A Memorable PlacePeople of Italy come to...


A Memorable Place

People of Italy come to the rescue

By Debi Brocht


After 14 days of following the tourist track through Rome, Pompeii, Venice and Tuscany, my husband, Tom, and I were excited to end our trip in the area along the Mediterranean known as the Cinque Terre ("the five lands").

These five enchanting villages are linked only by train, boat and a hiking path, with vineyards and colorful houses clinging to the cliffs. As we hiked along the trail in the Cinque Terre, I remarked that this was indeed the best of Italy -- no crowds, no souvenir shops, only the breathtaking scenery. Little did I know how close we were to the "real" Italy.

About 10 minutes from the end of our hike, Tom lost his footing on a moss-covered rock and fell five feet into a ravine. The moment I looked down and saw the bone sticking out of his ankle, I sensed that our experience as tourists in Italy had been transformed.

Within two hours, we had assistance from a local doctor, paramedics, an alpine rescue squad and a helicopter. As I watched Tom being airlifted to the nearest hospital capable of handling his injury, I experienced a sinking feeling in my heart and wondered when and how I would see him again. But this moment was the beginning of extraordinary help from many Italians whom I think of as friends and who, for the next nine days, were the only family we had.

Fellow hikers had sent word to our hotel owner, Matteo, who met me when I came off the trail, took me back to the hotel, offered me food, support and free use of the phone. He helped me make arrangements for the train to San Martino Hospital in Genoa the next morning. The social worker there found me a small apartment near the hospital.

No longer insulated by the English-speaking tourist industry, I was living as an Italian, shopping in the local stores, traveling on buses and hanging my laundry out the window to dry in the sun.

A few of the hospital patients' family members spoke English and offered practical assistance. But their most valued gift was the emotional support they gave us during a time when we were lonely and frightened.

Tom's roommate, 80-year-old Guido, and his wife (now fondly thought of as Mrs. Guido) made us laugh, cry and repeat "mamma mia" with her. Although she didn't speak a word of English, she kindly showed me how to negotiate the Italian hospital system and warmly greeted me every morning with "Com'e tuo marito?" ("How is your husband?")

When Tom joked about what an awful wedding anniversary we were having, one of the patients overheard and sent his wife to buy us champagne. As we were toasted in Italian by the patients and their wives, I had tears in my eyes and marveled that this difficult experience had been transformed into our most memorable travel adventure by the warm generosity of the people of Italy.

Debi Brocht lives in Baltimore.

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