Trip memories: The Tuscan folklorist group

carriage

During my career, I have done maybe thousands of tours.

When I was younger, I worked driving tour buses, a passion inherited by my father; that was my wish when still I was a little child.

In fact, I could not wait for his return home after each trip. I was excited not only for the presents he used to give us but also for listening to his storytelling regarding the cities and countries he drove in. But what I appreciated most was the narration of the experiences of meeting new people.

That is why when I came to the right age to get a professional driving license, I did not hesitate to renounce the university studies to embrace this job. I can tell you now that it enriched my spirit and the knowledge.

Later, in my life, I felt a powerful desire to change my working way. In fact, I thought that just driving busses did not satisfy me anymore. I wanted simply to share my experiences with small parties of people from a single couple up to a family, for example.

The real reason of my decision was that driving busses, I understood that relationships with people was not close enough and not in the same way I wanted.

That is why I decided to run a limo-service company as now because only in this way it is possible to share my experience with clients/travelers.

I can tell you that in my early 20s, I was so amazed at traveling throughout Europe, for meeting people from all over the world the same as my father.

I wanted to increase the human experience of meeting so many diverse cultures while visiting many new countries. Moreover, often discovering together with them the places, the most important sites, and the relative cultures…

I would like then share with you my flagstone traveling story regarding a tour by bus. The following one was significant for my growth either as a professional driver and as a man.

I was about 22, just a little bit more than a kid, and I did not have enough experience in long-distance trips yet. Anyway, the company I was working for, located in Rome, had just acquired a Florentine bus company. My colleagues and I were often doing tours for them from or to Tuscany.

Transfer from Tuscany to Sicily

They appointed me a tour for a week with a Tuscan folklorist group from Figline Valdarno, a small city in the south of the Florence province, by the Arno valley.

My task was to drive this group in Sicily for a folklorist tour on the oriental side. This story is dated in the ’80s when the labor condition was not the best, especially the driving security rules, which were different from nowadays. Anyway, the scheduled departure was fixed at 2 am due to the exceptionally long journey.

The parish priest of the Figline Valdarno main church was also the organizer of this travel, and he reserved a room for me in his priest’s house. He just wanted to make sure that I had rest before leaving for a long drive of more than 1000 km/650 miles to cover in about 15 hours.

Unlikely for the above reasons, my boss did not let me go earlier to have enough rest. In fact, I had to work all day in Rome and then in the evening leave for going to Figline Valdarno, driving 3 hours.

 Therefore, I arrived there only at 10 pm. When I knocked on the church’s door, the priest was angry and worried; he did not understand that the reason I arrived so late was not due to my will. He gave me something to eat and a room in his house where I was supposed to sleep a little bit.

In the end, I had only 2 hours in bed when he came to knock at the door because the travelers of the group were ready to board my bus. I woke up more tired than I arrived. We quickly loaded all the material and baggage of these people that were appearing very sleepy.

This folklorist group was composed of dancers and a flag-bearers team (in Italian “sbandieratori“), which are still extremely popular in Tuscany. They launch flags and receive it back in beautiful choreographies at their beating drums’ rhythm.

Anyway, when those people boarded, I noted that most of them were carrying their own pillows well organized for spending the night seated in a bus for so many hours. Looking at the scene, I thought with some envy that at least they could have some rest.

If the passenger situation was uncomfortable, my situation, due I have had only two hours of sleep, for sure it was worst. While the passengers boarded just among very rough introductions because to the darkness and the sleeping time, I realized that most of them were young girls. To be honest, this thing took my attention because they were my same age.

I realized later that even for them, this trip was an adventure; however, these kids were not professionals. The trip to Sicily made them overly excited, which often happens to students.

Imagine a bunch of young people all together ready for a week of great amusement.

Slowly we reached the highway, and I bounded south running in the night at the bus speed of about 100 km/hour or 62 miles/hour. So, in about 3 hours, I by-passed Rome, but the more the trip proceeded, the more the fatigue on my eyes grew. I started to think that I was simply crazy, but I did not let them understand to be in difficulty. In fact, in that time, people believed that drivers were a sort of supermen able to drive night and day, considering it a normalcy. I was young, I thought that refusing to do it my boss and clients would feel I was not strong enough for that kind of job.

Moreover, due to the total lack of control on the road about the professional drivers’ driving time, I did not have many other opportunities to avoid proceeding in a such crazy mission. Anyway, soon somebody not sleeping yet came to sit down next to me to control my state to make sure that I did not fall asleep. At this point, the situation became a bit funny because everyone came next to me to make me talk. But because they were all unknown people, it was complicated to find a topic to talk about.

I do not remember how many cigarettes I smoked. At that time, I was still a heavy smoker. Moreover, I did not count also, how many coffees, cappuccinos, and slices of homemade cakes these people offered me to replace the energies I did not have. Little by little, in a state of resilience.

I approached the pit of Calabria, where I faced the Sicilian coast on the other side of the Strait of Messina. I felt then finally much more confident in myself, knowing that I was at the end of that crazy trip. In fact, we quickly boarded on the next ferry boat to reach in 45 minutes the Sicilian dock.

Folklorist tour in Sicily

flag waversOur destination was still two hours’ drive, but my energies were again recharged. We arrived in the late afternoon at Giardini Naxos, a famous little city just by Taormina’s beach.

The day after, we started with the committed tour, moving every day in a different location where these great Tuscan folklorist group performed their show at night.

Anyway, we were reaching each site earlier, to have the time of visit a bit each city. In fact, I remember that the first show took place at the famous Greek theater of Taormina.

Taormina is renowned among all the Sicilian cities to be the meeting place for the international jet-set and it is not rare while walking along with its delicious streets meeting movie stars or VIP’s.

After Taormina in the next days, I drove them to Piazza Armerina, famous for its Roman Villa with mosaics, listed in Unesco Heritage. The picturesque city was built in different architectonic styles going from the Gothic to the Baroque.

Another worthy city they performed was Noto, considered the Sicilian Baroque capital, also listed in the Unesco Heritage. This city was reborn after a terrible heart quick occurred in 1693 that destroyed the ancient medieval city center. Therefore, they needed to rebuild from ground zero the whole town, which became the best-known Baroque best example in Sicily.

Meanwhile, I was excited, because for me it was an excellent opportunity to visit such huge sites I have never seen before. Although, my parents were Sicilian, I had never been to the area yet.

Every day, I also had socialized with these people who seemed very friendly to me during the free time and in particularly among them, I noted a girl, charming and kind, named Virginia.

We started talking about silly questions, with the excuse of drinking a coffee or a cold drink. She was excited to talking with someone living in Rome.

At that time, people living in the province, as same as the place she was coming from, believed that whoever was from Rome or another big city would have been more interesting than others.

I can tell you that nowadays it is not anymore like that way. In fact, I know many people living in the present time in the same Valdarno area, and I know very well that will not live anymore in a big city.

Anyway, I was excited about coming back to Virginia, because I came in touch with such a nice girl, among many others. But unlikely the free time was not that much.

Moreover, all of them were often moving only in the group, but I was happy anyhow. In fact, in only a few days we were both looking for each other very often. It was a deep feeling that made those few days still left very colorful.

The last night, while I was almost asleep in my room, I realized that someone had passed a note for me under the door. Her mates wrote a few words to let me understand that also Virginia was fond of me.

This made my night much more pleasant, but I was still suspicious because she was not the author of the message. Yet just her friends…. but at the same time I was thrilled to know that such a nice girl was paying attention to a very timid young man.

This is how I was in my youth; I was not confident in myself, and nothing changed until my 40s.

Back transfer to Tuscany

The morning after, we left Sicily to return to Tuscany. This return trip meant just going back home for all my passengers.

From my point of view it was different because it was just the end of a journey and the beginning of another one, knowing that as soon as I would get back to Rome, another trip was waiting for me.

The driving this time was much more comfortable and less tiring because I had enough rest.

When we arrived at the destination in the little city of Figline Valdarno by the main church, it was already late evening.

Therefore, it came inexorably the time to say goodbye to each other, but how could I tell a simple “ciao” to Virginia?

So, as usual for women, she was able to find the way to talk with me privately in a spot where nobody was.

Virginia told me to be deeply sad about seeing me leaving, she gave me a note with the name of a gold shop located on Ponte Vecchio in Florence, where she worked.

I promise her I would go to Florence looking for her, but in a while, she got her eyes red with shy tears, disappearing almost running away among her mates.

I felt like a stupid man who did not understand anything, not showing his feeling that was the same of her.

Since that time, I have been to Florence so often, but I never had the opportunity or the courage to look for her. I never met her again…

I said that this trip was a sort of a flagstone of my life as a professional driver because I understood that nobody is a superman. We must consider that everyone has a limit, therefore going over our possibilities, especially when we have on our shoulder the people live, it is absolutely something to avoid.

But overall, as a man, I understood how important it is to let feelings be shown, for better or worse, to avoid regrets for the whole life. 

The third personal consideration I want to add to this my humble but genuine story is that this journey made me addicted to the Tuscan soil and its people.

In fact, it was so true that a few years later, I married a Florentine girl to spend in Tuscany the best years of my life.

Paolo Di Gangi

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