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A marvelous reunion in Italy

For the five days in early September, Giampa, Simone and I have had our “boy’s weekend,” laughing and eating through the Tuscan countryside. Towns as rich in history as they are in the taste and smell of tartufo that ripens in late September. A weekend of battute (jokes) with friends I have known since I was 17.

At Castelnuovo Berardenga, we laugh and catch up over spaghetti with wild boar, tartufo oil and fried porcini mushrooms. A local chianti helps us embellish the stories of our youth. After espresso, Giampa smokes a cigarette; Simone and I yell at him to stop. Olive groves slope on the left and grape vine-yards on the right — features that had been present since the Romans, and probably the Etruscans before them.

Italy fascinates me. Creativity flowers over the genius of prior centuries, much like the grapes on the hillside that make that other miracle, the Brunello di Montalcino wine. Our lives and ills seem insignificant.

That night, we eat at the 15th-century town of Pienza. People have laughed and dined and made battute like this for ages. Compared to when we met, we are all three of us a bit wrinkled, grayed, sagged; the stories of our youth steel us for old age. And then over picci (a typically Sienese pasta) with ragu’ and another glorious chianti classico, we talk about our surgeries, our medications, our aches and pains. Simone is a brilliant hypochondriac whose active mind is always cooking up new ways that his body may be failing him. He has a quirky diet, drinks no alcohol, is the healthiest amongst us, and yet is convinced that he is about to die. He is telling me his latest set of symptoms and asks for the 100th time if he’s going to die, and I say, smiling, “Si (yes). But probably not today.”

Outside, a trio of stunningly beautiful young women walks by, and we all look, then laugh because our wives would remind us that these bellezze could be our daughters.

Giampa lights up, and I again harass him about smoking. Simone puts his hands together in a classical Italian gesture and screams the first English words I have heard him say: “Stop eet. You are going to die.” His hands are clapped together as if praying and he is moving them up and down with a wild twinkle in his eye. We all laugh and Giampa, remarkably, puts it out.

At the ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano, a 13th-century chapel uniquely gothic in these parts, now crumbling, we walk up a hill, and I hear Giampa breathing hard. This time, I say nothing. He has started smoking less, but I can see he is antsy on the ride home, only lighting up the cigarette he’d been holding for a half-hour just as we enter his driveway.

It pumps me up that Giampa, one of my oldest and dearest of friends, seems to be motivated to quit. We say goodbye in Florence, and with a heavy heart, I walk away over the cobbled stones, passing Basilica of San Lorenzo that has been here since Cosimo de Medici and will be long after we are all have become smoke. Because, indeed, we are gonna die, but probably not today.


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