Thanksgiving

This was a homework assignment for a local writer’s group that I belong to.

I have finally found my passion and calling and I am thankful to call myself a writer.  I do not have a degree or career, I am not published, but for the first time I feel completely at home when surrounded by those who share this craft.

This epiphany came to me in October of 2013 when I attended a book reading at a local bookstore.  My childhood friend, a journalist and travel writer had a short story published in The Best Women’s Travel anthologies.  While she and the other authors read aloud, I had an overwhelming feeling that “this” is what I was supposed to be doing.  An odd revelation because at that time, I had never written and the thought of speaking in front on a group was enough to have me break out in a sweat.  I did nothing about it.  Then six months later, I decided to start a blog about my love for Italian culture.  Thinking it might be wise to give it a try before committing, I wrote my first story called Serendipity.  I found that I was completely lost in the moment and was elated at the completion.  I was fully in the zone and loved it.

Soon after, I looked up a long time friend, remembering that she also was a writer and taught creative writing, I felt she would be a good resource to guide me in the right direction.  She not only shared her wisdom, but she became my mentor during the biggest transition I would soon face.  We have been inseparable ever since and our combined passions have transpired in to new ventures such as this group.

As writers, we share many common bonds, the biggest one being vulnerability.  We bare our soles which can be painful, yet therapeutic.  Then to offer it to the world with the possibility of being criticized and judged, it is no wonder that many writers have turned to alcohol.

Today as I write this, I am especially thankful for the new community I belong to that offers support, inspiration and a safe environment for continued growth.

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Those Eyes

No one can lie, no one can hide anything, when he looks directly into someone’s eyes.  – Paulo Coelho

Those eyes.  The instant they meet, the soldier sees the pain they unsuccessfully try to conceal.  They are a window to his soul, unable to mask the fear he’s living in.  He attempts to put on a brave front, but his eyes reveal the terror.  He is a young boy, yet his gaze beholds a lifetime.  They have seen more despair than any child or adult, for that matter should ever have to witness.  His carefree childhood has been robbed by the horrors of war.

The father.  For a man it is instinctive his role is to protect his family.  Unable to keep them safe, he’s riddled with guilt and fear.  During the unstable times, he can no longer provide as a man should.  His value and worth are shattered.  The endless worry has aged him a decade.  His greying hair and dark circles are evidence of sleepless nights.  He humbly greets the soldier, relieved that he brings a bit of lightness and safety to his home.  The gift of a few fish and cigarettes are greatly appreciated.

The mother.  Her obligation is to her family above all else.  As the nurturer, she provides love and security.  This mother busies herself with routine for it is all she can do to maintain her composure.  The ritual keeps her mind focused on managing her household, otherwise the alternative would be unbearable.  Thinking about friends and neighbors that have been taken away, not knowing their journey, but aware of their fate, is enough to bring the strongest person to their knees.  Keeping things running as much as before is all a wife, mother, friend can do.  Witnessing her husband, stripped of his duties to be a man, is intolerable.  She comforts without much success, attempting to take her loved one’s minds off the suffering that has become their reality.

The girl.  A daughter, at the age where she’s ready to become a woman, independent from her family.  The war has halted the stage of allowing her to seek her individuality.  Her radiant beauty and confident demeanor light up the room.  She is what drew him to this family.  Her charm and grace were so opposite of the dark that surrounded the soldier, he couldn’t help but be pulled in.  The flirtation and chase have always been exciting game to him and to be able to play it in these dreadful days made the prize all the more richer.  Embraced in the tender arms of girl, the sweet scent and silky skin almost made him forget where he was.  Almost.  It was a divine distraction that was welcomed.

However, it was the boy who penetrated deep in to his heart with those eyes.  The soldier longed to take away his suffering.  He returned over and over, with food, jokes and freshly caught fish.  He hoped to bring back the childlike innocence to the boy, but it never happened.

This short story is based on information my late grandfather shared about providing food for a Polish family in France during the World War II.  The details of this scene were created by me with what I believe was a little divine inspiration.  The photo of the boy was taken from my grandfather’s war album and is believed to be the boy in this story.

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Catching Fish

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Sam Lovetro

Holding the cold, dense, metal mass, the reality of the damage the little pineapple shaped weapon can cause enters his mind.  His heart begins to race and beads of sweat dot his brow.  The potential for destruction never taken for granted.  Pulling the pin, his adrenaline kicks as he throws the grenade, relieved to have it out of his shaking hand.  With a kerplunk, it hits the surface of the lake and quickly sinks.  Moments later, the surface erupts with a fountain of water from the explosion.  The casualties of the battle float to the surface presenting the win for the anticipating soldiers.

A quick glance over to his buddy reveals the excitement with the catch of the day.  A slap to his knee and he’s off to gather the fish.  Dozens of them, perfectly in tact, float dead on the surface of the fishing hole.  They will provide dinner for a few families, themselves and potentially turn in to profit when they are sold to other soldiers.  A diversion from Army cuisine is always a welcome change.  For a few moments, the young soldiers forget where they are and playfully gather the fish, joking and dreaming of the women they hoped to meet later in town.  Escaping the reality that they are at war in France is a pleasant diversion.

Before heading back, they lounge on the shore and enjoy a cigarette.  Careful not to use up his supply, my grandfather is greedy in utilizing the commodity for his personal use.  Always resourceful, he knows they can be sold and has no problem making the sacrifice.  A frugal man, he’s aware he may be returning home to a family in need.  His sister, 10 years younger, resides with an aunt after their mother was institutionalized for epilepsy.  He and his sister moved in with the aunt when it became clear that their father was interested in the help he brought in to care for the home and family.  My grandfather shakes his head at the thought of his father finding comfort with the live-in maid and selfishly choosing to upset the already fragile state of the remaining family.  He knows his brothers would feel the same way.

Briefly he lets his mind wonder to his siblings and wonders where they could be and for a fleeting moment, contemplates if they are still alive.  He knows they are.  He feels it.  His older brother Nick, is also serving in the Army, Eddie and Tony, the younger brothers, are in the Navy.  He looks forward to the day when he will see all of them again.

A wrestling noise in the surrounding bushes brings him back to the present moment.  Your guard can’t be let down for too long as their are always German soldiers to be aware of.  With that thought, he jumps to his feet, eager to make a special delivery to a family he has become quite attached to.  Having very little food to live off of, the fish and any other provisions that he manages to find brings much needed comfort. The smile that always appears on the boy’s face, warms his heart instantly.  However, it is what he sees when their eyes meet that has him returning again and again.  If only he could provide some solace and eliminate the fear from the young boy’s eyes.

This short story is based on actual events during my grandfather’s time serving in World War II.  He is no longer here to share the actual account, so I created what I imagined happened based on the facts that our family remembered him sharing.  This is one of many that I am compiling in to a book so they will never be forgotten.

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Inspiration

This week I picked up pictures I recently had framed. My great aunt was an artist and was commissioned to draw for fashion magazines. Her sketches are from the 1950’s when the style was feminine and elegant. The poses are graceful and poised, instantly drawing you in.

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As artists tend to be, she was a free spirit. Naturally curious, she embraced life. Always surrounded with eccentric friends, she had fun and entertained often. It is no surprise that she was the only one to return to Italy to explore our roots and meet family. She loved the arts and often went to plays, ballets and operas, dragging along her 2 young nephews. My dad credits his spirited aunt for any cultural exposure he received growing up.

20140330-214446.jpgI never got to meet this wonderful lady as she died from cancer a few years before I was born. I grew up hearing how much I would have loved her and that we were a lot alike. There is no doubt that the reason I’ve always felt a kinship with her is because we shared a wanderlust and similar spirit. At this stage of my life I feel the connection is even stronger. I believe she would be living as I am free to do, but was restricted by her era. Instead of having the opportunity to be authentic, she had to conform to societies rules. Perhaps this was the cause of her short time here on earth.

 

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I’ve had her sketches for many years, yet I didn’t have the capacity or resources to do anything with them. Until now. In my creative space, having her beautiful work surround me is exactly the ambiance I seek. Her character radiates from those sketches and it is exactly the inspiration I yearn for.

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Coffee

20131125-070334.jpgA friend recently forwarded an article about the health benefits of drinking coffee every day.  It provides antioxidants, reduces your chances of getting skin cancer and lowers the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Apparently it can make you a better athlete, keep your brain healthier longer and increases your intelligence.  The aroma of coffee can minimize your stress and improve your happiness.

I love coffee and always have.  As far back as I can remember, I enjoyed the smell of coffee brewing.  My grandfather also loved his coffee, drinking it all day long.  When we dined out, he filled the little creamer containers with his coffee, sharing it with me.  It’s no surprise that to this day I drink my coffee like his, with lots of cream and sugar.  At 9 I became a habitual coffee drinker enjoying a cup every morning with my mom.  As soon as I started driving, I found my regular hangouts.  Luckily one of those was a French Cafe that provided the added benefit of freshly baked croissants.  In my early 20s, I was on the road with a sales job.  I knew every worthy coffee house along the way.  This was before Starbucks hit Southern California, so the little privately owned Coffee Houses were the only options.  During early motherhood I cherished coffee dates with friends.  It was my time to connect with adults while enjoying my favorite vice.  My younger daughter’s first word was “Mocha.”

Having coffee is not just enjoying the brew, but also about the experience.  Taking time to sit down with a friend or relative and have a meaningful conversation keeps me balanced.  Even the time alone can bring renewal.  It’s a chance to be still and reflect.

photo 2The café culture is one of many things that I’m drawn to when visiting Italy and France.  They take pleasure in sitting and enjoying their coffee for hours on end.  In Italy, you can count on the best Cappuccino or Espresso without a big production and usually at record speed.  There are no “to go” cups and the menu is simple.

Coffee brings people together.  For many years my kitchen was the meeting spot for our cyclist friends where rounds of espressos were served up before hitting the road.  This gave us a few moments to catch up on each others lives and connect.  The post ride espressos gave us more time to discuss the day and what was ahead for the week.

A memorable encounter occurred thanks to a cup of coffee.  After serving 2 years in Germany and France my grandfather was celebrating the end of war.  Outside a 20131125-070239.jpgParisian café on the Champs Élysées, I like to believe my grandfather was enjoying the best cup of coffee he had ever tasted.  I know it would have been a café creme with lots of sugar.  The same as I enjoy when in Paris.  One of four brothers all serving in World War II, he had no knowledge of his siblings.  Where were they and were they still alive?  Remaining optimistic with a feeling that something significant was going to happen that day, he savored his coffee as thousands of soldiers marched down the Champs Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe standing tall in the background.  Suddenly he caught a familiar glimpse of a soldier that looked much lik20131125-070213.jpge him.  In awe and disbelief, he ran to the street to get a closer look.  Calling out to him, his older brother met his look with equal amazement.  The two brothers stood staring, rooted in shock.  They came together with an embrace that said it all.  They hung on to each other, hugging for what seemed like an eternity, crying like little boys.

 My grandfather’s coffee remained unfinished as they moved on to Champagne.  Lots of Champagne!  Had he not been taking the time to savor his coffee, on a sidewalk cafe in Paris, the way it was meant to be enjoyed, the beautiful reunion between the two brothers would have been an entirely different scene.

Slow down, take the time be still, sip your coffee from a porcelain cup and be open to what experience you may encounter.

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The brothers, Nicky and Sam.

 

11 Reasons Why You Should Drink Coffee Every Day, The Huffington Post, October 17, 2013

 

 

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The Handoff

For my dad.  Happy Birthday!

It’s the familiar sound of those first chords that instantly catches our attention.  The drum, the long drawn out note of the keyboard, the electric guitar and then the harmonizing of the 6 young sixties musicians.  Alex and Gabby look up at me with big smiles and excitedly burst out, “It’s grandpa’s song!”.  With their same excitement, I confirm they are right.  Our grins never leave our faces as we wait, his song pipes through the speakers of our local Jamba Juice.

I’ve had this experience many times throughout my life.  My f20131001-221044.jpgather’s band, Strawberry Alarm Clock produced a hit “Incense and Peppermints” that continues to play as a ’60’s trademark song.  It was the song that played in the 1997 Austin Power’s opening disco scene.  It remains recognizable with just the first chord and leaves you “sha la la-ing” for the rest of the day.

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In the mid sixties a few Glendale boys started playing music in the garage of my childhood home.  At only 13, Gary Lovetro (my father), Ed King and Lee Freeman formed the band.  They added a few more members and initially called themselves Thee Sixpense.  Later they changed their name to Strawberry Alarm Clock.  My dad explained that the name came about as a result of the strawberry being a very popular lyrical subject at that time.  They even had a song called “Strawberries Mean Love”.  Someone noticed an alarm clock in the room and the two were combined creating their unique name.  “Incense and Peppermints” reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1967.  A gold disc was awarded for one million sales by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1967.  They appeared on American Bandstand, The Steve Allen Show and the first episode of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.  They also made movie appearances in Psych-Out and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

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 Ed King left the band and joined the Lynyrd Skynyrd band.  He met them when they opened up for Strawberry Alarm Clock on a few shows in early 1968.  King co-wrote their hit song “Sweet Home Alabama”.  He was not on the plane that crashed killing the members of the band on October 20, 1977.

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I grew up hearing stories about different venues Strawberry Alarm Clock played and the bands they opened for.  One of the more memorable stories was when Pete Townsend of The Who, accidentally smashed my dad’s bass guitar.  Obviously it was replaced.

I had 45’s of “Incense and Peppermints” mixed in with my Cinderella and Mary Poppins records. Cheap gold Strawberry Alarm Clock necklaces and keychains lined the bottom of my toy box with Barbie shoes and brushes.  A gold 45 hung on our wall.

My dad went on to have a successful career in the wine and liquor industry and his musical past was rarely discussed.  The only time I recall him playing any instrument was when my piano teacher asked us to practice a duet.  I didn’t go far with piano or any other instrument nor did my sister.  As far as we knew, the musical gene stopped with us.

Or so we thought…

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In 2009, 12 year old Alex picked up an old beat up guitar and with the help of YouTube, taught herself to play.  She signed up to not only play, but sing a Taylor Swift song in her school’s talent show.  She was in the sixth grade and we thought it was very brave of her to take on such a challenge.  When she began to play and then sing, we were stunned.  Not only was she good, but she was confident and had stage presence.  Other parents commented that they had no idea she could play to which we responded…”neither did we!”  Needless to say, Alex began guitar lessons and excelled.

A few years ago, she started inquiring about her grandfather’s bass guitar that she knew was stored away somewhere.  My dad would brush off her questioning, not giving it much thought.  However lately, he started sharing and reminiscing about it and the band.

Last summer he pulled me aside and asked if I thought Alex was serious about wanting his guitar and if she would be responsible with it.  He made it clear that it was to always remain in the family.  I assured him that if and when he chose to give it to her, she would take very good care of it understanding it’s significance.  

The next afternoon, my dad walked in with a worn black guitar case which he placed before Alex on the floor.  With a look of shock and disbelief her eyes said it all, “Is this what I think it is?”  My dad nodded with a smile he could hardly contain.  Together they opened the case and carefully removed the beautiful Italian made Eko Violin Bass Guitar.  This was the very guitar that was played in his hit song when he was her same age.  It was a touching moment to watch them bond over the beautiful instrument turning it so they could admire every inch.  Occasionally she would glance over at me to confirm that it was really happening.  I simply smiled assuring her that yes, it is really happening.  Your grandfather is handing off his guitar to you.

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Hemingway’s Challenge

 

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“Under The Tuscan Sun,” he said with a sigh. “You live in a dream world choosing to read books like those. That is not a book of rich words and deep meaning. Does Miss Mayes truly understand the complexity of what it means to create? I’m sure she sits dreamily at her desk, overlooking her Tuscan valley while the Chianti she drinks does all the work. Anyone can do that!” In a matter of fact tone, Hemingway mocked my choice of novels. The raising of his eyebrow signaled he had said all he had to say.

“Nonsense.” Fitzgerald remarks. “Miss Mayes can tell a nice story. Appealing to the simple minded. It’s refreshing to have something light to read while dreaming away on say…a holiday.”

“Well, I don’t know.” Interrupts Zelda. “I believe Miss Mayes is a troubled soul. She escaped her life as a writer and teacher to a remote medieval hill town in a foreign country. Anyone can fix up an old house and tell about it. Besides, she drinks too much!”

Gertrude clears her throat commanding attention, “Just what are we to make of these so called Blogs you read? This is not intellectual reading. Thought, write, post. There’s no creative process in that. Just narcissistic authors trying to see how many likes or followers they can obtain. These expat bloggers are just like Frances. They ran away from their lives and created community in other countries to fit their needs.”

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Pablo chimes in, “I’d like to have a glass of chianti and paint the true essence of Tuscany. Though I wouldn’t have to dig very deep to find it. All those golden tones of the landscape are transparent. There is no searching to uncover the heart. I much prefer the element of Paris where there’s a complexity that lies deep in her soul.”

The group casually moved about, getting another drink, sharing notes, browsing the packed bookshelves. The creative energy filled the room. The dynamic was powerful and comforting at the same time.

Hemingway took a deep breath and his dark eyes bore in to mine. “If you think you have what it takes to be a writer, you need to drop the defenses and join our club. Lose yourself in cafes and meet us at the bookshop. Have a drink and dance. This is where it is happening and now is the time.” With a taunting look he challenged me, “Come to Paris!”

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The Life of a Pirate

20130805-175740.jpgMy father in law, Bob Harris, a pirate
200 years too late

Mother, mother, ocean he heard your call
Wanting to sail upon your waters
Since he was three feet tall.

He’s not a lawyer a thief or a banker
But a son of a son of a sailor.
The seas in his veins, his tradition remains
Glad he doesn’t live in a trailer.
He’s a dreamer of dreams and a travelin man
Chalked up many a mile.

Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And learned much from both of their styles.

Growing up in Philly, he always knew
He had to go where there aint any snow
Had to go where it’s warm.

Remembering those times in Montana
Working summers on a ranch as a ranch hand
He became quite at one with the horses
Learning skills that would terrify a girl
When he whispered in her horse’s ear
many a year later.

Often spending 4 happy days
In the brown LA haze
Come Monday
He’d be back by his officer’s sides

California had worn him quite thin
He couldn’t wait to see Florida again.

After retiring from the Navy, a new career he did take
Training to companies, lecturing that
Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn’t laugh, then we’d all go insane.

It’s no surprise with his humor and wit
Bob Harris the Trainer
Had fans to his left and fans to his right.

When he’s not had enough of “Bob” time
He’ll grab a boat drink and head out to his dock.
Looking online for cheap cruise fare
Thinking, I’ve gotta cruise to saint somewhere.

Dreaming of nibbling on sponge cake
Waiting for the sun bake
All of those tourists covered in oil.

Remembering the time he blew out his flip-flop
Then of all things, swallowed a pop-top!

Ten speed, no need, his pick-up gets him where he pleases
Grapefruit and bathing suit
Chewing a little Juicy Fruit
It’s good for the soul.

Someday he’ll live in the islands
Fishing the pylons
Drinking his rum drink each day
Writing his memoirs
Losing his hearing
But he won’t care what most people say.

At 86 years of perpetual motion
If he likes you, he’ll smile and he’ll say
Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all the way.

 

Bob Harris is quite the Pirate.  He plays by his own rules and lives simply in a condo on Tampa Bay.  He begins and ends each day on his dock.  In the morning he welcomes the day with his cup of coffee and in the evening he enjoys a rum drink while watching the sunset over the water.  He works at his own pace.  Large companies hire him to motivate and train their employees always keeping it interesting through his humor and entertainment.  Father to 3 sons, he prides himself on having close relationships with each of them.  He’s a friend to many and devoted to his girlfriend, Joan.  We’ve shared many great memories during visits, vacations and day runs to Mexico.  For the record, I am the girl he so badly frightened while horseback riding on a beach, south of the border.

My favorite times with Bob are those early mornings on the beach on Anna Maria Island.  With feet in the sand, our cups of coffee in hand, great conversation is always had.

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The Elderly

They return to childlike behavior.  Worn bodies start shutting down and the things taken for granted become burdensome.  Life becomes basic and the simple pleasures are relished.  Routine is essential to existence.

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My grandmother is going to be 90 and although her body is frail, her mind remains sharp.  She is a social butterfly.  My entire life, I can remember her throwing parties and gathering us for family meals.  In her assisted living home, she tries to muster up card games or assemble groups.  Unfortunately, many of her neighbors are not of sound mind, suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Because of that, her environment can be a lonely place.  My dad lives nearby and calls or visits her daily.  What more could an Italian mamma ask for?

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I’ve fallen short on my visits by letting life get in the way.  I realize our time is limited and there are no excuses.  We’ve always been close and it’s a gift and true pleasure to be able to spend time with her.  She adores her grandchildren and great grandchildren and wants nothing more than to see them.  Our pictures cover every inch of her home.

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We are here for a short visit.  Grandma had spent a few days in the hospital with an intestinal infection and was just released.  She feared she wouldn’t have her hair and nails done in time for our arrival.  At the last minute, we decide to make it a surprise and drive straight to see her.  She was just getting the final touches so we waited in the lobby.  As she’s wheeled out, it takes her a minute to make the connection.  When we saw her last, her great granddaughters were still little girls and now they have matured into young women.

A look of shock crosses her face.  Then pure excitement.  We exchange hugs and greetings and I take over wheeling her to her room, making sure the girls walk in front so she can take them in.  About halfway there, no longer able to contain her joy, she breaks in to tears.  A precious moment.  We really do return to childlike behavior in our final years. We made sure to lavish her with hugs and cuddles promising to return every day that we are in town.  She tires quickly so we say our goodbyes ensuring we will be back in the morning armed with her favorite games.

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Over the next few days, we get in short visits and lots of spirited game playing.  When the girls got lazy adding up their scores, it was Grandma who could compute them before they had time to pull out their phones.

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When it’s time to say our goodbyes, I promise with full intention of returning within months.  Our visit did her good and she rallies the strength to walk us out.  She wants to see Alex’s car, still in disbelief that her great grandbaby is driving.  It seems like it was just yesterday that I was introducing her to her brand new great granddaughter. Another reminder that time is precious and it goes quickly.  Every day is a gift that we have with each other.

 

 

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Italian Style

There is nothing like it!

When you grow up with names like Armani, Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, Valentino and Versace, how can you be anything but stylish?

It’s the Italian’s birth right and they own it.  Their presence exudes confidence.

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They don’t hold back wearing colorful linen.

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Even on the hottest days, they manage to look unwrinkled and elegant.

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The bare ankles with the Italian loafers is quite the sexy look.

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The glasses, the leather briefcase…

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a bike and cell phone.  All mere accessories.

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These two were the epitome of Italian style.  They didn’t miss a detail…the cigarette, the luggage, the dog and that dog collar!

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It doesn’t get much better than this.

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