160km/hr down the Autostrada in convoy with Petra in her fathers' spare BMW cabriolet; nor danced with Crown Prince Willem of Holland in extraordinary Euro-discothèques; spending the evening with a retired university professor in his apartment after approaching him in the post office seeing he was posting a card to Wollongong (Australia) and then the following day at his nieces' farm in Chianti with homemade vino, sheep's milk cheese and food collected as we walked.
I could go on, however that tale of 1990 beggared my belief as time wore on. Until now.

The Journey
When in the western Basque region, and once again finding no room at the Inn, Bob and I ended up staying at a rural alberge or pensione, which whilst basic, seemed to suit our needs. The owner was increasingly incorrigible, "Ignacio The Beast", however with no options for alternative accommodation and close to a triathlon we were to do we stayed. Soon we were joined by a group of five friends from Italy travelling together, with whom Bob struck an instant re. The meal of home made pasta the night before an early start for the triathlon on a liquid diet, sent me to bed early, as I knew my resolve would not hold.
The stay for us was made bearable by these 5 Italians, and a family of 4 from Rome. A very genuine invitation was received to stay at the home of one of the five, Giulietta, when she heard that we were going to Rimini, a couple of hours from Rimini.
Our extended stay in Spain has been discussed elsewhere. After a diversion to the Duathlon Belvedere in the jewel of eastern France for active people, the Jura, we headed to Italy ~ an unexpectedly long and tiring journey via Germany, Switzerland and into northern Italy.

After more difficulties in finding accommodation, however finding another unexpected medieval delight very late in Cremona, we had been in contact with Giulietta and her friend Stefano in Ferrara through email to advise of our plans. We enjoyed the hotel, were directed around the corner to a sensory overload of a church that was amassed with stunning art, fresco's, bass relief and architecture. Everyone rode bicycles for transport, which Bob and I get a tremendous thrill from, and the piazzas and cobbled streets in the old Centro were fantastic.
A couple of hours later we were on the outskirts of Stienta, a village about 20 kilometres from the city of Ferrara. I had heard of Ferrara, but it was just a name of the north ~ like Bologna (at least I knew they were credited with Mortadella and Ragu Bolognese). A phone call from the crummiest truck stop / bar we could have found meant that Stefano downed tools at his office as the Ferrara manager of Citibank, and rode up to meet us on a very nifty 250cc Yamaha Scooter. It was Wednesday, 5 September.

Giulietta has a much be-loved 23-year-old son, Davide who was vacationing in Greece. Her apartment is spacious with high ceilings, tiled floors, and rooms of a good size. With two bathrooms, we three were very comfortable.
My health had not significantly improved since France, despite completing the mountainous duathlon comfortably. The cancellation of a duathlon in the region meant that for one weekend we did not compete. As I had put on my running gear that morning and felt too wan to pull on elastic-laced shoes, this was not a disappointment. It also meant that I could eat! Having followed a liquid diet for many days in anticipation, I was completely troppo and irrational by this stage of week after week of liquids only for 5 days and a couple of days of white (but good!) bread and whatever was around at the time. My first day returning to France from Spain had meant low fat potato crisps and diet coke from a poor service station.
Giulietta spoke only a little English, however my Italian, after overcoming the oi/si/oui/si versions of our journey pleased me. I even got some grammar correct and seemed to be being great guns! Stefano came over to share our evening meal each day, and his English is very good, so communication was of little problem. The weekend was wonderful ~ Giulietta and I had a short walk on the banks of the River Po, before continuing our shopping in Occhiobella (beautiful eyes) for dinner with another of the group of five that evening. Later, three other friends also came, requiring a quick extension to our table, setting, and additional dish of Giulietta's famous spaghetti. Fresh tomatoes, basil and produce came from her mother’s garden 3 kilometres away. An octopus salad, the famous Ferrara Bread, probably the world's best vegetable soup by Bob's estimation, fantastic cheeses, and gelati brought by the most amusing and highly intelligent friend Paolo, rounded off the evening with ample vino and grappa.
We were in the fold of Italy, and embraced them. Northern Italians have a reputation of being cold, however nothing could have been further from the truth. It was a very late night.

Instead of a duathlon, on Sunday we drove to Rimini for lunch at Giulietta's very good friend, Graziella. This appeased Bob's anxiety about Rimini and the World championship race somewhat, and as the manager of the team was arriving that day hoped to meet and talk to him at the same time.
A lunch of homemade food changed as the extended family grew, and Bob & I, Giulietta & Stefano, Graziella & her 15-year-old son (Roberto), were joined by her 29-year-old daughter, her husband (also Roberto), and their most affectionate 3-year-old granddaughter. After a while, we relocated to a popular spot which served a local dish of a type of pizza, without tomato and only some with special cheeses, some folded over yet made on a type of Lebanese flat-bread. Sitting under umbrellas in the sunny afternoon with warm company, good food and conversation all was right with the world. The Gelateria next door provided a palette cleanser for some of us.
A storm sent us scurrying back, with Bob catching up with Michael Dupe, the Team Manager. Unfortunately, a series of circumstances meant the journey back to Ferrara took over five hours, ensuring another very late night and four extremely exhausted travellers. I rested in the lap of Giulietta for much of the return trip, it is a delight how physically affectionate we are towards each other despite only knowing one another for a few days. There is a great sense of warmth and of being embraced by her as family, which is reciprocated.

My health was noticeably deteriorating however, with my left side and hand with little strength. Mornings and evenings were a trial, with me being better in the middle of the day, albeit briefly. Pain returned without the usual relief, spasms were far more frequent, and with the weakness and pall, my speech and cognition was also affected. This made communication in Italian more difficult, although English was hard to get through as well. I was embraced and felt safe in the environment which luck had brought us, and did not stress about missing out on the World Championships, although I still held hope.

This morning, Wednesday 12 September I knew when I awoke that it would be more than foolish to attempt to push through. My experience of the last week had been greater than ever envisaged, and that ameliorated the disappointment. My goal had been to start, and if possible, finish ~ knowing I would likely be last. However it was too great an opportunity to miss; yet the ten weeks since my performance enhancing drugs had been infused were up, and I had to remain well enough to travel home.
I have gained a family. Davide and I talk on the phone from Greece, Stefano and I share an uncanny passion for furniture and design styles, and musical tastes, and Guiletta is the caring concern and warmth of a blanketing mother or sister that I crave so when unwell. This morning she bathed and dressed me: I see an irony being cared for and complemented on my dress sense by a fashion designer for Armani, Prada and Dolce Gabbana!



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