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I Met him in Lower East Manhattan at a Grassroot Tavern

This blog is to be about culture around town, but here and there I make an exception and shout to the world some personal stories without which my life would not be as funky and lovely.

So today is about this unassuming guy who knows more than one can understand: How every machine works, how historical events went, how cars and ships and planes came about, what politicians said when and why, how to stand on skis or a windsurf, how to build a house or a tree house, how to plumb, how to wire, how to tile, how to build a table, an armoire, a chest of drawers, how to repair a hair dryer or a car, how to make a perfect vanilla croissant, and such.

He also plays guitar and I love to sing along. He loves to dance and I join in often. He loves to travel and I am always in his crew. (Or is he in mine?) He loves to sail and with trepidation I board with him.

And there is so much more to say, like how one day when he was twenty three he decided after a careful deliberation to flee his country for freedom, and he climbed over the Julian Alps crossing a border from Yugoslavia to Italy. After the one day trip negotiating the mountains and avoiding the guards, with fifty dollars to his name, one backpack and Exacta, a reputable camera, he appeared by a small road. He was waiting if a car would ever appear and it did. He hoisted his thumb rather sheepishly and the white Citroën stopped and this rather shy unassuming guy asked: Italia? Am I in Italia? The young driver breaks into a wide smile and say "Certo che sei in italia!!", and reaches to open the passenger doors for this unlikely hitch hiker and takes him right to Roma....and what follows is a chapter of the next 16 months spent in "campo profughi" in Latina, a town below Rome, but that is for a different post.

What is left for this post is this poem I wrote. I am not a poet in any means, just sometimes I feel like pretending I am one. The following story describes “in veritas” how I met this guy who became my companion for life that amazes me daily. It is today, many years ago, when our story started:

Manhattan Dance

I met him at Lower East Manhattan

on a sweltering hot summer day

I was a lonely traveler then

Witnessing and living all of the sensations

of this happy new world:

Just like my first day

the beauty of endless choice of bagels

and fruit parfaits

in Queens’ Deli on Astoria Ave


the sweet smell of something

they called Kentucky Fried Chicken


the daily rides in the stuffy hot subway

where I am

one of them

one of the world

freely going from place A to place B


accepted by Ellis Island clerks as much as I was concerned

And before I know it

I am swaying in his arms

dancing to juke box

in St. Mark’s Place in the Grassroot bar

to Eric Clapton’s story

about wonderful tonight

And I notice right there

what a noble person my partner is

even though

I know next to nothing about him-

His calloused hands

His careful choice of words

His patriotism – the latter and the acquired

His concerns

And right then I am swept over the ocean

back to my old country

only to come back

six months later on

the Fourth of July

And here at JF Kennedy is my partner

the one from my first Manhattan dance

shy, fidgeting with his keys in his hand


in Canadian shirt, blue soccer shorts

and white Italian tennis shoes

that carried him from the familiar there to the unknown here

And before I know it

I sit next to him

In his white Ford 150

Listening to his soft voice

sharing his fortunes and misfortunes

his yesterday’s and tomorrow’s

And again

I know right here

That this kind young man who was willing to dance with me

My first Manhattan dance

is endlessly good

And something changes the way

I look at him

I start assessing all of his moves and words and looks

checking whether I agree with it:

I start judging as if he were on

Behavior observation

A test

That he better passes


I am happily losing my head

For this soft-spoken easy-going guy

And yes

He passes and surpasses all of my secret tests

I devise day and night

Just to be sure

That it might be true after all

That there are such men:

believing in hard work

going around life without ever cheating anyone

and possessing the right amount of modesty

I am charmed by humble hard-working men

as this one

With his wealth of stories about this old good world

And wealth of wisdom about every day traps

Most of all though

This gentle young man

With wild long hair

Abounds with wonderful sense

Of the ancient companionship

With all of the iron rules

That are not to be broken

Not to mention

That he plays guitar

And it is something

I like to pretend

That I require of “my ”men

without exceptions

Life can get difficult

And a song scares the ugliness away

And I need one more voice

To scream over it

to win

And yes

he got somewhere in universe

the courage

for decision that

I may

just like that

fit his vision

of his woman

And he quickly shared it with me

in his beautiful discreet way

To my surprise

And everlasting happiness


Ever since

that man with hazelnut eyes

Has been the one

knowing every secret I have

And yes

Here we are today

On a sunny Sunday

Days and weeks and years later

And yet again I wonder

About the lucky star

Shining brightly

Above old good Chicago

Where I almost lost all of my wits

By realizing

That I became the chosen one

for my first Manhattan dance partner

Such a luck


to be celebrated every day

And so we do

By sharing and living

Our well kept secret

Mainly by dancing

With a smile and vigor

On sandy beaches

forest paths or hot city sidewalks

I see it

as quite a dance


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