In two days I’ll be on American soil. I will be waking up in my birth country for the first time in over 16 months. Of course, I’ll be jet-lagged and groggy and grumpy, but I’ll be home. And I’ll be so glad to have this trip behind me. It’s nothing for me, but for poor little Millie, it’s a big hassle. No bathroom breaks + three diuretic doses a day = possible problems. But I’m armed with doggie diapers, pee-pee pads and sanitizing wipes in hopes that somehow she will be able to maintain some level of comfort.
There were many reasons we chose this time of year for our extended visit, but one of them was the weather. You see, we’re experts on the weather here, having spent one entire year here. There’s nothing we don’t know. And we know that winter here is gripping. It’s not particularly cold, but it’s gray and damp and foggy and windy, making it feel colder than it really is. Alternating with days upon days of rain. The random bright sunny day is a cause for celebration and we emerge from our cocoons squinting at the light and feeling renewed by the sun’s energy. Since I’m now an expert on Italian weather, I understand that this is typical of the Mediterranean climate. Long, hot, dry summers followed by damp, foggy winters. That’s how the soil here gets its moisture. We were amazed last winter when we never had to water our outdoor plants – there was always enough moisture in the air to keep them perfectly hydrated.
This past week, our last one here until next year, was the first one of this type of weather. Gray, rainy, and foggy, some days with high winds. I’m glad it’s like this now so that we will remember why we chose this time to return stateside. The days are short now, getting dark at about 5:00 and staying dark until about 7:00. The days will get even shorter as we approach the winter solstice, just as they do in Atlanta. I remember (not fondly) driving to work in the dark and home in the dark during those short winter days. Here, we have about an hour less daylight than in Atlanta in the winter. The flip side of this is that we have an hour more daylight in the height of summer. Nice bonus. Interesting geographic fact – our home in Anghiari is roughly on the same latitude as Toronto, Canada. It surprised me to realize how far north we are.
This past week was the “Week of Italian Cuisine Around the World” sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. It’s an effort to showcase true Italian cuisine and products with events held all over the world. I think it’s very fitting that our last week in Italy coincided with this worldwide celebration of Italian food. Because we certainly did our share of celebrating Italian food this week, knowing that we will not be getting any in the coming weeks.
We are really looking forward to the diverse food options available in Atlanta. But we do not plan on eating any Italian food while there. It’s not that you can’t get reasonably good Italian food in Atlanta, it’s that it’s never going to be as good as what I’m used to here. So why bother? The ingredients are impossible to reproduce in the US. It’s like a Vidalia onion – it’s unique to that one specific part of Georgia. I have an array of vacuum sealed cheeses and cured meats to tuck into my suitcase to give me that little taste of Italy that I know I will want from time to time. And even that caused some controversy when we asked our local supermarket to vacuum seal a pecorino cheese for us. One worker refused to do it, claiming that it would ruin the taste. We took our chances and got another, less dogmatic, staffer to do it for us.
So this week we’ve been loading up on things that we know we will miss. This means lots of pasta, salamis, cheeses, and truffles. We have been having several “farewell” (or as one dear friend called it, the “see you soon dinner”) gatherings with various friends over the last few days. So I will arrive in Atlanta just in time for Thanksgiving, that feast to end all feasts, with my stomach properly stretched out by mounds of Italian food. I will be even more doughy around the middle than usual, but I will be content. I will also be ready for turkey and for my welcome home dinner with friends where I’ve very selfishly demanded etouffee. Well, in all fairness, they asked what I would like, so I didn’t really demand it. But I am dreaming of it.
Georgia on My Mind
As the day of our departure looms, I’m getting more excited about our visit. I’ve talked about the things that have me apprehensive, but there are many more things that I’m looking forward to. Now, I’m not biased at all, but Georgia is the most beautiful of all the 50 states that make up our great country. The largest state east of the mighty Mississip (7th grade Georgia history), it has natural resources that rival any place on earth. The beginning (or end) of the Appalachian Trail, the (largely) unspoiled barrier islands hedging the coastline from the vast Atlantic Ocean, and the rolling hills and plains in between – Georgia has a diversity of geography that is unrivaled.
Italy is an incredibly beautiful country and landscapes here continue to take my breath away. Everywhere you look there is a vista that could grace a postcard. But I can’t tell you how many times we’ve looked at a particularly beautiful view and remarked on how much it reminds us of Georgia. For me, this is especially true. My rural, family-farm roots are right at home here. We live in an agricultural area and it’s nothing to get stuck behind a tractor going from field to barn when driving around the roads here. Squares of perfectly planted plots grace the valley floor, while the hillsides are covered with olive trees and grape vines. A walk through the country brings the familiar smell of freshly turned earth – a smell like no other and one that I think I will imagine on my deathbed. That smell that conjures the promise of good things to come and the miracle of tending the soil that God gave us to sustain and nurture us.
So when I say that Georgia is beautiful, I know what I’m talking about. How lucky am I that I have one foot in Georgia and one in Anghiari? The only downside is the distance separating the two. Where is that “Beam me up, Scottie” machine? But I guess if travel was that easy, it wouldn’t be as precious.
The Reverse Vacation
We leave our Tuscan home tomorrow. The suitcases are mostly packed, just waiting on those last minute things. Millie’s array of food, medicine, bathroom supplies, and bowls are ready to go. I look around this house, at the view over the valley, and feel sadness. It’s like my vacation is over. I have never left Italy before with a round trip ticket to come back. This a reverse vacation. I’m going to the US on my vacation, instead of coming to Italy. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m coming back. That this is my home and I can leave things as they are. It’s a lot to wrap my feeble brain around.
I wonder how it will feel to be back in the US? I think I will slip right back into the familiar, but I’m sure there will be things that give me pause. Life has kept on going for these 16 months and the freeze frame that I have in my mind is not an accurate picture. There are so many people I want to see and things I want to do that I think the three months will fly by and at the end I’ll be wondering where the time went. That’s the way it is with vacations, right? Rarely do you get to everything on your list and the time you have only leaves you wanting more. So, friends, bear with me if I seem to be wanting to spend every waking moment with you. Remember – I’m on reverse vacation.