I can’t imagine living in Italy, as old and impatient with bureaucracy as I am, and especially since I’m not fluent in Italian. But as a place to visit? The best. La dolce vita.
As we prepare to return to Piemonte later this month I’m enjoying my friend L’s own trip to Italy, now in progress and reported on Facebook, and thinking about the many notable moments I’ve had in Italy.
My first visit, about 20 years ago, was an overview trip. The most momentous event then was my first sight of Michelangelo’s David. No sculpture I’ve seen before or since has compared. When I turned the corner and glimpsed it for the first time it took my breath away. The highlight of Firenze.
That year marked the start of my love for Roma. I spent almost a week there, including midnight Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve and an encounter in the confessional at the Vatican with an Italian priest that left me in tears of outrage. Every time we walked past the Vatican, we found the Pope was speaking at a window. Not kidding. It was dream-like.
I loved the shops along Via Veneto, the Spanish Steps. And I’ll always remember a pair of brown and hunter green suede boots that I coveted but didn’t buy. My only shopping regret, ever.
An Italian regional cooking course in Lazio around Sabina on another trip required us to cook two huge meals a day–and consume them. I remember our protests and our hostess’ response: “Moderate yourselves!” We found ourselves cooking in 13th century castles with nonni and hand-making pasta in modern apartments built and decorated by the owner-architects. It was a unique week.
That trip included a few days in Venezia, a disappointment. Thousands of Japanese tourists thronged the shops and piazze and it felt like an Italian Disney experience. The high-tech exec and I got lost in the maze-like hidden neighborhoods one day for four hours and couldn’t find our way out. As we walked, we stumbled upon an artisan who made and hand-painted pottery like it was done centuries ago and I bought a beautiful bowl from him. Still have it. I probably should give Venezia another chance one day. But the world is big and time is short.
My month in Roma just a few years ago was amazing. Living steps from the Coliseum, the Pantheon and all the ancient ruins was a dream come true. The textbook for the Italian course we’re taking now has a map of Rome on the inside back cover. I got distracted in class looking at the route we’d walk from the apartment to our coffee shop. Via XX Settembre, Via Nazionale. I can put myself right back in that place just by calling it up in my mind.
I first saw the Trevi Fountain in the movie, Three Coins in the Fountain and then again on my first trip to Italy. On my last trip to Roma I really saw how spectacular and romantic the fountain is at all times of day. But I most loved it way early in the morning, when no one was around. Quiet, massive, solid, standing there for centuries.
In fact, that was when I loved Roma best, in the quiet times when it was just waking up. Cappuccini and cornetti at a favorite cafe in the morning–a beautiful memory that brings back a soul-level longing for all it stood for.
Climbing up the huge steps to the top of the monument dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuele II. Walking, walking, always walking, and when crossing busy streets being sure to take a position behind a group of nuns, knowing Italian drivers wouldn’t dare hit them.
Our trip later this month is a repeat of last year’s trip to the hills, vineyards and beauty of rural Piemonte. The charms are different: relaxing, peaceful, soul-soothing. If the harvest isn’t over, the distant drone of tractors in the vineyards will be the soundtrack to our delicious breakfasts.
Italy is a beautiful country with so much to love. But looking back, perhaps my best love affair has always been with Roma.
If I could tell young people one thing, it would be this:
Live life fully all along the way. See the wonders of the world, however you define them. Create beautiful memories. Take chances. Have love affairs–with people, with places, with critters.
Live a life of no regrets.