My dear friend Bruno in Gothenburg
MEMORIES: written by blogger Maya Hedberg, translated by Ramon Unchuan
I am in ”LANDALA HOUSE”, an assisted-living-retirement complex in the central downtown area of Gothenburg, Sweden. The nurse-on-duty summoned me from my home at noon on Good Friday. She said she found my name in some pieces of paper on top of a study-table of a particular resident, as one of persons to be informed in case of serious concerns arise of this particular resident on the 3rd floor-wing, ASPERO. Naturally, I responded as requested.
This man BRUNO migrated in the 60s to Sweden from Florens, Italy during the wave of recruitment of workers by the giant car manufacturer, Volvo. Thus, the start of a new life in Gothenburg. At Volvo this very energetic young man was very hard working and ambitious, that soon enough he was promoted to a position of trust: ”kontrollant”. To test drive the newly produced Volvo automobiles coming from the production line. Off from work he was even asked by the company to ”look after” the newly arrived Italian immigrant workers in Gothenburg. There even were a larger number of Italian immigrants recruited to other Swedish industries, such as the famous ball-bearing manufacturer, SKF, located in the older part of the city, ”Gamla Stan”.
I was only 17 years old when I met BRUNO for the first time. When he just arrived in Gothenburg, housing was a huge problem even for ordinary Swedes. Inspite of an old squeaky flat in Vegagatan did not prevent him from welcoming his Italian friends, being kind and hospitable to this people. He understood too well the loneliness and homesickness of these new immigrants. Soon BRUNO would move to new and modern flat in the center of Gothenburg, Karl Gustavsgatan.
I would visit him in his flat to listen to Italian music in his gramophone! We played endless Italian pop songs. I did not understand a word then, but still I learned all the text by heart…
Sapore di sale, sapore di mare, che haiu sulla pelle, che hai sulle labbra, quando esci dall acqua, e ti viene a sdraiare, vicino a me, vicino a me…
Beautiful! I asked BRUNO to translate and he says ”it is a man who sings about her taste of salt, her skin, her lips — when she comes out of the sea and lies down next to him”. My imagination would run wild ”that there is this woman in a bath towel and he bends over to her.” Very romantic!
At BRUNO’s flat, the door was always open to anybody and everybody! Even after a late night shift at Volvo and much needed rest, his Italian friends were still welcome to hang around his flat while he was sleeping in the sofa-bed. Sometimes sharing a plate of home cooked spaghetti, missed by his friends. I never get to know well all of his Italian friends. BRUNO quickly learned to speak excellent and fluent Swedish. And now I was beginning to understand him when he talks about life… that he loved to travel and see other countries… other cultures. He was a very open-minded person BRUNO. He was from Florens… capital of the Old World! Why he chooses Sweden to be his new homeland, I still wonder up to today.
On the record player, Rita Pavone, was singing La Partita di Pallone:
La domenica mi lasci sempre sola
Per andare a vedere la partita
Di pallone perché, perché
Una volta non ci porti pure me
Se darrero vai a vedere la tua squadra
O se invece tu milasci con la scusa
Del pallone, chissá
Scanmi d’una bugia o la veritá
Ma un fiorno ti seguiró perché
Ho dei dubbi che non mi fm dormir
E se scoprir io potró
Che mi vuoi imbrogliar
Da mamma ritorneró
”A girl suspects that her boyfriend does not go to football on Sundays..”
We come to the 70s. I started to build my own family, and our paths with BRUNO separated, which was to last for several decades. We lost touch with each other, no news about each other whatsoever! In my work with the Swedish Health Care System, I met a man who also became a friend, RAMON. A doctor who also migrated to Sweden from the Philippines. He was a popular practicing physician in Gothenburg. He was likewise responsible of one of our primary care system, particularly Hisingen with a geographic area practically half of the city. He even became a CHEFOVERLAKARE (Chief Medical Officer). He was interested in modernizing the clinics, such as computerizing medical records, re-organizing the different units (with my help) to be more cost-effective and give service to the patients, etc. His area of primary health care became a show-case of innovative development in the Swedish Health Care system. In addition he had a Pain Relief Clinic. Among treatment of said clinic was Acupuncture. He was sent to Beijing, China to learn the art of acupuncture in treatment of chronic pain. It faced then some opposition from a few medical practitioners initially, but today one of the treatment modalities.
I had the privilege of being an On-the-Job ”trainee” with RAMON being an administrator of the health-care system. I saw first hand his patients really appreciated his attitude and skills. Nothing was left to chance. He was diligent and accurate in his diagnosis. I was not there to check on him. I had to get an insight in the everyday work routine of our health providers.
RAMON and I became friends. Once after he relocated already to his homeland, we bumped into each other in the streets of Gothenburg and he invited me for dinner to ”his” flat in Karl Gustavsgatan 45, which I did not know he borrowed from BRUNO, who at that time was left in the Philippines, while RAMON was on a short working visit to Sweden. He showed me photos of his farm in the Philippines, and I saw suddenly a familiar face…
– Isn’t that BRUNO PANDOLFINI beside the dog in the photo? I asked RAMON
He looked at me startled (surprise is a mild word) and I started narrating my memories of BRUNO. So it was the same BRUNO after all. They have lived together for many years, unknown to me. They had separate residences in Gothenburg, but lived together when they moved to the Philippines. I knew them both from different times of our lives. I never knew until that moment they were lifetime partners! They both lived in the Philippines and Karl Gustavsgatan, alternating sojourns. What an encounter!
Years went by and RAMON was left in the Philippines and our paths separated again. Here in Gothenburg my life continued with my family and an elderly mamma. After a long wait in queue, mamma finally got a place in “LANDALA HOUSE”, the retirement complex. The circle of life comes to a close! She came to this part of Gothenburg in the 30s. Tumultuous years for the elderly due to decreasing number of retirement homes available. Statistics say older people are increasing in population, instead the politicians decides to decrease the availability. I miss the logic! Mamma died at 94, March 2013. Bad memories!
We come now to Easter weekend, March 2016. I got an urgent telephone call from “LANDALA HOUSE”, an assisted-living-retirement complex which I vowed after mammas death, never to set foot again. But because of that frantic call, it was time for me to forget the unhappy experiences of the past. Someone needs me!
I rushed to BRUNO’S bedside, who for a few hours already had been sliding from consciousness to unconsciousness state. The staff narrated to me that earlier that morning BRUNO in a confused state, I presumed, was talking in a mixture of Italian & English. BRUNO would say ”cissi”. None of the staff understands Italian. I presumed that BRUNO was saying ”si, si” in answer to the questions with the staff. His mother tongue has finally come back to him!
I whispered to him in Italian (yes, I speak Italian!) that I would be at his bedside to the end. Everything was okay and did not have to worry. He gave me signs that he wanted to answer me, but words would not come out from his lips. He fell to a deep sleep and I held his hands all the time. I stroke his forehead to comfort him, and he was breathing calmly.
Hours went by… FLASHBACKS! MEMORIES! overcame me – my life… his life…our unexpected encounters… this time in both our lives! In one of my regular visits to my mamma in “LANDALA HOUS”, his name suddenly appeared in the hallway of the entrance of “LANDALA HOUS” as a new resident. I told mamma then that I recognized that name. That day from mamma I went down 3 floors of the building to visit him. AFTER 40 YEARS we meet again! BRUNO recognized me right away and we talked about old memories, BRUNO AND I. He came back to Sweden from the Philippines due to poor health.
He showed me pictures when he was young in Florens, and photos in the Philippines of good memories. Then I told him that I know RAMON, his lifepartner! How unpredictable our paths in life, I thought! Then on, I would accompany BRUNO to his regular doctor’s appointments, when the staff could not. Sometimes on my way home from my visit to mamma I would drop by him and sit with him while he was having dinner. I think sometimes how lonely it must be, coming to a foreign land as a young man, perhaps no longer in contact with friends and relatives in his old homeland. Stranger to his relatives in Italy, who probably did not accept his choice of a lifepartner. Not accept that he has broken the tradition and ways that his family followed for generations? Shame? Who knows!
I called the Philippines and Italy, informing them of the current status, that BRUNO did not have many hours to live. That I am at his bedside. Expected of course that they became emotional. Many of them have not had personal contacts with BRUNO anymore. The past is catching up!
RAMON informed me that he was taking the next flight from the Philippines to Gothenburg. They are after all lifepartners and it was time that the long relation will come to an end.
BRUNO ”fell asleep forever” quarter past one, Easter Eve 2016!