Thursday, March 20, 2003

"After ten years in the game industry, I came to appreciate the company of lichens."--Luigi

A wonderful day that started out horribly. I got up at an obscenely early hour and made it to the airport on time, but the Italians weren't there. Apparently someone confused an America West flight with an American Airlines flight, and I went to the wrong terminal. So I just drove up to the store and waited for their call, which came a little after 10 AM. They just took a cab to the Bellevue Stratford in Center City Philly, so I drove downtown to meet them.

Fortunately there were no antiwar protestors blocking the streets around City Hall, which, dear correspondent, saved me from several hours of fantasies of channelling Lizzie Grubman. As it was, I only had to endure the usual horrors of downtown Philadelphia: Bums demanding money, rapacious parking lot attendants ("Che ladri maledetti!" I said out loud to the Italians as I paid $11.00 for my 20-minute stay), streets maintained by union labor, and traffic signs devised by Philadelphia Public School System graduates.

I had dearly missed Luigi and Silvio, and it was great to get caught up. Luigi just got his doctorate, and may go for another one in botany, and may apply for a green card.He is such an Americaphile, and seems to have become even more so after September 11th, when some of his very moving letters (which he shared with me) were pubished in Milan newspapers. He is disgusted with antiwar protesters in his country (Silvio's wife Kelly called during their visit and reported that they had shut down every major street in Milan, and killed sales at Silvio's store today).

Silvio seems to be doing extremely well. His franchising network (16 stores) is larger than Giovanni's largest point, and he's waiting for the opportunity to buy up the old company's remaining assets as soon as the bankruptcy judge permits it.

And there were stories. The one that made me cringe the most was the one about my nutty Bahai friend in Milan who showed up at the warehouse on via Frigia when they were shutting down. She apparently demanded that everyone sign a petition against some overpass or something, and got hysterical when they refused. Sigh. "She was not my girlfriend," I insisted.

And a Stefano story (not his real name). Stefano was a friend of Giovanni's, a rabid Communist from his radical days, a guy who Giovanni enjoyed having around in what I think was a mixture of nostalgia and a need to have an authentic "working man" around among all the snotnosed intellectuals and comic book geeks who populated his company. He was very kind to me, but among the Italians he always displayed a degree of class-consciousness that is almost impossible for Americans to understand. His favorite phrase was always quelli lassu ("the ones upstairs"--in other words, the bosses), always spoken under the breath. (Luigi once asked him who quelli lassu were--God? Angels? and got a dirty look). Luigi would occasionally try to bring him coffee, which Stefano always refused.

Stefano operated the casting machine, which made the entire miniatures production part of the company dependent on him. But he never understood that his skills made him more or less irreplaceable. As time went on he got more and more paranoid, telling everyone around him that Giovanni and Lucrezia were obviously plotting to get rid of him. When the Sri Lankan immigrant who was the company janitor took the same subway car one day, Stefano accused the company of sending the guy to "spy" on him. And at the end, when the lights went out because the electrical bill hadn't been paid, Stefano said it was part of the plot against him.

Such a revealing story about that particular ideological state of mind.

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