Loris Mandolina: A Pharmacist in Cagli

story and photos by Robert Kunckle

The bells in the Cagli’s Piazza Mattoeti chime three times in the middle of “riposa” while a steady stream of deliveries arrive at the pharmacy's back door office. The pharmacist, Loris Mandolina, greets each delivery with pleasantries and politeness. Packages with medicines and inventory -- as well as the soft hum of a computer -- prove this enterprise is connected to the global village. While this pharmacy could be anywhere, it is Loris Mandolina at the Counternestled in the mountain village of Cagli, a 13th century town with 21st century technology. In some cultures, technology often removes the human element, but Loris shows how it can be used to strengthen relationships. 

Loris has a quiet, friendly manner that puts his patients at ease, even those from far away lacking Italian language skills. He is patient; he is kind, and he is knowledgeable. Above all, he is a modest man who is quick to say his is not the best pharmacy in town. He knows there is more than mere science and chemistry behind the services he offers. And judging from the number of clientele in his store every afternoon, the rapport he builds is clearly valued.

Loris decided to move to Cagli 15 years ago when the pharmacy just off the town’s piazza came up for sale. The decision to move was based purely on happenstance; he could have just as easily wound up in Milan or Florence, but the opportunity was here. Once he bought the pharmacy and started his family, Cagli became home.

Loris found many reasons to love Cagli. “It’s a good place to raise a family,” he says. “Housing here is affordable, and the countryside and mountains are beautiful.”

He enjoys spending time in the surrounding countryside -- Acqualagne in particular.  His favorite event in Cagli is the annual fair in August called “Palio d’ Oca,” which means – literally -- the festival of geese. The festival’s games and merriment often spread from the piazza to the bars and cafes. The main event is a game that requires men to catch wild geese. Loris finds this event especially amusing. While it once took place on the piazza, it now happens safely on the outskirts of town.  

Loris takes his role in Cagli seriously. His familiarity with common medications gained after 20 years in the trade allows him to counsel the patients who enter his door. His computer keeps him connected to the latest information on new prescription medications. Distance from major metropolitan areas shrinks with overnight courier services and connectivity to the internet. These conveniences are key to the personalized, one-on-one service Loris provides. 

When you visit Loris’s pharmacy, be sure to look up. The ceiling in the front room is adorned with beautiful fresco paintings including some very interesting grotesques.  “Relationships are important, but the ultimate goal is to make the patient well,” Loris says.
Like his older brother, Loris considered pursuing a medical degree, but a friend suggested he consider pharmacy school; the major advantage was it required only four years of college. Ironically, his older brother ended up following his lead and decided to pursue a career in biology instead of medicine. 

In Italy, pharmacists are required to attend continuing education courses.  In addition to the courses available online, there are also continuing education courses located a mere block away in the opera house. Loris’s educational interests extend beyond the legal requirement. Such training renews his passion for caring for his customers, he says

Loris concedes that in Cagli, as well as the rest of Italy, people live on a little less money while they are working. But people know that after a life spent at one profession, they can count on a secure government-backed retirement.

Loris is puzzled by what he sees in the United States. – “A land of strict laws and easy credit. How is it that so many take on so much risk without a safety net?” he says. However, Loris notes, there is change on the horizon for Cagli. More and more frequently, people work at lots of “little jobs” with little-to-no job security.  The old ways meant working at one profession or for one company, leaving only when it was time to retire.  Now having four of five employers or multiple careers is not unusual. The change forces more responsibility on individuals in terms of saving for retirement.

As for those drawn to Cagli, Loris’s advice is simple. “Get ready for small-town life,” Loris says. “The streets are a ghost town Saturday and Sunday.” 
While Cagli is not for everyone, for many people such as Loris, it is a special place. It is home.