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Il mio cuore è nel Italia

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Late last night / early this morning (why split hairs?), I got to talk to one of my dear friends in Volterra on Facebook chat. He is a spectacularly wonderful guy named Alessio, one of the funniest people I've ever met, and I was ecstatic to talk with him again.

Despite spending two summers in Italy, doing the bulk of my thesis research in Italian, and obsessing over Italian culture in every way, I still speak Italian horribly. Alessio declared his English to be "very shit," but fortunately we are both fluent in Spanish and piece together enough of the three languages (plus gestures) that we have a surprisingly easy give and take in person.

While chatting involved several tabs open to Google translator and an uncomfortable grin as I knew I was butchering the most beautiful language in the world, I was thrilled to see we can communicate in text as well.

Not to totally give away all my future plans, but uhh, I'm going to be brushing up on the Italian pretty soon.

For no particular reason beyond enthusiasm, here are some things I absolutely love about Italy and Italians (at least the ones I know):

- They greet you with besos and are totally fluid with personal space and affection in ways that this uptight Tri-State WASP could heretofore only hypothesize about.

- The lilt and cadence of the language is like singing lullabyes, and the sound of speech is intoxicatingly beautiful.

Siesta! Why the hell don't Americans do this?! Do you know anyone who considers themselves an "early afternoon person"?

- The proclivity for indulging in heavy lunches accompanied by liberal enjoyment of vino bianco, segueing marvellously into afternoon prosecco (in my experience).

- They say "ciao bella" without the faintest trace of irony. Italian men are the only men I know who can call me beautiful and it doesn't feel patronizing because they also call inanimate objects and abstract philosophical concepts beautiful. It is quite a habit to pick up - "my beautiful cell phone," "this beautiful sandwich," etc.

- The sunlight is warmer in color than anywhere else I've ever been. The greens of the trees and rolling hills are richer somehow, as if they have an inner light. Even on a cloudy or stormy day, the sky feels benevolent and complex. The colors are more saturated and interesting than any I've ever seen.

- Even the dirt is colorful enough to be used as pigments in painting.

- The art is incomparably amazing and staggeringly abundant. You can't turn a corner without finding a church packed to the gills with exceptional works, usually by well-known artists, available to anyone who wanders in to enjoy.

- If you do enough research, you can touch the foot of a Michelangelo sculpture like my mother and I did (but no way am I saying where or how).

- The graffiti is nothing short of poetic, and the average Italian is more conscious of global and especially American politics than your average college-educated New Yorker.

- The sense of community, charity, and neighborliness is ingrained in every aspect of Italian culture and life. Tourists may not experience it all the time, but generaly speaking, Italians are remarkably kind.

- The men are the most handsome and charming in the world. My God, their eyes. For that matter, the women are the most stunning, stylish, and mystifyingly lovely creatures I've ever seen. They have mastered eyelash bats and crooked smiles in a way to which I could only aspire. People-watching is a Bacchanalia in Italy.

- The literature, poetry, and opera are out of this world. This third I will not budge on, because even though I'm thrilled beyond words to have tickets for Orfeo ed Euridice next week, there is nothing, and I mean nothing like a pure Italian opera. It's just made for it.

- Do I even need to start on the food? There is this place in Florence called El Gatto ela Volpe that serves a starter of Buffalo mozzarella with halved tomatoes, drizzled with fresh olive oil and cracked pepper that honestly made me weep both times I had it. The first time, the owner brought out a little metal jug of his own aged balsamic that set it into another stratosphere. The combinations of flavors are so simple in concept, but the intensity of the ingredients and the loving preparation make it phenomenal.

- It's okay to speak and act in dramatic hyperbole, and I actually seem calm by comparison to the average person's level of animation. People live passionately, they indulge their senses and emotions, and it is positively energizing to be so open and free.

- The attention to aesthetic matters reaches into every aspect of life, and everywhere you look, it's like living in a painting. Windowsills and laundry lines become hopelessly charming. Everything in Venice, Assisi, and Volterra had its own kind of effortless, layered beauty.

- My heart swells and I cry whenever I see images of Italy. I have dreams where I am watching the canals of Venice from the vaporetto or walking along the Etruscan wall in Volterra, and I wake overwhelmed with joy.

If you are thinking something like "Damn, if you love it so much why don't you move there?" or the more third-grade taunting style of "Why don't you marry it??", then your thoughts are pretty evenly aligned with mine right now.

I can't convey it, even in love-letter form, but I am a different person when I am in Italy. I am so happy, so full of life and energy, so open to beauty and experience. I can't wait to be there again.

If you are feeling wistful or want to see even a little of why I love it so much, I'd encourage you to check out the Italian cities in my travel photos. One of these days, I'll put another couple thousand up there...

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This page contains a single entry by Vicki published on January 22, 2009 3:38 PM.

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