As the pixel dust of my firing settled around me, I had to face the fact that my broadcasting career was probably over. I loved the craft but I hated the business. I wasn’t sure what to do next. The bitterness lingered and I sank into a kind of desolate bog. Idanna Pucci, who worked with me on several documentaries we filmed in Italy, invited me to join her and her husband, Terence Ward. They were home-sitting an ancient farmhouse in the hills of Tuscany and promised to help me recover.
Idanna and Terence are writers and filmmakers, with a worldwide network of friends who are working for social justice. “Like the old “movement” of the sixties?” I asked. “We call it, ‘The Organization,’” Idanna replied. It sounded very Italian.
Both Terence and Idanna have paid their dues, lived through their own nightmares and survived, so I knew they would provide a sympathetic shoulder. Terence is a red headed Irishman who grew up in Iran with a progressive mother and father and three brothers. Idanna is a scion of one of the oldest families of Florence, once bankers to the Medici. Her uncle was the famous designer, Emilio Pucci
They picked me up at the airport in their tiny Toyota, well suited to the narrow, twisting Italian roads. It looked like a toy on the outside, but sat four comfortably with their luggage inside and it got 38 miles to the gallon … an important point for two committed ecologists.
The Tuscan roads became narrower as we climbed into the hills. Terence turned between two stone posts, down a dirt trail along a narrow ridge. We passed a farmhouse, where we would get our eggs, milk and fresh mozzarella. The ground fell away precipitously on both sides of the road. A deer ran in front of the car followed by a wary buck. Idanna told me this was wild boar country.
The four hundred year old farmhouse in the remote hills of Tuscany was a rambling set of stone rooms with massive ceilings amidst olive trees, pears and peaches, overlooking a quiet valley. The summer sun beat down mercilessly in the worst drought northern Italy had known in thirty years, but the massive stonewalls and thick cast tile roof kept the rooms cool during the heat of a baking August afternoon. This house was built to last forever.
At dusk, we sat outside, eating tomatoes and basil from the garden, with home pressed olive oil and fresh mozzarella. Friends of Idanna and Terence had brought a bottle of Chianti. The Tuscan air was still and moist. It felt like rain. Lavender and rosemary set out in pots against the house were redolent in the heavy atmosphere. Cicadas drilled the evening air. Bats came and went.
Idanna’s guests reminded me that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were symbols of America’s commercial and military power. Didn’t the United States bear some responsibility for the outbreak of terrorism against them? That had been a prominent theme in our version of Avoiding Armageddon, one that my generation learned in childhood. “Take responsibility for what happens to you. It’s the only way you can make things better. Be accountable for your actions.” We all knew that General and then President Eisenhower had carried a penciled note in his pocket as the invasion of Normandy was launched. It said simply that he took full responsibility for the invasion’s failure. This basic human lesson, one imbedded in every self-help program, was not what Americans liked to think about after 9/11.
The conversation switched to Italian, an intense discussion of the attempt by multinational corporations to control rural water in India. I tried to follow. Fresh water may well become the world’s most precious resource. Unlike petroleum, which makes life easier, water is an essential to make life possible. The corporations that control water where the supply is limited stand to make a killing.
A few days later, we headed into nearby Regello to shop for food. Everything in Italy closed between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm, so we left early. On a sharp curve around the spur of a mountain, we passed the large workshop of a local stone carver. Idanna and Terrence were looking for counter tops for their new kitchen in Florence and they stopped to investigate. I discovered a bas-relief of Dante and Beatrice. The poet looked heavenward in anxious expectation of some kind of understanding while Beatrice looked straight ahead with weary patience.
The shop carried marble from around the world, hand carved sepulchers, fireplace facades and two huge stone lions, toothless from age.
As Idanna and Terence chatted about the proper marble for their kitchen, the artisano kept glancing over at me. I was clearly a foreigner. Idanna explained that I was an America. Raul Sottili, the stone carver, looked directly at me. “We like the liberal Americans but we don’t want the Bush Americans.” Raul didn’t give a damn what I was. He wanted me to know who he was, and he launched into an informed discussion of the pitfalls of the war in Iraq, the dangers of American hegemony and the connivance of Bush’s Italian clone, Prime Minister Silvio Berluscone.
Looking back at the post World War II history of Europe, Raul said, Italians made a huge mistake. They identified with the policies of the Soviet Union. “We should have aligned ourselves with American liberals,” he explained. “With such a coalition between a European left and American liberals we might not be in the trouble we are in today.”
Raul was born in 1935. He was my age and remembered the war, when his father had been mayor of Regello. Partisans crept into town at night to see their families. “They told my father, ‘When this is over, we must start the revolution.’ But my father said, ‘what revolution, we are too hungry to fight. Forget the revolution, we have to get food first.’” The Sotilli’s were pragmatic.
One thing led to another. We were soon inside the Sotilli’s home. His wife, Giammaria, apologized for the state of their living room. “I am ironing, sewing and watching these idiots,” she said, pointing to a panel of politicians on television discussing Italy’s future. She wasn’t watching a soap opera, Oprah, a reality show, news experts or a news digest. She was watching the political discussions themselves. Think C-Span.
Idanna told them the story of my firing. They listened intently. Idanna explained that I lost family members on 9/11 … the largest American family killed that day. None of what Idanna said came as much of a surprise to Raul or Giammaria who replied, “My grandmother said that hardships should be welcomed, like inoculations against deadly diseases. ‘Whatever you’re going through,’ my grandmother always said, ‘You can be sure that there’s worse to come.’” And she and her husband burst into laughter.
“You have to laugh,” Giammaria explained. “That’s the only way you can get the bastards. If your enemies see you laughing, you’ve shown them that they haven’t defeated you no matter what has happened.” She brought out a rare bottle of chilled white wine, and poured out glasses all around. “Here. Drink up! My husband and I, we just go dancing.” As we finally left, Giammaria reminded us, “When you come back again to visit, we’ll all go dancing together. That’ll show the bastards.”