From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 31
Il Professore
“Bonjour monsieur professeur. Comment ça va?” (“Good day, Mr. Professor. How are you?”) I addressed my friend.

“Bonjour monsieur Russell. Je vais très bien. Et vous? (“Good day, Mr. Russell, I am fine. And you?”) he responded.

Until recent years, French was the language taught in Italian secondary schools, and so the daily exchange of greetings between me and il professore (professor), Ermanno Paoli, was always in French.

We enjoyed greeting each other with a certain fun flair of pomp and formality, even when our conversations changed from French into Italian. I never called il professore Paoli by his given name, Ermanno, and he never called me Giorgio, which was of course the opposite of the first name basis of my relationship with all the other Giovianini.

Of course, our contrived formality was all in jest, as Ermanno was as down to earth as anyone else in the village. He was, however, highly respected as the principal of the village school as well as the keeper of the village history and guardian of its traditions. Whenever I had a question about the history of Gioviano, I would ask the professor, and he was sure to either know the answer or lead me to it.

He worked tirelessly to preserve not only the history of Gioviano but the heritage of the region as well, serving as Borgo a Mozzano’s Commissioner to the Historical Institute of Lucca (Istituto Storico Lucchese). He saw to the publication of books and documents about the Devil’s Bridge, Pietro Barsanti, and the ancient statutes of the Middle Ages.

He visited with the oldest residents in order to record the folktales, poems, and legends of long ago. Without Ermanno’s efforts to record the oral traditions and recollections of those souls who are now departed, we would have lost forever some of the stories about superstizioni e paure (superstitions and fears) il malocchio (the evil eye), le streghe (witches), and i fantasmi (ghosts).
Il professore was not only a great friend to all, but was a wonderful resource. His efforts to preserve the history of Gioviano have been of immense help to me in the writing of this book. I suspect that he could have helped me solve the “mysteries of Gioviano” had I asked him about them before his untimely death in 2002.

I also knew Ermanno as the son-in-law of Adenaco and Adriana, husband of Alda, brother of Marta, father of Monica, Frediano, and Fabiola, and grandfather to their children. Fortunately, Frediano has inherited much of his father’s devotion to Gioviano and its heritage, and thus il professore lives on in the gene pool of his descendants.

The streets of Gioviano seem emptier and quieter with the passing of so many of my friends. Sometimes I go to the camposanto (cemetery) to look at the photographs on the tombstones and pay my respects to the departed souls of those whose lives touched mine.

When I pass the tomb of il professore, I can almost here him say, “Bonjour monsieur Russell.”

“Au revoir monsieur professeur. Adieu.”

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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