When I first went to Rome in April 1999, I was inspired by Fr. Blanco to toss a coin at the Fontana di Trevi [English translation: Trevi Fountain]. The Trevi Fountain is a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. It stands about 86 feet high and about 160 feet wide, and is the largest baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and the 1953 Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck starrer entitled Roman Holiday.
Legend and popular belief have it that if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you surely will return to Rome. And the way you toss the coin is peculiar, because you have to toss it while your back is turned from the direction of the fountain and you have the throw the coin overhead with your right hand into the direction of the fountain, over your left shoulder.
In 2011, exactly 12 years from my first trip to Rome, my only son Anthony, whom we endearingly call too as TON, told me that as a prerequisite to his senior year in the Ateneo, as he was pursuing a course in European Studies; he either has to do an OJT (i.e. on the job training) in a European company in the Philippines or do the OJT in Europe. I told him quick and simply: “Okey, I will look around for a friend who could refer us to a European company here in the Philippines.”
On the next week, Anthony approached me again and told me that he was actually the President of the European Studies League in the Ateneo, which is an aggrupation of all European Studies’ students, and that almost all of the members in his group are going to do their OJT in Europe; one to do it in France, another in Germany, etc. I replied that that was good and surely it would be a learning experience for them to know first-hand the culture and the predominant life style in Europe.
Again, in another instance, Anthony asked if he could have his OJT done in Europe too. Well, the thought of having friends in Europe particularly in Spain and in Rome sort of enticed me to go to Europe as Anthony’s chaperone and perhaps to save on costs, by asking my European friends for a possible free lodging and board in their respective places. First, I remember having dined and lodged at the Generalate in the Parioli District in Rome with the Claretians and having stayed too in Zamora, Spain at the residence of Fr. Blanco’s nephew, the orthodontic dentist, Fernando Blanco, Sr (“Fernando Senyor”). So, I and Anthony prepared for an April departure to Europe, and on April 5, 2011, zoomed… we flew to Spain.
Our first stop was in Madrid and we dined in a restaurant with a couple of Filipino waitresses from the Philippines’ Ilocos region prior to our 6 hour trip by land to Zamora which is located in the northern part of Spain.
At the Zamora bus station, we were supposed to be fetched by Fr. Blanco’s nephew, Fernando Senyor. Alas, at the bus station in Zamora we saw and met Fernando Senyor’s wife, Marijose, and their son Fernando Ijo. Thereafter, after the customary greetings, we boarded their Honda car to their place which is about a couple of minutes of leisurely driving.
At that time, I distinctly remember that Spain was experiencing the midstream of what was called as the Great Recession of Spain (which started in 2008) and which resulted in an increase of severe unemployment in that part of the Iberian peninsula. Fernando Senyor cautioned me with some kind of warning when we arrived at their 2-storey home. He told me that there have been instances of foreigners being bullied and even hurt by disgruntled Spaniards who have been laid off from work, as they would always look upon foreigners who are wont to work for less pay, as their competitor in the constricting labor market in Spain. So, Fernando Senyor told me to be alert and to be cautious as I told him that we intend to do some walking and sight-seeing on the following day. I did not want to bother them as Fernando Senyor would have dental patients in the morning while his wife will be busy on their household chores and their two (2) children: Fernando Ijo and Cristina, preoccupied with their respective job and school engagements, respectively.
It was our plan then for Anthony to go through an OJT in a dairy cooperative where Fernando Ijo worked in the past, just a stone’s throw away from the Blancos’ house in Zamora. But after the cautionary warning given to me by Fernando Senyor, we were forced to cut short our stay in Spain. Fernando Ijo however promised that he will just work things out with his former colleagues at the dairy cooperative towards procuring a certification about Anthony’s having done an OJT at the dairy plant.
Thereafter, we flew to Rome and we were fetched at the airport by a friend and a Claretian brother, Bro. Arnel Alcober at the Fumicino airport. Bro. Arnel showed us around to tourist spots in Rome which I have nit previously seen and visited in the past particularly at the Piazza Garibaldi where the monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi is erected at the highest point of the Janiculum hill.
The value of friends is truly precious in times of need. At that time, the Claretian’s Generalate’s house particularly its guest rooms were all filled up with occupants. This was considering that certain Claretian priests from all over the world trekked to Rome for the impending Holy Week and the eventual beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011.
Fortunately, Fr. Marcos, a Mexican Claretian endorsed us to be billeted at the Suore Dorotee convent within the same Parioli District in Rome. It turned out that Fr. Marcos was the sisters’ confessor and the celebrator of their daily mass at their convent. The sisters at the Suore Dorotee convent were dainty septuagenarian and octogenarian Italian nuns who were so thoughtful and caring especially for my son Anthony whom they would endearingly call ANTONIO. Every time I would need to speak to any of the nuns, I would first write out in Italian on a sheet of paper the Italian phrases or sentences with the help of an English-Italian dictionary with a section on the customary Italian greetings and phrases.
Thereafter, I will read out the Italian phrases or sentences that I have scribbled on the sheet of paper. It costs us only 20 Euros for both of us, me and Anthony, per day’s stay at the convent complete with breakfast whilst a standard hotel room rate then in Rome would be about 115 Euros.
The room were I and Anthony lodged at the Suore Dorotee convent which is better known as the Suore Dorotee Figlie Dei Sacri Cuori convent and located along Via Salvini Tommaso, in Rome’s Parioli District, is about 12 square meter in area and was so simple though clean and tidy. But what was exciting was that the bathroom which adjoins it was almost twice the room’s size. So, what I did was to string a clothesline from end to end which I bought from a nearby grocery; and I did the laundry myself hanging our hand-washed clothes while I allowed the ceiling fan inside the bathroom to air-dry those clothes.
What is nice too is that the general headquarters of the Italian police is situated just across the street from the convent. It is a 4-storey edifice and the signage which is emblazoned on top of the cantilevered cement awning at the building’s façade reads as follows: “COMANDO GENERALE DELL ARMA DEI CARABINIERI”.
When we have spent about a week in Rome, Anthony talked to me again and told me that a friend of his from Ateneo was then vacationing in Vienna, Austria where his friend’s dad is the Chief Security Officer of a UN organization based in Vienna. Thus, I asked Anthony what was in his mind and he told me that: “Pa, I have already made computations; Kristian Panganiban, my classmate at the Ateneo has invited me to come to Vienna and I will have free board and lodging there at their house. I have already checked too on the amount of airfare and it will still cost more expensive if we continue to stay here in Rome, Pa.”
After I double-checked Anthony’s computations and as it was accurate to the last Euro, I called up our airline and asked for an earlier booking back to Manila for me. And I left Anthony under the care of the Soure Dorotee sisters, as he also prepared himself for a trip to Vienna.
Before I left Rome, I made it a point to visit once more the Trevi Fountain. It really is a work of art and I admire the fountain so much. It is so magnificent, stupendous and beautiful. The backdrop for the fountain is the Palazzo Poli while the theme depicted in the fountain’s iconography is TAMING OF THE WATERS, which is depicted by the movement of the waters which seem to tumble forward, mixing water and rockwork thereby. And as I said my goodbye to the Trevi Fountain, I tossed not only one but a clump of coins with a wish that someday, I could bring my whole family to Rome.
After a month, Anthony arrived home and told stories about his exciting Austrian tour particularly his trip to Adolf Hitler’s birthplace, that small village in Austria called Braunau Am Inn, which Anthony visited actually on the very birth date of Hitler 122 years ago then (i.e. April 20, 1889). When we followed up with Fernando Ijo on his promised OJT certification from the dairy plant, Fernando Ijo felt sorry for he was unable to work things out with his former dairy plant colleagues. And as Anthony’s college adviser was persistently following the certification, another friend’s help proved handy once more. I was able to convince Bro. Arnel to issue a certification that Anthony did his OJT at the Claretian Genaralate as some kind of clerk.
When the certificate from Bro. Arnel arrived via courier service, and when Anthony submitted it to his college adviser, I learned thereafter that Anthony confessed to his adviser about the truth regarding the certification. Eventually however, Anthony’s adviser told him that what actually matters was that Anthony was able to personal see for himself the culture, customs, social institutions and the lifestyle in Europe.