Italian Idol

I discovered last night that only two degrees separate me from one of Italy’s top singing sensations. Well, technically three, since one degree should also be credited to a hospital in Cambodia. Then again, let’s say four, because, really, none of this would have happened were it not for another Italian celebrity named Gino.

Lorenzo Cherubini’s stage name is Jovanotti. Not only is he a superstar in his native country, but he is equally revered by Italians abroad. After a recent string of successful shows in the US, his sights were set on the market up north. Tickets sold out in record time.

I went to the show, even though I hadn’t heard of Jovanotti until recently. But with the venue’s management’s go-ahead, I was there to introduce Emergency (and Emergency-USA) to the local Italian community – because Jovanotti has been a longtime friend and supporter of this NGO and others.

With the assistance of staff and technicians, I stationed myself just inside the venue’s foyer. Though I was wearing a white t-shirt emblazoned with the NGO’s logo, I had few written materials, and only a tiny (netbook) laptop set on a table –a short ad of Jovanotti praising Emergency playing on a loop – so my expectations of attracting attention to my little corner were pretty low.

The line-up outside grew steadily by the time the doors opened. The concert-goers, keen to secure a (standing-only) spot in the circular hall, scurried by, with only a rare glance my way. And then, to my utter surprise, a young man, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties, approached me and, in broken English and with a knowing smile, said that he’d once organized a football-fundraiser for Emergency in Milan. That would have been enough.

A short while later, a thirty-something man strode up to my table, shook my hand and explained in halting English that he lives in Rome but now works as a researcher in anthropology at a local university, and that once he had done some work for Emergency back in Italy. That too would have been enough.

The concert lasted just over two hours, during which time the foyer was all but deserted. After comforting a young woman who’d nearly fainted in the hall, and waiting with her until her friends and an ambulance arrived, I spent over an hour back in my car, giving my body a much-needed rest.

Minutes after I returned to the venue, people began streaming out of the hall and lining up at the cloakroom. A group of fans lingered, some seeking to purchase Jovanotti’s new CD, others eager for his autograph (sorry, ladies, the man with the fedora has left the building). And then, bit by bit, they came: a couple who’d been eyeing me from afar, then a pair of camera-laden sisters, and two young women dressed in stilettos, tight jeans and matching shoulder-bags.

They either heard of Emergency from others, or were completely unaware of its existence. The idea that their musical idol was a supporter of this organization ignited their interest and enthusiasm. They signed up, all nine of them. Now, that was definitely good enough.

While packing up my laptop and materials, I thought to myself, wow, a seed is planted. It was only when I turned the ignition on in my car, belted myself in, and started to drive that panic set in: Now what???

So I did what I always do in a situation that might otherwise freak me out: I breathed deeply. Never mind what might happen. Que sera sera. But one thing I know, it’s not for nothing that my path crossed – if only obliquely – with Signor Cherubini’s; perhaps another angel in disguise.

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