As I diligently scrub the bathroom floor, the telephone rings. It's Lee, good friend and wife of former boss, Tibor. "Ron, I'm a little confused. Are you going to be able to come to Pesaro or not? Our housekeepers are leaving for Sri Lanka on Dec. 5," she says.
A wave of jubilation sweeps over me. I hastily answer, "Of course. When do we leave?"
A few days later, Fed Ex delivers our airline tickets. I'm dumbfounded. They're first class. Perhaps our good fortune is the result of airline miles earned by our hosts. No matter what the reason, I'm thrilled.
On Dec. 2, with as much humility as we can muster, Orllyene and I ascend the steps of a Virgin Airlines 747 to the upper lounge. I come close to hyperventilating when the stewardess says "Welcome aboard, Mr. and Mrs. Walker. Please let us know if you would like anything to eat or drink during the flight." I immediately settle myself into the lounge style seat, and look around the cabin. What kind of person can afford this luxury? I decide; very rich people.
From Heathrow, we fly to Milan. Rogerio is there and chauffeurs us at the speed of light to Pesaro where we exit the Autostrada. We drift aimlessly through the pitch, black, darkness. Suddenly, we turn onto a steep, curvy road, and pass through two electronically controlled gates. It starts feeling rather ominous until our headlights reveal a lovely home. An oval entry way is at the center. Intersecting roof lines give the impression of antiquity, but obviously the building is relatively new. Even in the darkness, the grounds are beautiful. Kumari welcomes us and shows us to our bedroom. She says she will have breakfast ready for us in the morning. We will be in the guest suite. The room has a concave ceiling, polished wood trim everywhere, and an ornate marble floor. We've struck the Mother Lode.
Up early the next morning, Sirath gives me the keys to the Range Rover and shares the combination for the two gates. Kumari shows Orllyene the freezer, the washer and dryer, and how to operate the cooking range. "If you have trouble, call Eleana. She's the property manager," Sirath says. A week later, a fierce snowstorm topples a tree onto the driveway. We're stranded for two days. Happily Eleana has it removed. She turns out to be a good friend, and we go shopping and sightseeing together.
When it's time to fill up the Range Rover, I decide to practice my Italian on the attendant. He listens, smiles, and replies, "Scuse sir, you just ordered a half million gallons of Premium." I settle for a more moderate amount.
For five weeks, we explore cosmopolitan Pesaro, rustic farms, and even San Marino, a tiny sovereign country half the size of Smith Valley. Fiorensuola, a medieval village, is just 20 minutes up the road. I drop in at the Tabac, and have an espresso. The old timers play checkers and read newspapers. Across the plaza is Ristorante Rupe, where Orllyene and I have a sumptuous Christmas dinner.
Our Italian adventure is the result of two very, generous friends. They chose to give Orllyene and me a trip of a lifetime. Sadly, this is a way of saying thank you to Lee. She recently left this world for a better place and is greatly missed.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.