When we moved to Italy, we knew that we would miss friends and family. What we didn’t know was how much. These are the people that you carry around in your heart and think about at random times, sometimes because you’re reminded of them and sometimes because they stroll through your consciousness. You can rewind wonderful memories, talk to them, and even see them through magic of technology, but you can’t sit next to them and touch them and feel their presence. You can’t share a meal or take a walk, hands brushing against each other as you share spontaneous laughter.
This week we welcomed Steve’s youngest son Clay and his two children, Carter and Serafina. We face-time with them regularly and keep up with what’s going in their lives, but nothing beats a hug and a real, face-to-face conversation. Visits like these are tonics for me – ones I didn’t know I needed but am oh, so glad I got.
Italy for Kids
We’ve had the great pleasure of hosting many friends and family, but this is the first time we’ve had anyone under 19 years old. Carter is 12 (he turns 13 while in Italy!) and Serafina is eight. How would they like going to museums and walking through ancient towns? Would they appreciate Michelangelo’s David or would they find museums boring? Could they grasp the thousands of years of history and the layers of complexity that make up this culture? Would they like pasta alla gricia?
I’ve seen lots of bored kids and exasperated parents tromping around Italy. The idea of bringing children on a European trip sounds great, but the reality is some kids just can’t grasp what it is they’re doing. And even though you have a good idea of what a particular child is like, you really don’t know how they’ll react to all this until you get here.
One of the most gratifying things about having people visit us is to see their reactions to things. I’m always surprised at the perspective they bring to things that I think I know inside out. It challenges me to look at things differently and to appreciate that intellectual diversity that makes life interesting. Until you view the world from the perspective of a child, you really haven’t lived. Their innocence and insights are refreshing and if you think adults bring a different perspective to things, talk to a kid. The things that they focus on cause me to step back and marvel. For example, they’re somewhat impressed that the Romans invented concrete, but they’re fixated on how they got holes drilled into it to allow water to escape from the streets.
Carter and Serafina have taken to Italy like ducks to water. They pride themselves on learning Italian words and use them whenever they can. They’ve even learned how to order their gelato in Italian. They appreciate the beauty of the landscape and marvel at the architecture. They are present here in every sense and that’s exactly what you want to see.
The Tourist and the Traveler
I think there are two broad categories of vacationers. The tourist is someone who visits a place but their own cultural sensibilities dominate the experience. They want Italy, but Americanized. Kind of Disneyland Italy. The traveler leaves their expectations behind and embraces a place on its own. They savor the nuances and try not to get frustrated when things are different from what they’re used to. Carter and Serafina have the makings of travelers. Minds that open to new experiences and expand when those experiences are realized.
Early in their visit Serafina asked Carter what he liked best about Italy. He said gelato, a very fine answer, and she said how beautiful it was. I can tell you that the gelato tastes better when sharing it with children you love and the scenery is only enhanced by having an adoring grandchild hold your hand while you gaze at a sunset.
We only have a few days in and around Anghiari before we head to Rome to finish up their trip. We wanted to build in some down time so that the kids could rest and not be those cranky, ill-tempered beasts children turn into when overtired. Being able to spread out in our house, instead of living out of a suitcase in a hotel room, allowed us the luxury of space. During our breaks from sightseeing, we had riveting Uno games on the terrace overlooking Anghiari and some cutthroat Monopoly games in the living room. In between we would walk down to the village and sample some more gelato flavors, some wanting to try everything, others settling on their favorites and putting those on repeat.
A Renaissance in Florence
Florence is about an hour and a half from us by train, and because there’s so much to see and do there, we devoted two days to it. The first day was the Duomo, the Baptistry, climbing the Bell Tower, and touring Santa Croce. Two days later we went back to visit the da Vinci Museum, the Duomo Museum, and walk around the Piazza Signoria on our way to the Ponte Vecchio. Florence was hot – in the low 90s – and crowded (although I have seen it much worse). The kids were real troopers – keeping up and not showing their boredom at some of the more archaic parts of the museums.
I tend to gloss over things when touring people around. I’ve been to these places so many times that the sights, landmarks, and legends are rote to me. I forget that not everyone knows who Savonarola was and that the spot where he was burned at the stake is marked in the Piazza Signoria. I only learned all this from my visits to Italy and don’t expect new visitors to know it. But it’s still so easy to breeze through and pass by the ancient statues without notice. I try not to say everything I know (which honestly would only take a few minutes) but let people see it all for themselves, then add some commentary after they’ve taken it in. But I always miss something. Or forget something. I’ve said countless times “This statue is noteworthy but I can’t remember anything about it”. Very helpful. Then I’m ashamed of my inability to retain facts and sheepishly try to direct attention to something I know a thing or two about.
A Continuing Adventure
What a wonder it is to have your grandchildren at your side. I haven’t seen them for over 10 months and my heart has ached for them all that time. Now I know why. Our minds do us such favors by making rationalizations to save our hearts from breaking. Things like “They have so much going on in their lives that they don’t even know we’re gone” or “They just think of us as old people who hug them too much and ask them lame questions”. But the truth is we’re all so much a part of each other’s lives that when reunited we bond back together like no time ever passed. And our hearts say to our brains that they were right all along – deep feelings can’t be rationalized away. If anything is going to make me want to move back to Atlanta, it’s this visit.