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Chatterbox: Deep travel


COVID did a lot of strange things to the world, to people and the traditions we knew, what we did and how we did it. We’re not all completely in the clear, but the world is blessed in that we are slowly bouncing back, and it’s lovely doing things that are important, what we enjoy, or just gathering with those we love.

At the moment, one of my sons is in Italy. Not only is Italy the land of my ancestors, it’s the land of my children, as my husband and I are both of Italian heritage only, as far as we can tell. My son had a wedding to attend in Tuscany. He worked hard and made it possible to extend the trip. He’s not the first of my four kids to go abroad, but he is the first to see Italy, and our whole family is thrilled.

Here at Chatterbox, we’ve talked about Italy before. My husband and I were very fortunate to have cousins who traveled to Europe a lot and, when we hit our empty nest years, they suggested we take a trip to Italy with them. We had only been to Europe once since our honeymoon there, and we’d never been to Italy. We went and, since then, we’ve been back five times – always Italy. Such is the song of Italy’s sirens.

Most people who travel will get the flavor of any country, and every country offers something amazing, deep, mesmerizing, unique and even ancient; that’s for sure. Still, there is a huge difference between seeing a country and “getting” a country, and if we “get” a country, then it is ours forever in its native form. Surpassing architecture, art, culture and food, to feel the pulse of a nation’s people and how they think and live daily is “getting” it. Feeling their collective connection to their soil and how they meld with it, live on the daily with it, that’s “getting” it. It’s what makes that land and its people a distinct and singular entity and what makes their land home to them. When we understand a country in a reflexive, workaday and daily way, when we stop thinking of it as an exhibit and see it as real life, then, we “get it.”

Of course, all foreign destinations have lots to offer and all are different from America, and when anyone goes back to the land of his/her ancestors, it’s even more special. Italy, though, (which I recently read has been voted “a country with one of the best lifestyles in the world”) really is unique – even if one is not of Italian heritage. It seems to have something of the Earth simmered into it. If a person “gets” Italy, if they key into the hum of Italy’s singularity and what it is at the core, Italy will be on their menu for life.

My son likes to stay in the moment and not live on his phone, but he did send a couple of very brief but telling clips of video that our family was waiting for with bated breath; my husband and I were curious to see what he would choose to send home. We were champing at the bit to see if he “got” Italy. When his first small video came home, we knew he was definitely in the zone.

When people travel, they see buildings, drink wine, taste the Wiener schnitzel and send home snaps of tourist sites. We all can appreciate great architecture, sculpture and fabulous food, but true absorption is to swoon over the early morning fish market, the butcher singing in his shop, and rooftop gardens.

It’s far more than travel when one is enamored with the everyday life of the people of a small town. When what is common and daily for a country’s residents creates a Franco Zeffirelli moment for a fortunate visitor, that visitor “got” it. When a person sends home video of breezes in an olive tree grove on a hilltop, snapshots of a woman hanging wash in the early morning, or a bride going into church, that’s where attraction turns to love.

When my son sent home a few precious seconds of 25 different pizzas in a sidewalk window, the houses at Ponte Vecchio, and the church bells of an entire tiny town chiming in unison at 6 p.m., that’s when we knew – he “got” it.

He’ll have to go back. He’s been bitten now, and we couldn’t be happier for him.