Today I was talking to some friends about my name card and I was asked why I have only my name on it; I explained that lots of different things happened in my life and was easier to summarize them with my name and let others figure it out. This picked my brain to write something about what happened and start from the very beginning. Technology allows me to publish this with time and edit it over and over adding and deleting pieces as it pleases me. I started tonight, in a warm evening of December 2015 a few days before the new year while in the back ground I hear some good music from the 1980's that were very formative years of my life.
I was born in Florence the day after the Russian forces invaded Prague, this wasn't a factor in my life but something that I was reminded over and over by my grandmother, a detail that I could never omit in any conversation. My mother Giovanna Meriggi was born in 1941 from Stamura Giannoni and Edoardo Meriggi, my father Roberto, was born in 1939 from Bianca Mazzurchielli and Gino Rulli. Both my parents are Florentines, Giovanna is a homemaker, Roberto a retired textile agent. Tommaso, my brother, joined our family two years after my birth. Tommaso and I never called our parents Babbo and Mamma, Dad or Mom, to us they were and are Roberto and Giovanna. We also referred to our grandmother as Stamura and our uncles and aunts with their first name, in particular Guido, who is Giovanna's brother. Guido was the uncle that would take us to Formula One car races in Monza and Imola, he would use the word "ganzo", cool, for many things and events. I used to call Tommaso, “Tappo”, cork, as he was shorter than me, but he ended up at least 3 inches taller than me!
I never thought of Giovanna as a Rulli as she never took Roberto's last name, and I never thought of Stamura as a Meriggi as she was always a Giannoni; this detail will be an important factor in my life in the way I look at women, their role in family and society. When I got married I asked my wife to not take my last name but she insisted to hyphen her last name with mine, to this day I believe that was not necessary and she should have maintained her identity intact. Florentines are very individualist and not warm welcoming people, especially in my family; it is not a surprise that the British found Tuscany as a second home.
My parents were born during World War II and raised in the post World War, just like an Italian Neo Realism movie. Giovanna was a strict and always present mother, she always voiced the fact she had been pulled out of work to become a homemaker and wasn't happy about this silent agreement between Stamura and Roberto to keep her home, frankly I do believe she never wanted to put her foot down, but it is hard to tell where the truth lies, possibly, in the middle. Giovanna had an early career as an administrator assistant in a private medical facility and later on worked in the custom broker firm as a secretary; Roberto was a busy business man with a special but quite attention to his children, a relationship that matured later on with me on the sailing boats and on the Judo mat. Giovanna and Roberto were particularly good looking and my brother and I took full advantage of it; our grandmother reinforced it letting us know every day and building up our confidence that will be a big factor in our lives.
Big part of my upbringing was my grandmother Stamura who became a widow in 1977 when my grandfather Edoardo passed for lung cancer as he was a relentless smoker. I remember when my parents came back home the night Edoardo passed and they told me he was gone, it was the first time in my life I really cried with a meaning; I do remember hugging Giovanna and crying my eyes out; that evening I matured a lot and also it changed the dynamic in our family. Stamura reinvented herself from a homemaker to an expert in renaissance, joined the Amici dei Musei and traveled through out Italy and the rest of Europe taking me along in many of her domestic trips including Pompei and many other places in Italy. Stamura would always travel abroad with a small bottle of olive oil as in many restaurants they would not have olive oil; to this day I get upset when a restaurant doesn't have good olive oil and at times, I do carry a bottle with my self to avoid disappointments.
My grandmother always reminded me that we are citizens of Florence, the cradle or Renaissance, and this privilege comes with the responsibility to carry on the tradition of our culture. My family has no noble or rich heritage but thanks to Stamura I carry a clear love and appreciation for the history of Florence and the Renaissance. When I am invited to talk in Universities or business events I make clear to open my statements explaining what Renaissance is and how it influenced my upbringing.
I saw Stamura every day of my life till I moved to the USA, she lived across the street from us and visited my parents every day of her life till she passed. I didn't see her in her last days as I was in America, I made a conscious decision to not attend her funeral, and visit her grave, nor cancel her name from my phone, as I do want to remember her as she is always there for me; I do understand this is quite unusual and possibly insane but to me death is a temporary chapter of life that I prefer to skip.
In 1975 my father became a founding member of the Circolo Velico Pietrabianca and in 1977 I started sailing, 10 years later, Marco Faccenda selected me as his crew and with him we traveled Europe representing Italy for nearly two years till I moved on to sail with another skipper. Marco was not easy to deal with, his bright blue eyes allowed him to understand the wind and waves, to win multiple Italian and World Championship but also a man with very little heart and interest in been appreciated by me. I didn't like his attitude but I learn a lot from him and still to this day it is a love-hate feeling looking back at those two very formative years of my life. A few days before my 18th birthday he showed up with two Belgian hitchhikers, asked me which one I liked the most and paved the way for me to the charming 23 years old woman, her name was Martin from Charleroi.
During those years I was attending high-school and my Sailing trips put my studies in the backseat. In my second year of high-school I was sent back to September in three subjects: English, Latin and Mathematics, I decided to not study and present myself to the exam, I lost a year of schoo, I learn a big lesson in life and this contributed to big changes down the road “non tutto il male vien per nuocere”! My parents allowed me to make this decisions, pay the consequences and learn the lesson. Roberto looked at me as a mature person from young age, at 14 years old Roberto started to take me to textile shows in Milan and at 17 he sent me alone to Paris to attend Premier Vision and at 18 to Switzerland to collect money from a company who was late on payments. Those were busy years for me, I joined the Leo Club, the youth organization of the Lions Club International.
In 1985 I started Judo inspired by Roberto, who had done it in his teenager years. I failed in love with the sport. My coach Luciano Bertaccini put me thorough painful long Newaza (ground work) sessions, where I learn how to survive pain and fear, to this day, I remember been under his weight of grown man and feel how difficult was to breath and move. To this date I am a relentless fighter. On the day of my wedding I delivered a note to Luciano thanking him for his training regime that shaped my character in life. Roberto and I were usually the last Judo match of the night and most people would look at us fighting ferociously within the rules of the Olympic sport; this was the best way to get the father and son frustration out and build an incredible relationship that last to this day. Roberto is not just a father but also a close friend and man I truly enjoy fighting with. Two weeks ago I was back in Florence for a surprise visit to Roberto and Giovanna, I trained at my old Judo club, there a young man executed a perfect sacrifice throw on me, he learn it from Roberto, who has been teaching and motivating children for the last 30 years; I am very proud of Roberto, his work and achievement in educating many young people. Great inspiration in my early Judo years was Tiziano Bonanni, who won the black belt winning the Coppa Italia a year before I qualifies 5th in the Coppa Italia to obtain the same recognition and be promoted to black belt. Tiziano was and remain an exceptional Athlete that suffered incredible injuries and pain to his knees; I will always look up to him. Tiziano is a gifted artist and philosopher, recently his father passed for a painful stomach cancer and Tiziano shared with me some deep conversation with his father and how he prepared him to his death; Tiziano is a true Samurai.
Judo has been my school in life but I am not a good student of names, I gained all my promotions with competitions and my nature fits the role of fighter more than student; unfortunately my physical strength jeopardized my need to improve my technique and this is my shortcoming in this great sport; to this day, I do fight with the youngest, strongest, fastest athletes as they motivate me to keep in shape and improve every day. My left leg is 23 years old, my right leg is 24, that is why I do like fighting with people in their 20's.
In 1988, at age 19, I was drafted in the military as it was compulsory at that time; I was called to the Army on the day I had organized a fund raising event for the Leo Club, due to the fact that one of the members of the club was the daughter of a General, I was able to postpone my departure of three days. When I got on the train to Fano I met two young man who were three days late and realized they were “Recommended” and their name was in red, just like my name; my recommendation was only for the three days of delay, their was to be assigned to the city where they came from, it was the first time in my life that I realized that I had to play this as a good card and I did so. One day I visited the office that assigned to soldiers destination and without hesitation I approached the officer in charge and asked if I could be sent to Florence, my home town, he looked at me and asked me “why do you dare asking such thing?”, I explained that my name was in red and I was recommended consequently I should be sent to Florence; he replied that his son was an helicopter pilot in Florence and if I helped him to find an apartment I would be transferred to Florence, shortly after I got on the phone and called my girlfriend to see what she could do to find something for him; regardless if I didn't find the apartment I was assigned to Florence. My only merit in this matter was to ask what others thought was impossible; I had established an unluckily but possible personal relationship with a superior simply asking him what the other 1000 soldiers had in mind but didn't find the courage to ask.
I was a good soldier, my judo foundation made it very easy to excel in the Military training. In the morning at 5:55 am our corporal would bang his fists on the metal closets by our beds and wake up suddenly, I would rush to shave and shower, pull people off the sink if before me and make sure I was in the first line ready to be addresses by my superiors. My barrack was populated by people of all social levels and from any region of our beautiful country. One was a college graduate awaiting to enter medical school, another was a Picciotto of the Andrangheta, the Calabrese mafia, unable to read and with three small dots tattooed under his tongue, he had been initiated as man who can kill if ordered to; I filled sorry for him as he was given very little chances in life, I helped him to read comics in the attempt to teach him how to read. I set a rule in my barrack that I didn't want any noise nor fights in front of my bed; one day a young man my size, a trained boxer, started to beat up on a smaller kid from his region right in front of my bed, I didn't care much about the smaller kid but it bothered me he had entered my territory, I chocked out the boxer and sent him to the infirmary. I do remember the doctor mentioning that usually was the boxer sending other young man to the infirmary, now I had done it to him; I was and still am proud of it, but it also costed me a few days of cleaning the bathrooms in the barrack, that wasn't a pleasant thing. Three days later I was sent back to Florence as my 30 days in Fano had come to an end and when I got to Florence I decided to stay in the barrack over the weekend and don't go see my parents as I still had two days of punishment to spend, my superior though I was crazy as he had no documentation of the punishment; on the Monday when my documents came my superior praised my honesty and told me he would give me the opportunity to work on two different departments, one for mail delivery and one in the Maggiorita' of the barrack, where we would assign holidays to officials and coordinate events for the barrack; I chose the Maggiorita' and spent the next 2 months with very interesting people including Mario Battiato who years later will read passes of the old testaments at my wedding and to this day remain a dear friend. As few days into my job at the Maggiorita' I realized that our barrack had a special extension called Casa del Soldato where officers of Armies from allover the World were coming to visit Florence for official and non official trips and thought was a necessary thing to elect a dedicated guide to the city of Florence; I went up to my superior and explained we needed a man who could talk English, German, and any other needed language, the officer looked at me and said “I barely speak Italian , who can do that?” I replied: “I speak all those languages and I can do the job” , shortly after I was assigned the job of guide and thanks to my knowledge of the city of Florence and my grandmother education I carried on the job without any problems. I had a driver and we would cruse the center of Florence in a Fiat Campagnola, the equivalent of a Jeep, park on side walks, and at times pick up on girls visiting our home town. During the weekends I was allowed to go home in Scandicci but often I slept in the barrack as it was located in the center and allowed me to spend late nights out with my friends and use it as my apartment in the City! I escorted various dignitaries like Prince Charles of England, General Von Rosen and his wife from Germany and the Italian Military Band
General Von Rosen asked me to bring them to dinner and visit the city also off hours, I did so and built a nice friendship with the couple. The next weekend I fought in a qualifying Judo competition to the Coppa Italia where only the first place would go to the inter-regional finals; I was winning the match to the very end with 10 seconds left on the clock, I was caught in an arm bar, and I knew that I had to hold-on, I was laying on my back and made the decision to not tap and eventually let the other athlete break my arm, I heard the arm crack three times but it didn't break; I won the match, carry my injured arm back to the barrack and see it swollen the next day; Mrs Von Rosen noticed it and the next day they left to Germany. I was called to the Infirmary for exams but I never explained how it happened, the doctors could not find an explanation but when they heard that in young age I suffered of Asthma they released me from the Army and let me go back to my family saving me 9 more months of military service; doing so I had gained back the 1 year of school I had lost a few years back and I was ready to conquer the World.