What makes my story all the more bizarre was the fact that I had never applied for a job teaching in Florence, Italy. I wanted to do research for my PhD thesis in England, but in the last weeks of the spring semester I, along with the rest of the History PhD candidates, had been notified that there would be no funds to parcel out for our dissertations due to budget cuts. None of us were happy with this, but our protests fell on deaf ears. All of us felt that we were left high and dry by our department.
For the rest of the summer I worked at various menial jobs, including catering for some hotels and sous cheffing at an upscale restaurant. None of these jobs were in line with my chosen career of college-level teaching. By the end of summer, things became more depressing as there was barely enough money to cover my expenses. I felt so lost that one of my friends, seeing my distressed state, suggested that I go see an old woman, Corabel Ogilvie, who lived in Ft. Lupton, Colorado, about 25 miles east of Boulder.
“She may have some ideas about your future,” she told me.
At this point in my life, given my academic training, I hadn’t given too much thought to psychics, mediums or astrologers but had always maintained a skeptic’s interest in those matters. I was reluctant and embarrassed to take her up on this suggestion yet day after day, nothing changed for me. Without telling my friend, I drove out to Ft. Lupton and arrived at a small farm close to the town.
A little old lady was carrying bags of feed as I drove up. I was struck by how effortlessly she did this and how gracefully she glided. She approached me, smiling gently and asked me if I wanted to make an appointment. I didn’t know that one needed to make appointments in advance as I hadn’t told my friend I was going out there ahead of time.
She looked at me intensely and said, “Come, I can see you right away.”
I followed her into a little hut hardly bigger than a chicken coup. Once inside she lit several candles while I took in the strange ambiance of the room, noticing various pictures and several statues of saints, different Buddhas, Christ, Shiva and even one of the Infant of Prague. Smells of thick incense wafted throughout the hut.
She offered me a glass of water and asked why I was so disturbed. I told her my future looked very bleak at the moment and explained what had happened at the university and how I needed to get to England to do research for my dissertation but didn’t have enough money to get there.
She took several deep breaths, then remained quiet and closed her eyes and said a prayer. Afterward she sat there motionless, her eyes still closed. Then she smiled confidently and said, “You’ll be in Italy by the end of the year.”
“Italy!” I almost shouted. “But I don’t want to go to Italy,” Addressing her as if she was a travel agent who had gotten my ticket wrong. I continued, “I have to get to England since my dissertation is in British History.”
She laughed. “Oh you’ll be in London in the spring, that’s for sure. But I see you wintering in Italy because I can see you sending me a postcard from Rome at Christmastime.”
I didn’t know what to say, I felt disappointed. “But I have no money to get to Rome let alone England,” I repeated to her.
Still in her kindly gentile voice that was quietly soothing she insisted. “Oh you’ll be in Italy by the end of the year somehow.” She paused and closed her eyes again. “You’re about to start an amazing journey that’s going to take you to all sorts of places and new levels of understanding. Ultimately, but not right away, you will weave all these life experiences together like a giant tapestry into something much more meaningful than you know right now.”
“But how?” I asked.
“You will be guided. Listen to your inner voice. Let me give you something to help change your negative vibration.” She listed off the numbers of four Psalms and told me that I must say each one for ten days, once in the morning and once at night and then move on to the second one until I had completed forty days. “This will also provide you with good protection.”
Even though I felt disappointed overall with our meeting, I followed Mrs. Ogilvie’s instructions and said each of the Psalms for ten days consecutively. In spite of the fact that she hadn’t given me any practical advice, such as where to find a job or how to make enough money to get to Europe, I still felt I had an amazing experience with a remarkable woman.
It was only the end of June at this point. With no other prospects, I continued my menial jobs, unable to put away any extra money. Summer came to an end. September dragged by, and so did October. One bright event occurred in October though; good friends of mine offered me a place to stay for free until I could get back on my feet.
However by November, some of my other friends who had known about my experience in Ft. Lupton and Mrs. Ogilvie’s prediction began chiding me, saying, “Hey, I thought you were supposed to be in Italy.”
What could I say? I felt embarrassed, but I put on a good front and responded, “Well it’s not the end of the year yet.”
One late afternoon I had just come out of one of my part time jobs catering, feeling tired and despondent and took a walk up on the college neighborhood known as The Hill. The travel agency there was getting ready to close as I passed by. I stopped to look in the window and noticed a flyer advertising a discounted rate for passage on the SS Michelangelo to Naples, Italy leaving from New York December 4th. Suddenly, I had this incredible urge to go inside and book passage on the ship. This is insane, I thought, but did it anyway, writing out a deposit check to hold my non-refundable reservation for a week and continued on my way home wondering what the hell I was doing.
Upon returning home, I was greeted excitedly by my host friends, telling me a telegram had arrived that day from Florence, Italy. My heart was pounding. I was both excited and confused as I opened the telegram. Who would be sending me a telegram from Florence, Italy? I don’t know anybody there.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read that there was a job opening for a History Instructor and Director of Food Services at a Preparatory School there. The message instructed me to reply within three days by return telegram if I was interested and they would wire me the money for travel expenses as soon as they heard from me. They urged me to get there earlier in order to orient myself for the coming semester.
The opportunity seemed too good to be true. How many positions could there be for a combination History Instructor and Food Service Director? I already had two years of college level teaching since coming to Boulder, had developed a reputation as a good cook and working in an upscale restaurant as a sous chef had given me more valuable experience. What luck! A job tailored to my skills, I thought. I must be dreaming. I telegraphed the next day with my acceptance and the following day the school’s Director wired me the money for my travel expenses. As soon as they wired the money I rushed down to the travel agency and paid the remaining balance for my passage to Naples. Now all I had to do was get from Boulder to New York before December 4th. I packed my things, stuffing them into my Pontiac. But before I took off, the friends I was staying with threw me a going away party. Many of my friends who I hadn’t seen for years unexpectedly showed up. It was an incredible party that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. It took me a day to recover. Then I was off to Chicago to see my parents and tell them of my change in fortune. On the way I stopped in Ft. Lupton to thank Mrs. Ogilvie.
She was elated with my news, but told me she didn’t do anything. “It was all there to begin with,” she said.
I was too excited and happy to try to understand what she was saying, all I knew was I was on my way to Italy as she had predicted and asked her for her address because I wanted to send her a postcard from Florence.
I said, “I hope it doesn’t matter to you too much that I’ll be sending you a postcard from Florence at Christmas, instead of Rome.”
She smiled wryly and said, “No, you’ll be sending it from Rome. You’ll see.”
I shrugged. Oh well, Florence is close enough.
In spite of my good news, my parents seemed extremely worried by my sudden change in directions. They were more dubious than impressed and I spent most of my visit listening to all the arguments why I shouldn’t go away, much too numerous to mention here.
Unconvinced, I was off in my trusty Pontiac to New York where I stayed with my girlfriend Susan, who was teaching grammar school on Long Island. I spent three days with her at her cottage in Oyster Bay before sailing on the SS Michelangelo to Naples.
We spent a magical night in the City. One of the highlights was seeing the hit show ‘Hair’ in the city. In spite of it being sold out, we decided to try anyway, thinking there had to be some cancellations. When we arrived at the theater, we were the 10th couple waiting in line. Five minutes before the show started Susan thought that we should go see a movie instead, before it was too late.
I said, “No, I have a hunch that we’re going to get in.”
A couple minutes later, the usher came running out holding two ‘Standing-Room-Only’ tickets. “Who wants these?” he yelled out.
Unbelievably, nobody in front of us wanted them, yet everybody in back of us was yelling and screaming for them but we grabbed them and were thrilled just to get inside, even if we had to stand in the back.
About ten minutes after the show began, an elderly man came storming up the aisle and looked at us. “I can’t stand this music,” he said, shoving his tickets at us. “Here, take my tickets.”
He had two tickets, but was alone. At the time we didn’t think about this, we just took the tickets and thanked him. They turned out to be eighth row, center orchestra seats. Our luck seemed surreal. Not only did we enjoy the show from these great seats, but we ended up dancing on the stage for the finale. What a perfect way to spend my last night in New York and on ten dollars at that. I felt that this had confirmed that my luck had finally changed since being cheated out of a dissertation grant. Little did I know what kinds of adventures and experiences awaited me.
The next day we said our goodbyes at the pier. I left my car with Susan and set sail for Naples. This was my second crossing to Europe. The first one had been unbelievably great and I always said I would do it again. Here I was, making it come true.
Another perfect omen, I thought. Sailing on the SS Michelangelo to Italy. This great artist had played such a major role in Florence during the Renaissance and I was going to be there, able to see many of his works in person. I was so excited that I didn’t think about the details of getting from Naples to Florence. It’s as if something is guiding me, I thought and I felt confident that things would just work out once I was in Naples.
Unfortunately, I found out shortly after the ship left the dock that it’s not always a good idea to try recapturing the past. It was only then that it became apparent why the voyage had been so inexpensive. I learned that one should never cross the Atlantic in early December if you can at all help it. The ship was one-third full and the weather was awful; way too windy, too rainy, too bleak to go on deck and enjoy the sea air. The rough sea ensured that the swaying never stopped. To make matters worse, on the third day we encountered the tail end of a hurricane and were ordered to stay in our cabins for the next two days of the voyage. Unlike the first voyage, the food was not very good either. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get off the ship.
There was another reason why I was anxious to disembark. A middle aged Greek man, about 45, constantly sought me out for conversation and companionship. He was probably the youngest one on the ship besides me. He had a very eerie presence. His eyes were dark and penetrating. One night after a mediocre dinner, we began discussing movies, which was one of my favorite subjects as well as his. It turned out that we both loved the movie “The Magus”, with Michael Caine and Anthony Quinn. I told him I loved it, but found it was a very strange and surreal movie.
“Nonsense,” he said. “This movie was very real. You’ll find this out once you get to Greece. It’s a very mysterious place, both the land and the people. Just like ‘The Magus’.” He began laughing.
“But I’m not going to Greece,” I told him.
He didn’t say anything, just smiled. His lack of response only made me more uncomfortable. He poured another drink and as the night wore on, he told me some rather strange and disturbing stories about his village in Greece. He said the name of his village translated in English to ‘The Village of the Wolf,’ and was located high in the mountains of Northern Greece. What made the village unique was that almost everyone born there had a patch of fur on the nave of their neck. I strained my head, trying to peer at the back of his head to see if I could see the fur. When he bent over, I did see something dark, but I couldn’t tell what it was or how large it was. He talked about transmutation of wolves into humans and said that it was common among many rural societies. The more he talked, the more uncomfortable I became.
Then he stopped and stared intensely into my eyes. Out of the blue he said, “You have a way with wolves.” I found this comment unsettling and wanted to leave. I started to get up but he said, “Wait, I have one more thing to tell you.” He said he didn’t always speak about it as if he was sharing a secret with me for some unknown reason and told me that the world was being divided into four spheres of influence, each one headed by a powerful man. Together they were referred to as ‘The Brothers of the Wind.’ One was in the Vatican, but not the Pope. One was in the mafia, not just Italy, but head of their worldwide organization. The next was in Russia, and the last was in China. He paused and said, “But they all are subservient to someone else who they refer to as ‘The Man on the Mountain.’ He lives in a villa on a craggy peak off the coast of Sicily.” Then he got very upset and started shouting and warning me. “You should never go there, no matter what!”
Chills ran up and down my spine. It wasn’t just what he said that caused my reaction. It was only after his warning that I suddenly remembered six years earlier, I was at the winter carnival of another university. A cute sorority girl was reading cards to raise money for charity. Again, I couldn’t have cared less about my fortune, but she was very cute.
Amazingly, she told me many things that turned out to be true, but the last thing she had said to me was, “You must beware of the Man on the Mountain. He’s out to get you. I don’t know who he is, just be careful.” This unsettled me, but because all the other news was good, I quickly and ultimately forgot about the Man on the Mountain until that moment on the ship when I looked into the eyes of this Greek man staring back at me. Here I was getting a second warning about this mysterious, powerful man on the mountain, but there was nothing I could do about it sailing on this bleak ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Obviously I had no intention of going anywhere near Sicily. This whole episode and remembering the sorority girl disturbed the rest of my trip. I made it a point not to listen to anymore of his weird stories and left without much fanfare.
Between the constant rocking and the grim, bleak atmosphere of the sky and the sea, this cruise gave me very little comfort or enjoyment. I continued doing my best to avoid meeting the man for the next two days. One lunchtime he did track me down and joined me, but I made excuses to leave right after finishing.
When we finally got to Naples around five in the evening, I saw him waiting for me at the gangplank. I quickly turned around and left by the other exit, making my way through the crowded gangplank area while carrying my three heavy suitcases. It took a couple of hours to make myself understood and to find the way to the railway station just in time as a train was about to leave for Florence. The train was no better for sleeping than the ship. We arrived in Florence at dawn.
I had no idea where the school was, but I thought it would be somewhere near the center of the city. Luckily, there was a cab at the train station. I gave him the address thinking this would be the most convenient way since, I reasoned, cabbies know their city best. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth in Florence.
He looked at the address I gave him and started speaking Italian rapidly, I had no idea what he was saying as I didn’t speak or understand Italian, but when he shook his head, his message became clear. The school was out of his range. I thought, how am I supposed to find this place if a cab driver can’t?
It took me another hour before I found a cab driver who was willing to take me there, as it proved to be a good twelve miles from the center of town, up in the hills above Florence. The only problem was that he didn’t know exactly where it was. There were so many twists and turns in the roads it was like being in a labyrinth. He would stop and flag anyone who was out and about, and ask them where the school was; at least that’s what I thought he was doing.
One of these times, he unexpectedly slammed on his breaks in front of a woman who I assumed from her thick makeup and voluptuous appearance was a hooker, right out of a Fellini movie. I thought it was odd that he would ask her where the school was until it dawned on me that maybe he was making other arrangements with her until she strutted up to my window and peered in at me smiling, saying something in Italian. Annoyed, the cab driver interrupted her and she sauntered back to him. They talked for a while before he began once more looking for the school.
Shortly after that encounter, we were up in the hills above Florence when he decided he had had enough and couldn’t figure out where the school was. He dropped me off with my three suitcases and pointed in the direction he thought I should head. He was wrong. Even though there was no snow, it wasn’t until I started walking that I realized what a penetratingly cold winter Florence had. Fortunately, I ran into a car coming the other way and flagged it down. Instead of offering me a ride, the driver pointed in the opposite direction and told me it was just a couple of blocks, which turned out to be about five.
Finally I arrived at the school, just as the sun was rising. Shivering, I stood in front of the big, iron gate which was locked. Unsure of how to get in, I rattled the gate and hollered until I noticed a bell partially hidden by a vine and pushed it fiercely and waited, but nothing happened. Again and again, I rang it. Finally a young English girl of about 18, who was one of the housekeepers, came out and unlocked the gate to let me in, helping me with one of my bags. If I thought the ship had been bleak and depressing, it was nothing compared to the creepiness I was about to encounter at the school and from the two people who ran it.