Genoa, Italy — 1881. The boy pulled the blind old man through the garden and up the hill to their favorite talking spot. He guided the old man’s steps with matter-of-fact directions. He took his charge very seriously as it was his responsibility to get his grandfather to the talking spot on top of the hill.
The talking spot atop the hill had two perpendicular slabs of rock for sitting that opened generously to a view of the Port of Genoa, just a league south of their modest family farm. The old man could no longer see the coast, but he could feel the sun and taste the salt.
They had been coming to this talking spot for as long as the boy could remember. He loved listening to his grandfather’s stories of revolution and adventure and gazing out over the bustling port. The boy had noticed more and more steamers coming in and out of the port over the years. There was something dreary and monotonous about them, and he preferred the old, proud clipper ships that gracefully heeled against the southerly winds as they beat into the Mediterranean. He liked to draw the clipper ships, and this perch furnished the flint to spark his sketches.
When they reached the talking spot, the boy saw six clippers in the port on this day and many cutters, schooners, barques, brigs, and steamers. Good. This is good for his father’s business, the boy thought.
“Lucca, I want to tell you an important story today,” the old man started and then paused.
“Can you tell the one about the riots in Nice again, Grandpa?” Lucca loved this story because it also featured his father, Enzo, who was sixteen at the time, only four years older than himself.
“No,” the old man said brusquely. Lucca blushed and averted his gaze in embarrassment. “This is not a story you’ve heard before, Lucca, but it needs telling. It is not a happy story, but it is an important story for our family. I sense there will not be many more opportunities for me to tell you this story, so you need to listen with care, Lucca. This is the story of the Battle of Solferino.”
The boy was rapt in attention.