It was one of those unpleasant winter days that only February in Milan can generate.
The sky was a sad gray with invisible cold drizzle and the piles of dirty snow on the edge of the streets of the City of Milan, a metropolis that works and produces each day regardless of the weather.
Yes Milan in those days was certainly not the image to send to the tourist intent on wandering in the less known landscapes of the “Beautiful Italy”.
For some time, I had been asking my friend Ignazio Giunti to introduce me to the Big Boss, "Uncle" Chiti, as “his boys” and people from Autodelta called him with obvious love and sympathy, and he finally arranged the meeting.
We had arrived at the appointment in the racing kingdom of Alfa Romeo in Settimo Milanese where the visitor entered directly from the busy Enrico Fermi road.
Nothing indicated the already consolidated reputation of the small factory, where fearsome racing cars were born with the four-leaf clover on their side. Nothing to do with the sober Teutonic magnificence of the Porsche buildings or the manicured surroundings of the noble little English factories.
Only the roofs of the large hangars stood out from the street and a long wall hid that fascinating world from curious eyes.
Once engulfed by the walls, you could see the unadorned courtyard used for the parking of employees and the entrance to the administrative building that also welcomed the numerous private customers, who bought miraculous Autodelta parts directly from the source, pieces designed and able to transform their quiet sedans into racing track cars.
From that courtyard began the impassable area where only a few mortals were granted the privilege of walking freely. Autodelta was an off-limits world open only to a highly privileged few to see that strange craft where the miracles were created.
Carlo Chiti, the Supreme Leader of this magical world was seriously late arriving from Arese, and Giunti disappeared out of sight, somewhere in the workshops to check his "service" GTV. While waiting, in the courtyard I was trying to stabilize friendship with a big, lame Spinone, incredibly dirty and incredibly cuddly, who was obviously one of the Autodelta households. The big dog, who perhaps had a white coat now dyed with all the filth of a car factory, was quiet and patient sitting in the imperceptible rain accepting my caresses that left a thin layer of damp and grease on my palm. He had a tender and sweet look and reflected the low gray sky in his dark pupils.
"We call him Fidel, for a certain resemblance, but he is not very revolutionary", I heard the voice behind me said with an unmistakable Tuscan pronunciation,
"And if you really care, we'll donate him to you ...".
Turning around, I saw a massive figure in a buttoned trenchcoat and with the flat cap pulled down to protect his face. Against the entrance to the building, he seemed even larger, almost a giant.
Who knows how long he had been watching me, I thought surprised by his presence.
"Come on, come inside", he simply said,
"Giunti I have already met when I arrived".
Approaching his hand held out for the greeting, I looked suspiciously at mine still wet from caressing Fidel, but Chiti solved the problem and said laughing.
"They are certainly not the dogs that make this world dirty ...".
His handshake was firm and strong... and I already had the feeling that I knew him from who knows when.
Entering the warm corridor of the building he made the way greeting everyone we met and I could not help but notice an affectionate reverence of the employees towards the "Direttore".
Giunti was waiting for us in front of the office, a modestly furnished space with walls covered with black and white photographs of cars created here at Autodelta.
Another small dog was celebrating us by hopping around the big man and then landed mistress on the sofa provided for the guests.
A few polite customary phrases and then we found ourselves sitting down to absorb the heat of the room.
"So, young man", Chiti said with a smile,
"...you've got the idea of racing in your head, despite Ignazio firmly arguing that it would be better for you to hold your painting brushes tightly in your hands, rather than the steering wheel".
I could not find any suitable answer, but I begged him to address me without formal esteem as that sounded unnatural to me.
Then, Chiti asked me about my origins, and about my wandering around Europe, since I had mentioned my living between Belgrade, Zurich and Milan ... He was a skilled conversationalist who listened attentively to the answers and his way of handling conversation was familiar but always polite.
He was interested in my artistic activity and my painting saying that the Tuscans have "...contributed something" to that beautiful craft.
I was almost surprised to discover his vast erudition in any subject touched upon and I was amazed by his analysis of Bulgakov's work ... who knows how it entered the chat and how he was able to connect with the refined link to a certain form of Surrealist painting.
I was under the impression that in any form of human activity, he had the right information that he mastered with his own reasoning.
He carefully avoided any political opinion, but above all it was not possible to touch his professional activity outside the common places on which he did not linger.
I was struck by his affable simplicity in communicating and I sensed his strength to involve and absorb the people he chose. The reason for that unconditional affection that was expressed towards him became clear.
Giunti has confided to me that as far as the job was concerned, he was serious, very demanding and sometimes even gruff, but this behavior was more a mask than a character attitude.
This description suited him perfectly, an old-fashioned manager who was a bit boss and a bit father who educates his children. In that office in Settimo Milanese, I had just discovered why he was considered a sort of genius.
The little dog that was dozing under his table confirmed with her blissful tranquility all the protective strength that this great man expressed.
Time passed quickly and Chiti looking at his watch invited us as his guests to lunch, making it clear that the time dedicated to our meeting had expired. His day followed a decidedly different pace.
Ignazio's GTV would be ready in the late afternoon and so it was Chiti who took us to Milan in his white sedan. He drove relaxed and chatted with us about frivolous things.
I knew of his love for dogs, and I told him that in Belgrade I tried Dalmatian dog breeding. He told me that he made no distinction between purebred dogs and the latest street mutt.
"You have to learn from street dogs," he said,
"...they are forced to invent solutions to survive."
Then he told me the story of Fidel who was found half dead, lying on the road, probably hit by some car and transported to Autodelta’s backyard where he miraculously recovered. Chiti told me that in the rear courtyard of the factory there was a space for found dogs and that they had the privilege of sleeping under the exclusive parts of the disused racing cars.
Arriving in the heart of Milan, we went to the restaurant “Alla Collina Pistoiese” described by Chiti as a real branch of his office... where important decisions were also made. It was a sober place not without charm, and he was at home inside.
He had his own table, large, a little apart and some friends were already waiting for him for lunch. The food was excellent at "Alla Collina Pistoiese". Chiti ate every dish of traditional cuisine with gusto, explaining and commenting on everything, and the wine, Chianti Montalbano, was extraordinary.
One of his guests, an engineer like Chiti and Pistoiese like Chiti... a very dear friend of his from school days, told their childhood stories discovering funny human sides of his friend, saying that the choice to become a racing car designer was completely unexpected.
Chiti said with a laugh that his wife Lina was decisive for his career as a car designer, and that to stay close to her in Milan he would accept the Alfa offer, instead of devoting himself to aeronautical design which was his choice of studies.
I asked him about his experience at Ferrari, not hiding my admiration for Drake.
He reserved words of sincere esteem for Enzo Ferrari and described him as a man who decided everything, all by himself.
A mixture of stubborn Emilian peasant and a feudal master, who exploited this attitude of his as a virtue in his favor, but which was also his fault, because one could not always be right in everything.
Our afternoon of chatter was ending. Chiti told me that he was happy to have met me, and I went out with Giunti who said he had to go back to Settimo to get his car.
Later that evening he told me that lunch with the "Big Boss" was a new experience for him too, and that spending extended hours with Ing. Chiti in a pleasant chat outside of professional commitment was not common.
Walking slowly in the cold humidity of the Milanese evening, I had the impression of having enriched myself with a priceless treasure.
Getting to know Chiti had long been my desire, and that first meeting left an indelible mark on my memory.
Now, with the passing of the years, many protagonists of those carefree days of my youth, are no longer there and live only in the memories.
I am grateful to life for having given them to me.
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