Living with ALS: Retaining the memories of friendships discovered in Italy
CHARLOTTE, NC: A recent e-mail from a longtime friend had a particular impact on me this week. During the early days of my travel writing career, I was invited on a trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast by a hotel rep who specializes in family-operated properties. Having never been to Italy, I immediately accepted and it proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
The hook for the story was a good one. An American model from Georgia was sent on an assignment to Rome where she fell in love with an Italian hotel entrepreneur.
The Hotel Mediterraneo
Angelo Bettoja owned four business class hotels all situated in the same block on the highest hill in the city.
The four-star Hotel Mediterraneo, the anchor in the chain, had been built by Mussolini and, therefore, ignored all the city codes regarding height.
Thus, Mediterraneo has great views of the city from its rooftop garden.
To say our group was eclectic is an understatement; the travel editors of the New York Post and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a competitive ballroom dancer writing for Town & Country, a freelancer who was editor of a porn magazine writing a story for Travel Holiday, the daughter of the owners of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, a dentist traveling under the pretense of doing site inspections for a major dental conference and the group curmudgeon from Denver who was doing a piece for the Los Angeles Times.
How I qualified is beyond me, but I wasn’t challenging the decision.
Our leaders were reps from Pan American World Airways and the PR person for Bettoja Hotels, both of whom have become lifelong friends ever since.
Rome ah Roma
For me, Rome was everything I expected. I wrote feverishly, filling up both sides of a yellow legal pad with my impressions. At the time, I thought my words were profound, but I later discovered that nothing I put down on paper was already said dozens of times by writers far more eloquent than I.
Jo Bettoja loved to tell the story of being a small town Georgia girl who had run off to marry one of those “Eye-tallians from Ittally.”
To keep herself occupied, Jo partnered with another Italian model friend to travel all over the country gathering unknown family recipes.
Then they opened a cooking school called Lo Scaldivivandi overlooking Trevi Fountain using Angelo’s hotels for the accommodations.
This was no beginner’s school. Participants were already first-rate chefs in their own right. The ultimate prize was a graduation ceremony at the 300-year-old Bettoja villa about an hour outside of Rome.
None this impressed our resident grouch from Denver who loved his cigars and more than an occasional drink. We quickly learned that if we wanted to know the whereabouts of anyone in our party, all we had to do was check the hotel bar for the “Hamby Report.”
It took less than a day for our bus driver, Enzo, to decide he hated us all. Actually, Enzo was typically Italian. He was a gentle giant who spoke fluently with his hands while making wild gestures rolling his eyes, but underneath he had a heart of pure gold.
From Naples to Ischia
On the first day of our trip, we made our way to Naples where we caught a ferry to the island of Ischia. Ischia was a German R&R spot during World War II and is generally thought of as the bigger sister to Capri.
We had dinner in a tiny restaurant in Porto Ischia, the main access point for boats coming to the island. The Orange Garden was an antique building about a block off the main street. It was as authentic as it gets with plaster splotches on the walls, elegant but simple landscaping, wash hanging on the lines out back and irregular shapes surrounding a small piazza filled with tables for outdoor dining.
It is no accident that the phrase “al fresco” defines Italian dining to a “T”.
The garden where the food is served is bathed in soft Italian light and candles. It was an atmosphere of earth-toned colors; amber, ochre, egg yolk yellow, sienna, and umber.
The wine flowed freely and our spirits elevated with each passing sip as the four corners of the tiny square soon filled with the sounds of mandolins, guitars, and voices singing from different levels of the garden.
Needless to say, the dinner lasted far longer than anticipated which was not conducive to Enzo’s mood as he waited outside to take us back to the hotel.
When we emerged from the restaurant, someone suggested we go to a nearby pub for a “nightcap” which further infuriated our already irate driver.
Eventually, the party ended and we began staggering back to our bus. When Enzo saw us coming, he waited until we were at the door and then drove away about a block, daring us to catch up. After three or four chases, Enzo gave in and we all merrily returned to the hotel.
The remainder of the trip was filled with equally memorable adventures that became part of the lore of my travel memories.
So what does all this have to do with ALS?
My friend who sent the e-mail was writing to say that she had resigned her account with the Bettoja Hotels. After nearly 40 years, her relationship had ended due to the age of owner Angelo Bettoja. And fact that none of his children had an interest in hotel management. Simply it was time for it to end.
I could sense the sadness in Martha’s e-mail. Bettoja had been such an integral part of her public relations career.
Life, at its best, is a serendipitous journey. It is impossible to recreate those special moments that just “happen” spontaneously and remain in your subconscious forever.
All good things come to an end. It’s not a happy aspect of life except for two things…the memories and the friendships.
Keeping those early travel memories alive, despite ALS
ALS cannot take those away from me. The joy of those golden days in Italy will live within my soul forever. Who knows, without them, travel may never have had an impact on my life as it did.
One thing I do know, I have been fortunate enough to share those experiences through my writing and with family and friends over the years by taking them to those very same places. Each adventure was different, but everyone was special.
Pan Am no longer exists and Martha no longer reps for Bettoja. However, those personal bonds never disappear regardless of what ALS brings in the future.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up