A look into the beauty of the past.
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I uploaded this image into my portfolio nearly two years ago. I named it Joy because that's what it represented to me - the pure, unadulterated joy of friends having fun. It has an interesting story behind it.
I joined the US Air Force in 1977. My first overseas assignment took me to Aviano, Italy in late 1979. Aviano is situated in northeastern Italy, right up against the Alps, and 40 miles or so west of Venice. It was enchanting, beautiful. I could not have asked for a better place to go for my first journey outside of the United States. My wife and sons joined after a month or so and we rented a place about 10 miles from the base in a village named Vaiont (pronounced "Vyont", the O spoken like in the word OPEN). It was a nice little village and many American military lived there with their families.
One of the many things we loved about Italy was their simple honesty, their zest for life. They like to celebrate and find many ways to do so. One of those celebrations is called Carnivale. It is a fun-filled day of activities slated for the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, one last chance to get a bit crazy before spending the rest of the year fulfilling promises made the next day. The first Carnivale I experienced was in Venice. What a party! But the picture I have shown here was taken at the Carnivale celebration in the little village where we lived. It was just as lively, just as fun, but on a smaller scale. Many residents, including some Americans, walked the town square dressed in costumes or masks and dined on decadent foods provided by the locals. There were also activities and games. It was a lot of fun.
Vaiont was a friendly place. They got along well with the military living there. Many of them spoke English very well. One of the best English speakers was a young man named Paolo Tomasella. He is the young guy pictured in the center of the photo. He spoke English so well he was often used as an interpreter between us interlopers and our landlords. We called him Tommy. Those in the picture with Tommy were my neighbors, each from a different family, all American dependents. I cannot remember what they were laughing about. Perhaps it was a game, or a joke. I was carrying my camera around, trying to capture some memories and wanted to capture their joy. In fact, that is how I labeled the picture when I uploaded it here. It just fits. There is an awesome, unbelievable part to this story involving Tommy. I will relay it at the end.
Looking at this picture always brings happy memories. I know we always tend to see the past through rose-colored glasses, especially memories from long ago. In this case, however, those rose lenses provide a pretty accurate view. Aviano was a small base then. The total population was about 1800, and that included family members. We were a tight-knit community, regardless of the fact we all lived in outlying villages (except, of course, the barracks rats). With few exceptions, we all got along, regardless of background.
That is the beauty I see. Everything seems so depressing now, everyone seems to be so angry. There is no middle ground anymore. It is said that the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. Well, that is what we hear today. Mostly squeaky wheels - and those folks are the ones that get all the press, the ones we see the most. It does not appear that we humans have the capability to get along anymore, to just accept the fact that others may believe differently, have opinions we oppose. I long for the old days, regardless of how imperfect they were. We seemed to put our differences aside and not let them turn us into enemies. In this picture we see children of differing races and nationalities having fun, enjoying the moment, and each other. I hope we get back to that one day. I want to see that beauty again.
I know, I promised to tell you about Tommy. We left Italy in 1982. I completed my Military career and a few years after retiring got a job as a federal civilian employee. I was chatting with a coworker one day (Texting, really. She worked in a different state.) and told her about my time in Italy. She said her family had been stationed at Aviano too, though at a different time. She also mentioned a Facebook group which included folks that had been stationed in Aviano, as well as some local Italians. I was asked to post some pictures from my time there and included the picture I shared above. One of the group members recognized Tommy and invited him to the group. We reconnected after 35 years! How special, how amazing is that? He remembered us. I sent him a high-resolution print of the picture and we still talk to this day. It makes the picture even more special to me, more beautiful.
My wish is that we all try to get back there, to see the beauty again... in all of us.