29 August 2010

LIFE: Out of the Kindness

SARONNO, Italy - The first real work I had when I first moved to Italy was in Genoa teaching English at a small private language school. I was being paid under the table (in nero) which meant that sometimes when I would come into the school one of the owners would put her finger on her lips, a warning for me not to say anything. It meant the Guardia di Finance, or fiscal police, were in inspecting the books. They knew schools hired illegals, especially English mother-tongue illegals, all the time and they paid off the books.

I knew I was not being paid what Italian teachers, or foreigners who were here legally, were paid but I didn’t complain. I was happy to have a job after not working for nearly six months.

So with the little bit of money I was earning I started putting together my Italian life. I was living in a furnished apartment about half an hour out of Genoa in a borgo called Santa Maria Quezzi, (see January 31, 2010 blog).

Another Beautiful Ginori Design

With no car, my only means of transport to and from the city was the No. 15 bus. I would get off on Via XX Settembre, Genoa’s main street, and walk the few blocks to the language school passing a rather posh china and gift shop along the way. They had the most beautiful things in that store and I remember standing and staring in the window and wondering if I would ever be able to afford anything in there.

January and July are the State designated sales periods here in Italy and so shortly after Christmas my favorite shop filled their window with all the bits and bobs they were willing to part with at a discounted price. That’s when I saw them – the gold rimmed Richard Ginori plates with the small roses. I loved them.

Every day on my way to work I would stop and stand with my nose pressed against the glass and look at them, dreaming about how they would look on my dinner table. I had no idea how much they really cost for I had yet to figure out the value of lire to dollars and vice versa. If a newspaper cost 1,000 lire, and a cup of coffee cost 1,500, how many thousands, or even millions of lire would the dishes cost? And how much was that in real money? Dealing with such high numbers was not only confusing, it was downright overwhelming.

My Beautiful Dishes

Then one day, fearful the plates would be snapped up and gone forever, I gathered my courage and went in. In my halting Italian I told the young clerk I wanted six of the Richard Ginori plates in the window. She knew immediately which ones I was talking about.

“There are only ten plates left,” she said. “Why don’t you take them all?”
“I wish I could,” I said, “but I am a poor English teacher and I don’t have enough money to buy them all.”

I knew that Richard Ginori was one of the oldest porcelain manufacturers in Italy, founded in 1735 by the Florentine Marquis Carlo Ginori. The early pieces he made were primarily destined for the court of the Medici family, the godfathers of the Florentine Renaissance, so whatever they cost, it was surely more than I could afford. As it was I was convinced I would have to eat bread and onions for a month just to pay for the six plates I asked for.

The cups that go with my dishes

The clerk nodded. She went to the window, took the plates out and then disappeared into the back room. A few minutes later she reappeared with a package all done up in brown paper and tied with heavy string. She put it on the counter and rang up the sale. I don’t remember what I paid for those plates, now that we’ve converted to Euros it’s hard to remember what things costs back in the day of the lira, but it seemed like an awful lot of money.

I carried the package to school that night and it wasn’t until the next morning that I opened it. She had given me all ten plates.

What a sweet beginning to my Italian life. I’ve been very lucky these past twenty years, I’ve met a lot of nice people who have gone out of their way to help a stranger. Every time I use those beautiful dishes I think about that young girl in Genoa and I hope that in some small way I am able to pass that kindness on.

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