Looking forward to our October trip to Italy, a tour of a lifetime for me, my wife and our travelling companions through AAA North Penn, I can’t help but remember the late, great Tony Perugino, who exemplified the lure of the Old World cradled like a soft Roman sunrise in the newness of modern time.
Tony’s gone now, but his Italian-American legacy remains.
And I’m among countless people who learned a little bit of Italy from a master whose pride in his heritage touched those lucky enough to be taken into his confidence.
I was one of the lucky ones
And I’m Irish.
Within weeks of our first meeting, Tony was calling me “Stefano,” Italian, he said, for “Stephen.”
Tony had taken me under his wing, in his rough, yet comforting, embrace of family. Old enough to be my father, Tony carried himself in the manner of the Depression-era Italian-Americans whose dignity knew no bounds.
An expert on boxing, the inner sanctum of the Vatican, food and so much more, Tony shared through whispers and homemade wine the tips I needed to know to navigate the tight-knit tribal culture of Northeastern Pennsylvania – lessons I will carry as a gold-standard guide book on the October 4 through October 12 trip that will take us to Venice, Florence and Rome.
Did Tony ever know food.
For years, his restaurant in Pennsylvania hard coal country – land of Italian, Sicilian and so many more immigrants who flocked to the mines to dig out their part of the American Dream – catered to people who craved their little piece of Italy seasoned with Tony’s personal magic touch.
I was partial to the calamari.
Today, as I dream of October, I know what to look for in the pounded white tubes of fresh squid that must be prepared in a certain way – a way I will know when I reach the land of Tony’s ancestors and dig in to my first plate of steamy food from the sea.
And fresh pasta.
Tony taught me well.
Yet many mysteries big and small await discovery, as we walk the small winding streets of Italian cities, towns and villages from Venice to Florence and on to Rome, anxiously awaiting the sights and sounds that will make this trip so very special.
In my mind I hear the music, smell the tomato sauce and taste dry red wine on my lips. I feel the slow roll of the Venice water taxi, the tilt in the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the sun on my face in St. Peter’s Square as we walk to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom, to see the famed “Pieta,” by Michelangelo.
I can see it now.
Still, I have a secret to tell you. Lean close and I’ll tell you, the way Tony used to tell me some of his secrets.
I’ve never been to Italy.
Many of you have likely never visited Italy, either. That’s why, whether a rookie or a veteran Italian tourist, this trip will bring us together in ways we can only imagine in our dreams – a trip filled with art, music, language, food and the finest trappings of ancient and modern culture comes alive in every present moment.
Now is the time to make our dreams come true.
Tony would have been the best guide, of course, but we’ll be well taken care of by local guides and a professional Italian-English speaking escort who will be with us every step of the way. We’ll be driven by private, deluxe, air-conditioned motor coach and stay in luxury first-class hotels and eat first-class Italian meals.
We’ll have time together and time on our own.
What’s particularly reassuring about this Italy trip is that CIE Tours International is running the trip – a tour company unlike any other. In recent years, my wife and I have traveled CIE to Scotland, England and Ireland many times. No need goes unattended by CIE. Their reputation among international tour operators is unparalleled - and I’m speaking from experience.
After returning home from Italy, my friend Tony used to love to talk about what he saw and what he did and what he ate. Tony gestured with strong hands, smiled and whispered and regaled me with stories about the old country – a sacred land where every traveler is guaranteed unique memories to last a lifetime.
“Go to Italy, Stefano,” he’d say. “You’ll see.”
So I’m going to Italy, finally, and I hope you’ll join me.
For more information contact the AAA North Penn office nearest you.