By Anna Ciampolini Foschi
I met Rino for the first time when he had already earned a reputation in Vancouver as the owner of “Il Favorito Restaurant” on West Broadway. In the early 1980s, I had just immigrated to Vancouver and Professor Stefania Ciccone promptly recruited me to serve as the Dante Alighieri Society’s Executive Secretary. Our annual fundraising dinner was held at Rino’s restaurant and that is where I met him. Over the course of the years, although we never became close friends, we worked together on some community projects and we kept an active collaboration when he was at the helm of the Marcopolo/Eco d’ Italia. Rino was street-smart, suave and very self-confident. Since he left his native Sicily as a youth, he had tried many ventures and many trades. He was willing to take risks and always managed to find some brilliant solutions even if things did not work out exactly as he had figured out. Rino was a survivor, a fighter. Even during his last fight with a terminal illness, even if he knew that this time he could not possibly win, Rino continued to be active in community life and to dispense bits of his wisdom to listeners. He was a great raconteur. Once, he told me about a story from his days in Sicily. I was so fascinated that I used it in a short story, “A Travel Imagined” published in Sweet Lemons 2, an anthology dedicated to Sicilian themes. I gave him a copy of the book. I don’t know if he read that story. He never made any comments about it, but that’s was Rino, a man for all seasons, a man who knew who he was and where he wanted to go. Like all of us, he had “luci e ombre”, positive and negative sides but he has always played a very important part in our local community history. My small tribute to his memory is the following excerpt from my short story “A Travel Imagined.”
From the windows of Rino’s office, one can see Burnaby Mountain and the skyline of the city, with its green spaces and homes arranged in an orderly checkerboard pattern. Rino is putting together the new weekly issue of the Marcopolo, the newspaper of the Italian community in British Columbia, but he doesn’t mind taking a break and chatting a little. There are enough topics for discussion: in a few days, we’ll receive the ballots for the political elections in Italy because now Italian emigrants who are still Italian citizens can vote from their adoptive country. The American elections are not far away and the Democrats are still fighting for the nomination; the stupid war on terror is going from bad to worse. Rino explains his theories on global issues in his soft, crooning voice; no wonder he was a radio host in Vancouver for many years. He has also been a photographer in Germany and a restaurateur in Canada. He flourishes his tales with evocative imagery and wise anecdotes like the one about the two burglars from Palermo who decided to break into people’s homes in Calatafimi, Rino’s town.
That day, a long time ago, the two thieves entered the town and not a single soul was around: all doors and windows were open and empty, staring at them like hollow eye sockets. The boys from Palermo thought that this was going to be just child’s play and got to work. Their bags, hauled over their shoulders, were so full of stolen goods that the two could barely walk. They took to the road leading out of town, constantly glancing both ways ‘cause you never know, but everything was quiet, the silence was absolute, not even a dog wandering the road. They came to the left turn after the last homes of the town, and continued towards the fields in the direction of the strada provinciale, congratulating themselves for their good fortune, their backs bending under the weight of their loot. At that very instant, two lupara shots were fired. The burglars went down like two bowling pins, their blood spilling onto the parched soil that quickly swallowed it. Rino takes a pause and looks at me with just a hint of a smile.
I wink back: “I get the message, Rino: not even a Sicilian can fuck around with another Sicilian, right? Anyway, this is a fabulous story! You should write it, you should make a short story out of it.”
“No, I’m no writer. I am a journalist, just a newspaperman; you are the one who writes short stories! You’ll write this one too, someday.”
Except from the short story “A Travel Imagined” by Anna Ciampolini Foschi, published in the anthology: Sweet Lemons 2: International Writings with a Sicilian Accent. Edited by Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis
Publisher: Legas-Sicilian Studies, Ottawa, 2011.