Finalmente il Primo (e il Secondo) Concerto (Finally, the First and Second Live Concert)
After Italy and our planet recover from the current viral onslaught, the world may be different. As Gianluca said in his live videocast last week, when this is over, it may be hard for many people and many things to go back to the way they were. But we can still look forward to the fact that music and laughter are universal and unstoppable.
In my last submittal, I promised to describe my first Il Volo concert(s) from 2019. But first, I wanted to recount a funny story from my 2018 trip to Sicily. That was my fourth hiking or cycling trip in Italy. Due to the travel dates, I knew I would not be able to hear any Il Volo concerts. I spent the time becoming addicted to the Mediterranean and Ionian coasts of Sicily.
When we first arrived a few days before the start of our hike, I had trouble calling our bed-and-breakfast host near the Palermo Vucceria. So I ended up pressing the citofono and climbing stairs looking for his suite. A middle-aged guy in the street, who was a friend of his, called him on the telefonino (cell phone). While on the phone this buddy was ribbing me in Sicilian, telling Claudio that he better come down quick, because his guests “si stanno impazzendo” (are going crazy) and every other tease he could think of, winking the whole time. My helper was a typical Sicilian – extraordinarily courteous and kind on the one hand, and ‘nu sperto (smart aleck) on the other. Then he hugs us and tells us his name is Piero. I burst out laughing. Of course, it is. What else would it be? (But it’s a common name, right?)
Even wilder was the historian/guide at Segesta a few days later. He was a little bantam rooster of an athlete in his 20’s. Black jeans, dark curls, trim beard, soft eyes, deep dark voice, movie actor face. He announced his name was Gianluca.
I was in tears laughing at this point, and just had to ask him if he sang tenor or baritone. He pulled me aside and we promptly got into an argument (‘na schariatina) in Sicilian. Two Sicilians arguing – what else is new? He insisted that our driver, Maurizio, lied when he said we were Americans. As short as I am, and with my left hand in the air for every other word, I had to be Italian. I also learned that this particular Gianluca refers to himself as “Sicilianissimo” (ultimate Sicilian) and considers himself an expert in recognizing his own kind.
I’ve had this happen in a number of places in Italy over the years, where Italians sometimes confuse me for an Italian, not an American. A few examples:
Near Catania: “Si pare dalla faccia” (It shows on your face).
Rome: “L’accento si senti” (I hear your accent).
Giardini, Sicily after two days of swimming in the Ionian Sea: “Una verissima Siciliana – nera, nera come ‘na magrebina” (A real Sicilian – dark as the rest of us Mediterraneans.)
Storekeeper in a negozio in Florence: “You remind me of my mother in Calabria. I’ll take off 40 euros if you come in the back with me for an espresso e una chiacchierata” (some conversation).” I told him the last thing I wanted to hear from a handsome young Italian is that I looked like his mother.
Our driver outside Cefalu: “How long since you emigrated from here to the States?” My answer, “Non ho mai messo piede qua!” (I’ve never set foot here!).
Near Milano: If you’re a ciclista, you’ll know who the great designer Ernesto Colnago is. He refused to make me a custom road racing frame years ago. “Sei Italiana, ma sei troppo bassa. La bici uscira brutta!” (You’re Italian but you’re too short. The bicycle will come out ugly.)
Eventually I gave up arguing.
I didn’t meet any Ignazios in 2018, but I didn’t need to. I have two Sicilian-American cousins called Ignazio. One’s tall, one’s funny.
Despite following Il Volo for years, and even going back and forth to Italy, I never attended a live concert until 2019. As I mentioned, I returned to Italia to hear them on their home turf in Taormina, Sicily and Lecce, Puglia, both shows in July. It gave me an excuse to be around the beaches, the white marble architecture, the restored synagogues, and the marketplaces of eastern Sicily and southern Italy for a month. Americans haven’t discovered these areas, but the northern Italians flock there for vacanze and ferragosto. I was delighted not to hear a word of English for a month. Siracusa and Ortigia, with exotic fruit, baking hot sunshine, blinding white marble, noisy markets, singing in the stalls, street signs in Greek and Hebrew, the sparkling Adriatic visible at every turn, make me ubriaca di gioia (drunk with pleasure). I finally found a place I feel really at home.
Besides, there’s nothing like Sicilian pasta al salmone, and the Pugliese really know how to roll their dark bread dough in black sesame seeds. And where else do the vending machines along the beach have bottles of Inzolia Sicilian white and Nero d’Avola red instead of Coca Cola? Antonio, one my limo drivers, told me that Italians have a name for a meal without wine. They call it colazione (breakfast). E magari, a volte… (Even then, sometimes, too). Using wine all day is not the case for every Italian since, for example, Piero Barone, and even my landlord in Giardini, sono astemi (don’t drink at all).
Ora Arriviamo al Dunque (Now We Get to the Point)
Jana, Daniela, Pat and others in the Flight Crew reviewed last year’s concerts as they occurred. I wanted to tell you about some things that didn’t make the web pages or the blogs. These things will not change, even if the Meet and Greets, Wine and Dines, and whatever else they’re called, come to an end. I’ve never been to any of those things, anyway.
Aside from their voices and their stage presence, in the short time I was around the Il Volo concert setting, I was most impressed with the humanity and grace of these young men, and what veri gentiluomini (real gentlemen) they can be, when they choose to. Non fraintendermi! Don’t get me wrong! I raised an Italian Jewish son exactly their age. With young guys, including mine, sometimes they are delightfully charming, and other times “it gets real.” I suppose these three guys are the same as mine. Here are some examples of what they can be:
First, my all-time favorite, and Sicily’s greatest mystery writer, Andrea Camilleri, died the Thursday before the Il Volo Taormina concert. If you’ve ever read Il Commissario Montalbano Mysteries or watched them on TV (starring Luca Zingaretti, Cesare Bocci and Peppino Mazzotta), you know who Camilleri is. I didn’t hear the news until I went up to Taormina that Friday to buy some paperbacks in the tabbacheria and catch the local gossip in the cafés on Corso Umberto. Those of us who are Sicilians were still lamenting his death a few nights later at the Il Volo concert. (Sicilians are really good at that). During the concert, Piero and Ignazio, Sicilians both, had the extraordinary sensitivity to ask for a few minutes to honor the memory of our Sicilian hero with a farewell aria in the middle of the show. Lots of hugging and swaying in the audience – but well deserved.
Second, some of you may have seen the 2019 Taormina concert photo of Piero holding a teenaged girl at the left side of the stage, late in the show. I think I even saw the picture on the Flight Crew page. What wasn’t obvious is that this very disabled young lady, in her prettiest summer dress and barely able to walk on her brace supports, spent the length of two songs being held by Piero, while he sang his parts. To take care of this young lady who had trouble standing, Piero had to crouch and sit at the edge of the stage to hold her so she wouldn’t fall, as her caregivers temporarily took her walking equipment away, and he stayed that way a long time. This brave young lady didn’t want any crutches in her arms; she wanted Piero in her arms, and he obliged her. I was really touched by the look on his face afterwards, as he sighed with compassion, moved by what this young girl went through to get near him, and watching her struggle on her supports as she left him with her helpers around her. I didn’t expect a young star to be that human. In Yiddish we would say What a mentsh! and in Italian Che persona! (What a person he is!) But of course, if he’s like his coetani (guys his age) there are probably other sides to him.
These are Flashes of Memory and a Few Things to Look Forward to When Italy Recovers
Snapshots from Taormina Concert
Ignazio teasing that every time Gianluca tries to speak Sicilian, he growls like a Mafiusu.
Ignazio doing a fake Italian TV commercial with a dial-in phone number to raise money to save Piero’s home village of Naro. Every time the other two interrupt him, he starts the “tape” over.
Piero charging up the center aisle to sing at the back of the amphitheater, then unable to get back to the stage because he’s nearly covered in girls.
Gianluca completely cranked up, running victory laps back and forth at the front of the stage hand-slapping all the young kids, while everyone in the audience is standing and singing “Volare.”
Late night after the concert, people singing Il Volo songs up and down Corso Umberto, even those who didn’t go to the show.
Snapshots from Lecce Concert
After centuries of never having public entertainment in the Piazza del Duomo, watching as the stage was being built up each day across from the archbishop’s palace – for Il Volo,
Gianluca accidently delaying the show because he left his stage clothes at the hotel. Ignazio joking that they decided to wait for Gianluca’s clothes because it didn’t seem right to make him do an entire concert in front of the Archbishop of Lecce in mutande (in his underwear).
Gianluca personally thanking Archbishop Michele Seccia “chi mi ha dato la crisma” (who gave him the oil of anointing at his confirmation 12 years ago), because look what happened to his life since then.
Folks watching the show for free from the roof of their apartment building above the piazza teasing Ignazio. Ignazio, always in fine form, yelling at them to go buy a ticket.
Gianluca doing a goofy American accent to make fun of how badly Americans pronounce “Arriverderci Roma.”
People in front of me betting on whether Gianluca could make it to the end of the show without climbing off the stage to play with a small boy down front. (He didn’t make it to the end).
Piero describing how ten years ago they were so young that they were this short . . . except Ignazio, who was this wide . . .
Che Dio vi benedica tutti voi, e anche i ragazzi e le loro famiglie.
May God bless you all, and the guys and their families, too, during this time.
C’è di più.
There is more to come.