18 July 2010

LIFE: Aldo and Carla

SARONNO, Italy - Aldo and Carla live in the apartment above the Cleans. (See 'The Cleans.' June 27 post) I know their names because Aldo used to be an active cyclist, and every Sunday his cycling buddies would gather under his apartment building and call up to him to come down.

“Hey, Aldo,” they would yell. “Vieni giu.”

Saronno, Italy

Aldo, who looks to be about 70 years old, would come out on his balcony, wave and yell back, “arrivo.” Then Carla would come out and as the guys shouted up “Ciao Carla,” she would wave back at them, ask about their wives and kids, and basically kill time until Aldo got his stuff together and made an appearance in the small piazza downstairs.

It's Not Aldo But You Get the Idea

Aldo would come out of the building dressed in his cycling gear: protective helmet, Lycra shirt and knee length cycling shorts and sporty gloves, his spiked cycling shoes clicking on the pavement as he wheeled his bike out on to the street. Then they would all get on their bikes, say their final farewells to Carla and head off to who know where for a morning of Tour di Saronno, which is similar to the Tour de France, but just slightly.

Then the unimaginable happened. Aldo had a stroke. The vital, vibrant old man was gone. In his place was a feeble old person who barely resembled the healthy, active Aldo of the past.

He didn't leave the house anymore. Sometimes Carla would help him out to the balcony, but he didn’t stay there very long. His bathrobe replaced his Lycra cycling gear, his feet now in slippers instead of the noisy spiked biking shoes. His buddies didn’t come by any more, his world shrunk and his spirit along with it.

Aldo and the Boys? Unfortunately no.

A year passed, and Aldo reappeared. A little shaky, his one good hand gripping the handle of a cane. Not in great shape, but at least he was no longer house bound. He and Carla started going out for an apperitivo in the late afternoons. She would hold on to his weak arm, keeping him steady. He would clump alongside her, setting his cane down with force as if to say, I’m may be down, but I’m not out.

Neighbors would greet them on the street, smiling and happy to see him. Wives would discreetly inquire about his health while the husbands would pat him on the back as if to say, “bravo, Aldo, you made it.”

He even started driving again. He was never gone for very long, but even a quick ride around the block must have given him a tremendous sense of freedom recovered. Even I, his silent, invisible fan, was rooting for him.

It took about a week before I realized that I hadn’t seen Aldo for a while. I knew he wasn’t dead because here in Saronno, as in all of Italy, when someone dies funeral parlors hang gray banners on the apartment building doors with the name of the deceased on them. So if he wasn’t dead, where was he?

A Street in Saronno
Then I noticed that there was another person in the apartment, a woman. She was there early in the morning, drinking coffee on the balcony, and late at night, having a smoke before going to bed. She was either a relative or someone Carla had brought in to help with Aldo.

Then one afternoon I saw her wheeling Aldo down the street in a wheelchair. He was yelling something at her and she was yelling back, which meant she wasn’t hired help and not any kind of a distant relative, but more likely his daughter. She would take him out in the wheelchair every couple of days, and every time she did they would argue.

Another street in Saronno

It wasn’t until I saw her helping him into the apartment building that I noticed that there was a large soft cast on his bad leg. It seems the reason he hadn’t been out was because he had somehow further disabled his already disabled leg. That also meant he could not drive. Now she was doing all the driving. Bad news.

But now that woman, whoever she was, isn't there anymore. Aldo came out by himself this morning, the cast is still on his leg but he managed to open the door to his car and get in. He started the motor and slowly backed out of his parking place. Then Carla came out on the balcony to watch him, her hand over her mouth.
He slowly pulled away from the building and turned the corner. About 10 minutes later he was back. He parked the car, got out and hobbled into the building. I was so happy I almost cried. All I could think of was bravo Aldo, don’t give up. And you know, I don’t think he will.

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