I lived abroad for fifteen years, and the taste of Italy, I certainly missed. During this time, I have learnt a lot about my country. Yes, because for some mysterious trick of the mind, it is always when you are far from a place or from someone that you truly begin to know them: does that not happen to lovers as well, sometimes?
Anyway: fifteen years away from Italy, fifteen years where I learnt to look at it more objectively. It is hard, because right now, one may think that the cons of being in the country (high taxes, no work, a risible political force) are overwhelmingly superior to the pros, but is it really so?
I do not think so. For me, at least, and for many others, it is not like that.
The taste of Italy, the colors, light and beauty are only some of the reasons why.
I took the decision to come back to my own country as naturally as I breathe, aware of the difficulties, but even more aware of those I was to face if I stayed away from it. I missed Italy, its flavors, its taste. I missed my people, I missed the air, the atmosphere, the art, the beauty. Because there is something about Italy, that is genetic in those born here and that visitors catch like a splendid, outrageously enjoyable disease: this country makes you hers. She charms you with her beauty, conquers you with her behavior, keeps you close with her manners and her food, bewitches you with her passion.
Just like a lover, Italy makes you hers and stays in your mind day and night: if you were born here, you are lost. You will always come back to her. If you were not, I am afraid you are in the same boat: Italy knows how to make you return, more and more often, to see her. Italy knows how to make you miss her as if nothing else existed in the world.
Yet, you know what is funny? Neither you nor I would have it any other way.
Italy, She Charms You with Her Beauty
Surely one of the first things you notice about the country once you land is how beautiful it is: Italy has majestic mountains, romantic hills, a sea where gods were born and all that comes with it. Colorful and sweetly scented, yet also wild and haunting, this is a country whose nature is uncompromizing in its fairness. The uniqueness of Italian landscape is truly in this variety and its harmony.
Think of how amazing it is to stroll by the sea on the Italian riviera, inebriated with the sounds and the taste of the amazing country that Italy is, surrounded by all the glitz and glamour only old-style elegance can achieve. Then turn your shoulders to the sea and look up: here they are, the wild hills of Liguria, ready to become the Maritime Alps right on front of your eyes. They are extraordinary in their wilderness and make such a stark contrast with the serene, calm and polished beauty of the seaside you are strolling by.
This is Italy: come on in.
Travelling through the country can be hard, because there is so much to see and enjoy, but take it step by step and plan to get acquainted with Italy and her people little by little. It can be hard also because our habits and way of doing things may not match entirely those of people coming to visit, but fear not: keep a smile on your face and we will be happy to explain, help and give you a taste of the real Italy.
It is not only the landscape of Italy that charms, it is also her history and her art. If natural beauty was not enough, throughout the centuries, Italy attracted to her shores the good and the bad, the hero and the fiend, the artist and the prince. Land of poets, painters and emperors, history, in this country, has not only made men, but also art: from the Classical architecture of Rome and Agrigento, to the Medieval beauty of Bobbio and Assisi, all through the Florentine Renaissance and the Baroque of Venice, Italy, just as a painter’s favorite model and muse, inspired and maddened artists of all centuries. It is when beauty meets culture, that Italy truly has no rivals.
Italy, She conquers You with her Behavior
Or should I say Italians do it? Truth is that there is a lot to be said about those stereotypical images of Italian people that the tourist industry wants everyone to believe real. We do not sing all the time, we do not live in a time warp set on the 50s, we do work long hours and get really stressed out. In that, we are just citizens of the world as anybody else. Modern life did influence us and our behavior, unfortunately, as it did with everyone. However, it is true that we do deal with this a bit differently and that our priorities may be, underneath it all, a bit different from those of other people. If life became fast, it is true that we know how and when to slow it down: it may be a nice aperitivo after work with workmates, it may be the pausa caffé at 10.30 am, with a nice cornetto and a chat, it may be sitting at the table in the evening and treat ourselves to our favorite dish and wine. Stress is not going to disappear, but hell, it can be dealt with and you know how? Enjoying life and the small pleasures of it. And if there is something Italy teaches you to do, it is just that.
Times have changed, and no, we do not live in the past. Yet, we have learnt from our grandparents, who, if you are pretty much my age, lived through two World Wars, that life is more than a career and happiness can come from something as small as a night with mates with good food and wine. Because Lorenzo de’ Medici was right when he said Chi vuol esser lieto sia, del doman non v’e’ certezza (roughly, be happy if you wish, for the future is uncertain), and the people of Italy took that piece of advice in stride ever since. Some of this attitude rubs off on to our visitors, too. And if you come back from your trip with at least a bit of that, I think your holiday can be written down as a success.
A taste of Italy, She Keeps you Close with Her Food
Because how can we talk about Italy and not even mention the pleasures of food? Whoever visits Italy knows it: food is more than nutrition, food is culture, tradition and pleasure in this country. Italian cuisine is one of the most popular around the world, but it is very hard to find authentic Italian flavors outside of Italy. I must admit that, compared to England and Ireland, where I lived for so long, the US know their game when it comes to Italian food: proper ingredients are easier to find, and the produce is fresher and better. So there, if you really want to cook Italian the way it is, and you live in the States, you will find (almost) all you need easily and down the road!
Food in Italy, however, is more than a recipe, it is synonymous with culture, tradition and love. When we Italians want to show we care, we cook for you. When we want to impress you, we cook for you. If we cook for someone really special, we dig our grandparents’ recipes, bound to be, of course, the best in the entire world
. When we are down, we treat ourselves with delicious food. When we need to talk, we do it over dinner and a glass of wine. We could never renounce to the simple happiness, sheer satisfaction and sense of belonging that food gives us. I remember an American friend of mine telling me once that, in the US, going to the movies was a little pleasure every family always made space for. That it did not matter how bad the economic situation was, if the war was raging or whatever else the world decided to throw at you, going to the cinema was the little thing that made it all better, at least for a short while. In Italy, that sense of peace, happiness and security is given by food and by cooking.
It is hard not to love the taste of Italy, for all the reasons described here and a million more. It is also hard not to get angry at certain things that happen in the country, like shrieking nepotism and slow bureaucracy, which sometimes seem to define it just as much as her innumerable gifts. Truth is, though, that just as it happens when we are madly in love, we forget about the glitches quickly after we rest the eye on our beloved. Yes, Italy is, indeed, like one of those painfully beautiful and charming lovers that literature and cinema has given us: perfect in their imperfections and to whom we always return. To the taste of Italy, one gets addicted easily, indeed. The difference is that for this country coming back is always worth it, no matter what.