I was born in a fortuitous year. I won’t go into specifics. I’ll just say that, according to the Chinese way of handling these things, I am a dragon. Early on in our stay in Verona we made the happy discovery that around fifteen of our Italian acquaintances were also born in my year. Many of these lucky individuals owned or managed osterias, restaurants, ice cream parlors or bars. This is not so surprising when you realize the font of our network of contacts is Annalisa, owner of the Osteria Carro Armato, best woman at my wedding and my best Italian friend.
All those born in the same year and who hang out together are called classe, and my classe, as you might imagine from their professions, is a gregarious bunch. We often have dinners at which we celebrated ourselves! We praise the virtues of dragons and we eat and drink with abandon. At a certain point in the evening the singing begins. Although I am the only non-Italian I still know most of the songs… well the tunes if not the Italian lyrics. I am able to hum along to Sognando California, a song made famous in Italy by the group I Dik Dik and in English-speaking countries by The Mamas and the Papas, and La Casa del Sole, covered in Italian by I Dik Dik, and growled out in English by Eric Burden and the Animals as The House of the Rising Sun. Another I Dik Dik classic is Senza Luce. You may recognize this as Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale.
I learned to belt out the choruses of Datemi un Martello (If I had a Hammer), a song that tiny red-haired Rita Pavone recorded in her great big bluesy voice, and Pregher— Per Te, Adriano Celentano’s hammy version of the Ben E. King standard Stand by Me. I mumbled good naturedly through the I Nomadi hit Ho Difeso il Mio Amor, occasionally jumbling up the lyrics with those better known to me as the Moody Blue’s Nights in White Satin.
I learned that Bobby Solo spread the peace, love and eternal cosmic wisdom of Scott McKenzie’s hippy anthem San Francisco to young Italians who yearned to tune in and drop out. Ah, “if you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear a flower in your hair”.
Singing – or even humming along loudly – in a large group in front of an altar covered with the remains of a shared meal is a transcending experience. It is liberating to know that the songs that defined our youth were the same in The United Kingdom, The United States and Italy. The dinners at which these songs are sung are great at forging links with people with whom I share a rock and roll past.
At the first of these occasions I spoke, for all intents and purposes, no Italian but whole conversations were constructed around saying the names of bands. Blurting out “Pink Floyd” would have the others around the table nodding and murmuring approvingly. Saying “David Bowie” would bring shouts of “Changes” and “Ziggy Stardust”.
The titles of these tunes has probably given you a pretty good indication of just what kind of dragon I am, one that was just a shade too young to go to San Francisco without mummy and daddy but still old enough to dream of California.