Italy had always been a magical place to visit in my mind ever since I was a young child. The land of the ancient Roman Empire, the Coliseum, Popes and the Sistine Chapel, the Renaissance, a city of bridges and canals, pasta, fish, canoli and of course gelato! Last year, my boyfriend and I were able to finally fulfill my lifelong dream to visit the land of my ancestors and see for myself if it was as grand as I had imagined.
My grandfather had been the first in my family to migrate from Italy to America from the poor southern region of Calabria in the early 1900’s. My father was then the first generation to be born on American soil in New Jersey amongst the shadow of New York City. My mother’s mom was also Italian and her family, as fate would have it, were also from a small village in the Calabria region. So of course being one half Italian the other being German, I had a calling to visit the land of my forefathers. One of the highlights of my trip was when I was able to visit the port of Napoli (or Naples as we say here in America) and stood on the dock gazing seaward towards the Tyrrhenian Sea and imagined what my nonno (grandfather in Italian) could have been feeling boarding the Campania merchant ship to start a new life. At that moment I was very proud of him and his courage to leave his family behind at the young age of 18 to pursue the American dream.
Italy was so fantastic and enchanting; much more than I could have imagined. First of all Italian is spoken everywhere albeit in many different dialects. The tempo and cadence of the language is so beautiful you think they are all going to burst into a Pavarotti aria at any moment. I listened intently as I tried to understand and apply some of the small amount of Italian I had learned. Parlo Italiano un po. What did we say a lot? Andiamo!! or “Let’s go.” And if you think Italians really don’t talk that much with their hands . . . wrong; they do. A lot of passion is exhibited in their language.
It was noticeable to me that the majority of Italians were lean and fit maybe from all the walking they have to do because there is nowhere to park cars in the cities. Cars were almost exclusively small models such as Fiats and crammed into any space that would fit; up on sidewalks, parked sideways or whatever. No SUVs or trucks to be seen but scooters were everywhere with people racing like maniacs through the streets and small allies. I also noticed so many Italians smoking cigarettes; have they not heard about lung cancer and secondhand smoke? Foget abou it! I heard it said that the Italian breakfast consists of a cappuccino, a cornetta (cream filled pastry), and a cigarette. Seems that may be right. Oh and the Italian women . . . Gorgeous! Rich or poor Italians women and men dress to impress when they go out in public. The sloppy casual look? You’ll hear “mama mia"!
There was no fast food in site or at least what Americans consider fast food –McDonalds, Wendy’s or 7-11. Thank God! The food was fresh, healthy and delicious. Probably another reason for the Italian lean physique.
We visited many regions of the country and each area had its own charm and distinct pride, but everywhere were the bells. Church bells rang every hour whether in the large cities of Florence, Rome or Venice to the small cliff villages of the Cinque Terre. The bells reminded me of the underlining unified culture common to all of Italy that of community, the importance and
pleasure of socializing with each other in the piazzas, sipping Espresso and yes, eating gelato before the evening stroll or “passegiata.”
The atmosphere of Italy was intoxicating. I barely slept. I spent my birthday in the villa of Machiavelli when he was in exile in the Tuscan hills located on the outskirts of Florence. Capri island and the Italian lakes . . . beautiful. Whether walking the Roman cobblestone streets thousands of years old, riding in a water taxi in the Venice Grand Canal, viewing ancient ruins scattered among the modern Italian culture, or gazing upon religious paintings and statues created by such masters as Michelangelo (the exquisite Pieta) Bernini, Bramante, Raphael and many others, Italy did not disappoint. Viva Italia!!