|Eugene Martinez, second from the right, wearing a name tag|
Today is the anniversary of my first day in Assisi, one year ago. I've already written so much about my thoughts in recollection. My memories are vivid, especially of the day after my arrival. It was a drizzly Sunday and my friends Giselle and Mark Stafford picked me up for our trip to Umbertide. We had all been invited to a luncheon birthday party that was hosted by an American woman who lived in a tiny but charming home. Elizabeth, the hostess, was a native Californian, now a resident and an author. Her latest book had recently been published. She was not the only published author in this group of ex-pats. Nor was she the only accomplished cook in this group. Not by any means I would soon discover.
The fire roared, the wine flowed, the guests arrived, filling the kitchen with food and the house with lots of conversation and laughter. There were five birthdays celebrated.
The final guests arrived, much later than the first wave. Antonio and Eugene had made their way through the light fog, from their home near Florence, and now it was time for all to sit and enjoy the food and the company. As the "outsider" I was lavished with the attention of the guests and made to feel welcomed, the greatest of feelings after having left my home, traveled so far alone, and anticipated a month on my own.
Because of my friendship with the Staffords, so many of the new faces felt instantly familiar to me, almost as if they were characters in a book I had recently completed. Here they were, coming alive. They knew I was from America and that I was a friend of their friends, but little else. I knew much more about each of them from Facebook postings and descriptions of previous times spent together with Giselle and Mark.
Of all the guests with whom I felt an instant connection, it was Eugene Martinez. He and I had been corresponding via instant messages for months, having been virtually introduced by Giselle. Not only was Eugene American, he also was a New Yorker who grew up not far from my childhood home. He was educated in America, having studied Art History at NYU. He met his life-partner of thirty three years, the charming Antonio Alfani when they both worked together as textile designers in New York. Antonio was to become the cooking instructor for the company that they shared, Ars Opulenta. Eugene, gentle and soft-spoken, became the premier guide to the art and history of Florence. The region of Chianti, high in the Tuscan hills, was their home. It was both a pleasure and an honor to share an afternoon with them.
|Antonio's book, now available in the U.S. in English and on Kindle from Amazon|
On Friday, I sent a birthday greeting to my friend Gisellle. I would not be there to help celebrate this year but had her in my thoughts. She was happy, enjoying her day and her life. Not unusual for her. She's the role model for how to enjoy a day and a life, always brilliantly happy and so willing to share, including her most precious gifts, her friends who love her.
|Giselle and Eugene one year ago, in Umbertide|
On Saturday, word went out and all who knew him, even as little as I, felt saddened. Eugene passed from this earth almost exactly to the day that I met him.
Life, death, both inevitable, both uncertain.
RIP, Eugene. And to Antonio, our hearts and prayers and our hope that you will get some of your life back in due time and you will continue to bring beauty and joy into the lives of so many others as you and Eugene did so well together. A very special final thought. On that day, at that birthday party, Antonio paid me a compliment, one I will never forget, one that has virtually changed my life. I hope to have the opportunity to repay him in person one day. For now, I am, with my prayers.