I struggled to follow the childrens conversation. Excited and animated the two eight year old boys were firing questions at our Italian copilot as they ran around our Erickson Air-Crane. It was one of several tours we had given this summer of our “Gigante” firefighting helicopter based here in Albenga, Italy.
I asked the Father about his son’s interest in aircraft as we stood chatting in the shade of the helicopter. “My son will not be a helicopter pilot” he said. “His older sister is the brave one, she will be a pilot”, he added. I laughed and told him that none of my four children had wanted to be a helicopter pilot and for that I was happy.
“My son will be a dentist or dottore of some kind, same as me and my father and his father before.” A fifth generation dottore and resident of the lovely beach side town of Alassio. It was his sons future.
Our conversation turned to the cultural differences between North Americans and Italians. My children have lives connected to, but separate from the rest of the family. They live and work all over the world and have lives of their choosing for the most part.
“It does not happen this way here” he said. “In Italy, familia is everything. It may be all we have”
“It is a very good thing for a country to be known for,” I said and it is pleasant to observe as I walk around town. One morning I pointed out a foursome at a table to my Italian copilot. A boy of six or so sat eating his pastry as the Grandmomma, Aunt and Mother all stared lovingly at the little guy.
The copilot chuckled and said,”Its a wonder we ever grow to men”. The Doctor laughed at my story. “Yes, it is why we stay at home until we marry.”
This morning it was business as usual as our crew prepared the Sky Crane for another day of firefighting.
“The Hell with this country. I have had it with Italy!”
It was the start of a two minute rant from one of our junior mechanics. I have heard similar from dozens of pilots and mechanics based in every State, Province and Country that I have ever worked. The location may change but the source of the frustration is the same. What I have never heard and I expect I never will, is that this mechanic whose tour was two thirds done was lonely and missing his family.
It would be easy to take a simplistic and unsympathetic glance at this young mans life and tell him to harden the hell up or say “quit whining. You are working for three weeks on the Italian Riviera for Gods sake!”
This mechanic works a split shift, which is to say that he often has to work only 6 or 7 hours of the twelve or fourteen hour duty day or more that mechanics put in on a three week tour.
Plenty of time to walk the fifty steps from our Resort Hotel and swim in the warm Mediterranean, take a Hotel bicycle along the promenade, hike one of the trails in the hills above the sea, sit and sip cafe at a seaside Bistro, rent a kayak or read a book in a park while covertly checking the female passersby.
He will do none of these things and I understand why.
If he works three weeks in Italy, how long does he get to spend at home, you may wonder?
Well, three weeks. But not really. He travels on three of those 21 days at least so actually he gets about 17 or 18 days off. Not so bad? Well, remember his young family has a working Mom. She gets the weekends off. He will only be there for half of those weekends, maybe 52 days. Add 14 days of vacation that they hope they can schedule together and you get a total of 64 to 66 days depending on his travel days and that is it for the whole year. So, 170 nights that they sleep apart. 170 evenings he will not see his kids and talk with them at dinner.
Our now prevalent North American two-parent working family spends 114 full days together and probably 360 plus days and nights under the same roof. It is good to have Dad around for 17 days at a stretch but Moms at work for most of them and the chores build up when Dad’s away and then the last couple of days prior to Dad’s leaving again can be a strain that is mostly silent but sometimes not.
So, the mechanic won’t go to the beach for a swim. Families playing in the water, lovers wading in each others arms and couples laughing in beach side Bistro’s make him feel worse about his life.
Last night his wife called with some problems that he sure as hell can’t solve from Italy.
So we all listen to his rant this morning, not saying much of anything, just listening. We all know that Italy is a beautiful country. Italy does not deserve his abuse but we also know that in a country where the family is so precious, may make Italy ,the toughest place for him to work.