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Gorgeous, Maddening, Magical

Italy is a gorgeous, maddening, magical country.  For gorgeous, think Renaissance paintings or contemporary fashion.  For maddening, think mounding trash piles in Naples or Sicilian Mafia killings—or simply Silvio Berlusconi.

And yet.  The magic always remains and returns.  Sometimes the beauty, frustration, and alchemy come together in a breathtaking, mysterious way.  On one visit, I decided I could no longer stomach the tourist crush and chaos of Venice, so I hopped on a train and repaired to the quieter city of Padua, a mere thirty minutes away, home of Giotto’s frescoes and a famous old university. 

When our train arrived, we were informed that an impromptu strike of all transit workers had been called.  No taxis, no buses, no way for any of us to get where we were going.  What to do—shriek?  Hire a lawyer?  Complain to the police?  Those like me who’d never been to Padua had no idea.  It was a hot, sunny day; our suitcases sat implacable and heavy on the cobblestones.

And yet.  This is Italy!  No one screamed, no one cried.  Instead, everywhere was talking, lots of gestures, a veritable opera of people motioning in every direction from the piazza.  Suddenly, miraculously, all of us were apportioned into various autos, trucks, mopeds, anything that moved—some precariously positioned—wending our way courtesy of the local populace.  I found myself shepherded in a tiny car by a charming young couple to a family-owned small hotel in the center city.  No fuss, no fun made of my broken Italian, we were all friends and fellow sufferers and rescue-boat mates making our way across the seas toward this island of art and history and culture.

It was Verdi in the everyday.  From chaos all the way to companionship and the right proportions in life.  Only in Italy do art and madness and love and dysfunction come together in that unique risotto of life whose flavor is rich and unforgettable. 


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Madness and magic

Yes! Italy is "The Tempest" revisited, surely - a beautiful, sun-drenched place with the occasional nutjob. What turns so many of our experiences there to laughter when they could so easily, would so immediately had we been in, say, Pittsburgh, to snarls? The beauty, the promise of pasta and experience of more beauty, the fact that we know we're returning to a somewhat higher standard of efficiency, immersed in which we'll mourn the charm and frustration that embody our Italian episodes? Somewhere, a tiny voice at the back of my mind tells me that were I to live there permanently, I would end up killing someone. Or perhaps not. Maybe the passion we have for this often irritating, exciting, infuriating place has its  own rewards, the reason for which we usually wind up laughing instead of in jail for homicide.