Making a Living in Cagli

by Sharon Michael

Lorenzo and Elena LuchiniRistorante Guazza sits on the border between old and new Cagli in a 200-year-old building that once housed stables. Dark wooden tables with white table linen and sparkling glassware now fill the space where diners sit and enjoy generous portions of home-made pasta and delicately fried squash blossoms for lunch.

Lorenzo and Elena Luchini run the 40-year-old family restaurant now. Their father helps out at the bar occasionally and their mother, Maria, is the chef. Neither had planned to carry on the family business, but it seems to be their destiny, at least for now.

Lorenzo, 35, an aspiring cartoonist, was asked to stay on at his art school as a teaching assistant after graduation.  But duty called. At that time young men his age were obligated to serve a year in the Italian Army. Lorenzo served his year in Rome and Pesara and then in Cagli. When he finished his year of service, he returned to Cagli to work in the family business.  It was work he had done since he was a small boy.

“Now I like to do cartoons just to make myself happy,” Lorenzo said, smiling and revealing deep dimples.

Elena, 29, has a degree in journalism from the university in nearby Urbino. It’s easy to imagine her interviewing Prime Minister Berlusconi, her piercing black eyes demanding serious answers to important questions. But for now, she works the afternoon shift at the restaurant. Elena returned to Cagli after graduation to help out because her father was not well.

“I thought I’d come back for a bit to help out,” Elena recalls, raising her shoulders slightly as if to acknowledge that life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Elena teases her brother about being a failed artist. He shrugs and laughs. But both lament the lack of career opportunities for young people who want to remain in Cagli as well as those who feel tied to the city of 13,000 because their families need them here.

Some of Lorenzo’s art school friends found work in a Milan animation studio but the pay was low. Even those jobs are gone now, exported to China.  “In China, there are 10,000 artists that don’t cost a thing,” Lorenzo said. “In Italy artists want to be paid.”

Lorenzo is willing to leave town, and even Italy, to find work in his field.

“Maybe to America,” he said, dimples flashing.

 Elena is not willing to leave Italy. She would have to go to Milan or Rome to work as a journalist, and even then it would be difficult to find a job.

“It’s worse for me,” Elena said, her black eyes snapping intensely. “I have too many degrees, so they have to pay me more, and I can have babies. It’s almost better to have no education.”

She explains employers in Italy ask women if they plan to have children. Family responsibilities are a factor in hiring decisions.

Until two months ago, Elena lived in the family quarters above Ristorante Guazza. Now she lives in Fano where her boyfriend works as a therapist. Someday she would like to have a family of her own. She hopes her children will have more opportunities than those available to her and Lorenzo.

Lorenzo has lived in his own place for two years. He has a girlfriend, but his sister says he is not thinking of babies.

Even though they regret not being able to work in their chosen fields, Lorenzo and Elena say they are fortunate their family business provides jobs for them. There aren’t many jobs of any kind available in Cagli and things are getting worse here and throughout Italy, according to Lorenzo.

“It’s a bad time for Italy,” Lorenzo said. “Politically we’re moving backwards.”

His friends who teach work on short-term contracts. They don’t know where they will teach from one year—or sometimes, one semester—to the next. Short- term employment contracts are becoming more common in other occupations, too.

“If you’ve got a job, you’ve got to keep it,” Elena said.

Elena wants to make changes in the restaurant, but she will wait until her parents retire. The work is not easy, but the restaurant has provided a good living for the Luchini family for 40 years. Elena and Lorenzo will carry on the tradition for now but Elena doesn’t want to pass the business to her children.

“No. Stop,” she said. “The work is too hard.”

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