Alberto Ghini

When I met Alberto over a year ago, I at first feared the chasm of language between us; I wondered if I could come to know this person whom I could not code-switch with. Almost instantly, however, his soft laughter and kind smiles bridged any linguistic distance: Whether talking until the early morning under strings of lights, waving from behind the gears of heavy machinery for harvesting the fields and assisting our work at Cannicci alike, or dancing with friends wrapped in guitar notes falling from a stage, Albe has continuously proved that the soul of a good person shines through any boundary.

            As we sat on the stone steps by the poolside, Albe, as we fondly call him, took a well-deserved break from his labor of weed whacking and allowed me to peer a bit more closely at what makes him as genuine and special of a person as he is. Perhaps foremost is the importance of interconnection to his values and state of mind: Having lived his entire life at Monteverdi, his roots weave themselves deep in the mountainside where he resides. His two hunting-dogs that howl over the mist-covered hills harken to his favorite animal, the wolf, which fascinates him not for its strength alone but for the importance of the community found within a pack; his two cats bring back presents from the densely-packed trees, much as Albe himself does when picking the choicest mushrooms from the rich, dark soil to carry home.

            With hands roughened by outdoor labor gingerly lifting a struggling tortoise from the pool water, it became clear that Albe’s disposition is best attested by his own actions; he is a man not only attentive and caring to all living things, but one who cannot imagine life without the network of connection and compassion into which he is entrenched. At the head of this network stands his mother: I remember our director Professor Sebastiani calling his dear friend to come witness the meticulous unveiling of artifacts within Area 1000 of Podere Cannicci, and in nearly no time, Albe and his mother arrived, hastening into the trench to be that much closer to history. Mother and son share not only a fascination in our work, but the very idea of not sharing the joys and curiosities of life together baffles Albe. With his mom, things are always simple, always easy—the only division between them, he stated playfully, being their diverging allegiances to the rivalling soccer teams Juventus and Napoli. As he explained the dangers of disorganization within a family, one on one side and one on the other, he struggled to find the words since the notion of a rift or distance between himself and his loved ones is so foreign: “chi son’ divide…a famiglia poi verrai, poi niente,” he told me—division breeds division, and once it spreads to the family, whoever is divided will have nothing.

             “Monteverdi è come un grande famiglia [Monteverdi is like a big family],” he said with surety, and his discussion of sharing in labor and relaxation with his friends Patrizio and Cesare among the many whom he laughs beside recalled for him barbeques in the garden among his loved ones. I have been lucky enough to have been brought into this web of friendship, and I think back to that same garden lit by camera-flash and candlelight, giving gifts of gratitude to Albe and his friends; I think likewise of Albe lending me the gift of interconnection, bringing me to feast and dance on a nearby hilltop and meet his friends in the town below. Even though he is often apart from his friends, and he no longer revels “tutte le sere [every night]” as he did at eighteen, the thirty-four-year-old man who claims that he will retain a twenty-year-old’s heart, whether now or at forty, knows the importance of joy and the people whom he meets. He may now spend his summers working, but nevertheless, he retains his appreciation for laughter and the inviting trees of the parks that he still finds time to visit.

 It is from this perspective that Albe fosters his life-long connections. Some of his friends from his childhood left Paganico, but many have also chosen to remain in their hometown; even of those who left, most still dwell in the hills of Tuscany, settling in nearby areas like Grosseto and Roccastrada. Thus, many of Albe’s connections can be traced back to his earliest days, including the close friendship that he shares with Monteverdi’s owner and IMPERO team member Luca Giannuzzi Savelli. Albe has not only worked for Luca for fifteen years, but the two met when they were small, when Albe was no more than three years old. The latter would spend his childhood summers in Italy, leaving London, where he spent the rest of the year, to adventure with his friend. Just as the two were almost always together in their boyhood days, so too do they retain a deep respect and fondness for each other—continuing to laugh, drink, and adventure in the valleys where they first played.

            It is this dedication to others that has made Albe not only a vital member of the IMPERO team but a member of our larger chosen and fostered family. As fresh faces and new memories wander into all of our lives, Albe stands at the forefront to welcome them into the fold, breaking bread with young and old. Although our project has given him the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, making new friends has always come effortlessly for him—It’s easy to make friends if a person wants to be friends with you, he explained: “rispetti me, rispetto tutti [(if) you respect me, I respect everyone].” If anyone acts poorly towards Albe (a rare occurrence), he simply does not speak to them, and even the freshest friendships which he has fostered are a source only of joy and not intimidation. Instead, these new connections come and go as easily and as spontaneously as his dual natures of gentleness and strength: They bring liveliness and fun, taking him to different places, and then, “arrivederci”—They say goodbye as suddenly as they came, each holding onto the memories.

            Just as he loves to meet new people and forge new stories with them while retaining the old, Albe’s participation in IMPERO is a testament to his desire for discovery within the same fields that he has always loved and known. His excitement glows whenever he holds a piece of pottery to the sun or listens with curious ears and eager eyes as we piece together the lives that likewise once harvested grain from this soil, and he hopes to become even more involved in the coming seasons.

As we spoke on those steps, our words framed by the soft gusts of wind and the hum of machines nearby, I came to know the extent of Albe’s patience, with him listening intently as I stumbled over Italian words. Looking off into the hills, I could imagine his days of playing soccer and his dreams of being “un calciatore” [a soccer player] when he was young; I could feel the depth of his interest in people as he told me of all those whom he has kept in touch with despite distance and difference in time, eager to hear of faraway places. We shared laughter as he told me of his own adventures, of the beauty of different portions of Italy, while expressing true interest in my own life and plans to further traverse the peninsula. For as long as I have known him, Albe has exemplified his attention to others with every breath, and his actions, including his aim to learn English, always attest to his genuine desire to connect with those around him. Kind and complex, his is a soul that calls us back to the pack as movingly as his dogs howl from the hillside to the wolves.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes

Photo by: Emma Ramacciotti