We’re back in Atlanta now. Our last couple of days in Italy were a whirlwind and I was often without internet access so I couldn’t post in real time. It seems cheating a bit to write about my time in Italy when I’m sitting in my living room in Atlanta, but I feel like I need to close this chapter before starting a new one.
Being back in Atlanta is a little jolting. Not just because we have jet lag, but because our perspective is always changed by our visits to Italy. A month is a long time for us. It’s long enough to develop rhythms and habits. It’s more than a vacation, it becomes part of life. A vacation is some kind of suspended animation – an interlude in your routine. But a month – that allows you to create new routines and see what suits you best. On our first full day back in Atlanta, we took a walk. The walk was punctuated by the sounds of pneumatic hammers and other power tools building super homes on the graves of old bungalows, ranches, and victorians that no longer appeal to people. I contrast that with our walks in Italy where we would see ancient homes being occupied by generations of the same family. Or abandoned stone farmhouses that no one claimed anymore but that can’t be torn down because they have a profound respect for the past. New construction is limited to certain areas and is tightly regulated so that the landscape and the infrastructure and the ambience are all respected. In Italy, most people live in a much more simple way than we do here. We have, and expect, central heat and air conditioning, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, homes that we can spread out in with walk-in closets and basements to accommodate all our many belongings. So we tear down the old and build new and bigger and better. And we have no tangible history.
We went to the grocery store to restock. One place for everything we needed. No need to go to the butcher, the baker, the vegetable vendor – we can get it all in one place. That’s convenient and efficient and I will say I like that. But it’s a sacrifice. You lose the connection with all those people – the singing butcher with only nine fingers who greets you with a hearty buongiorno; the baker who gives you a smile as warm as the bread she’s just pulled from the oven; the fruit man who carefully selects your produce for you and asks if you want to eat it today or tomorrow; and all the friends and neighbors you pass in the cobbled streets on the way to do your daily shopping. No, we bought enough food for a week in one place with very little interaction with any other person. It’s efficient, yes, but it’s no fun.
Italy is a land of many contradictions. Its natural beauty and relaxed way of life juxtapose with its massive red tape and chaotic government. It’s not perfect and I don’t want it to be. I love that Italians laugh at their imperfections and don’t get stressed out because they don’t agree with what the government just did. They have centuries of experience of coping with adversity and it’s given them the ability to see beyond the here and now and know that whatever comes your way, you will survive. As long as there is a butcher and a baker and a piazza to gather in they will celebrate life.
On my last evening in Anghiari, I sat on the terrace and reflected on this trip and life in general. Barring something completely unexpected, we don’t plan to come back this year. Another season, or two, will have passed before I sit on that terrace and gaze at that view of the Tiber Valley again. Every time I’m there, I learn something from that place and those people. I meet new people who become friends and see those who were once strangers to me years ago who are now old friends. I see children grow up and adults age. But the view that I see from my terrace is the same, and has been the same for centuries. I see the bell towers of medieval Anghiari and the red tile rooftops of renaissance Anghiari and it brings me comfort. Time and history are living things there, not just something you read about in a tour guide or information marker. I feel honored to be there and be part of it. I am humbled that those villagers take me in as one of their own, even though I don’t even speak their language. And I count the days until I return.