Carla Santini: Force of Nature
Glistening cherries, succulent nectarines, and juicy pears beckon to passersby in Cagli, Italy. Fruit-and-vegetable stand owner Carla Santini hefts a crate of cantaloupe and flits across the cobblestones with the grace of a ballet dancer. Impeccably turned out in linen slacks, low-heeled leather pumps, a bejeweled blouse, and pearls, Carla greets each customer personally. Her eyes crinkle and she beams as she talks to a neighbor or makes a new friend.
She arranges each melon just so before turning her attention to the peach display. Her work-roughened hand gently lifts a peach for closer inspection. She repositions the fruit so the tantalizing blush of each peach faces the customer. Every fruit and vegetable has a best side, and Carla makes sure each piece is attractively displayed. No one is allowed to help set up the fruit stand. For her to ensure perfection, she considers the display hers and hers alone.
Carla is a force of nature. Sixteen years ago, she fell asleep while driving her car and the resulting car accident forever changed her life. Doctors told her that because of the injuries she sustained, she would never walk again. Determined to return to her life, work, and family, she spent two years in intensive, painful physical therapy. She credits her full recovery to “My strength of character and my family.” She does not take a single day for granted and lives each day with gusto. Carla has three life loves: her family, her fruit and vegetable stand, and the people of Cagli.
Carla and her husband, Bio Magnoni, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this September. Raised in different small towns close to Cagli, they met when Bio’s sister married Carla’s uncle. It was Bio’s sister who introduced Carla to Bio on Sept.19, 1952, Carla remembers with a soft smile. Exactly one year after the date of their first meeting, Bio and Carla married.
Theirs was not love at first site. Carla grins as she remembers how Bio was, initially, less convinced than she about their future as a couple. The love they share now is evident in their tender glances, affectionate caresses, and the joy they take in each other’s company. Carla says the secret to their marriage is to “Always tell each other the truth – even if the other does not want to hear it.” Her three children and two grandchildren can attest to Carla’s unwavering commitment to her husband and family.
One of her sons works at the fruit-and-vegetable market she and Bio have owned for 54 years, and that son will take over the family business when Carla decides to retire. A date for that has not been set and is likely far off. Carla does not believe managing the fruit-and-vegetable market is work. It’s her passion, her love. It is a simple life full of hard work, and she would have it no other way.
At 76 years old, why does she still work? She loves serving the people of Cagli by providing fresh, high-quality produce. She does not like to miss a day at the fruit-and-vegetable market. Her husband surprised her with a trip to the beach, but she insisted they return for Cagli’s Market Day.
She directs the activity of the fruit and vegetable stand with the precision of a symphony orchestra conductor. When Carla speaks, everyone pays attention. She chats with the line of people waiting to weigh their produce, joking with her friends and neighbors. A woman darts behind the cash register to give Carla a quick hug. Children run over to say hello and accept the handful of cherries she offers them as a treat. Carla gives orders to her son regarding refilling the crates of lettuce and bringing out more potatoes. Before rearranging the carrot display, she waves to her husband who pokes his head out of the window of their home above the fruit-and- vegetable market to check on her. Carla is in constant motion – never slowing, never resting, and never fading.
Much like the woman herself, Carla’s outlook on life is beautiful in its simplicity. Work hard. Laugh often. Put your family first. Do something you are passionate about. When difficult times come, choose your own path regardless of what other people tell you. And make time to love. Life should not be lived without love.
“Life is beautiful,” she says. “You have to live daily. Just enjoy the day.”