As we continue our visit with Clay and the kids, I realize what a vital role children play in keeping you young. Not that I want to be raising one at this stage of life, but being around them refreshes my perspective and increases my energy. With kids, inhibitions are curbed and silliness embraced. Questions are honest and pointed, sometimes making us uncomfortable until we remember they are innocent and filled with a desire to gain information.
The Language of Play
We have friends here who have a six year old daughter, Francesca, and a four year old son, Frederico. We wanted them to meet Clay and the kids so we arranged a pizza night at a local restaurant that caters to families. They have an enormous outdoor area with a playground and parents sit at tables while kids run all over the place.
On the way to meet them, Serafina asked me how she was supposed to talk to Francesca since they didn’t share a common language. I told her they would figure it out. She looked skeptical but carried on in that way that children do when adults tell them something that doesn’t make sense. After a tentative start, they were playing like best friends. Occasionally, Francesca would run over to her mother for a translation, but for the most part they spoke the language of play. They played on the swings and slide and even played tag and hide and seek. When they needed to communicate something, they pantomimed and used gestures. Several other kids joined in and soon the whole playground was one international play date. Carter even got in on the action after a while, he being on the cusp of teenage-hood and a bit too cool to play with the little kids.
The Magic of Cortona
We built in some down days so that the kids could regroup from the fast-paced touring. On one of these, we decided to visit Cortona, a beautiful hill town about 40 minutes from here. Cortona is home to the UGA study abroad program, so you always hear lots of English, often tinged with Southern accents. Clay, being a proud UGA alum, wore a red Georgia t-shirt and we were greeted with choruses of “Go Dawgs” as we made our way through town. Because of the constant presence of so many Americans, Cortona is a bit more sophisticated in its offerings. There are plenty of places to buy things – souvenirs, gauzy summer dresses, leather – unlike typical small Italian towns that have only the basics. It makes for a lively atmosphere and sometimes you feel like you’re not in Italy – until you look down a curving alley with window boxes spilling from on high or look up to the 14th century high-rises that surround you.
Clay stepped into a church and stumbled upon a group of UGA students leaving a class. They struck up a conversation and introduced him to their professor. Clay told them that he has a BA and MBA from UGA. The smallness of the world became apparent as generations of UGA students and professors bonded in this Tuscan village far from Athens, Georgia.
Looking out over the expansive Tuscan countryside from the walls of Cortona, Clay said he wished he’d had more time to spend in Cortona. That’s the best thing to hear from a visitor – that a place resonated with them so much that they hated leaving.
Dinner with Friends
I remember the first time we had dinner with friends in Italy. We’d been traveling here for years and over time we made friends. The experience of eating in an Italian home was so different than that of eating in restaurants. I felt like we had really turned a corner and the trips became richer and much more meaningful with this new element.
Now almost every time we have visitors, we are invited to our friends Michelangelo and Rossella’s. I love that our friends and family get this experience. Many people go to Italy on vacation, but very, very few of them have the honor of dining in an Italian home. It gives you a glimpse into how people really live here.
We had prosecco and appetizers outside before moving in for a typical Italian meal of pasta with tomato sauce, roasted sausage and turkey, and roasted vegetables. The kids had a great time and were on their best behavior. Carter even wore khaki pants, which he hated, but he looked so grown up. I wonder if they know how special this is?
This visit was the shortest one of all the guests we’ve had. And it really flew by. There’s never enough time, but with this group that was especially true. I just can’t get enough of those kids – the things that come out of their mouths never cease to amaze and delight me.
Soon we were saying things like “This will be the last time we sit on the terrace” and “Make sure you’ve got everything ready for Rome”. Rome – the place we receive and lose guests. That majestic, busy, crowded, hot city that swallows up our friends and family and takes them away from us. Far away from the tranquility of Anghiari with days that stretch on forever. Clay wanted to spend a good deal of time in Rome to try and see everything possible. That meant the last four nights of their ten days here would be spent in Rome. It came too fast.