Why Italy? It’s not what you think!
This is a question I am asked often when people find out I have been leading writing and culture tours to Italy since 2008. The answer is many-fold and layered, and involves far more than something as clichéd as “the countryside / the art / the architecture / the history / the light / the food.”
Yes, those things are part of the ever-present desire I feel to be part of Italy, but it is much more than any of those, and simultaneously it is also quite simple. The answer, in short, is that I love how being in Italy makes me feel, and I’ll do whatever it takes to visit as often as possible.
Often things written about Italy can take the tone of the writer having discovered something new and wonderful “as though millions of Italians, not to mention millions of visitors “haven’t already seen the golden Tuscan hills dotted with cypress trees and villas, or the ancient Etruscan burial sites, or the medieval towns like Viterbo or Vetralla with their 800-year old walls and their tiny stone churches… as though millions of Italians and others haven’t already gazed, in awe or in anger at being hurried, at the statue of David under sunlight in the museum in Florence, or touched the icing-like façade of the Florence cathedral, or walked the streets of Venice at night when laughter and singing and the scents of garlic and beef and wine waft from every open window to mingle with the slight tang of the sea… as though millions of Italians and others haven’t noticed the Priapus fresco in a doorway in Pompeii, or seen how the light above the water strikes the houses on the Amalfi coast in ways that make the entire country glow, or how even the house wine in Italian restaurants is both cheaper than the water and better than anything grown “here,” wherever here is, or felt the tingle on the back of their neck in Palermo or Naples at dusk… as though millions of visitors haven’t tried to speak Italian only to be brushed aside when the Italian behind the bar speaks back in English or French or German, or haven’t tried to order a coffee and gotten an espresso, or haven’t waxed lyrical about the musical cadence of the Italian language or walked the “very same stones that Caesar walked with Cleopatra”… or visited the famed Cinecittà where Fellini made his films… and on it goes.
Italy can’t help but be described this way, because those things are visible, obvious, easily incorporated into our experiences of a place; what we see and hear and smell and taste become our memories, and fill our photos. Our memories are more easily held when they involve tactile moments. And when we talk to our friends later, and when we think back from a vantage point that is always in the future whenever we visit Italy, what comes to mind first are images, typically photo-flashes of where we went, who we talked to, how we got there, what we saw, ate, encountered.
What we forget, though, is to remember how we felt.
What did you feel when you sat for an hour on the edge of the Grand Canal in Venice at a café? What did you feel when you turned the corner and first viewed the cathedral in Orvieto glowing in the sun from miles away? What did you feel when you walked the cobbled streets of Pitigiliano, or the paving stones of Pompeii or the marble museum floors in the Doria Pamphilj as you gazed on hundreds of years of art so crowded into a space it was like walking inside the mind of a mad artist? When you lifted the glass of wine at that nondescript little restaurant off the main plaza in Orte, or looked over the glass surface of Lago Bolsena from the top of the rock in Montefiascone?
It is those emotions to which we wish to return, and Italy ” in its glory and its pitfalls ” stands in for how we felt when we were there – and what we wish we could hold onto. In our minds, and in photos we proudly show others, we grasp for the joy and the wonder and the ineffable sublimity we were immersed in during our visits, not understanding that it is not place we wistfully remember, but our connection to ourselves.
And this is why I return to Italy again and again; it is there I feel most alive.
TLC Cultural Writing Tours
TLC-Bellissima Tours of Italy
I have been writing professionally since 1992, traveling to Italy since 2000, and leading Tours to Italy since 2008. When I’m not writing or traveling, I teach at the University of New Mexico in the Film Studies and Peace Studies Departments, and enjoying my home and family in Albuquerque. I teach online writing classes through Story Circle Network. See my site, and join me for a Tour.