I met the British gent, Lloyd Dyer, who offered me the job in the pub Britannica the next day at the railroad station. He arrived on time and I got into his car for a brief tour around Bergamo. I recall he immediately turned on the radio and pushed a preset button to classical music. “I can only listen to this type of music when I drive here. It’s bloody awful.” He said. It didn’t really seem so bad to me but it didn’t matter, the sun was out, the city in daylight looked lovely, and I was back in Italy. We began winding up a leafless sycamore tree lined street ever climbing higher to the medieval portion of the city, Bergamo Alta or the “High City”. This portion of Italy was under the Venetian ‘Doge’ rule in the medieval period so Venetian influence is still prevalent. The village situated on the top of the hill is surrounded by enormous deep slanted Venetian walls and ramparts and accessed only thru 4 large portico gates. Once inside the high city the views of the valley stretch far and wide. That is, when the pollution of Lombardy, the most industrial region of Italy, isn’t obscuring it.
We drove up to the highest portion of Bergamo Alta to a neighborhood named San Virgilio. Lloyd stopped the car and we stepped out to take in the view. A cable car operator stood watching us as we sat down on a granite bench to look out over the “pianura” or plains of Lombardy. It was a lovely cold January morning. Had I looked down a few degrees, just below me in front of a large church with an offset singular bell tower named, Santa Grata, I would have seen my future home. Located inside a renovated ca. year 1500 Benedictine monastery were several apartments that were let to students, teachers and professionals from all over the world. I’d live there one day. I didn’t know that at the time sitting on that cold stone bench above this new European city. I really didn’t know much of anything. I had leapt into the unknown at 25 with no safety net, no apartment, no phone number, no address, but I did have a Turner print rolled up in a tube with the number 14 written on it. I sat wondering what the next day held for me. I didn’t contemplate the next four years. Or that 20 years into the future I’d return and live a few blocks from where I was sitting with my future family for yet another year.
Lloyd invited me to his house for lunch and I accepted. We arrived and I met his Italian wife, Elisabetta, who prepared tuna fish sandwiches with potato chips on the inside (as a substitute for lettuce?) on enormous dinner rolls. Lloyd told me about the teaching job while I attempted to get thru the sandwich without making a total mess on their table. I didn’t do very well but neither did Lloyd and he didn’t seem to mind. We resumed our trip around Bergamo by car however now we were driving several miles outside of the bucolic Bergamo Alta to a suburb named Zingonia. As we drove further away from Bergamo, the foothills receded into the distant rear view mirror and were replaced by concrete apartment buildings and small factories. This was an industrial working class neighborhood. There was little greenery, the prevailing color was grey, light grey or white. Trash and graffiti were not in short supply. In short, it was awful. We stopped at a sign on a high iron security fence that read “Interlink English School” and got out. “Well, here we are,” Lloyd said pulling out a large modern looking skeleton key to open an iron gate. I stood there with my backpack over a shoulder and my poster tube in the other hand looking at what appeared to be a small detention office for delinquents. There were bars on the windows, bars on the door. An 8’ foot iron security fence lined the street and a gate that had the bars sharpened to an angle. I had this sinking feeling like when you drop your car keys down a drain pipe or you’ve lost your wallet. I waited there by the iron bar fence trying to get a handle on what I was looking at, process what I was feeling and trying to ignore my inner self asking: What on Earth are you doing here?
And then, without warning, I saw an image of the lovely Duomo of Florence with its unmistakable burnt sienna red cupola against a brilliant blue evening sky, dim and vanish.