Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The kindness of strangers

Southerners tend to think that we New Englanders are a cold sort, rather inhospitable and just plain unfriendly.  There is a similar prejudice in Italy.  Those living in the "mezzogiorno", south of Rome, are convinced that the northerners have just a bit too much of the Teutonic in them and that they are boring, cold, rule-abiders.  After spending the past ten days here in the Veneto region, I would like to take issue with this conception.
On more occasions than I can count, we have come to depend on the kindness of these strangers and they have never failed to impress us with their concern for our well-being and their genuine friendliness.  Some moments that stand out:
  • the gentleman who saw us studying our map of Padova, trying to find the Basilica di Sant'Antonio.  He directed us once and we went on our way.  When we got off the right track again, he happened across our path and pointed us in the right direction.  A third time....and once again he patiently turned us back around.  Grazie, to this kind bicyclist!
  • on the bus in Trieste, we didn't know at which stops to get off.  We asked one woman if this bus went to the tram stop in Opicina and she acknowledged that it did.  When we arrived at that stop, she walked to the back of the bus where we were sitting to remind us to get off then.  The bus driver on another route hollered out our stop to us, knowing that we were looking for Miramare, which wasn't easily visible from the road.  Not only did he remind us where to get out, he got off the bus and showed us where the entrance to the gardens were and where to wait for the returning bus.  Another woman, with a cute little black puppy, took us in hand to lead us to the Strada Rilke in Duino.
  • Hoteliers may be paid to be polite, but no one could fake the kindness and sincerity of the owners of the agriturismi where we have stayed.  Girolamo and Ruth spent part of every day explaining the workings of their farm, how they met and the best local restaurants to us.  Antonio was so kind when we had to delay our arrival one day....he wasn't concerned about losing two clients for a night but just about our safe travels.  Stella and Nicola never spoke without a smile on their faces and a willingness to share everything from their knowledge to their tour books and guides with every new arrival.
  • Most memorable of all was the kindness of the strangers who helped us after our serious car accident.  As we were returning from a lovely day of visiting Vicenza and Bassano del Grappa, driving through quiet farmland, we were struck by a speeding car on the front driver's side.  An immediate spinning around of the car, explosion of airbags, and a forceful jostling of our bodies ensued.  Glasses went flying.  Bumps and bruises.  And panic.  Immediately, people came running out of their homes.  One called for police.  Another helped us out of the car.  Someone brought out a chair for my sister to sit in and some water for us to drink.  She had a pretty bad bump on her head and felt faint.  As she laid on the ground, a pillow appeared for her head and a lovely gentleman held her hand and told her to breathe deeply and quietly.  The police arrived immediately and were so kind to us all.  They helped us handle all the paperwork and the stress of this accident while ensuring our safety and well-being.  After the ambulance took my sister and her husband to the hospital to be checked out, the family on the corner took Mike and me into their home.  They gave us something to drink and just chatted with us kindly, helping to take our minds off what had happened.  When it became clear that we would need a taxi to take us back to our hotel, they offered to drive us there themselves.  If the police had not already called for the cab, they would have been happy to have done so.  We talked about our children, about their little dog, about the small things that unite us all.  As we were leaving, the mamma kissed us and wished us well and told us to be sure to let them know that all was well.  Such kindness will never be forgotten.
So, when people complain about the coldness of the north, and they aren't talking about the weather, they will have to deal with me from now on!  I have been there and I have seen the warmth that really matters.

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