One of the benefits of being in “lockdown” is the ample time for introspection. Today I want to reflect on someone who has been my influencer – way before the term became a part of our social media lexicon. Dr. Prof. (both not really sure) Carlo Alberto Pejrone. To me he is always Carlo Alberto, a dear family friend, and more importantly in many ways my mentor. The very brief backstory goes something like this … growing up in Ethiopia in the mid 80s and 90s dentists were hard to come by. However every summer during the school summer holidays we would go back to Turin, my hometown and where I was born. And every summer we would visit Carlo Alberto in his dental studio for the family check-up. It always became a competition to see who managed to accumulate the fewest cavities throughout the course of the year and single digits were an accomplishment. How the friendship with my father started I am not quite sure now actually but anyway this pattern would repeat itself over the years and the family friendship grew closer with time. Then one summer when I was perhaps 10 or 11 Carlo Alberto invited me to spend a few weeks with him and his wife at his place on Isola d’Elba (the island where Napoleon was exiled). Somehow this became a standing invitation and every summer hence until I left for college I would spend a few weeks with him there.
The memories from those summers are so vivid in my memory. The time we went drift fishing in the middle of nowhere in the Mediterranean just him and I on his boat Shuttle, with both of us trying to figure out how to work out the Loran (a navigation system that was a precursor to GPS). Night spear-fishing (that’s what Carlo Alberto would do) I would be up on the surface, all 11 years old in the dark, following his underwater torch paddling a little inflatable dinghy used to store “the catch.” Learning how to pick sea urchins from the sea bed and then make pasta with them. Each of these memories are a story in their own right. Wonderful experiences that I treasure intimately and fondly.
But over the years what I have come to realize and appreciate the most is the way Carlo Alberto crafted those experiences. He was always teaching, though I never really noticed. Not because I wasn’t paying attention but because I was to busy doing. He allowed me to try. And by trying I would fail. And by failing I would learn. Obvious now maybe. But it is easier said than done – and especially in retrospect. I remember when I was maybe 12 … not sure now, anyway way too young to be legally operating a powerboat like The Shuttle (yes it was as fast as it sounds) – and one day he put me at the steering wheel and told me to steer. As I gained confidence I learned how to use the throttle. I failed miserably when we (I) were going too fast and crunched over an over-sized wave made by a passing ferry. I am sure Carlo Alberto saw it coming but … he let me learn. And sometimes you have to learn the hard way. Eventually I got to docking in reverse. Again, many a crunched dock – Carlo Alberto could have stepped in to avoid the mishaps – but he didn’t. He was crafting learning experiences.
The friendship, the wonderful experiences and moments shared, these all I cherish dearly. But what I value the most is the way he allowed me to grow as a person by giving me the chance to make mistakes, and in so doing to truly learn. It is something I try and remind myself of constantly as a teacher and father. But it’s so hard. To truly let go and … … … …. and for all these life lesson I appreciate Carlo Alberto even more. Grazie caro.
April 29, 2020 at 12:11 am
Wow, that kind of friendship and mentorship is beyond rare: It’s amazing! The memories and lessons you’ve accumulated over the years will serve you and your students more than any of you will ever realize. Thank you for sharing this.
May 1, 2020 at 7:54 am
He sounds like such a special person. How wonderful to have someone like that in your life. Your writing really captures what an amazing mentor he was.