Giants of the Gemellaggio: Gianni Toppino, Osvaldo
In a city with the rich culture and history of Alba you might expect to find a “Renaissance Man”, someone with a wide and eclectic array of skills and talents. Of all the people I know in Alba, nobody is more deserving of that title than our dear friend Enzo Agnelli. Until his retirement, Enzo was an optometrist and photographer by profession. It is his many avocations that show the real range of his creativity and genius.
Cagnasso, John Snider and Enzo Agnelli Cutting a
Cake in Alba
In addition to being an optometrist and photographer, Enzo is a gourmet chef, painter, sportsman and a great comedian. When I first met Enzo, on a hot summer day in Alba, he was displaying another of his fortes, the sport of pallapugno, then called “pallone elastico”. I knew right away that this man wearing a sweat soaked t-shirt and a radiant smile was going to become a very good friend. The other sport in which Enzo has always excelled is sports fishing. No fish in the Mediterranean or the lakes of Oregon is safe when Enzo puts his line in the water. Enzo's fishing trips provide opportunities for him to photograph the picturesque Tuscan seascape.
Not only does Enzo possess all these remarkable talents but it is his sharing them with others that has endeared him to his many friends in Alba and Medford. He and my father, former Medford mayor John Snider, shared a love of humor that made them immediate friends even though they did not share a language in which they could converse. They had this uncanny ability to understand each other that defied the limits of language.
Enzo’s humor is legendary an undefinable. His delivery, facial expressions and witty “barzoletti” have never failed to leave his friends laughing to the point of tears. I often found myself challenged by Enzo to translate his Italian humor to an English speaking audience. His staccato delivery, sometimes in dialect, taxed my limited fluency in Italian and most of his humor did not translate well into another language. He would fire off a joke, wait for my translation and then look in dismay as the non-Italian speakers failed to get the punch line. I always felt like I had let my friend down but translating Enzo’s unique humor is nearly impossible.
One of my favorite memories of time spent with Enzo was a walk in La Morra. It was an election year and campaign posters were everywhere. Enzo stood in front of a poster of a politician who I didn’t recognize at the time and did a perfect, if somewhat satirical, imitation of the man’s face. That may have been the one and only time I laughed at Silvio Berlusconi. Enzo is a perfect example of how humor gets us through every crisis. Enzo’s face is his canvas. He has a repertoire of facial expressions that amuse and delight. I remember him passing his hand up and down in front of his face unveiling a different face with each pass. This is perhaps a metaphor for the complex man that Enzo really is, clowning at one moment and very serious the next.
Enzo is a brilliant chef and a connoisseur of food and wine. Watching him the kitchen is like watching a great artist perform. On the occasion of his first visit to Medford in 1979, he wanted to thank his hosts in Medford by preparing a special dinner in their honor. The Mail Tribune article on the event captured the spirit of the magical event. “Friendship flowed like sweet wine. Hands touched hands and lives touched lives. Even though words may have been unfamiliar, no barriers, not even language, separated visitors from Alba, Italy and residents of her sister city, Medford, on the evening of July 10th. Amico. Amica. Friend. Bridging the language barrier with the spirit of cooperation Signor Enzo Agnelli from Alba and Julie Tummers of Medford prepared a genuine Italian dinner for members of the Friends of Alba in the Rogue Valley”.
Enzo was one of the organizers of the first “Disnédla Langa”, a special dinner event for the annual Truffle Festival featuring traditional Albese cuisine. Giulio Parusso in his book on the Truffle Festival recounted that "the menus were prepared and animated by the passion and competence of Enzo Agnelli". Antonio De Giacomi, who so capably organized the 2012 Truffle Festival, wrote of his mother visiting Enzo's kitchen: "She was a few times at the home of the Master of the Order, Enzo Agnelli, and cooked with joy some unforgettable “finanziere”. De Giacomi's father Luciano was the founder of the Order of the Knights of Wine and Truffles which proudly claims Enzo as one of its esteemed members.
While Enzo would hesitate to list singing among his many accomplishments, he has a gift for brightening up a room with his beautiful Italian ballads and American standards rendered in something not quite English. One of my fondest memories was when Enzo joined us camping at Howard Prairie Resort in Oregon. After a wonderful dinner, prepared by Enzo of course, and some excellent wine from Alba, Enzo broke in to a chorus of “New York, New York”. Even though his lyrics only sounded like English, he soon had the entire campground joining in.
Enzo and Godson Ryan Snider
When Enzo, his wife Diva and their daughter Anna made their first trip to Medford in June of 1979, we were expecting our first child, but not until October. The timing seemed perfect but our son Ryan had other ideas and showed up shortly before the Agnellis arrived. Enzo and Diva were so moved by the tiny “premie” in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that they offered to be Ryan’s godparents. In the precarious days of waiting to see if Ryan would survive, we would receive beautiful poems that Enzo had written about the beautiful little “angel” that he could see but couldn’t touch.
Enzo’s photography includes landscapes, portraits and some very unique subjects. One his most moving photographic studies was the funeral of a Gypsy child. Enzo spent many hours in a Gypsy camp near Alba getting to know the people and capturing them on film. His portraits tell the poignant story of the hard working people of the Langhe. One of our favorite photos in our home is that of a young girl. It was only a few years ago that we learned that the subject was Margherita Fenoglio, the famed author’s only child. During his visits to Medford Enzo enjoyed sharing his photographic talent with local amateur photographers.
Enzo’s wife Diva, daughter Anna and granddaughter Elisa would all agree that, in addition to all his rare gifts and talents, Enzo is unequaled as a husband, father and grandfather. For me and all my family Enzo is a world class friend.