Living Unscripted: Life, Love and a Day at the Opera

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Northern Italy is as beautiful as Southern Italy, but with different architecture, wider/brighter – and Faenza, famous for ceramics, lasagna and Parmesan cheese, is where Lorenzo (my Italian brother) lives. Married 25 years this summer (when they’ll re-vow before family and friends), he and his wife, Chincia, have a daughter in Medical School and a son tall enough to make it onto the High School basketball team at 14 (I watched them play).

I hadn’t seen Lorenzo for awhile (although he was in New York City this winter and loved hanging with my pals) so we were both looking forward to one-on-one quality time. We talked the entire weekend; so many interesting (and different) perspectives on life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Smart, confident, very “European Italian,” he was Mr. Google on everything from Neoclassical architecture to (having discussed personnel issues with his buddy, a Cardinal to the Pope) conservative church politics. And it’s certainly interesting that as an 18- year-old in 1971 he got kicked out of a NJ High School for distributing Communist propaganda (and therefore wound up living with my family in NYC) and that now he’s a politically conservative church going family man. He owns a Human Resources company (ergo the subject of his conversation with the Cardinal) and dictatorially rules his roost. It was amusing; both of us espousing our beliefs/questioning the other… and amazing to be talking with him, at this age, like a brother.

Amazing too, that the relationship has always been thus. In 1972, when I passed through Faenza with a backpack and two gal pals, I hooked up with a friend of his (and he hooked up with one of mine). In 2011, same friend of his bumped in to Chincia and when she told him I was here, he texted Lorenzo — and joined us for dinner. Italian Stallion was hilariously funny then; bald and stout, he’s still charming now — and recently widowed. Cute, how the language barrier was more of an obstacle over dinner at Lorenzo’s than it was sneaking around his mother’s house in the middle of the sexual revolution — but we still managed a giggle or two across the table. What a random, fun reconnect.

There was a Sunday Mass in the Duomo; a beautiful ride to Ravenna for a family lunch at a restaurant on the beach, another long walk/just us – a ride to the train station and then it was over.

I headed for Lake Como and an apartment (generously gifted by Lorenzo’s assistant, Rina) that I would be sharing with my son, Nick, who was flying over to “spend a week with Mom.” Excited, I arrived a day before, met the woman behind the man (Rina) who had been handling most of the details of my Italy trip – and fell in love with the view from the window of her charming 2-room chalet apartment, 4 kilometers north of Como, in the tiny town of Blevio.

Nick arrived the next morning with a major smile and a bag with bagels, cream cheese and lox from my favorite deli in lower Manhattan – And after all these weeks with just me, myself and I, it was paradiso being with him, here, now.

Located at the bottom of the left leg of the lake, Como is stunning. Small villages built up and into the mountains line the shore, with long cobble stone steps and narrow roads that wind around the hills for access. It’s a place for lovers (Pailey and her ex honeymooned here) and there are couples everywhere; not a father/daughter match up for Nick and me in sight. Which was fine with me – and eventually fine with Nick, too.

We had a lot to say and do in a short time so we also talked – a lot. Mother/son and, probably for the first time, “friend to friend.” My mental age is 27 and with Nick chronologically 26, we’re easily on the same page … We figured out how to rent a car and navigate the narrow roads (OMG those treacherous hair pin curves!!) to spend an afternoon skiing in the Italian Alps… And “chilled” when we missed the morning boat around the Lake, agreeing that tea in two different villages along the shorter afternoon route would suffice. We spent a day in Bellagio. We rode the Funicular. And with no printed bus schedules, I showed him my trick of taking photos of the posted ones, for easy reference. He sweetly adjusted to my schedule of lunch out and antipasto dinners in, happily sharing a bottle of wine — and laughing at great family stories we both remembered.

Guys being guys, we spent a hot day in Milan at a soccer match – (our team won) (whichever one that was) and mom being mom, we went to a concert one evening in the Opera House in Como . . . a singer with one name: “Elisa” who turned her mike on the audience, replacing her voice with theirs for the chorus of more than a few songs –in Italian, which they all seemed to know.

I downloaded a couple of them when we had WIFI yesterday and I’m listening to them now, my last night in Italy. I’m sitting at a small table, looking out that one living room window in this 2-room chalet apartment, watching the lights shimmer across the Lake –just thinking . . .

Italy is an old country, steeped in a religion that’s holding tight to traditional family values… there are more churches and monuments devoted to saints than there are schools and universities for free thinkers. Lorenzo and I talked about the impact religion has on him, the “traditional” family THE only option. “Not so,” I countered, “we all do the best we can [in relationships]” . . . but life changes and it doesn’t always work out the way we thought it would.

Italy is also the home of Opera and Lorenzo told me that Italian composers wrote the best ones, but I’m not an Opera buff. I never understood how people could be so moved by words in another language; romantic tragedies over-costumed, over-played. I prefer Kantor & Ebb … Rogers & Hammerstein . . . I enjoy the words — and especially love the happy endings.

In one of our many conversations, Nick and I concluded that our non-traditional family didn’t ‘fall apart’ when I left my ex, as Brielle (my youngest) often laments. And we’re not bad people. In many ways, he and I agreed, our complex family is much closer/stronger than most –And he sees my ex and I, happier apart.

But Nick left this morning and now it’s “just me” again. I came back to an empty apartment after dropping him off at the bus stop — and played Elisa’s music. Thinking about her performance . . . her elaborate costume, the giant video screen, the passion in her voice, the words – in Italian. Okay, so maybe I had an Opera moment . . . I didn’t understand what she was singing but I got up and moved to it anyway . . . and then I cried.

NOTE TO SELF: Go shopping.

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.