Manuel Marini: The Depth Behind the Smile

story and photos by Lynne Green

The local teens of Cagli gather in the sunlight between the gelateria and the door to where a friend works. They are quick to notice the activities around them. They laugh and make comments about everything and everyone. They are difficult to photograph. Like a curious litter of puppies, they are too interested in the camera.

One such local teen is Manuel Marini, whose expressive brown eyes and flashing grin draw friends and strangers alike into easy conversation. Manuel, “Call me Manu,” he says, takes a genuine interest in all that happens around him, especially what is going on with people and his town. He asksquestions of everyone he meets, engaging them easily in conversation. He is not bothered by the fact he often needs his friends to confirm his English comprehension. He revels in this laborious communication process, making it fun for everyone. His lively banter counters the quiet, relaxed time of pausa, the post lunch rest between noon and 3.

He cannot help but be social. He leads the group in discussion from one topic to another. Questions tumble artlessly from him. He answers genuinely and forthrightly. But be prepared. He has questions of his own about life outside of Cagli and Italy. He wants to engage and exchange.

Diving deeper provides surprising insights. He wants to go to university. Of the 150 graduating seniors in the surrounding area, likely only 20 or so will go on to higher education, he says. He is one of those. Inspired by his academic successes and encouraged by his Italian teacher, Manu recently decided to study marine biology at either Urbino or Bologna. Science is his favorite subject; it comes easily to him, and his photographic memory makes subjects he likes easy to master. He must work harder on subjects that don’t interest him, he says.Gioia E Dolore... Governano l’equilibrio del mondo, Quando noi ci troviamo a sognare, Mentre altri solo a star male!

While he is a jokester, he has a serious side. Manu says that he was this year’s winner of the local poetry contest. He saw the poster advertising the competition and decided to enter. He says his winning piece, “Giola E Dolore” (“Joy and Pain”), reflects the joys and challenges of growing up in today’s world. For Manuel, “Middle school was a challenging time,” he says. “People were always fighting, and I don’t like that.”

He says he feels more settled now because he has so many friends. He proudly introduces Luka, his oldest childhood friend, and reports that Elia, a friend he made more recently, will return soon from vacation. He and Elia plan to go to university together.

Manu’s aunt, the first in the family to attend university, also inspired his university aspirations. Her brother, Manu’s father, supported her during her university days, and she wants to help her nephew meet his goals. His parents also support his ambitions.  He has a safe port from which to launch.

He recently started a new job as tour guide of the Torrione (or tower), a relic of Cagli’s medieval wall. The job is one of several offered to teens in the local community. Like many teen boys, Manu grows increasingly animated as he talks about the torture room and the weapons arsenal. He shows off the three-kilometer tunnel that burrows into the mountain up to the monastery. It was once used as a secret passage to help Italians escape from the Germans during World War II. He is clearly proud of his town and wants to share it with visitors.

It is the end of the day. The city hall bells have just tolled 7. Manu pulls out the ancient key to the door and locks up. Four of his friends loiter outside, waiting. The day’s work is done and once again, Manu is off to do what he likes best: Find a place to talk, hang out, laugh and build friendships.





segment of poem - click here for full