Friday, November 4, 2011

Two-by-Two, Italian Style

Remember “Where's Waldo” - the visual game where Waldo, a cartoon character in a striped hat, is hidden in a crowd of people and you have to find him? This photo at the piazza in Fiesole is the inspiration for “Two-by-Two, Italian Style.” Do you see two benches, two statues of horses, two cars, and five sets of two people? The photo was taken because I was amused by the two gentlemen in their daily routine of watching the world pass by. I imagined them in their youth with white patches of flour in their slick dark hair, and muscular forearms bulging as they balanced long paddles and pulled hot leaves of bread with golden crusts from the wood burning oven. Their youthful laughter caused the happy creases along the sides of their mouths and their eyes sparkle today, remembering the beauty of the olive skinned women before them.

The retired waitresses, from the local café, parade by with confidence knowing that their womanly allure smolders beneath their once-taught skin. They feign disinterest, but glance in their admirers’ direction to confirm they are still being watched by the older men who, through the ladies eyes, are the same virile teenage boys from the neighborhood bakery. During the early evening, this Italian ritual of strolling two-by-two through the piazza, rekindles fond memories of youth and maybe even minor indiscretions. After the sun sets and darkness fills the sky, the townsfolk return home to a night of hopeful dreams, then a new day, and another lazy stroll.

In airports, train stations and bus terminals, it’s easy to entertain yourself by watching the people waiting patiently in the boarding area. I make up stories about the passengers - who they are, where they’re going, and why. I don’t ever presume to be right nor do I care about being right as my concocted stories are probably far more interesting than the real truth. Imagine the story of two people sitting silently by the train track. My version … Siblings abandon American roots to raise water buffalo for mozzarella in Naples … has much greater intrigue than the possible reality of Sally and Ben take a day-long train trip.

Evidence of trust between parent and child are most telling in the often unrecorded scenes where the younger and the older interact without drama. On a park bench, mom looks one direction, lost in thought, as her like-minded son gazes in another. Both are content with the view in their site lines; neither relies on the other for approval; neither questions what the other is seeing. These are the sacred parent/child bonding moments you can never quite recall with clarity, but which leave an indelible mark on your soul. Just as calmly, a man and boy sit on a door step engrossed in the images on an electronic devise. The ease with which their bodies mingle suggests they are related. They’re looking at a photo a young girl with a red nose, perhaps it’s the boy’s sister or a classmate who missed the afternoon outing due to a cold. Even at his young age, the boy patterns himself after his father, wearing the same style sandal.  

It is not unusual to see siblings and friends in pairs with one involved in an activity and the other looking on. I always wonder if the on-looker will have the same opportunity to take the forefront or if close relationships are confined to active and passive roles developed early-on in the relationships. I wonder if there is an unspoken time period when the cross-over transformation, from active to passive, occurs. And I wonder if it’s an equally satisfactory experience for both parties. I wonder a lot about relationships. What makes some good and long lasting, and how easy it is to watch the dynamics change when life changes. This wondering causes me to cherish the candid moments of others, such as friends sitting on benches and children at the water fountain, because these simple meaningful times often fly below the radar of their own lives. 

Lovers have a special personal language: their touching can be hard or soft, just as facial expressions can be honest and clear, or harsh and confronting. There is a stroller nearby – is it the stress of parenthood that provokes the aggressive body language or is the caring husband teaching the new mom some martial arts moves to protect their newborn child? The softness of the placement of another woman’s outstretched fingers on her man’s arm is also expressed in the warmth of their smiles and the relaxation of their bodies as they lightly brush. Theirs is a gentle love.  

For two people newly in love, it’s a time for experimentation, a time when actions and attitudes are tested. It’s a time of discovery that builds into a bond which speaks a private language known only to the lovers whose world is a world comprised of two. The power of two takes many forms. Universally, it is indicated by pairs of shoes, double scoops of gelato, a set of book ends, or couples walking hand-in-hand. In Italy when people are outdoors and involved in everyday activities, you can actually see an underlying truth that one plus one does not equal two; they may start by interacting as two, but with the blessing of the fresh air, each duet blossoms into a new and undeniable super power of one.

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