Chapter 7 - The old men of Italy

The old men of Italy

Language level: lower-intermediate


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The best thing about Italy is the people and the best people in Italy are the old men.

They are elegant, polite and full of interesting stories.

One day I was waiting at the train station.
The train was late and an old man standing next to me said, “When ‘il duce’ was the boss, the trains were always punctual!”

“Yes, but weren’t the trains taking you to Russia?” I asked.

An unusual diet

When the train finally arrived we boarded and I listened to some of his stories about the war.

“During the war it was normal to eat cats in our house” he told me.
“Well,” I said, “ I imagine that if there is no other food in the house then you eat what you can!”
 The old man looked confused. “No, no,” he said, “our garden was full of chickens, we just preferred the cats.”
 The old man gave me his name. Alfio.
 He told me about when he was in Africa in the war.

The right attitude

“The moment I arrived in Africa I started running back home,” he said, without any embarrassment.
“ My friends never came back,” he said sadly. “ I had no intention of staying under the ground in Africa!”

I liked Alfio a lot and shared his philosophy on the futility of dying for “your country.”
 Even the old people in Italy have style. Alfio was approximately 80 years old, but he was dressed in a jacket and tie and his eyes were intelligent and alive.

Grandad

I thought about my grandfather in England and how he loves to suck chicken bones while dribbling like a rabid bulldog and I thought how very different they were. 
My grandfather always talked about the war in terms of glory and victory. Alfio talked about the war in terms of suffering and stupidity and I agreed with him.

A sense of direction

The old people in Italy love to talk, which is a good thing – unless you need directions!
 When you are lost in your car in the Italian rural areas there is always an old man on a bike who will stop and help you.
The only problem is that he may talk too much. The last time I was lost I asked an old man on a bike for directions.

“Excuse me, how can I get to Albenga, please?” 
The old man thought for a moment. “Well, you have to go straight on and then you’ll see a river. You should go over the bridge, but the bridge isn’t there anymore. It collapsed in 1957.”
 “So what do I do?” I asked.

Take me to the river!

The old man thought for a moment. 
“Don’t go to the river,” he said, “go straight on, then turn left at the square. You will see a church, the church where my brother was killed by the partisans.’”

“Then what?” I asked.
“They buried him,” he replied.
I took a deep breath: “No, I mean where do I go after the church?” 
“Well, that depends: where do you want to go?” 
“To Albenga!” I repeated.
“Oh!” he said, “you need to go to the river, then over the bridge.”

Now we were both confused.
 “But the bridge collapsed in 1957!” I said.
“Did it?” he asked, “that’s terrible!” 
I didn’t find Albenga, but it wasn’t important. When I am old I want to be like the old Italian men.

Elegant, polite, interesting, fantastically confused and wise.
 God bless them!


Glossary

we boarded - siamo saliti
chickens - polli
shared - condividevo
tie - cravatta
to suck chicken bones - succhiare ossi di pollo
while dribbling... bulldog - con la bava alla bocca come un bulldog rabbioso
unless you need directions - a meno che non ti servano indicazioni stradali
straight on
- diritto
it collapsed - è crollato
they buried him - l’hanno seppellito
God bless them - Dio li benedica


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