Tuesday, September 16, 2008


When I was four, my dad was assigned to a project in Milan. He worked for Honeywell's computer business, back when computers were very large, very slow and very mysterious. We stayed in Italy until I was just about seven, and then came home. My seventh birthday was spent in England, during a week-long stopover on the way back to the US. We spent the week visiting one of my father's Honeywell buddies (friends to this day) and his late wife, and doing the tourist thing around London.

I can't honestly say I remember a lot about living in Italy. I have many snapshot sorts of memories, which we can all probably relate to -- the mural in my parents' dining room (this was the early 1970's, keep in mind), the marble floors in the apartment that once split my lip wide open, the balcony overlooking the broad boulevard in front of my parents' building, the pigeons at Il Duomo, my little French girlfriend, Michelle, and so on.

I went back to Milan in the mid-1990's, and while I can't say whether Michelle was actually as cute as I remember her being, I can say with confidence that the broad boulevard across which I'd once thrown paper airplanes from one of our windows was actually just a little city street not wide enough for two cars to pass without one pulling onto the curb. At least not in modern cars -- in 1972 a pair of Fiat Cinquecentos or 126's could possibly have pulled it off.

Many of us have had this sort of experience, and I only mention it to provide some context and a bit of a disclaimer. Time and perspective collude against memory, so I can't really vouch for the experiences I'm going to share in this post. The images are cloudy and the soundtracks are gone. But because of what they are and how they stand out in my mind from so many other things, I choose to believe that they happened largely this way:

  • Sitting on a school bus -- red and white mini-buses in Milan, then. Passing a green Fiat Cinquecento parked on the side of the street. Noting the number plate, and seeing the same car, with the same plate, parked elsewhere on the same trip to school.
  • Sitting in the back of my parents' Opel Record station wagon, driving down the autostrada in the rain. Driver's side, behind my dad. A red Ferrari blasts by in the rain, leaving us in a swirl of spray, with four round, red taillights reaching back to us.
  • In the car again, same seat, I think. Idling in line to board a car ferry. In front of us is a Lamborghini Miura in black. As I said, the soundtrack is gone, but my father recalls it being all noise; snorting and spitting, and I wish the sound was there. I imagine it unhappy to be waiting in line.
  • My father's friend showing up at our apartment in an early Datsun Z car. I honestly don't know if they were called 240Z's in Italy, but that's not really important. It was new, and looked exotic, and who really knew enough about Japanese cars at that point to say otherwise, anyway?
  • A blue Mustang Mach 1 making its way through the traffic in Milan. Comparatively huge and muscular and unmistakably speaking of home to a car-crazy American kid.
  • Riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. Dad running behind, holding the saddle and stooped over. Calling/laughing to him to not let me go as I built up speed, only to find that he already had.
  • Sitting in the back-back of the Opel on the way back to the apartment that day -- sitting back with the bikes. Watching a wasp of some sort land on my foot and crawl down into my shoe. With predictable results.
  • Crashing lightly into a barrier still later that day, trying to show off my new-found cycling skills to the building manager.
  • Riding in Milan's bike park. An oval, complete with a traffic signal, just like the grown-ups had for their cars.
  • Now back in the US, being chided by my father for not putting all my outdoor toys back in the woodshed. Protesting that I had, and emerging from the house to find a new Ross (green with a banana seat) waiting in the front yard.
  • Lashing my Radio Flyer to my father's Gravely model L and riding it around the yard while I cut the grass. A home-made sulky. Or perhaps more clearly, hopping out of the wagon and chasing the tractor down as it headed for the woods, once the brown twine did what someone with a little more experience might naturally expect it to.

There's a lot more formative stuff locked up in my head, of course. But it's interesting how the experiences that lie at the roots of your passions, hobbies and interests stick with you. And form a foundation to build on.

All for now,


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