No Ordinary Trip to Italy - The Missourian: Features People

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Sights and Insights No Ordinary Trip to Italy

Second in a Series of Summer Adventures

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Posted: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 6:32 pm

Italy remains one of the top travel destinations in Europe. But, not as many tourists have visited Sardinia, much less gone to the island to meet a new grandchild.

Steve and Susan Richardson did just that last month making a trans-Atlantic trip they will long remember. Now they’re hankering to return and see Susanna Jean, a darling little one named after her grandmother Susan, and great-grandmother, Jean Richardson.

When they arrived in Sardinia on June 5, Susanna was 2 weeks old, and there were lots of tears at the first sight of her, a typical reaction from those of us who are grandmothers.

It wasn’t the first time on the island for Steve and Susan. They’ve made four trips there to visit their son George “Matt” and his wife Paola, residents of Nuoro, a community of about 40,000, where the couple manages a Toyota dealership.

George and Paola met at the London School of Economics. The love bug bit, and after a move to Washington, D.C., they were married. Soon they were discussing the idea of running the dealership, which they learned about from Paola’s father, who manages a Nissan dealership but had too much on his plate to begin another venture.

Before George and Paola could set up their business it was essential that George learn Italian. Paola was a pretty tough teacher — fluent in five languages, she encouraged George, but would mostly only converse with him in Italian. Now he’s comfortable with the language but is lost when Paola’s family and friends switch to Sardo, a dialect common to Sardinia.

Susan describes the island as “beautiful and rugged,” a mountainous land rife with sheep and goats, more four-legged creatures than there are people. The sheep are sheared but their wool isn’t used — instead the Sardinians use goat milk to make the pecorino cheese relished by those across Italy. Goat and sheep meat also is eaten, even the tongue and intestines.

In Sardinia, extended families live together in one house, but Paola’s family is a bit different. Her parents live about 20 miles away from their relatives, including Paola’s grandmother, a lady who looks like a throwback to an old “Godfather” movie, Susan said, because she’s clad in black from head to toe in mourning for her late husband. She doesn’t speak any English, but she smiles all the time, is warm and welcoming.

Visiting the hospital where Suzanna was born was like stepping back into the 1950s, Susan said. Dads have restricted visitation rights, and nurses still wear uniforms and little caps like they used to in the United States. But when it comes to childcare, the country can be viewed as more progressive.

Like much of Europe, Sardinia has state run-day care facilities that Susanna can attend when she’s 3 months. But it must kept in mind, that Italy like many European countries, has taxes well over 60 percent, Steve explained.

For the time being, Susanna goes to work with Paola and George, and everyone from the dealership mechanic to the secretary take turns strolling her around. Steve and Susan anticipated helping out with the baby at Paola’s parents’ home but instead babysat at the dealership — taking Susanna for spins around the showroom or patting her to sleep on their shoulders.

It was tough for Steve and Susan to leave Sardinia, and hard to convey their thanks to Paola’s parents, who don’t speak any English. Throughout the visit it was Paola and George’s responsibility to communicate for them, translating their parents’ conversations. But emotions can be felt as well as voiced, and their shared joy in this new life was obvious to all.

Susan already has plans to return to Sardinia in September with her daughter Ellen. In the meantime, Steve and Susan are trying to figure out the best times to SKYPE, so they can see their new granddaughter via a computer screen — which is a bit tough considering the seven-hour time difference. Knowing the Richardsons, and their close family ties, they’ll soon figure it out.

I’m on the hunt for tales for my “Summer Adventure” series. If you, or someone you know has a story to share, please e-mail me at cstucky@me.com, or call the Missourian office, 636-239-7701.

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