All About Giorgio

It has been a day of more technology headaches, of both the ongoing and brand-new varieties. I'm exhausted, I had class last night and so didn't get much sleep, and the last thing I feel like doing is trying to find something of interest in my day. I just want to curl up on the couch under a blanket, watch Will & Grace, and fall asleep in the middle of a bad 1980s movie.


However, rather than leave you bereft of content (and mindful of my commitment), here are extracts from a little something I wrote for a class assignment. You'll be happy to know, this is the abridged version. Hee.
Be very glad you're not my professor.

So, it's a bit of a cheat, but I did write it, and you'd have thought I was interviewing the man for a RAI special the way he went on about it. I'd hate for no one butmy professor to have a chance to read his stories. Thus, without further ado:


The apartment was a single room, about fifteen by twenty feet. Its walls and floor were unadorned stone, stained where the damp had seeped through. In one corner, a tiny closet hid the hole in the floor over the sewer, but did little to hide the stench on a hot summer's day. There were no windows.
The room contained little in the way of furniture: a double bed, a smaller bed, a stove that burned wood or coal, and a charcoal-fueled hotplate. There was a rough table and three chairs, one for each family member; they rarely had visitors, so extra chairs were unnecessary.
There was no running water in the apartment. The family had permission to draw water from the tap in the blacksmith's shop at the street front, since the blacksmith was the landlord's brother-in-law. They had to make sure to plan carefully, to avoid being left without water in the evenings or on Sundays, when the shop was closed.
In the summer, they would occasionally traipse down to bathe in the canal a few streets over despite the signs forbidding it. The canal could be dangerous, since its banks were lined with factories that drew power from the current, and it was all too common for bathers to be sucked into their grinding machinery. But it was water, filthy as it might be, and it was free.

This would hardly seem to be a picture of a past towards which one would feel nostalgic. Yet even while he describes its miseries, Giorgio's eyes take on a far-away look, and a smile plays about his mouth.
"That was actually the second apartment where we lived," he clarifies. "I don't remember much about the first, except that it was a lot worse. Moving into this place was a step up in the world."

Not everyone in the fascist Italy of the Thirties was so badly off. As soon as Giorgio was old enough to be put to work, he had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the lives of the wealthy. He ran errands for various local merchants, including a fancy shoe shop. "When these women, or sometimes couples, would come into the shop and ask to try on a pair of shoes that cost 120 lire," he says, "I would just gape at them in awe. They were like another species."
In contrast, eight-year-old Giorgio earned 12 lire a week.

Giorgio's father, Ernesto, was fiercely anti-Fascist, and taught his son to not to trust the government. He proudly refused to pretend to sympathize with Mussolini's followers.
During the war, rations were distributed at the offices of the local Fascio, along with a portrait of Mussolini. Beneficiaries were instructed to hang the portrait on the wall of their home, as a reminder of their leader's benevolence. When Ernesto came home from work and saw that his wife had obeyed, he ripped the unwelcome decoration off the wall and tossed it into the street.
If a blackshirt had happened by just then, it would have meant arrest and possibly public execution in Piazza Maggiore. Ernesto Parisini, however, had no intention of sacrificing his principles, not even to save his own life.

His example made a strong impression on his son. In addition to a solid sense of dignity, Giorgio has carried on his father's mistrust of government to this day. "I've lived under authoritarianism and democracy," he says, "and in both, you're screwed unless you're wealthy and powerful. The only difference I've seen is that, in a democracy, you can complain about it out loud.
"That doesn't mean anyone's actually listening," he adds wryly.

One of the defining moments in Giorgio's life came at the age of eight or nine, when his teacher assigned a math problem to the class. When they finished, the pupils were to bring their answer to the teacher's desk, and he would tell them to stand on the right or left side of the room.
Giorgio was the first to complete the problem, and his teacher sent him to the left. One by one his classmates came to the front of the room, and one by one they were all sent to the right. Giorgio felt the knot in his stomach grow heavier, as he realized he was alone in his corner. He was certain he was going to be named the class dunce.
Instead, he was the only one of the twenty children who had solved the problem correctly.
"That's when I first realized," he says with a slight smile, "that the fact that you may think differently from everyone else doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong." This episode, along with his upbringing, forged Giorgio's strong belief that one should never abandon one's convictions, no matter what the circumstances.

This strong sense of integrity has a dark side, however. Giorgio's high standards mean he is rarely willing to forgive and forget. He has not set foot in a church since childhood, due to an incident that left a permanent mark.
Like all Italian children, Giorgio was raised Catholic. He dutifully attended Mass and studied catechism, preparing for his First Communion. The day he found out he would be expected to wear a suit for the ceremony, he realized with a sinking feeling he would be unable to make the sacrament.
"I didn't own a suit, of course," he recounts. "And, young as I was, I knew we didn't have the money to buy one. It was no use even asking. I was in despair; all my classmates were excitedly making plans, and I couldn't."
He finally screwed up the courage to confide in the priest. The clergyman kindly assured him that "the Church takes care of her own," and he would be provided with suitable garments for the ceremony. Relieved and lighthearted, Giorgio joined in the excitement of his companions.
As the big day approached, with no word forthcoming, Giorgio began to wonder. The day before the ritual he returned to visit the priest--who, alas, claimed to have made no such promise, and was visibly irritated at the child's request.
Giorgio was crushed, but took the lesson to heart. "If that's how the Church takes care of her own," he says evenly, "I decided then and there I wanted no part of it."

Giorgio's challenges did not lessen as he grew older. Once he finished his compulsory formal education, in the fifth grade, he left school and went to work full time. He had already spent the last few years working afternoons, since school occupied only half the day, but the additional income was welcome. The family--which meanwhile had added Luisa, five years younger than her brother--relied on his earnings to make ends meet.
Then came the war. He was just young enough to avoid conscription, and so was never an active soldier. The bombs devastated Bologna but spared his family; ironically, though, his parents died of illness, a year apart, as the conflict drew to an end.
So it was that Giorgio was orphaned at 18, with a 13-year-old sister to care for. No stranger to work, he held down various jobs to keep them both fed, clothed and sheltered. It was quite a responsibility for such a young man, but Giorgio didn't let it get him down. He quietly shouldered the burden and did what he had to do, scrounging for any work he could find in an Italy torn by civil war. He even found time to accumulate some humorous stories of youthful escapades--not surprisingly, most of them took place while working. There wasn't much else in those days.

Having spent his youth struggling for survival, Giorgio had little time or energy for courting. It wasn't until he was in his late twenties that he ran into a friend on the street one Boxing Day. His friend dragged him into the nearest bar, insisting that they toast to the holidays even though it was still morning. It was a fateful encounter: Giorgio was instantly smitten with the young girl behind the counter. He waited outside the door for hours until she had finished her shift.
They've been together ever since.

His wife, Marisa, confesses, "The way he kept hovering, I thought he was trying to steal candy from the jars we kept on the counter. I made sure to keep an eye on him! Imagine my surprise when I went outside and saw him standing there.
"I said, 'Buona sera.' Very soberly, he asked, 'Is buona sera all you have to say to a man who's been waiting for you all day?' Then he walked me home, and that was that."

The two waited years to marry, until Giorgio finally felt able to support a family. Together with two friends, he had acquired a division of his former employer, and had ten employees of his own. Feeling prosperous for the first time ever, Giorgio's inaugural purchase for his new household was a newfangled frivolity: a television set.

The easy times didn't last long, however. Within a few years of setting up the business, and well before the expensive machinery had been paid off, the Italian government passed new environmental legislation that would require starting over from scratch. Giorgio did his best to keep the business going as long as possible, to protect his workers' jobs. He gradually bought out his partners' shares of the company so they could find other employment, and in the end was buried alone under the debts of his failed business.

It took him years, but in the end he paid off every single creditor. He refused to declare bankruptcy. "I owed those people money," he says simply.
His determination to maintain his honor came at a steep price. His wife took in sewing while taking care of their toddler son, and Giorgio went back to factory work. Unfortunately, it wasn't always enough.
"Sometimes we'd find ourselves suddenly without electricity, or gas," he says, his face grim with the memory. Marisa nods. "I remember when the only food we had in the house was a handful of dried beans." She smiles sadly. "Neither of us slept well back in those days, we were so worried." But slowly, gradually, Giorgio paid his debts and set his family to rights. His honor was intact.

Today Giorgio is retired, and he and Marisa share a two-bedroom apartment in a small town outside Bologna. It is a modest home in an unpretentious building. "It's not what I dreamed of having someday," he admits, "but it's a castle compared to how I started out." He sighs. "Life is much easier these days."