An American In Italy

A few years ago, when traveling alone, in Italy, I befriended a very old man at a cafe. I later discovered that he was the owner of the cafe which is why he would offer me very delicious food for free! One day, I summoned up the courage to speak to him, in very broken Italian. I asked: Can you tell me where the famous olive oil farm is? I probably said: Can you show me all of your horse heads are?

My Italian wasn’t very good. He then motioned for me to follow him. So, being the curious American tourist, I followed him. I followed him around several cobblestone corners a very steep hill and then to the tiniest car I have ever seen, parked askew, on the sidewalk. He motioned in Italian for me to get in. Which I thought was: I’m going to kill you so you can get in with ease, now, or I can put you in the trunk.

So, I panicked, froze, and got in. We drove for what seemed like several agonizing hours along winding bumpy roads and hilly hills. Real time; probably about an hour. This was the hour where I plotted my demise. I thought about what I wanted on my epitaph and what kind of music best suited me for my funeral. My panic and imagination ran wild about how I was going to tell my Mother I had died alone, in Italy. I had visions of being murdered and stuffed into the very small trunk of the very small car and then SCREECH. He stops, suddenly.

Then, he quickly lumbered his frail old body out of the car and like a whip he retrieves a very large skeleton key out of the trunk. I thought for sure he was going to use it to lock me up before he placed me in the trunk. He ran around the car, opened up my door and then mumbled something else very fast and confusing, in Italian. I wonder why they always speak so fast? He said: Venuto con me li mostrer che tutte le olive differenti la mia famiglia ha coltivato per oltre 100 anni! Which I took to mean that I’d be mixed into an olive oil and I would live for 100 years in the mouths of the local Italians!

My Italian, although not that great was improving, moment-by-moment. I followed far behind him, watching him, as the skeleton keys dangled on his side flapping and clanking against his weathered painter pants while he continued chattering, all the while, in Italian. He then opened up very two large wooden doors to reveal several hundred shelves of large bottles of olive oil which at this moment were illuminated and sparkling in the natural sunlight brought about, in full color, by the stained glass ceiling. It was a cathedral of olive oil.

He then quickly grabbed a ladder, stretched to the top of one of the nearby shelves and plucked a bottle and opened it with a loud pop as he giggled and then offered me some bread, delicious wine and olive oil. It was then that he began to speak in very broken English and said: This is my best olive oil. At this same time I realized that not only was he was the owner of the cafe but he was also the owner of the olive refinery made evident by his monogram on the Skelton key.

He pointed at the name and said My name is Philippe. Philippe’s family owned and operated the olive oil refinery for a century and they have supplied most of the imported olive oil to the United States and other countries! It was then that I realized he wasn’t going to kill me. It was becoming increasingly easy to swallow the bread.

The wine tasted like nectar from the gods. I was so grateful, primarily because he wasn’t going to kill me. I was equally elated and ashamed that I was an ugly and overly fearful American, in Italy. He was the sweetest and most generous old man. He gave me a case of his best olive oil that I was certain was going to break open and spill in the tiny trunk on the bumpy ride home. Better the olive oil than me, I suppose, I thought.

Philippe drove and lived his life with honest abandon. So, things don’t always spring forth from a negative frame of reference. Love God but lock your (trunk) car.

Marcella Brich is a single parent living and working in Southern California. She aAttended the LACC Theatre Academy, The Julliard School and is a writer, director, actor and spriritual seeker.

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