Final sunset over the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Flickr

So Far And Yet So Near

On assignment in Sydney for the Olympic games. New encounters and the discovery of a common origin, when and where it is least expected. Aided by e-mail, the telephone, and a table full of food.
Roberto Perrone

What is memory? It is an encounter grabbed out of the two most exciting weeks in the life of a sports journalist. Sydney, the middle Sunday of the Twenty-Seventh Olympic Games, the fourth Olympics for yours truly and the most wonderful, due to the location, the participation, and the experience of a country with wide-open spaces (where, especially in the vast interior, friends have to take an airplane or helicopter to go see each other). It was an unforgettable event, because in Australia the culture of sports is the national culture, with all the pros and cons that this type of vitalistic approach can give to life. Even if it does not always take the form of active competition, certainly this culture is manifested as a passion for all sports, from those closest to the local mentality (swimming) to those farthest away (soccer). Sydney is a very beautiful city: a Mediterranean climate, a clear blue sky, the ocean. People are friendly and open, but jealous and proud of their country–we are welcome, but we have to follow their rules. Respect nature, stand in line, obey the speed limits, protect the environment, and, above all, watch your consumption of alcohol (a true curse in a paradise like this). Friday night is the moment of transgression, just as in the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world, and if you order a light beer, the bartender whispers to you, “Not tonight, friend; tonight we dance.” Getting drunk on weekends is a backwards rule.

Around the corner
Does the Movement exist in Australia, in this young and contradictory world? This is the question I asked myself before I left Italy, because I wanted to know if an experience like ours could catch on so far from its source, and also because I had a personal need for someone who could remind me of who I was. The answer: yes, there is a professor very much on his toes, in Perth. It’s a beautiful place–I was there two years ago for the world swimming championship–but it’s a bit “out of the way.” One night, while I was in the almost-deserted press center writing a story about Domenico Fioravanti, the first Italian swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal, I took a break to check my e mail and found a message from someone else in the Movement, Renzo di Lizio. Through him, a fantastic Sunday came about. It came at the right moment, on a day of rest after the labors of the first week.

Our date was at the home of Trevor and Tania Woods, with Francesco Dellisanti who is there on an internship and will go back to Milan at the end of the year. Trevor is from Dublin, Tania is Australian of Lebanese origin. All together, then, we went to Renzo’s big house in Burwood, one of the suburbs of greater Sydney, for a Sunday dinner that was truly extraordinary for the company, the witness, the welcome, and also for the richly spread table. Renzo is a lawyer and is married to Rosanna. They have three children, Arianna, Angela, and Andrew, who understand Italian but don’t speak it, like many children of immigrants. Renzo is from Abruzzi; he arrived in Australia with his parents when he was three years old. At the age of 10, he returned to Italy and settled–for a while before starting back on his long way to Sydney–in Rapallo. In Rapallo? I’m from Rapallo. It’s incredible, but we passed each other, thirty years ago, on the Riviera. Renzo recounts: “I came to know the Movement through my middle school teacher, Rita De Bernardis, who invited me to come on a trip with GS.” Exactly. The same teacher, the same path, the same backdrop. And so we were off, listing names and acquaintances we had in common.

An unexpected telephone call
Many of the friends we mentioned have fallen away. Now they are practically strangers even if they live next door, while here instead was Renzo, a 24-hour flight away, on the other side of the world where it is summer when we have winter, in a place that is beautiful but vast, exciting but full of contradictions–hanging on to something he encountered thirty years ago thanks to a group of people among whom quite a few have made other choices. So, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, local time, we decided to call Father Pino De Bernardis in Chiavari, “our” priest, the old friend to whom both of us owe that something which now brings us so close together. It was 7 o’clock on Sunday morning in Italy, but if there was anybody who could have been awake at that hour it was Father Pino. In fact, he was. I handed the receiver to Renzo, who invited him to Australia, and said that he was eagerly looking forward to the visit in December from Father Ambrogio Pisoni, who was going to come here on his way back from Asia. Father Pino was moved. Renzo is a great guy, he is holding tightly to this history and is happy when someone looks him up. It is a very strong point of encounter. We went out to dinner one other evening when things were calm at the Olympics, and Sara was also there, a young Eritrean refugee who has found an important point of reference in Renzo’s family. Renzo asked her to make time for the School of Community. Then the Olympics were over, and my last days there became a feverish rush, as I hurried to finish my final articles to get back to see my family. We weren’t able to see each other one last time, but I carry in my heart these moments snatched away from work, this simple remembering of something that touched us thirty years ago when we were near each other and that we recognized together now that we are separated by 13,000 miles and thirty years of life. If you happen to be going through Sydney, ask for Renzo’s phone numbers. It’s worth it. CL exists in Sydney. You can take a reporter’s word for it.