His Products are Made of Leather - But What's Gianni Made of?
The other day I was looking at the hand-knit finger puppets that Gianni had sent to my daughter Chiara, and paused to think about how lucky we are to have found him, our very first supplier. Then I immediately remembered how my forgetfulness inadvertently put his character to the test the last time we visited him in Sicily.
That morning we were going to take the bus to the airport to catch a flight back to Italy. (Yes, Sicily is part of Italy, but the locals there always seemed to refer to the mainland as "Italy", as if it were a foreign country.) We were trying our best to make our last few hours on the island memorable: soaking up some morning rays, savoring a lemon granita, watching elderly ladies doing yoga on the beach. Gianni had come to the hotel to give us a ride to the bus station and was talking to some locals about their plans for the Festa del Patrono, or the town's patron saint festival, which was to begin that day.
As I was loading up our suitcases in the back of Gianni's van I suddenly realized that I had not packed my dress shoes. Now, these were no ordinary dress shoes - well, they actually were quite ordinary, but not under the circumstance: I had an important business meeting that evening, with no time to stop anywhere to shop, the only other pair of shoes being the less-than-presentable sandals on my feet. I frantically ran back to my hotel room only to find out that it had already been cleaned by an over-achieving housekeeping crew.
It's amazing how a pair of shoes can invoke such a sense of dread. I sprinted back down to plead for help from the front desk, housekeeping, maintenance - anyone that would listen. All the while my imagination was vividly playing out the increasingly inevitable outcome â€“ us missing the bus, missing the plane, missing our important meeting, and the entire trip crumbling to pieces ... all because of a pair of stinkin' shoes!
After what felt like an hour of searching high and low for my shoes, we eventually located them in the maintenance room, neatly tucked away in a box. We all jumped into the van and peeled out of the hotel's driveway. Luckily, Gianni is the unofficial tour guide for the region and knows every shortcut like the back of his hand. With skill and swiftness, he maneuvered his van down steep mountain roads, then narrow cliffside paths, and finally through the congested city streets of Messina.
I was starting to get used to the idea of catching the bus in time when the bus station appeared in sight. My heart sank. No bus. We had missed it by a matter of seconds. There would be no more buses to the airport that day.
But before I could wrap my head around what this all meant, Gianni was rapidly weaving through traffic again.
"The bus is supposed to make one more stop at the edge of town. We can catch it there," he explained. Soon, we spotted the bus a couple of blocks ahead. "There it is!" Gianni exclaimed, as we all breathed a sigh of relief and joked about how I must have intentionally left the shoes behind just to make our lives a little more interesting.
We continued following our bus to the last bus stop, chatting about Gianni's two daughters, the local youth volleyball team that he manages, and the celebrations planned that day for the big festival.
The bus approached the last stop - but it did not stop. We hadn't considered the fact that it would not stop unless someone needed to get on or off! Out of nowhere, as if in a poorly-scripted movie, it started pouring rain. Just like that, all hopes of catching my flight had vanished.
Gianni was not the type to give up so easily. He immediately pulled up next to the bus and started honking, flashing his lights, weaving left and right and frantically gesturing to the driver in hopes of getting him to pull over, but got barely a glance for all his efforts.
It did not take long for us to realize that nothing was going to get the bus to stop. It also became clear that nothing was going to stop Gianni from helping us catch our flight, not the driving rain, nor the 5-hour drive to the airport and back, not even the festivities he'd be missing back home.
As much as I'd like to believe that Gianni's kindness that day was due to the professional relationship and friendship we had developed over the years, deep down I know that it is more a reflection of the kind of guy he is - selfless, determined, and genuine. I dare you to watch Gianni's video and not be inspired by him and his products.
Gianni - a sailing afficianado - with Daniele at the MACEF crafts show in Milan.