Spoke to my cousin Lorenzo yesterday. He lives in a little seashore town on the Adriatic called Senigallia. It has been a resort town since Roman times and still is today. And he is the undisputed (though unofficial) king of it. We are the same age and grew up together for the years I lived in Italy as a kid and we have been close ever since. The little province he lives in is called Le Marche. It is no bigger than Salem County. But, as of yesterday, they had over 1000 cases of Coronavirus and they are on complete lock down and it looks like they will be for the foreseeable future. And for a seaside resort community with the summer coming, that could be devastating. But he was panicked and worried about us – apparently they hear horror stories about New Jersey and New York over there just like we hear them about Italy over here. And believe it or not, popular culture being what it is, in Italy, New Jersey is pretty famous (infamous?) and glamorous (sort of…). Think Sinatra, The Sopranos, Jersey Shore (god forbid…).
Fortunately, he and the family there are safe and sound. And he still has his sense of humor. He was teasing me about the last time we visited, maybe 7 or 8 years ago now. We showed up in Senigallia on August 15 – a holiday that the Italians call “Ferragosto”. It is an ancient Roman feast day that the Catholic Church turned into a religious holiday which, in turn, the Italians have turned back into a one day pagan Bacchanalia. The motto is “Si mangia, si beve, e si fa l’amore” (You eat, you drink, you make love). And the entire county of Italy goes to the beach. Everybody. All on the same day. I’m not kidding. You can look it up. And it was on this day that we decided to visit him at his beach town and he couldn’t have been more excited, being king and all…
We parked our car at the edge of town – because with the traffic there was no way we were getting in. And he shuttled us each, one by one, from our car to his favorite beach (where he spent the better part of every day in the summer and presumptively held court…) on the back of his red Vespa. I was the last to be shuttled. I climbed on the back and he took off like a shot…flying through the crowded streets, weaving in out of lanes, dodging between cars. He was anxious to finally get to the beach to start the party. There were people and cars everywhere and police trying (and failing) to maintain control. It was madness. As Lorenzo’s red Vespa flew past two exasperated Carabinieri (Italian quasi military police – kinda like state troopers meet National Guard but they carry sub machine guns and wear feathery hats – even in the summer) they looked at us in astonishment and anger. I could see it in their faces. Clearly they had had enough today and they were gonna make an example of this lunatic on the red Vespa. They jumped on their motorcycles and started to chase us. Lorenzo didn’t notice at first (I didn’t think…) and we lead them on an unintentional (I hoped…) chase through the insanely crowded streets. Finally, Lorenzo pulled over and the Carabinieri and their sub machine guns came over to us. One pulled Lorenzo aside and asked for his license while the other pointed his sub machine gun at me – keeping me temporarily at bay. Then the other came over and they asked Lorenzo who I was.
Lorenzo: “Questo e mio cugino. Lui venga d’America” (This is my cousin. He comes from America.)
Carabinieri No. 1 (to me): “Ho bisognio di vostri documenti. Adesso.” (I need your passport. Now.)
Me (looking down at my bathing suit without pockets): “Mi discpiace, signiore. Non l’ho portato.” (I’m sorry sir, I didn’t bring it…)
Carabinieri No. 2 (after looking me over suspiciously): “Da dove vieni in America?” (Where do you come from in America?
Me: “Nuovo Jersey” (New Jersey)
Carabinieri No. 1: “E che lavoro fai a Nuovo Jersey?” (And what work do you do in New Jersey?)
Me: “Abbiamo un vigneto. Facciamo il vino.” (We have a vineyard. We make wine)
Carabinieri No. 2 (looking incredulous, but not amused): “Fai il vino…a Nuovo Jersey???” (You make wine…in New Jersey???)
As the two Carabinieri turned to confer about this new information, Lorenzo leaned over to me and said to me, in a very anxious whisper: “Ma come, sei impazzito? Hai detto che fai vino a Nuovo Jersey??? Adesso loro pensono che tu sei un terrorista!” (What are you nuts? You told them you make wine in New Jersey?? Now they think you’re a terrorist!)
Just then we heard a scream. A fight was breaking out on the other side of the street. The two Carabinieri forgot all about us and sprinted toward the gathering crowd.
Lorenzo turned, jumped on the Vespa and kick started it and yelled to me “Scatti, dai andiamo!!!” (Scotty, come on let’s go!!!).
Not thinking about the consequences for the moment, I jumped on and we sped off, quickly engulfed and hidden by the swell of traffic.
When we got to the beach, we got off the Vespa and I screamed at him: “Stronzo! Che cos’ hai fatto?? Abbiamo sfuggito da la polizia! Se fai cosi in America, vai a prigione!” (Asshole! We diched the cops! You do that in America, you go to jail!)
He put his arm around my shoulders and said with an impish smile, “Ahhh…ma questa e Italia…” (Ahhh…but this is Italy…).
And then, after a pause, “E poi, ho andato al liceo con quei due. Allora, vuoi un prosecco?” (And besides, I went to high school with those two guys. So, how about a prosecco?)