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  • Giro D'Italia Comes to My Door
    More than 50 years after my father witnessed Italy's Tour de France in Ischia, it returned to the Neapolitan island
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    As a child growing up in Ischia, Italy, a small island off the coast of Naples, my father idolized cyclists Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. He was drawn to the delicate dance they would perform with their bikes, how they had to lean into the wind, and the way they smoothly seemed to slide over any terrain. His love grew into admiration even as Coppi and Bartali hung up their bikes.

    The sweet whizzing sound of their wheels as cyclists flew by him when the Giro d'Italia, Italy's Tour de France, visited his hometown Buonopane, Ischia in 1959 is among the deepest rooted memories of my father's Italy. He has told me the story a million times. Along with his neighbors, he sat along a wall in Buonopane, cheered on the cyclists, passed them water, and felt he was a part of sports history. The intensity of his joy – his tiny little town on this tiny little island that no one outside of Italy even knows – was hosting true athletes for a sporting event of international stature. He was right there in the action. He might not be on a bike himself, tut he was there with the cyclists in a way a 13-year-old boy from Ischia never dreamed possible.

    This was before doping, before advertising, before the millions. This was when athletes were sportsmen and not celebrities. You could respect them. They respected you. And the contests actually meant something. The winner could really say he was the winner. By the way, Charly Gaul of Luxembourg would win that Giro.

    Regardless of who won or lost, my father felt as though he was part of something bigger than himself and his little world on that day when the bikes soared passed him, reducing the cyclists to mere specks in the distance. His Ischia had big things in its future. So did my papa.

    By February 1960, my father would leave Ischia and move to the United States. He often describes seeing the Statue of Liberty from the ship he took to this new world with the same awe as he had for the Giro. Now, everything would be bigger. Now, my father was the tiny, little one in a big, big town in an even bigger country.

    That Giro d'Italia, unbeknownst to him at the time, was his farewell to Ischia – at least for the foreseeable future. He would, of course, travel back for visits with family and friends. But, so far, he has never returned to live there. And he has been an American citizen for what seems like forever. Who knew as the cyclists turned their wheels toward the finish line, my father was actually turning his toward the starting line of his life?

    Fifty-four years later the Giro d'Italia returned to Ischia on May 5, 2013. Having married a native Ischitano myself, I am here with my 19-month-old son. That whizzing sound, which I heard as the cyclists pushed the pavement outside our doorway on their way to the starting line, was just as I had imagined it, just as papa' had described it.

    There was an excitement in the air that I have never experienced in tiny, little Ischia. In America this kind of event and anticipation is expected. It happens all the time. Living over the bridge from Manhattan, there's some spectacular event every other day practically. Every Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is enough to set the world abuzz. Back when I was living in Washington, D.C., there were meetings on the National Mall, such as the Million Man March, and, of course, the Inauguration every four years at the Capitol and presidential motorcades every time you turned around.

    But this kind of thing doesn't happen in Ischia everyday, and even an ordinary tourist could tell it was special. The pink balloons with "Giro d'Italia" emblazoned across them on all the storefronts and the additional polizia patrolling the streets in their impossibly tall boots and the red and white tape marking the course weren't the true indicators. The people couldn't stop talking about this for days before (and I'm sure they'll talk about it some more for days after). They wore pink and bought Giro shirts and hats and hand clappers for their children. And they waited breathlessly on the street to see the cyclists fly by them in of all places Ischia.

    I had my own feelings about today. The irony was not lost on me. You see, I am not in Ischia on vacation. My husband, son, and I will be living here until early next year. While the 1959 Giro was the signal that my father's world was about to get bigger, this 2013 Giro stop in Ischia is symbolic of my life getting smaller – at least for a little while. It's the immigration story in reverse. As the wheels of the cyclists' bikes turn, our lives turn with them. The only difference is that they know their ultimate destination. We don't know ours.

    Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012) and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.


    Photo copyright © Francesca Di Meglio. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

    Article Published 5/6/13

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