An Hour With Paolo

Trip Start May 14, 2012
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What I did
Travelled with One Classy Italian

Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Thursday, July 12, 2012

I wait, my new "Firenze/Roma" sign still fresh with ink, for almost forty-five minutes before he shows up. It's a black minivan - fancy, but not ostentatious - bearing inside the classiest Italian man I have yet seen. He comes with a creaseless white suit jacket, jocular tone, feckless English and a name: Paolo.
 
"Do you know how long it's been, since I've seen a hitchhiker? A real hitchhiker? Years! I did this when I was younger - I travelled all around Europe. Now things are different. Ten, twenty, thirty years ago you could not drive without seeing hitchhikers. It is different. Our world is large, and people are afraid. We have money and we are afraid. But when I was young, your age, I would travel! Spain, Germany, Portugal, Asia. 
 
"I come from Moderna, right outside Bologna. From where do you come? Ah, Canada - Calgary! I export to Calgary; I am in the wine business. I continue to travel all over Europe but I have yet to come to Canada, perhaps one day I shall. I have a family, though. A wife and three children: two boys and a girl. Our boys came first so there was much joy when she came. All families need a girl. She is the joy of the house, only six years old now. Ah, you too? A brother and a sister? And where are you? Yes, in the middle - all as it is.
 
"Where are you going? Ah, Rome! Yes, Rome is the greatest city in Europe, the greatest city. So much history. I travel there often to oversee fermentation. I have worked with wine since I was your age, around twenty-two. It is a product, yes, but there is also more. It is a very satisfying job, but wine is also a product. You go through Florence?
 
"And what after Rome? Croatia! What are you doing there? I've been there few times - you go to Dubrovnik? So much of Croatian culture isn't its own - much, including Dubrovnik, was cultured by Venetians. Adriatic people. Like how the east coast of Turkey has a culture belonging to the Greeks. What are you doing in Croatia? I see. And after?
 
"Ukraine! Are you normal? What are you doing there? You, no. You shouldn't be there at your age. Nah, you should head to Greece - hop the islands! Get a job as a bartender! Sleep in a tent, and then move on to the next island. This Croatian hotel, is it five star? Four? Good, but still - go to Greece. That's a good thing for a guy, a guy your age.
 
"Berlin is the number one city for a guy like you. Then Barcelona. Maybe some Greek islands. Berlin, not Dusseldorf or Frankfurt. Berlin is full of life - startups, business, young people, artists, so much there. Not like Ukraine; don't wase your time, there's nothing there! You could start here, so much culture in Italy.
 
"So much culture in Italy, even within a few kilometres. Everything here has history, so much history! You look at Romans now and they are not the same, they are among the worst in Italy. But the roads they walk on are full of tears greater than they. Rome, though, got its culture from the Greeks, who in turn inherited much from Egypt. 
 
"You read Plato? You go to Athens and then to Parthenon, you will see where Socrates sat and taught - where he really was. You feel it. There's so much here. Go to Troy. Ithica. Knossos. Rome. Everything started from there. Egypt too. Egypt gained much from Mesopotamia, as did the Jews. That's where Iraq is now, and look at Iraq. Go to Jerusalem. See the rise and fall of Egypt last year - everything repeats itself. It used to be great for tourists but now not so much.
 
"Here, we are thirty kilometres outside of Florence. I need to go to the shopping centre and pick up a few things - I will be at least half an hour so I will drop you off at the highway but if I come back and still find you holding your little sign I will take you the rest of the way to the city. Here, I let you out." He pulls up to the side of the road, smiles, gives a quick backhand to the shoulder as I climb out, and drives away.
 
I wait for a while but all the drivers are giving me dirty looks. Italy is the first country where this has happened to me (you know, out of my VAST prior experience). Soon enough, though, a familiar black minivan pulls up beside me.
 
"Haha, I see you again! Get in, I take you to Florence and you will catch a ride to Rome from there. Have I heard of what? CouchSurfing? What is this? Ah - ah! Good, yes, very good! And this works? You meet the best people, then, the very best. The ones who trust. The ones who don't feel the same kind of fear, are paralyzed by it. To me it is a symbol - all this is like a symbol. And symbols are invaluable for life.
 
"Take Catholicism - Catholicism is big because it knows what to do with a symbol. Yes, the churches - you take the churches away and what is left? Not much, no not much. St. Peter's is a symbol. The pope is a symbol. The Protestants - they don't understand the purpose. They tried to destroy symbols but, ah, the human mind needs them - this is why the Catholics are more popular. You go to Rome? How long? Ah, not long enough. 
 
"People today - they come to me and ask "how long will it take for me to do St. Peter's? I tell them twenty years, I tell them eighty, does it matter? No. It will be there longer than that. Time is more valuable than money - people forget this. Take wine. You invest in wine and, for some, you won't start making money for at least twelve years. People don't understand that.
 
"When I travel, I love finding the few families who trace their business for over four hundred years. They've owned the same vineyards, the same castles. Tradition. Time doesn't matter - it takes as much time as it takes. It all got screwed up two hundred years ago - people starthing thinking about how to pack as much into one day as possible. People make things fast, they break down. I heard of this Volvo in the States - they say it has six million miles on it. It's from the sixties - this beautiful red Volvo. It still runs
 
"They say you only get two out of three: fast, cheap, reliable. We like fast. We like cheap. History is not cheap - nor is it fast. Rome. You walk through Rome and you need to read through the stones. History repeats itself. You look around at the world and know it's already happened before, and at least once in Rome. You need to spend more time in Rome, but you need to know Rome. 
 
"Here, we can start to see Florence - Firenze. There is more history in Florence than in any city in Spain. Hmm? Yes, the Medici were here. Bankers? Well, they were a very wealthy family. The banking system was invented in Milan, and here. But influence isn't all about money. Take art: Donatello, Michaelangelo and Leonardo - they were all here, all around the same period of time. One family once gave all three patronage - all three of these artists, these great artists!
 
"They last forever, past time, past money - they are forever. So much depends on culture. I tell you what - you spent how long looking for a ride in Bologna? An hour? And you weren't picked up outside Florence, not until I came back. You will get into Rome late if this continues, if my people remain my people. You will have no time to see Rome. Here, here's twenty Euro. This will pay for a ticket on one of the high speed trains - you'll be there before dinner. Where is your hostel? Good - you can see many things from there.
 
"Take it. No, please do. It's an investment. In culture. In young people. I can't help the whole world; today I help you. Get out of my car. Ciao!"
 
He stuffs the bill into my pocket, pulls up to the station, wishes me off, wishes me luck. A quick backhand to the shoulder. As I grab my back pack he leans in one last time.
 
"She is eternal, you know. Forever."
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Comments

Christina on

Paolo sounds like he really enjoyed having you as a conversation partner. I think you should take his advice and go to Greece and do some bartending. :P

joshnadeau
joshnadeau on

"Partner" might be a generous term.

Christina on

What would you prefer then? :P

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