The Highlight Reel | by John Pitonzo





The Highlight Reel


in your head is only updated with images when the events in your life are so significant that the clips weave themselves into the reel involuntarily and you can call them up in a heartbeat onto your mind-screen.

The Highlight Reel is different than Memory Lane. Memory Lane is that place old people stroll down when they look at photo albums and get nostalgic. Memory Lane is a never-ending road (until it ends), the whole book, entire chapters dedicated to an event, a day, a year, an occupation.

There is no strolling on the Highlight Reel. The highlights are moments, attimi, in Italian, (which even sounds brief), something that takes up very little space and time. Memories are made up of highlights, not the inverse, though highlights are, in and of themselves, the best parts of memories; summer camp lasts 6 to 8 weeks, an orgasm, mere seconds.

Last week, on a mountain overlooking the Adriatic, my wife turned to me and said, “You came here 30 years ago today.” She was talking about the country, not the mountain. Firenze. June 24th. 1990. La Festa di San Giovanni. Ironic.

Wow. 30 years, I thought. If I divide my time, thus far, like a sporting event, into quarters or halves or innings, it would take too long to consider all the highlights because, according to Italian longevity, I’m into the 4th quarter, the second half, the 6th inning, so I’ll only look at some of the best frames from the Italian field of play.

First day. Flight. Smokers. Crying babies. Roma. A hot and sticky bus ride to the train station, destination Firenze. It appears. A massive, stone structure. The Colosseum. I hear the swords of the gladiators clash. Emperor, fist outstretched, thumb cocked.

I still remember arriving at the train station in Florence, Stazione Santa Maria Novella. Felt like I was in the right place. Home.

Pensione Orchidea. A cute little Italian-English girl and a beautiful older woman with stunning blue eyes. Her mother. My first friends.

The Duomo. Santa Maria del Fiore. Giotto’s Campanile, the bell tower, stands tall next to it. I am in awe. This is my new city. I am in disbelief. I have never seen anything. man-made, so beautiful. La Porta del Paradiso, The Gates of Paradise on the Baptistry. Piazza della Signoria. I marvel for a long time in front of the sculptures under the Loggia di Lanzi: Perseus holding the head of the Medusa; the Rape of the Sabines; Hercules killing the Centaur Nessus. I can’t believe I am living in this city. I have never seen such beauty.

3 days later. A girl. A real Italian girl. Like those photos where everything surrounding the subject is blurred, I can only see her: Tight black top, ponytail, jeans, beautiful skin. Colpo di fulmine, they call it in Italian.

First ride in the Tuscan countryside. Cypresses tapering up against skies blue like I’ve never seen before.

Dark blue, boxy, Renault 4. Narrow roads broken by the roots of sweet-smelling umbrella pines. Longhorn cattle. Wild horses. Macchia Mediterranea. Wild beach. The Italian girl in the water. In the sun. In my eyes.

In a white gown.

Dori in the front seat with a green ribbon around her neck. Good dog waiting outside the old stone church.

A baby girl, eyes wide, comes into the world. Beautiful woman, beautiful baby.

Big stone wheels crush the olives. The olive oil drips down and now I know the scent of green.

Nonnina singing, “Brava, brava, brava la mia bambina.”

Zola, one of Dori’s pups, snatches the little girl’s pacifier from her hand and the little girl is screaming, face red as a tomato. Pacifier chewed up. Habit broken.

Annual grape harvest. Vendemmia. The little girl in yellow boots caked with mud picks one grape, eats two. Picks one, eats two.

At the market down in Florence the little girl says, “Daddy, I want chicks.” Daddy always says yes.

Grown geese aggressively chasing mom.

Rosina. Turkina. Bigné. Evander. Blue. Cats.

A painted door: John and Mari’s Chicken Farm. Chicks hatch. The little black one drowns in the water bowl and the little girl cries and we bury it.

A drive to Budapest. 1000 kilometers for a puppy. Vizsla number two. Romy.

L’Eroica. The last kilometer. All downhill. Surreal.

New house, but ancient stones, stones from the fields and the river down the hill. The stones last, only we grow older.

Spinning wheels, verdant hills, windy April day; descent sinuous and steep; broken ribs, broken shoulders, broken this, broken that, and punctured lung; can’t breathe; tube one, tube two, aah, air; today is not for dying; “Andata bene, “the doctors say.

The beautiful Italian girl is reading at my bedside.

Havana. Finca Vigia. Hemingway’s house. 25 years.

Virgil. Vizsla number 3. Bello, amoroso, crazy boy.

Islands in the sun. One small island. Same beautiful Italian girl.

Sea turtles, multi-colored fish, coral reef.

The reel keeps spinning…

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