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It took him ten minutes to make himself understood, Iran but when the man, more confused than persuaded, sat behind the steering wheel and fired the engine, it eased into a beautiful spin.

“You see,” Iran said, waving to his customer. “The car sounds so factory-new that you’ll have to break it in.” He waved proudly, while master mechanic Iran , who could hardly hold back his laughter, finally burst into a laugh so loud and long that he had to keep his sides and stomach muscles Iran from hurting.

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Master mechanic Pino’s and Gio’s shop quickly became a meeting place in the village, just as in the past barber salons and the shops of tailors and shoemakers had been for the poor people, while pharmacies catered to the social needs of the wealthy. Friends came and went. “Gio, will you take a look at my car’s engine, change the oil, come and have a beer, tonight we’ll go for a pizza.” Over time Gio noticed that between customers who greeted saying: “I’ll see you later,” “I’ll be back soon” and never paid, friends and family from whom he never took a single cent, the pizzas, beers or sandwiches that went around and which he shared with his uncle Graziano and his young apprentice several times a day, at the end of the month he couldn’t even manage to pay the rent for his workshop.

If it weren’t for the money made by his father’s cantina, Gio could hardly scrape together enough money to pay for matches and cigarettes. He took it all calmly, but was working himself to death, and although he wasn’t a slave to time, he would work at night and even on Sundays in the summer when it was necessary, even though, “due di queste facevano mezza canna” (two of these amount to a half-barrel) joining his thumb to his index finger, as if to say “cca spachija”: You won’t see a penny here, even if you shoot yourself.

One day he took his leave of everyone. He was moving to France, to Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne, to join a colony of fellow villagers, many of whom had been childhood friends. Those who believed they knew him well thought he would be back in a few months. Those who barely knew him wondered what someone who could hardly speak his own dialect could possibly do in France. Sure, he was a hard worker, a good person, an honest man, but how would he be able to manage in a foreign land, where he would have difficulty just buying his own groceries? His father, his mother and his sister took the news of his leaving as a joke.

If I remember correctly, it was 1973. After a period of hopes and returns, Junca was hit by a new wave of departures and flights, almost like in the 1950s. Emigrants and students would return for the summer and at Christmas, but the village was beginning to empty: a levelling out due to death and emigration.

Gio returned on time every summer. He embraced his relatives, arranged as quickly and as best he could his suitcase and duffel bag, and off to the cantina, to the bar in the piazza and then the sea. He never failed to pay a visit to my mother, his father’s sister. He would hug me, smiling and with feeling, and always call me “cousin Vito.” The degree of kinship was inseparable from the baptismal name, confirming a brotherly bond. He had a real sense of kinship and knew all horizontal and vertical ramifications. He’d learned from his father’s family the art of recognizing and respecting all relations of kinship. He was a little younger than me, and we lived in neighbourhoods far away from each other. We were different and had embarked on different paths. Your travel destination is we loved each other, as happens between first cousins, who know that their parents love each other deeply. I still remember my mother’s despair when Gio’s father’s leg was amputated, and her daily reminders to my sister and me to go visit our uncle.

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