December 1991, morning, the sky is clear with a freezing wind coming from the North, with my mind I am already at Campo di Giove on the ski slopes.
We are almost ready, from the tenth floor of the block of flats where we live, I can spot the Pontine Islands, Palmarola, Ponza and Zannone lying peacefully waiting for my summer raids.
Maria .....! The phone!
"Yes, I .....!"
I shut my eyes and find myself at Punta della Guardia, the water is crystal clear, I am over a landslide of huge boulders and down twenty meters below me a grouper, as straight as a candle, is watching me. My pulse is racing, I get ready and start plunging, I get closer and closer (I am almost within at spear gun range)…
I have got news: international social services in Rome told me that there is a child going through the process of adoption and he is Romanian. "
Adrenalin, induced by the grouper is rocketing up. At last after two years of tests and interviews with the assistants of the court of minors in order to be considered suitable, we got the news we have been waiting for. I was told his name is Marco. He is six and a half.
" Isn’t he too big?”
Actually I agree with you.
Hurry. Let’s go ... otherwise we’ll be late, we will have time to think about it at Campo di Giove during the Christmas holidays. After loading the luggage into the car we took the 148 to Rome.
"Where are you going? Aren’t you heading for Venafro-Roccaraso?"
No I am not. We’ll take the motorway, the Guado della Forchetta may be closed because of the snow falls, so we’ll go to Rome, Avezzano, Sulmona, Campo di Giove.
"Don’t tune to Radio Radical I’ll get out of the car.....!"
No, no, God forbid just tune to what you want.
We were absorbed in our own thoughts until we got to the Ring Road.
The boy is six and a half! My friend Professor Menichella, an outstanding paediatrician, warned off adopting a child older than 2 or 3. I talked to him about my plan and we went to meet him in Rome at his place. When he saw me, as friendly as usual, he greeted me and said: "Tito, do you remember the trip in the Majella range? You gave me one of the most beautiful days of my life!
I was almost embarrassed in front of this big man with grey hair and goatee, as I was also aware he was a relative of the Governor of the Bank of Italy, the one who had his signature on the ten thousand lire note, the former big and red bank notes.
The professor was often at Campo di Giove. He got there in a Sixties van, he had 7-8 children, two were adopted. He stayed at my uncle's guesthouse, where I met him.
Since I was an expert skier I taught his children how to ski and I often saw them in the guesthouse common room, where the professor put me and my cousins play chess.
We haven’t seen each other for some years since I joined the Air Force Academy. Once we met again at Campo di Giove and he told me he really wanted to go on ski trip on the Majella massif.
I hesitated at first, but then the next day in my car we took the country road which leads to the woods up to Macchia di Secina where the snow began.
With our skis on we set off along the path leading to the valley and then to the top. It was really hard, but behind me the professor, at his venerable age, kept the pace up. I do not know what he was looking for or what made him do that.
I walked, and I was on the outlook searching through the beeches and I thought to myself: I am reckless. If we come across a pack of wolves we are dead!
Finally we left the woods and we found ourselves facing Fondo Majella: it was a huge immaculate, clean amphitheatre without rows of seats, spread with shiny diamonds sparkling in the sun. Three hours later we were
almost on the top. We sat down tired and after a hot drink the professor exclaimed: “I believe I’ll never see such a view in my life again!”
I never suspected that a mountain I saw every day from the village could give me that emotion being on its top. I thought of that lovely Abruzzese song "So' sajito a ju Gran Sassu so remastu ammutulitu ... .. mi pare ache passu passu se sajesse a j'infinitu. "(I climbed up Gran Sasso and I found myself speechless, it seemed to me that step by step I could climb up endlessly) ... .... It took my breath away.
It was my wife who brought me back to reality.
“Do you know, Tito I was thinking of Professor Menichella ....."
As a matter of fact me too.
"He said that a 6-7 year-old child has already a formed character, and that, being in an orphanage he has certainly gone through heavy traumas and negative experiences, on top of everything he is in a Romanian orphanage with the current situation with Ceausescu."
Well .... the Professor also said that it would be difficult to deal with such a child and it would require a great deal of patience and strength of mind; but at the end of the day he is just a kid! I always think positive and I am an optimist.
"That may be true, I am happy but at the same I am a little bit afraid."
In fact, I soon forgot the wise Professor’s rational analysis and I made up my mind.
In Avezzano we saw the snow, I could fully see the Majella range in the distance. I carelessly started humming a verse of the Grand Sassu song, that bit referring to the Majella massif: “how beautiful…….how beautiful ........ it seems made for….love .....".
The reaction was a sudden and obvious one: "Make sure you won’t miss your chance to sing and get drunk with that gang of desperate friends of yours. Bear in mind Tito that I am going back to Latina.
Do not worry, wife, do come as well….a couple of drinks will do you good. Then it is so cold that you will not even feel drunk!
Meanwhile, in my mind scenes followed one another just like in a movie, I see myself on the ski slopes with Marco while I am teaching him the snowplough position, after a little I find myself in our rubber dinghy, going at breakneck speed along the coast of Latina, and he just loves it, then we reach a sand bank I know of and I am putting on the wetsuit, grabbing the spear gun and we are diving in. ... ... it is still early, he is little but I am sure he will become a perfect scuba diver
We left the motorway and we went through Sulmona, in the main square there is the statue of Ovid, absorbed in deep thought, I used to see it every morning when I went to school. Perhaps it is a sign of destiny but he also lived in Romania, "Sulmo mihi patria est" is written on the pedestal, but I also remember the other famous statement "Cogito ergo sum" I think therefore I am. It seems like a meaningless sentence but if I turn it into a negative one "I do not think, therefore I am not" it becomes a very serious issue: an individual with flat electroencephalogram in irreversible coma, kept alive by a machine…. is he a person or is he not ....?
At that point the road got steep, I know every bend to the point that I could drive keeping my eyes shut. After the Pacentro junction we got to the valley. On the left mountain ridge I could still see that path my mother and all the other villagers used to take with their mules to reach Sulmona to buy something; different paces in the old days! I had the pleasant sensation I was going back to my den. A little further up there’s the cottage of my shepherd friend and not far from that spot years ago my father captured a wild boar. Everything was becoming familiar. I did not say that to my wife but this is my territory, therefore she is safe. One more road curve and I see a signpost: Campo di Giove 1064 m..
My wife bothered by the winding road said as usual: “go on say it say it " ...
And I replied: and here it is, the charming little village!
Campo di Giove is perched on a hill with the entire Majella range lying in front of it. On the right there is a small plateau bounded on the West by rail road flanked by a beautiful pine wood. Unlike now when I was a boy the fields were all farmed. In July the wheat fields waved in the wind simulating the waves of the sea, which I first saw, as many of my peers did, when I was 16!
When I think of it I believe I was very lucky to spend the first years of my life there. We enjoyed virtually unlimited freedom. There were two or three cars, several mules, donkeys, sheep and cows. There were no hazards and we ran anywhere we liked satisfying our curiosity and inventiveness.
We had an updated map of all the nests of the pine wood and we knew all kinds of birds and animals present in the area. Skilled builders of huts and bows we compensated for the lack of toys by manufacturing them with iron wire. Whoever had two ball bearings could consider himself extremely lucky because he could build a scooter with them. We were able to survive two or three days by eating herbs, berries and tubers we knew, and one of my favourite amusements was to steal cherries, plums and hazelnuts from the wide courtyard that belonged to the person who was once considered the “village squire”. Everything was clean, even the dump yard because people did not waste much; you could perhaps find a shoe or an old umbrella, but there was mainly organic waste. In fact, there wasn’t a proper landfill, there were small places just outside the village where people threw their waste. In the spring time I often went there because peach trees, plum trees and cherry trees sprang up.
I was fascinated by the fact that fruit trees and fruits I really liked could grow out of a dry seed.
In the village everybody knew one another, as kids we had the feeling we were doing what we wanted, but, the truth is we were closely watched. Anyone, uncle, aunt, friend was of course entitled to reproach us, threatening us to inform our parents. It was a kind of extended family that seemed to work fine.
When the weather was nice old people gathered in the square along a low a wall to warm up in the sun. They talked with kids like me bestowing wisdom, but they spoke very little with one another. They just looked around and sometimes someone exclaimed: "Eh .... Yes! A second one replied" Who knows ........! "And a third one replied back" Oh well .....!"
After many years I realised that those three lapidary expressions held the speech of a lifetime, a lethal synthesis of "certainty", "doubts" and "interaction". It was like drawing conclusions, and judging by their faces, the result was, nevertheless, positive.