6 October 2008

Antonio – The Italian Stallion

A couple of weeks ago when J and I went off to Italy for the day we asked Angie next door if she’d like us to bring anything back for her. Poor Angie. She was having a bad time with a sprained ankle that week and although I tried to keep her spirits up by saying regularly that her crutch looked good, she was a bit down in the dumps and so she replied – ‘an Italian Stallion with a Ferrari’. 

Well, hard as we looked in the miniscule supermarket at Latte (just over the border into Italy) we couldn’t find anything resembling an Italian Stallion. It was mainly old geezers (like me) raiding the shelves of every bottle of alcohol which they could get into their trolleys and then with their equally old ladies, heading into the car park to drive off in old bangers. No Ferraris here! 

So poor Angie was disappointed and then yesterday I found the solution to her problem – an Italian Stallion, maybe a bit older than she would like and he doesn’t have a Ferrari (he drives an Audi) but he does have some good contacts….. wink wink nod nod if you know what I mean.  

Let me explain. Yesterday was Antonio’s 70th birthday party and honour of honour our family were invited. Antonio was the guy who painstakingly, over 5 years, built our new house and during those 5 years became a friend rather than just a builder. We’ve celebrated many drinks and cigarettes over the years and J has previously made birthday cakes for him and his workers and supplied them with copious amounts of chilled water during the hot summers. The local police have marched him off the site (of our new house) and we’ve crashed our cars into each others. Shadow regularly used to pinch his lunch sandwiches from the builder’s hut and there were times when my money wasn’t coming through quickly enough from the UK and Antonio would patiently wait several weeks to be paid. But in a large, 5 year project there were bound to be some ‘little irritants’ and I’m sure Antonio had come across them many times before. But now he’s retired – at 70 ! Our house was his last major housebuilding project and what a way to go out. Everybody marvels at the quality of his work. The amazing attention to detail. The beautiful provencal stonework. 

So yesterday, Martine his wife, invited us to their house for a surprise birthday party. Antonio was dragged off to Italy in the morning on some excuse and when he returned at 1pm, his whole family were there along with many of his friends for whom he had also built houses. The red, white and green bunting was up and a huge, long table was laid, ready for lunch. Birthday parties in France tend to take the form of an outdoor lunch with 20-30 people all sitting down for a long, happy day of eating and drinking and this was the first one I’d been invited to since coming to France

It was quite an honour to be invited and it was probably a unique event as most Brits are suing their French builders rather than having lunch with them! Anyway, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with delicious Italian food and plentiful supplies of wine. Fortunately, (or unfortunately ?), I was sitting next to a French chap who said he needed to drink lots of red wine to alleviate the problems of his heart complaint so every time he poured one for himself he filled my glass too! ‘C’est mon coeur. C’est mon coeur’.  ‘It’s my heart. It’s my heart’, he would say as he emptied yet another bottle of red wine into our glasses.   

It was a great afternoon. The weather held up and I longed to bring Angie home her Italian Stallion but he was off digging his garden with all the new tools he received as presents. From building dream homes to digging his garden – what a change for this remarkable man. 

1 comment:

Carolyn Armour said...

Such an honour as you say and I'm glad Antonio enjoyed some years of his well earned retirement digging in his garden. Thanks Tom