“Do you know that story about the frog from the sea and the frog from the pond?” says Brunella Capitani while taking a spoon of the topping cream of her chocolate. “Well, the frog from the sea goes to the frog from the pond and tells her about this incredible place she’s from,” Brunella’s lovely Tuscan accent is like a melody that makes the words of the story dance around her, flowing away like leaves in the wind. “‘It’s like an immense pond! It doesn’t have boundaries, there are big waves. It’s beautiful!’ But the frog from the pond, distrustfully answers “you are a liar!’ and jumps away.” The storyteller takes a theatrical pause and then explains, “How can you know what happens in the world if you never travel?”
Brunella is a woman in her 40s with a warm smile and caring eyes. When she’s asked where she comes from, she shakes her head for “no” and scowls, suddenly making a serious expression. “I am not a passport, I am more than that!”, she clarifies. Despite defining herself as a citizen of the world, her Italian soul speaks for herself. “Something in me is deeply Italian, I always fought for my identity. And in some places, I can tell you, it was not easy.”
The first time she left the town of Viareggio, in the beautiful Tuscany, Brunella was 23 years old. “At first, parting was not easy. It was painful. Even now, it often happens to me to dream that I am in Italy, which is bizarre because I have been away for 20 years now.”
When she left Italy, it was 1992 and the country was going through one of the darkest periods of its history. Slaughters happened almost on a regular basis, the arm wrestling between Sicilian Mafia and the State was at its zenith. Giovanni Falcone e Paolo Borsellino were two great men, two magistrates on the frontline of this fight. They were both killed in a bloody attack in the spring-summer 1992. “When Borsellino died, I felt hopeless. That was not my country. Our generation felt betrayed. I decided it was time to leave.”
The first country she fled to, it was England. In London, she met the love of her life, a German diplomat named Andy. Since then, she never stopped traveling, following him almost in every country he was assigned to. Except when she was not allowed to, as it happened recently when Andy had to fly to Afghanistan and he couldn’t bring his family with him. That is why Brunella now moved to Groningen, the Netherlands, where her three daughters are currently studying. “But I will leave, soon!” she quickly makes clear, almost like reassuring herself, too.
“Le bimbe (as she calls her daughters) always had Dutch friends, wherever we were living. I came to the conclusion that this is because the Dutch culture is the perfect mix between the Italian liveliness and the German stiffness.” Brunella likes this country, especially because she felt welcomed here. In Berlin, where she was living earlier, she experienced discrimination in several situations. “Being beaten up by a German man, just because I was a stranger, because I was Italian, it was dreadful. The Dutchies are more welcoming, more cheerful.” During the first days she was here, she recalls hearing a man whistling. She was astonished, “if you do that in Berlin, they would think you are crazy!”, she giggles.
Despite now being based in the Netherlands, Brunella is about to take a flight to Greece to volunteer with a group of Italian obstetricians who help moms refugee with their special needs during their perilous journey. After this, she is leaving again, again to help refugees, this time with a Dutch humanitarian association. Having lived for a long time in several countries in the Mid East, Brunella is familiar with those cultures, that she claims have taught her a lot. For example, she knows how important it is for the majority of those people, to succeed in the attempt of beginning a new life in the West. “They need our help. Having to return to their home countries with nothing left except failure, is worse than death”
In the meantime, the world-traveler finally enjoys living in a smaller city as Groningen is. It reminds her of the town she’s from, with its lively, big family-like atmosphere. The thing she misses the most of Viareggio, are its surrounding landscapes, the Apennines gently going into the Tyrrhenian sea. When talking about her hometown, her voice lowers down out of nostalgia. “I grew up in a family where I was taught we are all the same, all equals. My mother used to prepare sandwiches for the beggars in the street. Now, when I go back, I find racism. The way people talk about the migrants gives me the creeps.”
Sadly, from what she has seen around the world, this is a general trend. She states having experienced discrimination on her skin several times in her life, in Italy, as was a woman, in Europe, as an Italian. “It’s the way the powerful are trying to make us fight one another, distracting us from the real enemy. If we could all take what is good from our own culture, living the bad things apart, everything would be better.”
Despite this apparent cynical surface, it is easy to spot how much hope still hides in the heart of this romantic lady. With the refugee crisis being the main issue of nowadays’ society, she wants to find herself on the right side of this story, together with the most vulnerable. “The EU was a wonderful idea, but what they made out of it, it is not working. If I still have hope, it is because I see trying to plant good seeds.”
The café we are sitting in is cozy, the light is honey-colored and there is a soft music in the background. Some Dutch girls sitting behind us are laughing and talking very loudly. At some point, Brunella, wearing a bright smile, addresses to the ladies and says “hey, we are Italian, usually we are very loud!” Almost guilty, the girls try to apologize, but quickly Brunella reassures them, “no worries, I like it! I feel at home!”
As we live the cafeteria, she takes the wallet out of her purse and I spot a heart-shaped sticker in the colors of the Italian flag. The only passport she needs to jump all over the world like the frog from the sea.