Letting go of money (and an old friend) in Italy.

italy-wine-mortality-island-of-capri

I’ve honed cheap-skatery to a fine edge. I re-use foil and Ziploc bags, self-administer haircuts, pedicures and even Brazilians — attaining a Jedi-level of self-grooming. Hell, I’d even drill my own teeth if I could, and have occasionally been known to file my own choppers when rough.

It pains me to spend money, so a month-long trip to Italy with my husband Dave to celebrate his retirement promised to be a little uncomfortable. Not that we’d be living like senators, mind you; we got a cheap flight and Dave had chosen reasonable Airbnb rooms with kitchens so I could cook some of our meals. Also, we’d be taking public transport whenever we could.
No, it was all the unanticipated extras that made me wince: cab fares, toilet fares, and paying for water (water!) in restaurants. It was also the sad realization that even though the Euro was down, it was still worth more than a dollar, so a €30 dinner was actually $33.73.

When we arrived in Florence, known for its well-crafted and inexpensive leather goods, I’d reached a Scrooge McDuck level of frugality — at least in my head. A well-deserved leather jacket and briefcase for Dave and beautiful saddlebag purse for me brought no joy, only Eyeore-like thoughts. “We can’t afford this.” “We’re pillaging our emergency fund.” “We’ll bounce our checking account.”

I put a good face on it and tried to enjoy the rich chaos of Rome, lushness of Florence and quirkiness of Venice, but by the time I got to the gritty city of Naples, I knew my attitude stunk and could use a change of clothes. It took the death of a friend to shame me out of my pinch-faced parsimony.

Andy Jones was a new acquaintance. A jazz-loving, energetic man who had just celebrated his 88th birthday, he sparkled with vitality and optimism. He still worked as a greeting card salesman and began every day with 1,000 sit-ups (you read that right) and a seven-mile walk. He'd recently been giving away his old suits — not to divest himself of possessions, but so he could buy new ones to impress the ladies.

We thought Andy would live forever. There is a Japanese word that describes him exactly —
“genki.” Roughly translated, it means enthusiastic, energetic, lively — game, ready to go. That was Andy Jones.

He found our group of friends through a shared love of music, and we spent many Friday nights gathered around the piano, singing songs from the Great American Songbook — Andy’s favorite era. He went from being shy and requesting songs, to singing them with gusto.
We loved getting to know Andy and looked forward to many more gatherings.

When Dave learned on Facebook that Andy had passed away of a heart attack, we were both stunned. And here we were in Italy, unable to attend the funeral, and filled with sadness.

An inescapable truth of Rome is how impermanent we all are. The ruins of Italy have outlasted the life spans of their creators by thousands of years. The many statues and monuments are for people long-gone and mostly forgotten. The cosmic clock stops for no one — not the citizens of ancient Rome, not Andy, not for me.

Andy Jones wrung every drop of juice out of his 88 years, so why wouldn’t I do the same? Here I am in Italy with the man I love. We’re both in good health, and have an emergency fund to plunder. How about I buy some expensive gifts and that sexy dress from Florence? Or, fully enjoy the dizzying views from The Path of the Gods over the Amalfi Coast; bask in romantic, peach-colored sunsets over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and ogle over Michelangelo’s David? Must I be the Grinch Who Stole Our Italian Vacation? I couldn’t think of a single reason why I should and, I’ll bet, Andy couldn’t have either.

The heavy chains of miserliness fell from my shoulders. I didn’t look at the receipts anymore or question Dave’s purchases and decisions to use a cab instead of walking. Best of all, I could finally drink in the richness of Italy with abandon and, mind you, €5 bottles of wine.