b'en it happened. I recognized it right away. Tucked deep in one of the corners of the cardboard box, there wasa small tin box. Inside a little pebble rattled free. Twenty-one years ago, Nanci and I went to Rome together for the fi rst time. I remember standing in front of the Grand Hotel (now the St. Regis Grand). We were staying then at a little pensione, not too far away. We ended up in front of the Grand Hotel by accident, on our way to Piazza Navona. I was just out of school and had no job, so I had taken a few weeks to travel with Nanci around Italy. e Grand Hotel was so beautifulI had to go in and see it. e lobby was an astonishing piece of work, plush and elegant. Colorful hand-painted murals surrounded walls of mirrors that shimmered with light. It all looked so elegant, so expensiveso far out of my reach. As we walked out of the lobby, I told Nanci right then and there, One day you and I will stay in this hotel. We will be married and we will be rich. en we laughed as all lovers do when dreaming of something fantastic, which almost never comes true. But I was not kidding. I meant what I said. In Sicily we have a tradition: When you make a promise to yourselfone that you truly wish to keeptake a memento with you, a little souvenir to remind you of it forever. I bent down and picked up a pebble, placing it inside an empty tin of mints. I slipped it into my pocket.It was a special amulet that, like many good intentions, was put away and then forgotten, stashed deep in this cardboard box, eventually resurfacing inside my garage. I sat alone in my garage, hot, sweaty, lost in thought, and surrounded by a mess of boxes and forgotten things. I was, I think, the perfect picture of a mad man. It was in this less than ideal setting that I pondered how much change I have seen in my own life in the past twenty years.28'