If we have good memories, we baby boomers are lucky. And by that measure, communications specialist Larry Checco of Silver Spring, Maryland, is as lucky as they come. Not only does he have warm memories of a college semester abroad in one of the seminal places from his youth; he recently got to relive it.
Seminal places. You know, those places that strongly influenced our lives. We all have them.
For me, one of them is Florence, Italy, where in 1969, when I was just 21, I spent a college semester.
It was Florence that gave me a deep appreciation for art, history, and culture. Visiting the city’s multitude of art galleries, experiencing Michelangelo’s David, learning about the enormous influence that powerful Florentine families had on almost every aspect of society, walking the city’s narrow streets while breathing in a thousand years of history, all expanded my view and understanding of the world.
It was in Florence that I met a young American woman. Nina was one of the thousands of volunteers who came from around the world to help restore the countless Renaissance artworks and manuscripts devastated when the Arno River overflowed its banks in 1966. Given the mired conditions in which these volunteers selflessly worked, the Italians called them “Mud Angels.” Not long after we met, Nina and I set up housekeeping for a time in a four-story walk-up apartment at Via de Pepi #1, just off the Piazza Santa Croce. It was home.
It was on Florence’s famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, that I handed out promotional leaflets to tourists to help maintain myself, come rain or shine — for less than a dollar an hour.
It was from Florence that I drove a motorcycle, for which I’d paid $75 (and I got what I paid for) down the western coast of the Italian boot to visit relatives in Reggio Calabria, whom I’d never met. They treated me royally.
A few days later, I motorcycled back to Florence, hugging the eastern coast of the boot as much as possible. I slept where I could, sometimes on the side of the road. One night, home was a crumbling, abandoned medieval fortress on a cold, windswept rural hilltop where I had plenty of time to contemplate the meaning of life while trying to stay warm and listening to hunting dogs baying in the background.
I was young, inexperienced, and a bit foolish, but it was all a wonderful adventure.
Recently, after 47 years away from Florence, most of that time working at a career and raising a family, I returned with my wife.
Together we walked the streets I’d walked all those many years ago. We visited the museums, piazzas, and marketplaces I remembered so fondly.
I didn’t feel like a tourist, but rather a prodigal son coming home. I’d reached that time when an important arc of my life needed closure. Sharing it with my wife made it all the more meaningful and joy-filled.