Last weekend, J.C., and some friends and I ventured out on the Knox County/Spoon River Scenic Drive. At each of the stops, it seemed, there was plenty of music--mostly bluegrass and old spirituals.
The theme of this week's Sunday Scribblings, though, is "Good," so I'm going to have to back up.
Nine years ago at exactly this time of the year, I was in Florence, Italy. I'd been there for two months already, and while I'd enjoyed most of my time living in that foreign city, that foreign country, I was ready to go home. Prior to arriving in Florence, I had anticipated having a much better time than I was actually having, so I'd booked my return ticket for a few weeks after the semester would end.
By October, though, as I said, I was ready to go home, so I took the bus out to the Florence airport, to reschedule my return flight to the day after classes ended. It took some doing, as we say around here, but eventually I got the flight changed and boarded the bus to return back to Florence.
On the bus, I started chatting with a woman who was in town from Rome visiting some friends. My Italian wasn't great, but it was good enough to let her know what I was doing in Florence and at the airport, and to ask her about what she was doing in town. When she asked what I was studying, I told her architecture, and the cultural history of the Renaissance, but that in the States I was a literature major who wanted to be a writer. She had graduated from a university in Rome as a literature major a few years prior to our meeting, so for the rest of the way back we tried to talk about books.
When we arrived at the bus stop near the train station, I helped her with her bags, and once we were on solid ground, she said that it was nice talking to me and gave me one of those kisses that grazed both of my cheeks. This was the second time I'd been kissed in such a way by an Italian woman those few months in Florence, and even though it was basically a part of the way they went about things, the equivalent, really, of a handshake, my heart fluttered.
"You speak Italian well," she said. "Not beautifully, but well."
I tried not to look too heartbroken. "Have a good visit," I said. "It was nice talking to you."
She was right, of course. I spoke Italian well, but not beautifully, and I never would.
Which brings me back to those singers. The Scenic Drive stops are filled mostly with food stands and flea market-type items for sale. So we drive around the autumn countryside and look at the leaves and then stop to eat a corndog and peruse stuff that we have no need to purchase.
It is cold, and windy, and after a few hours of going about it, our cheeks are red and our noses drip, but we keep going at it, because we're troopers, and there's always another stop a few miles ahead.
And at that next stop, where we will emerge from the car, our hands in our coat pockets, there will be music. The singers, however hard they try, they will not sing beautifully, but they will sing well. And as we buy a walleye sandwich, or an apple dumpling, and we visit Illinois' smallest library and talk to the librarian there, and we peruse knick-knacks and handmade belts, and we feel the wind against our cheeks, we will be grateful for those singers, because they are out there in the cold for the mere pleasure of singing, despite their inability to make it beautiful.