Greetings from Cosenza

Note: The following as a translation of a short piece that Massimo Veltri posted on Facebook. I’ve always enjoyed reading anything he posts, even if I have to put the text through a translation tool. With the piece below, I did a combination of Word/Google translation plus my own work. Massimo’s writing is very accessible and is about the lives of everyday people. I tried to replicate in English the tone and style he was using in Italian.

The original piece shocked me because it described a world and experiences so similar to those my friends and I were having in Canada. (In 1965 I was still living in Northern Ontario.) We may have been Calabrian transplants, separated by an ocean, but our life experiences were very similar.

Enjoy his wonderful memory of 1965 in Italy.

Part One

In June, the Beatles played in Genoa and the Oscar Mandodori listed, for the first time, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms for 350 Lire. By July, Mariner 4 had landed on Mars and Italian President Giuseppe Saragat and French President Charles de Gaulle inaugurated the Mont-Blanc Tunnel. In August, the Beatles again made news with their new LP Help. And yet I was consumed by my upcoming final exams – esami di stato. It was 1965 – a lifetime ago.

That year was truly a shift from one phase of my life to another. I remember losing a bunch of weight – almost 25 pounds because of the stress of the State Exams. And yet the night before the first test, my friends and I went to a party. The apartment was on Via Miceli and we milled around on the terrace pretending not a care in the world. We were Crayola Crayons that the wine was scattering on terrazzo. A strange night. Any yet a few days earlier we had gone up to Praia a Mare with all our teachers for our end-of-the-year outing. There we were in organized groups monitored and under surveillance and to find each other among the sunbathers we would whistle the theme from the film Bridge on the River Kwai. The belligerence of youth graduating from high school.

Back then there was a weekly – Epoca – that with its photographs and foreign reporting observed many of us. It was a substitute, a companion to, a supplement to our little student newspaper that we struggled to publish.

We were so young, some still carried their baby-fat, and we were happy in that sleepy Cosenza of long ago. But mostly we were naïve; we skirted any suggestion of growing up; we refused to consider what was awaiting us – out of sight out of mind. Yes, Italy was changing, the economic boom of the early Sixties lingered, even if fleetingly. But we had money in our pockets, and we had a Ticket to Ride.

Part Two

A few days ago, several of us got together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that long-ago. We met at a restaurant near San Fili. Sixteen showed, about half our graduating class. (Some had opted not to come; some we could not contact; some have passed away and some have left the region.)

In thinking back, I realize that we were so innocent; we had not yet met the furies of adulthood – envy, jealously, arrogance. At seventeen, the debilitating behaviors and attitudes of maturity were still dormant. At seventeen, the dissonance between joy and sorrow, anxiety and hope was a sound of silence. We trafficked in the banal of teenage disagreements and competitions. Sharing homework, helping each other prep for orals this was our world. Even our teachers remember us as an extraordinary and innocent group.

And yet by September the landscape was changing. Many were heading off to college. I had spent a lot of time researching what I wanted to major in and where I wanted to study, and in the end, with my pressed-cardboard suitcase packed to the bursting, I headed north to Naples and L’Universita degli Studi di Napoli, Federico II. I lived smack in the center of the old city on Via Mezzocannone.

For a time, we wrote to each other; we got together at Christmas and Easter and during summer vacations, but soon new rhythms took over and the sprawling friendships of high school began to change. Three of us weathered the storms of maturity and stayed in contact, stayed friends through all the changes, through all the years. But in looking back, I’m now 72, I realize that something has stayed with me, something has found a home in my heart, in my psyche, something from that long-ago. That elusive thing is manifest in the scent of a spring breeze as it runs over the arid Calabrian hills; in the joy of a remembered confidence; in the rush of a new friendship, in the twist of an old Beatles favorite. And neither time or agency can ever erase these memories from my life.