Reggio Calabria is a small city of about 170,000 whilst Pellaro, our home town some 12 k to the south, services some 7,000. A visit to the city would be surprising if you didn’t meet at least 2 or 3 people you knew while, conversely, meeting someone you didn’t know in Pellaro would be even more of a talking point. One of my wife’s main concerns about leaving London was the loss of anonymity..the ability to wear and do what you want without judgement, without anyone knowing or caring. Moving from big city to little town, no matter where, has to rank fairly high on the metro-scale of culture shocks.
My own culture wake-up came quite recently. I had to take a trip to the local supermarket (a pet hate of mine, but that’s for another blog) as it was the only place I could get a new print cartridge in the mid afternoon when all the other shops were shut for siesta. I plead beggar rather than chooser. The car park was pretty quiet as I pulled in and switched off. I got out and went over to the sea rail to admire the view which always takes the sting out of this kind of shopping, putting you in an easier and more relaxed state of mind for the task ahead. This particular day I was overlooking a very blue, gentle sea and Etna, covered almost completely in snow but still with her smouldering eye. What price Beckenham Sainsbury’s now!
Breathing in, refreshed and smiling, I made my way casually towards the portals of Porto Bolero shopping centre. I hadn’t gone much more than a few steps when a small white van pulled up right beside me , screeching on the smooth concrete as it braked sharply. I jumped back in some alarm as I tried to avoid impact whilst some ill-considered Anglo-Saxon advice formed on my lips, ready to be aimed at a driver who wouldn’t have had a clue of its meaning. However, immediately after he stopped he got out and made straight toward me, at the same time reaching into his inside jacket pocket. My expletives were now caught in my throat as his manner and attitude now demanded a somewhat more circumspect approach.
“Are you the husband of Maria Piccolo?” he demanded, looking straight at me and reaching deeper into his jacket.
“uhm, well, possibly” I muttered, as I took a hesitant step or seven backwards. By now, believe me, I’m thinking “it’s a hit, it’s a vendetta by another family or I’ve upset someone on the road back there”
“Right, this is for you” he says, as he brings out a white envelope and slaps it in my hand.
Is this the evil white envelope I know nothing about? Is this the invitation I can’t refuse?
Immediately after leaving the paper in my trembling hands, he turned towards the back of the van, opened the doors and brought out a white polystyrene box.
“Here!” he said “sign here!”
With nothing more than a very hasty scribble, I signed and stood dumb, barely holding the white box as he jumped back into the van and shot off on a further mission of doom.
It took me a minute before I decided to inspect the box more closely. At last it dawned. It’s my mother’s idea of a red cross parcel. A pack of freshly smoked trout from Loch Etive.
The perfect delivery, no doubt. But why there? Why in a supermarket car park 6Km from home? Because of community. They know who you are and this is what I love about the place. The postman had recognised the car and followed me till he could deliver the parcel.
If this was my first clue about a new way of life, the second was to follow three weeks later.
I got a call on my mobile during the middle of an English lesson at the local primary school.
“There will be a parcel waiting for you at the fruit shop, when can you come?”
“In about half an hour if that’s ok?” I whispered into my phone.
“Ok, ask for Giovanni Brrrrrrrrrr……”. As the phone went dead.
So, intrigued, after school I forced my aching feet towards our local fruit and vegetable shop which was only about 5 minutes away. “Hi, can I talk to Giovanni?”
“Sorry, you’ve got the wrong shop, Giovanni runs the one down by the station”
“Ok” I said, “I’ll pop down there then, thanks”
As there are about three greengrocers near the station it took me a further few enquiries after Giovanni before I found the right combination of tomatoes, aubergines and peaches. Upon presenting myself at last to the correct trader, I was handed another parcel. This one was brown. It contained about 2 dozen cds of new songs penned by my oldest friend and compatriot (more about on my links pages)
On this occasion the courier had not been able to find my address and had simply gone to the first shop he came across and left the parcel safe in the knowledge that , in a small town in Italy, someone was bound to know who I was and make the final delivery.
How the fruit shop got my number, god only knows.
If it’s a question of having to visit the local P.O. depot which only opens at times you can’t make it, or braving the culture of community…..give me the community any-day. I feel a little safer now, if only a bit more careful about what I might say….in any language.