This week’s post is a special one. It touches on a very personal topic, far more personal than my usual articles about Italy that draw on my own experience as an AmeriCanadian who lived in Tuscany for thirteen years. Today I offer up an encomium to Marco Apolloni, our beloved friend and long-time
driver who passed away suddenly a year ago, in August of 2022.
Marco and I had a special bond. We were like two children when we were together, gabbing and laughing incessantly, taking delight in the wonders around us, nothing but pure affection between us.
We started off as colleagues but were destined to be pals. We got to know each other during the time that Marco was working as a driver for DriverInRome. I was working for a different agency at the time but we talked every so often when he was out with mutual clients. Our chats were always fun, even when we were talking about some work-related problem. He had a way of making any heavy issue seem lighter.
In April of 2021, I’d come back to Italy when the Covid decrees prevented me from taking public transportation after my plane arrived on Italian soil. I had to get from Rome to my house in Livorno — not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump. DriverInRome was shut down like all other transportation companies. Marco came and fetched me from the airport in his own car and off we went on a four-hour drive through Lazio and Tuscany. We didn’t stop talking the whole trip. We never stopped yakking, and we never stopped laughing.
It was early evening when we got to Livorno, so we went for dinner at Cantina Senese, an iconic Livornese taverna, where we had a discussion about food and culture to rival any Stanley Tucci Searching for Italy episode. Marco was a bottomless well of information; he could talk knowledgeably about anything.
Seeing as the drive back to Rome was long, he slept at my house that night. I remember feeling so happy to have his presence in my home, and doubly blessed to have been reunited with my house (that I hadn’t seen in almost a year) while in his company. We had a chatty breakfast sitting at my kitchen island the next morning and then he headed back to Rome. I was sad to see him go. I wasn’t ready for the bear hug of his companionship to be over. I felt even my house was bummed by his departure.
That summer, just as Covid restrictions were lifted in Italy and we could travel again, I decided to take a trip from Rome to Sicily by train (a three-week proposition that evolved into a five-week odyssey). My time in The Eternal City included a day in the Castelli Romani. These charming and ancient villages are located in the countryside south of Rome where the Pope has his summer residence. (You can visit them on a day trip from Rome.)
I had never been to this area before and Marco kindly offered to be my driver, companion, and guide. It was one of the best days in living memory. In addition to our customary continual jabbering, we also ate and drank in the awesome pub atmosphere of the fraschette in Ariccia. We visited Castel Gandolfo, Nemi, Frascati, and Genzano di Roma as well. There wasn’t one place, not one moment, he didn’t have something interesting to share.
I shot a bunch of videos of Marco that day because I had planned on posting video reportage of my trip on Facebook so that all my friends who were stuck at home in North America could follow my adventure. What a good sport Marco was, mamma mia. He tolerated my endless filming and stepped into the shoes of travel-show host like some Italian Rick Steves. You can view a video montage of my day in the Castelli Romani with Marco as well as one that focuses on our lunch in Ariccia — entitled “Antipasto Shock” — on YouTube.
I’m so glad I captured so much of our time together on video that day. A year later, Marco fell ill. He collapsed suddenly while out with clients in July of 2022. At the hospital, they discovered he had an inoperable brain tumour. Marco never knew the truth of his condition. He was sent home believing he would have more tests and treatment, and life would go on. The rest of us knew the end was not far off.
On August 10 of last year, Marco went back into the hospital, never to come back out. Unconscious on arrival, he slipped out of this dimension without a fuss.
I was in Sicily, sitting on a terrace having breakfast and sweltering in the volcano heat, when I got the news. It was a voice message from Daniele, DriverInRome’s owner and general manager. As soon as he spoke my name I knew that the words to follow would be the news I hoped would never arrive. I can think of few times in my life when I’ve felt so brokenhearted. I felt like a little girl standing on the lawn watching her favourite playmate drive away in a U-Haul. It was an immeasurable sadness that I think will never subside, a feeling I know is shared by everyone who counted Marco as a friend.
Marco was not only a great friend to many, he was also a brilliant driver. He could handle any service. Clients loved him. I’ll never forget Daniele saying to me last winter when we were having after drink after walking through a new food tour in Rome together, “There is no way to replace Marco. It would take two drivers to do what Marco did.” He never seemed to tire. He always brought his A-game, even that fateful day that was the beginning of the end. He wasn’t feeling well that morning but he still went out to meet clients with his usual Cheshire Cat grin.
I’ll never forget that smile. It was like a beacon that lit up everything around it. Same goes for his laugh. I still play voice recordings of Marco that I saved on WhatsApp, laughing at his laughter, and then bursting into tears.
Maybe Marco found such a special place in my heart because I am not one who opens that door easily. But with him there was no fear, no resistance; the door of friendship swung wide open from the first moment. In all my life, there have been maybe a handful of souls for whom I’ve felt such trust and affection.
I asked Daniele to sum up Marco for me in his own way. He said, “If I had to go to war, I would want Marco next to me because I know he would never leave my side.” I could not have spun a more poignant way of saying that Marco was the most loyal and dedicated of chums if I had used a thousand words (and we’re already past that word count).
Marco Apolloni left this world on August 10, 2022, just two weeks shy of his 48th birthday. He leaves behind a teenage son, Giulio.
We miss you, Marco, more than we can say. Our lives aren’t the same without you. All we can do is thank you for making our time on this earth a little brighter thanks to the light of goodness, kindness, and camaraderie that you shone on all of us for way too short a time.
Con tanto affetto,