I have two quotes at the beginning of my journal from my last trip to Italy in June, 2010.
“The true Italy is only to be found by patient observation.”– A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
“…all feelings grow to passions in the south…” — E.M. Forster
So, part of my obsession with Italy is that sometimes our lives become routine. Example: I’ve been swimming laps at Deep Eddy pool every year since 1983. I went yesterday. I loved it, but it is a routine. By traveling, we not only shake up our routines and complacencies, but we challenge ourselves. Can I get from A to B in a foreign country? Every routine task, such as buying groceries, becomes a game, a challenge, and an adventure in a foreign country in a foreign language. Furthermore, your perceptions are more keenly alert. You notice details that you have stopped noticing at home. For one thing, you’re walking most of the time. Most of Italy was created on a more intimate scale before the car. You’re not encased in your isolated vehicle but surrounded by people, by buildings and pigeons and shrines. You look, listen, and notice the world around you.
And then there are all the things I love about Italy in particular: the people, their emotional, expressive, musical language, the way they talk with their hands, the way they live in the moment and enjoy the senses, but not to excess. I love their wonderful habit of passeggiata. Every evening, around 7 pm, they come out to stroll around, sometimes eating gelato, but more often than not, just strolling with their families, greeting other passersby. It’s magical, as if everyone knows to come out of their houses at a secretly planned time, except that it’s not planned.
Italians know how to eat delicious, healthful food, but only in season. Non stagione, they say in restaurants, if artichokes are not in season. We expect everything all the time and are dulled to the seasons of food. We don’t have blueberry festivals because we have blueberries whenever we want them. And the wine. I always ask for vino rosso della casa, and it’s usually the best, the most local, and the least expensive.
I love the climate: sunny like Texas but not as hot.
I love the landscape: warm and hilly, not lush but green and yellow, dotted with wildflowers. I particularly love the rows of umbrella pines.
I love Italian style. I love the men’s Armani suits, the women in their Missoni scarves. I love the Vespas and the white marble cafe bars. But not just the high style. I love the wild cats that nibble your fingers as you feed them fish under the tables. I love the little old ladies in black, the old men sitting with canes on benches, chatting with their friends as they watch the people go by. I love all the little nooks and crannies, steps leading to another hidden alley. I even love the money, the heavy Euros of silver encased in gold.
I love the surprises. One day I was walking back from the mercado with prosciutto and formaggio, and I noticed a tiny dog trotting between the crowd with a newspaper in his mouth. He weaved through the pedestrians until he came to his master, an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench, and offered him the paper.
Most of all I love the history. Growing up in Dallas, there were no buildings older than my grandparents, unless you counted John Neely Bryan’s cabin, which is probably a fake. Italy has the most glorious history and art and architecture: from the wonders of the Etruscans, ancient Rome, the Italian Renaissance, and the riches of the Vatican, never could you find a country with such a glorious past. And you can feel it because the hill towns are still in tact. The narrow streets feel medieval because that’s when they were laid out; the churches and artifacts are all there. Italy is a kind of time machine, my emotional home.