Sunday, June 28, 2009

you can still learn

went to a the birthday party of a friend this afternoon. was looking forward to it. the friend has been just great over the years. and the party was as expected. older crowd, given that this was a celebration for a 60th birthday. but beyond the tributes, and the humor, and the excess of food, and the range of ages in attendance, was one remarkable person who you would just never have expected to have the perspective or even just the plain humility that was shown.

later in the party, when the crowd thinned, and those with either too much time on their hands, or too much too worry about in order to get home, stayed on and congregated closely around one another, there were more intensive conversation than the usual pablum.

one person, a reed thin man, looking around 60, with an indiscernable accent, ended up sitting near me, and we struck up a conversation. turns out that Silvio is near 70, from the north of Italy, been on his own since the age of 15, speaks 5 languages fluently, not including Portugese, I was later told, and holds forth on a range of topics and experiences. born on a small farm in the Dolomites, as a child he carried buckets of warm milk to a cooperative to obtain goods for his family, skiied the Alps on handmade skis tethered by leather straps. and by december 10 of each year, they would slaughter the Christmas pig purchased earlier in the year, using every part from the animal, for food, soap, or trade.

this was where the conversation began, oddly enough, on recycling, and how in post-war Italy his family never had any waste. they used everything they had, bartered or made whatever they needed, and didn't leave a footprint. Silvio talked of a class a young friend of his was taking on environmental sustainment, and how similar what she was learning was to the way he lived two generation back.

yes, some things go around, and there's the old saw about the simplicity of life on the farm, in agricultural communities. but Silvio added that his village has changed, dramatically, over the years. he still visits the family that remains in the region. but where there was once just a mountain to climb in order to ski down, there are now a jumble of lifts taking vacationers to the summit, higher than Silvio was able to climb as a child. and there is no longer a family farm, replaced by automation, the success of the Italian economy in the '60's, among other things.

there was plenty more Silvio discussed, from moving to Venice to work in the hotel industry as a 15 year old. moving on to Paris to become a construction worker at 17. then on to Bermuda at 21. Spain, England, and Germany as well in his twenties. and then Rio, which was admittedly hard to leave, he acknowledged, before first coming to the States some time ago.

Silvio tells me his travels are far from over. he has stayed in Washington for going on five years now, and suspects that he will soon be in another city, in another country, within a year. it seems like a great life, with great experiences, and great perspectives. and one that appears to be easily shared, which serves as a learning tool for us all.