AIKEN -- George Custodi has always admired Orvieto, Italy, for her storied history that dates back to the Etruscans, for her sitting atop a volcanic bluff, and for her people, industrious and independent.
Little did he know that when he visited a distant relative there two years ago he would plant roots that would grow for generations. As with many things in life, a string of events unfolded.
With a toss of dirt and the stroke of a pen on Wednesday, the two countries some 5,000 miles apart formalized a partnership to provide its citizens culturally enriching experiences and opportunities for business, travel and tourism.
There was an exchange of flags, a token of friendship. The signing of a hand-painted proclamation, a promise of partnership and the planting of an Italian Flowering Apricot, a living symbol of collaboration. The Italians came bearing gifts of paintings and books on the history of Orvieto; the Aikenites gladly accepted.
In return, they offered their Italian visitors a writing pen, an All-America City pin, and a junior cadet badge.
"We're glad to be here," said Orvieto Mayor Stefano Cimicchi. "We're particularly struck by the friendships we've made in this short period of time. I'm convinced that we're doing something positive. Our first impressions of you have been confirmed. You are gracious."
Tonight the Partners in Friendship pact continues with a reception at the Etherredge Center at the University of South Carolina-Aiken to celebrate the American debut of Italian artist Livio Orazio Valentini. The reception, from 7 to 9 p.m., is open to the public. Tickets may be purchased at the Etherredge Center for $30.