No one knew quite what to expect when the young ambassadors of Station Maine arrived in Italy. We knew there would be gigs, the Bantry Bay Gigs used by the Atlantic Challenge last summer, exactly like the one on which we had been training all winter. How many or from where was anyone's guess. We knew we would be made welcome by our hosts. Something about a festival. Maybe it was because our minds, and our hearts, were so open that Italy had such an impact on us.
Grazia. A simple word in Italian, one of the first taught to us by the Penobscot School, whose gift of an afternoon of Italian armed us with enough language skills to at least be polite. There were more. These kids from Maine never lost an opportunity to show the world that, although we don't exactly know their language or their ways, we want to fit in as guests.
The purpose of our trip, officially, was to help Genoa to raise awareness of the Bantry Bay gigs, towards starting a gig program of their own. Genoa is one of the oldest and largest ports on the Mediterranean, yet boasts almost no traditional wooden boats to remind them of the great antiquity of that maritime tradition which has always linked Genoa to the world. To that end French, Italian, and American youth were mixed from the beginning to demonstrate the boats. I'd love to have been a fly on the rigging in those mix races, with the understanding of the boats and the sea as the only common language. But the handshakes and smiles all around when the young crews returned gave us on the shore strong clues as to how the race was run.
Soccer was another universal language. Kids of three nations who had been on the water, rowing and sailing hard, found new depths of energy when the soccer ball appeared. I never found out who won. I didn't even know how the teams were divided. It didn't matter.
Our hosts planned other adventures and excursions that didn't involve the gigs. We were treated to a tour of the largest aquarium in Europe, a view of Genoa from the deck of a square topsail schooner, and a day trip to Piza to see the famous tower for ourselves.
Shall I pretend I wasn't nervous, taking twelve kids from mid coast Maine, other peoples' children, out into a world at war? But at the risk of sounding overly proud, these aren't just any kids. These are kids who got themselves up in the dark of the morning to row on a frozen ocean before school. These are the kids who give up their Saturdays to sail making, their Sundays to work parties, and their evenings to Ceilidh rehearsals. When, in my many sleepless nights preceding our adventure, I cast an inner eye over each young face, I knew I could depend on each one of them. They didn't let me down.
Did we wage peace in this war torn world? Although our mission was markedly apolitical, still the flag of peace flies brighter every time the hand of friendship is extended across cultural and political barriers. The young French lad who held his good-byes to the very last moment said it best. Over and over again he said "I am so proud to know you. I am so happy to have Americans as friends. Whatever happens, now I cannot hate Americans, because you are my friends."
Station Maine would like to thank the many friends and supporters in the mid-coast area who made this trip to Italy possible.