This is my favorite story to tell, so I'm going to stretch it out over a few posts. Thanks for indulging me...
When I was 16 I got to go live in Italy with an Italian family for nine months. I left home in August 2003 and traveled to Viterbo, Italy - just an hour and a half north of the Eternal City. Viterbo's all cobblestoned streets, flowered neighborhoods, and completely intact medieval walls around the city. It's a fairytale.
I'd never been to Italy before and I just couldn't get enough of everything Italy threw my way: the beautiful, ancient surroundings at every turn, the coffee, the delicious food, the passeggiatas on the corso, the gelatos. You name it, I was hooked.
After the city's celebration of its patron saint Santa Rosa in early September, our school year began. I attended an American school program with 50 other students in a great old palazzo, complete with 16th-century frescoes, on a busy street in the heart of Viterbo.
The school in Viterbo (School Year Abroad) had just opened two years before and shortly after the academic year started, New York was rocked by the terrorist attacks on September 11. The city, out of an abundance of caution and as a gesture of goodwill, placed two armed military guards outside the school's door to check packages and keep an eye on comings and goings. And boy am I glad they did.
There was never any real danger at the American school in Viterbo, but the soldiers certainly kept things interesting, chain-smoking their cigarettes, wandering across the street to the bar for coffee about 50 times a day, and indulging in a secret beer or two behind the closed half of the palazzo's massive entry door.
Having an insatiable desire to learn Italian (and maybe flirt a little with the soldiers), I was a frequent visitor at the school's entry on the street below. I practiced my Italian with Giulio from Rome, Nicola from Bari, and Giuseppe from Lecce, all under the watchful eye of the school. Say what you will about my method, but my Italian is now fluent. :)
The first weekend in October we took an overnight school trip to Tuscany. Still hungover from the beauty of San Gimignano and Volterra, the following Monday, my host mother Patrizia woke me up by knocking on my door. My alarm didn't go off. I got ready in such a hurry, hair piled on top of my head, glasses donned. Mario, my host father, let me off as usual just outside of Porta Romana, and I took off running down Via Cavour toward the school. Bursting through the school's portone I noticed a new face among the soldiers.
He looked bemused at this hot mess of a redhead who'd just crashed into the crisp October Monday morning. But we both managed to eke out a 'buongiorno' before I ran up the stairs and into the school. On my way, I noticed his uniform shirt said "SCADUTO".