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There were so many things to plan. It started to hit Dana and me when we were walking across the Bridge of Sighs on our way to Piazza San Marco. The boys were on cloud nine and they were asking a thousand questions. The sightseeing was now a secondary consideration.
"Are you getting married soon?" Sean asked.
"Where are you guys getting married?" Jake asked.
"Do we wear a tux?" Sean asked.
I had some ideas about what I wanted, but of course it wasn't about me. It was about us. Dana and I needed to sit down once things calmed down and make the plans.
We spent about two hours looking at the Doge's Palace, St. Mark's Basilica and square and doing some souvenir shopping. We then sat down at one of the outdoor cafés and Dana and I ordered bellinis, while Jake had a cappuccino and Sean a hot chocolate. We also had some wonderful biscotti. Dana and I had a glow about us and the boys were still wearing big smiles, because they were very happy at the turn of events.
They were also reveling in the sights and sounds of a very different culture to the one they were used to. To Jake it wasn't as much of a novelty as it was to Sean, as he was used to the language. Nevertheless, the sites and most of the culture were new to him as well.
Sean was very curious as to the language and just about every time someone talked to us, he'd ask Jake or Dana what they said. He also had an Italian to English dictionary that he was putting to good use. I was very proud of him at his attempts to speak Italian whenever he could.
They were also intrigued by all of the pigeons, as we sat and looked out onto the Piazza and were quite amused when a man started to feed them. He had a bunch of them sitting on his arms eating out of his hands.
"What if they all decided to poop at the same time," Sean said, as Jake and he giggled.
When we finished, we found a Venetian glass blowing demonstration and then went shopping in the store attached to the glass blowing area. Dana and I started to look at the wonderful Venetian glass for sale and the boys took off by themselves. After about 10 minutes they came back and found us.
"Can we buy something with our VISA cards?" Jake asked.
"Of course you can. You don't need to ask me," I said.
They gave me big smiles and the two of them took off. I decided to follow them in case they had some trouble using their cards. When I found them, they were in the jewelry room and Jake was talking in Italian to the clerk. It looked like there was a problem, but it couldn't have been too bad as Jake wasn't in his deadly serious mode.
"Are you having a problem, Son?"
"He didn't think these are our cards, but I signed my name on a paper and showed him it's my signature on the back of the card," Jake said.
"Show him your Passport. It's also got your signature on it as well as your picture," I said as I looked at the clerk.
The guy was being cautious and wasn't being difficult with the boys. He appreciated that Jake was able to speak to him in Italian and with me there he finally processed their purchases.
"Are you buying some necklaces for yourselves, boys?" I asked with a sly grin.
"Very funny, Dad," Sean said.
When we joined up with Dana, she had purchased some vases and figurines for my girls and her daughters. Since we had spent so much they offered free delivery back to Canada for us.
"You might as well put your stuff in with ours, boys. That way we're sure it won't be broken when we get back," Dana said. "I don't suppose your Dad and I get to look at your purchases?"
They smiled and opened the bags. They both had very good taste, as they had bought Rachel and Melissa glass pendants.
In the later afternoon, we had had enough of the crowds and heat and decided to make our way back to our hotel. We were leaving Venice early the next morning to drive to the villa we had rented outside of Florence. We took a water taxi ride down the Grand Canal and ended up where we had parked the Land Rover. We made our way back to dry land and then to the motel.
"I need to call my girls and tell them the news," Dana said with a big smile, when we got into the room.
"After you're finished I need to tell mine as well."
Between Dana and I, we were on the phone for well over an hour. Our daughters were thrilled at the news and congratulated us. Dana asked both of her girls to be her bridesmaids at the ceremony. They were curious, as were the boys, at the plans for the wedding and we had to tell them that we were still working on it. We had a chance to talk about some preliminary plans on the way back to the motel, but nothing was carved in stone. We discussed having a destination wedding in Mexico, or in Naples, or having the ceremony in town and having Reverend MacLaughlin marrying us in our church. We also talked about having it the weekend of Thanksgiving in October, which would be more convenient for everyone to attend.
"Maybe we should elope and not tell anyone," I said as I chuckled.
My comment wasn't well received by either Dana or the boys.
"That'd suck. We wouldn't get to be ushers or anything," Sean said as he frowned.
The route the next day from Venice to Florence was fairly direct and we took the four lane motorway most of the way. The boys were quite interested in the differences in the cars on the road and some of the different traffic rules. Like a lot of boys their age, they were preoccupied with cars and I could see that they would want to drive as soon as they could when they turned sixteen. I sure wasn't looking forward to that, as I remembered when the girls started driving. It took a lot out of me worrying about them when they took the car by themselves. I could just imagine what it would be like having to worry about two semi-adolescent males driving when I was sixty-three!
At one point, I was passing a car in the outside lane, when I saw a bright red car coming up behind me very fast and he flicked his headlights. I moved over to the inside lane fairly quickly and we heard a guttural roar as it passed us as if we were standing still.
"Whoa, what was that," Sean said as the two boys shifted in their seats to see out the windshield at the car as it disappeared in front of us.
"That was a Ferrari," I said.
"You were going 130 Km/h," Jake said.
He had glanced at the speedometer before he looked out the windshield. I told them that the Ferrari was probably going 180 Km/h. They asked me why he flicked his lights and I explained that was custom in Europe on the motorways. It was a signal to the car in front that you wanted to pass and to get over to the inside lane. I also told them that there was a posted speed limit on the motorways, but in Italy it was more of guideline than something that was strictly enforced. I also told them in Germany there were no speed limits on the Autobahn, at least at this point.
"If we had one of the Beemers here, I might be able to catch up to him," I said to the two boys as I smiled at them in the rear view mirror.
When I looked over at Dana, she was frowning, as she didn't think my comment was appropriate in front of the boys. She also didn't appreciate the speed that I was going.
"Then again, I would never drive that fast," I said as I gave her a sheepish grin and slowed down... a bit.
We arrived at the villa in the late morning. It was a luxury villa about 20 km from Florence in the village of Rufina. A train left from the village every half hour that took 20 minutes to get into Florence Central Station.
The villa had all the creature comforts including a dishwasher and Wi-Fi service. It also had a covered patio where we would be having morning coffee and breakfast. When we entered, Dana and I were fascinated with the charm of the decor and how the recent renovations did justice to the 200 year old character of the building. There was a very modern kitchen, two good sized bedrooms and a modern bathroom complete with shower.
While we were taking in the ambience of the surroundings, the boys made a dash for the big screen TV in the living room area.
"Wow, Juventus is playing," Jake said as the two of them plopped down on chairs in front of the TV.
"Boys, how about you guys get your bags from the Land Rover and get yourselves settled in your room... down there," I said as I pointed down the hallway.
They were having a selective listening problem and I grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.
"We didn't come here to watch soccer on TV. Let's get settled, as we've got some site seeing to do," I said as they made their way outside to get their bags.
The next day we had breakfast on the patio and then caught the train to go to Florence. The ride took about 20 minutes and was quite scenic as we went through the Tuscan countryside.
We spent the morning visiting Il Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria, where Florence's town hall resides, as well as the streets surrounding it. We were all fascinated with the architecture and the art treasures that abounded. When we came to the front entrance of the town hall, there was a full-sized copy of Michelangelo's David outside the door. I had talked to the boys of the significance of the statue and that we were going to see it that day. They thought it was the real one and I told them we had tickets to see that in the afternoon.
We went to an outdoor café, to have lunch, as the boys were 'starving'. When we were finished, we ended up in the Peruzzi leather store and got some more souvenirs. The boys each got a hand-made belt and we had their initials stamped on it in gold leaf. They also bought some wallets for Melissa and Rachel. Dana got purses for herself and her girls and I did the same.
"You know a woman can never have too many wallets or purses," Dana said to the boys as she smiled and put her arms around them.
We then went to the Galleria dell'Accademia, which now housed the real David. When we walked in, the statue commanded such a presence as it stood on a tall pedestal. It was as magnificent as I remembered it from my trip in the 70's, as I had traveled in Europe with some friends after I had graduated from University. As we stood there looking it at it, I told Dana and the boys a little of the history of Michelangelo and the statue itself, as best as I could remember.
"That's a pretty big statue, eh boys. It was carved from one piece of Carrara marble. Now you can see why it's one of the most famous statues in the world," I said.
They were giggling to themselves and Dana and I didn't know what was so amusing.
"What's so funny, boys?" she finally asked.
"Not everything's big," Jake said as the two of them burst out laughing.
The two of us shook our heads at their adolescent preoccupation with certain parts of the statue's anatomy. I guess we hadn't been paying attention when we saw some of the nude women statues and paintings earlier and had missed them giggling then as well.
"Boys do grow up one day," I said to her. "I finally did," I said as I smiled.
The next day we were having breakfast again on the patio outside. We were having coffee afterwards and I excused myself and made my way into the villa to call the number I had for Jake's father. I didn't tell them what I was doing, but Dana figured it out and gave me a quick smile. I got a hold of him and I told him that we would be coming the next day about 2 pm. to visit with him. There was a silence on the other end and I repeated what I said as I didn't know if he understood.
"I understood what you said, Mr. Burger. I can't see Jake," he said in his broken English.
He said that it wasn't fair to either of them to see each other after such a long time. He said that his world was very different than what Jake was used to and I could tell that he was a little embarrassed about what his life had become. He also didn't offer any reason why he took off in the first place. I didn't press him, as I was having second thoughts as to whether this was the best thing for Jake. I didn't want him to get hurt and I felt that Jake would be able to cope better with his father's refusal, rather than seeing him
The last thing he said before we hung up was, "Please take care of my son and be good to him."
"I will, sir. I can guarantee that."
When I got off the phone, I went back out to the patio. I had a very sombre look on my face and Dana instantly knew that my conversation hadn't gone well. I asked Jake to come inside as I wanted to speak to him. He was a very intuitive boy at times and he knew what it was about.
"I'm OK if Dana and Sean hear what you want to tell me," he said with his serious look.
I told him what his father said and that he thought it best that they didn't meet. I told him that he owned his own fishing boat and that he lived in Pescara on the Adriatic coast. I was careful not to interject my assumptions about his motives and left it at just the straight facts.
He was silent for some moments after I finished speaking as he gazed off into the distance. Dana was closest to him and she moved her chair next to him and put her arm around him and pulled him closer. I was expecting a few tears, but I was surprised when they didn't come.
"Are you OK, Son?" I asked, as I put my hand on his arm.
He nodded his head yes and gave a big sigh.
"I just wanted to see him again and tell him that I'm OK and stuff. That's all. I thought, like maybe he'd want to see me too. I didn't want to have a big talk with him or anything. He wasn't really my Dad."
I could tell that there was a tinge of anger in the last statement, but I decided to leave well enough alone, as I certainly wasn't going to defend his father. There was nothing else to add, as I fully agreed with his comment.
The boys took off inside to get ready for our trip that day. We could see when they thought they were out of sight, that Sean put out his hand and the two of them locked their thumbs in a handshake. Dana and I smiled at each other, as it was a touching scene watching Sean console his brother.
We made our way down towards Rome to visit with Jake's Aunt and Uncle, Rose and Gianni. They lived in Monterotondo just outside Rome and had a nice house. Gianni was an xray technolgist in one of the hospitals in Rome, just like Pietro. He became friends with Pietro when they were working together and that's how he met Rose. She was a nurse like Jake's mother. They were in their late 40's and had two children, two girls, who were grown and out of the house.
"Giacomo, come é il mio nipote favorito?" she said.(Giacomo, how is my favourite nephew)
She was a rather buxom woman and she kissed him on both cheeks then wrapped her arms around him squeezing Jake's head into her bosom. Jake was blushing and had a big smile on his face as she released him. If that wasn't bad enough, she then grabbed Sean and did the same to him. I decided to be proactive and gave her a hug and kisses on her cheeks before I was subjected to the same fate, although my face wouldn't have been buried in her breasts like the boys faces were.
She had a spread of proscuitto, a variety of cheeses, olives and some wine ready for us to eat and drink. She offered the boys some wine as well and Jake looked at me and I nodded my head yes. I knew that Pietro had given him a glass from time-to-time and that he was used to it. Sean declined and asked for Pellegrino. I wasn't sure if it was because he was unsure if I would approve, or he had tasted wine before and didn't like it. This wasn't the time to have that discussion so I was quite happy at his decision.
We had a nice conversation, as Rose and Gianni were very nice people. I could see some of the family temperament that had passed down to Jake in his Aunt. She brought out an album of pictures of her family and of Jake, his mother and father, when he was a toddler. She reminisced about the time when Jake and his family were living in Italy and how much his mother loved him.
"She adored you Giacomo. You were the best thing in her life. You're so much like her," Rose said with a wistful smile on her face.
I noticed in the conversation that no mention was made of Jake's father. I really didn't need to ask why.
After a while, Gianni asked the boys if they wanted to kick the soccer ball around in the park across the street from their house. Jake was quite excited and Sean was mildly interested.
"Gianni missed having a son to raise. He's been talking for a few days about how he was looking forward to having the boys visit," she said as they disappeared through the front door.
Now that Jake wasn't in the room, the conversation got around to his natural father. She didn't give a very glowing account of him.
"He never amounted to much. My mother and father didn't want my sister to marry him, but she was very taken with him. He was charming, but not educated like our family."
She told us that he was very selfish and self-centred and that they had very little contact with him any more.
"I must thank you for adopting Giacomo," she said. "We would've, but that wouldn't have been fair to him. It would've been too much of a change. He's a Canadian now, not an Italian."
I told her that Dana and I were soon to be married and she was thrilled.
"I'm so glad he'll have a mom and dad once again. Jake's a good boy. You won't be disappointed."
"I know we won't. And we're sure he won't be now either," I said as I looked at Dana and smiled.
Just then the boys and Gianni came back from the park. They were all sweaty and a little out of breath as it was fairly warm outside.
"The boys are good athletes. Even though Sean isn't a soccer player, he could be if he practiced hard," Gianni said as he patted Sean on the back. "And Jake is just like Pietro. He taught him well," he said as he put his arm around his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. Jake gave him a big smile.
The boys and Gianni had some Pellegrino and some cannolis that Rose had made and then we got ready to leave. We told them that they would have to come to Canada and stay with us. They thought that was a good idea and they thanked us for the invitation.
"Now be a good boy for your Dad and your new Mom, Giacomo," Rose said as she gave him another smothering hug.
Sean stepped forward after she released Jake, as he knew he was next.
When we got back to the villa it was late and we all went to bed to get ready for Rome the next day.
The next morning we were off to Rome again, but this time we were going to stay overnight and spend two days there. I had booked a suite at the five star Hotel Gladiatori Palazzo near the Colosseum. The hotel was very well appointed and there were two bedrooms with a sitting room and balcony in our suite.
After we got settled, we went to the Colosseum and the ruins first. The boys were fascinated at how old the building was and what it was used for.
"That's even older that you eh, Dad," Sean said, as he quickly moved away and hid behind Dana as I tried to get a hold of him.
"So this is where they had all those fights in the movie 'Gladiator'. Cool," Jake said.
We then made our way over to St Peter's square. When we got inside the Basilica, the boys were in awe at what they saw. I led everyone over to the right of the main aisle to where Michelangelo's Pietà resided. It was a little dark because the statue was behind bullet proof glass, which made picture taking difficult.
"This is Michelangelo's second most famous statue. He carved this when he was 25 years old. Shortly after I visited here in 1972, a mentally disturbed man took a hammer to it and knocked off the virgin Mary's left arm. It wasn't behind glass at that point and was much more visible. It looks like they did a great job restoring it," I said.
"I guess we'll have to get some postcards," Sean said, as he took a picture without a flash, which didn't turn out very well.
We made our way through the church and the boys and Dana marveled at the Dome, the priceless works of art and that fact that St. Peter was buried there. I think the boys had a better understanding of the historical significance of what they were seeing, as Dana and I did our best to put things in perspective as we went through the Basilica. Even for North American adults, it was hard to fathom that the artwork and events depicted were sometimes thousands of years old.
Before we left for the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, the boys saw prayer candles off in one of the corners. Jake wanted to go and light one and we all went over to help him. He put in a two Euro donation and took two candles and lit them. Dana and I figured it was for his mother and uncle. Jake lingered for a few moments after the candles were lit. While he was standing there, Dana came up behind him and put her arm around his shoulder.
"That was a nice gesture, Jake. I'm sure whoever that was for will be blessed," Dana said, as he smiled at us.
We spent another half hour in the basilica and then made our way over to the Vatican to go through the Sistine chapel. When we got there, the lineup was quite long, but we had pre-booked and had tickets.
The boys were getting thirsty and I said that we would get some water inside in one of the shops. We were on our way to the front of the line and the boys walked quickly ahead and put their heads under some taps that were coming out of a wall fountain. I wasn't too happy, as I wasn't sure how safe the water was. When Dana and I caught up to them we both started to chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Sean asked, as he wiped his mouth with his arm.
"You two aren't going to have to go to church for a month after we get back," I said, as now Dana and I were both laughing.
"That was holy water you just drank. That was for blessing yourself," Dana said after our laughing fit subsided.
"Let's get going before they send a priest out here to make you two go to confession," I said as they started to walk quickly away from the fountain.
As we walked through the Vatican on our way to the chapel, we stopped to view some of the priceless treasures along the way. All of us were getting a little overloaded as it was hard to take it all in. Except for a few intriguing works and my pointing out others, the boys really didn't appreciate how valuable the artwork and statues were.
We finally got to the chapel and when we walked in both boys were looking at the ceiling and the two end walls with their mouths open in awe.
"Michelangelo painted that on his back and it took him four years," I said.
I explained some of the parts and pointed out 'The Last Judgment' on the altar wall and how that was a very important part of his work. Sean was interested, but not fascinated as Jake was. I made a note to stop in at the souvenir shop and get a book for Jake that explained more about the frescoes and Michelangelo's work.
On our way out, there was a large souvenir shop just before the exit doors. I suggested we go in. I found an excellent book on Michelangelo and I asked Sean and Jake if they'd like one. Sean declined, but Jake enthusiastically accepted. Sean was more interested in getting some good picture postcards, as we weren't able to take photographs in the chapel. Before we left, I saw a display of Rosaries.
"Jake, would you like a Rosary?"
He said he didn't think that he should since he wasn't going to the Catholic Church. I told him that it wouldn't upset me if he decided somewhere down the road to switch. At the very least, this would make a good keepsake, even if he didn't use it for its intended use. He agreed and picked out a really nice one.
"Are we gonna eat soon. My stomach's making noises," Sean said as he put his hand on his stomach and grimaced in fake pain as we were leaving the souvenir shop.
We stopped at a nice restaurant on a street leading from the Vatican. We had a late lunch and then made our way over to the Trevi fountain as our last stop. When we got there, it was very crowded. We explained to the boys of some of the background and that it was probably the most famous fountain in the world.
"Here, boys. When we get down to the edge of the water throw the coin over your left shoulder, with your back to the water," I said as I gave each of them a Euro.
"Is it supposed to be lucky or something?" Jake asked.
"It means you're going to come back to Rome some day," Dana said as we made our way down to the edge.
"Rumour has it, if you throw in three coins you either get a divorce or marriage. Maybe we shouldn't take a chance with any more than one coin," Dana said as she smiled at me.
We had room service the next morning and took a walk afterwards to see more of the ruins. We then took a taxi to the Olympic stadium where we were going to see a soccer game between Roma and Juventus. Jake was so excited that he was going to get to watch Juventus, his favourite team and see a live soccer game in Italy.
When we got there, we explored the area around the stadium, as we were early. We found a great sportswear store that specialized in soccer clothing. Jake was in seventh heaven. By the time we were finished he had an Italian National Soccer Team shirt and shorts, Adidas World Cup 2010 hat and hoodie, as well as a Juventus soccer shirt. I bought Sean some clothing as well, but he wasn't as enthusiastic about Soccer as Jake.
The game was great and I could see that Jake had soccer in his blood. He was very knowledgeable about the game and knew most of the players on both teams. He was able to explain a lot of the game to us as we watched. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, as did Sean. Both of them loved to watch live sports, as I did. Dana enjoyed the game, but she wasn't really a fan of big crowds or Soccer.
"I think I know some boys who had a great time today," I said as I put my arms around the two of them as we walked out of the stadium.
We took a taxi back to the hotel and freshened up and went out for a nice dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel. After dinner we took a moonlight stroll past the Colosseum and then turned in for the night.
We left after breakfast for Milan, which was the fashion centre of Italy. All the big designers had outlets in the city. Dana was going to look for her wedding dress and the boys and I were going to look for suits. Both of the boys had outgrown theirs and I wanted a new one for the wedding. Dana and I had decided that we would not have a formal wedding with a traditional wedding dress and tuxes, since it was our second marriages. The boys were a little disappointed that they wouldn't be wearing a tux, but a new Italian suit appeased them.
It took us about two and a half hours and we parked the Land Rover and walked to the fashion district on the Via Montenapoleone. The boys went with me to the Armani outlet and Dana went off by herself.
The boys and I each got blue pinstripe suits and they were going to be altered and ready in a couple of hours for us. We also got Italian silk ties and Egyptian cotton shirts with French cuffs. After we were finished, we went to the café that we had agreed to meet at and waited for Dana. We were just finishing some sandwiches and drinks when she arrived.
"I'm going to need some fashion advisors to help me decide on my dress. Your dad can't see the dress before the wedding, because it's bad luck, so I guess you two boys are elected," she said as they gave her big smiles.
I ordered another latte and they took off down the street. They arrived back some time later. I had done some window shopping and then bought an English language paper and had almost finished it.
"I must say these two have excellent taste," Dana said as they sat down at the table at the café with me. The boys were beaming.
"You're really gonna like it, Dad," Jake said.
There was some slight alteration that needed to be done on her Gucci dress, so we decided to have an early dinner as the boys were dropping big hints that they were hungry. It had been an hour since we had 'the snack' as Sean put it, so their stomachs were apparently empty and waiting to be filled again. When we were finished, we picked up the suits and dress before we left for the villa.
When we got in we were all a little tired, as it had been a busy week of traveling and site seeing. We got our purchases out of the Land Rover and did some preliminary packing, as we would be off the next day on a flight to Ireland for another week.
Later, the boys were in the living room area on Skype talking to the girls and Dana and I were having a nightcap on the patio under the stars. It was a beautiful clear and warm night. We were talking about how much all of us were enjoying the trip and how much fun we were having with the boys along with us.
"Those boys of yours are getting quite an education on this trip," Dana said.
I picked up on the words 'boys of yours' and corrected her.
"You mean 'boys of ours'," I said as I smiled at her.
She pointed out to me that I was the one that adopted them and she would have to go through the process of adoption before they were her sons as well.
"We have to get married first, but maybe the boys won't want me to adopt them."
I told her I thought that was very unlikely and that she was just being a little sensitive and cautious. We agreed that we wouldn't raise the subject with them until we were married though. We weren't sure they realized what the process was, so we decided that we wouldn't take a chance on upsetting them, even though I knew it wouldn't. They were acting as if they assumed she would be their mother already. Just then they appeared in the open doorway and came over to where we were sitting.
"We were listening at the door," Jake said.
"We want you to adopt us just like Dad did," Sean said as the two of them stood by Dana's chair.
Dana got up and put her arms out and the two of them gave her a big hug.
"Well, I guess you got your answer, dear. It looks like they want you as their mom."