Blog Post by Erica Brown - Sep.07.2011 - 1:56 pm
- Robert Graves wrote “Open my heart and you will see, Graved inside of it, Italy.” He knew a thing or two. Talking about Italy? The problem for me is not where to start but when to stop, as writing and reminiscing about Italy are the next best things to being there. I could happily though sadly not profitably, spend the day describing the houses we lived in, some elegant, some shabby, all of them old, the neighbourhood walks and adventures with only Georgina Masson’s guide. Exploring new quarters and revisiting familiar ones, each with their attendant characters, favorite restaurants, bars, cafes, and markets, farther afield lie the mountains and the seaside, but most of all, I would try to describe the joy that comprises the experience of Italy, whether you’re there for a week or a year. You stop on the way home from work and see a poster fixed to a lamp post advertising chamber music that night at Santa Cecilia. You call friends, meet there, are ushered into the courtyard by the cloistered nun chosen to receive visitors that month. The salon is columned and frescoed, the Schubert perfect, afterwards you’re with a lucky few taken downstairs to see the ruins of the ancient Roman house under the building. The wine and spaghettata at the trattoria later are right as few things are, and throughout a voice in your head keeps jumping up and down like an excited two year old, “ Wheee! I’m here! I get to live this! I’m walking stones that are thousands of years old and on my way to the bus I get to see the Pantheon every day! ”
- I’m hungry, so let’s start with the food. I’ve had bad food in France but never in Italy. Friends point out gently that when you’re in love most things taste better, and they’re partially correct; everything is more glorious when you’re in love and I am certainly in love with Italy, in love as one is during an affair, as one is during a sojourn that ends before it becomes infuriating, that provides constant memories of the beauty until a return, as one is when one doesn’t live permanently with the object of love so it never becomes too exasperating. Let’s not, therefore, talk about the politics. Let’s talk about the light. And the food. And the beauty which even Rome’s detractors must allow.
- Friends are correct that being in Italy suffuses me with the same light that washes over its piazzas and reflects off the ochre walls, the golden umber that typifies summer and bare legs and long days, with lemon and chocolate gelato to cool off and pastas dripping with garlic and oil and crisp vegetables to warm up, and fresh wine to cool off again. in all honesty, it's not because I love Italy that the food tastes good. Eating there is objectively wonderful, based as the cuisine is on fresh ingredients, tomatoes that taste of sun and earth, not cardboard, basil infused with July, buffalo mozzarella (no, not buffalo from the American plains but water buffalo) creamy and white and easy to cut with a fork, all drizzled with olive oil smelling of the orchard itself. And the coffee. Oh, let’s not remember how strong and deep and foamy on top the coffee at roadside stops is – the equivalent of McDonald’s highway stops but instead with real lasagna, actual coffee, and those round fried balls of chicken and mushroom called cremini di pollo that are the Italian version of Miss Vickie’s chips, hard to eat only one.
- One of the clearest memories of Rome is from my childhood, when the shepherds would come down from the Abruzzo hills to sing in the streets and make money for their Christmas. Now perhaps they’ve sold their land and are living, much better than I ever shall, perhaps in Marbella, a thought that makes me happy, as do most thoughts about Italy. In those days they dressed to tend their land, not consciously quaint but because it was what they had to keep warm, with sheepskins laced around their legs and wrapped around their torsos. They would come down the quiet residential streets singing snatches of songs, and we would race to the terrace, hoping they would stand outside our building. We’d hang over the railing and listen, sometimes by themselves, sometimes harmonizing with each other, Abruzzese carolers from another age like Dickensian carolers with fur muffs would appear today in New York. When they finished, we'd applaud and throw down the small parcels of coins tied up in yarn that we kept ready on the window sills during the season.
- Christmas in Rome. Piazza Navona lit up from within like a 17th century Dutch painting, stalls with dangling Befana dolls, sellers of hot chestnuts, the taste of the nuts never fulfilling the promise of their scent, Bernini’s fountain a splashing backdrop to hawkers, tourists milling and taking pictures with the foodsellers, holding paper cones of chestnuts and small cups of wine. The lights around the stalls and the piazza glowed until midnight and beyond, the air crisp but not too cold – even the weather, it seemed, cooperated with Italy at Christmas, too Goldilocks for reality - “this one is juuuust right.” As everything seemed to me in Rome.
- Let’s not over-romanticize the place, however. Italians are exasperating, charming, beautiful, and living among them is much like living with a nation of attractive children whose antics you enter into but of whom you secretly wonder whether or not a steady diet is healthy. Italians on the beach – they are the ones laughing, totally joyful, playing soccer and creating panini and mortadella that smells amazing from as far away as your umbrella, prosciutto and melon, great slabs of casareccio. They motion to you to join them, and you find out the father works for the telephone company. Maybe he’s the one who turned off your phone for no reason, the third time in the year, the reason for which you had to wait four days on line at the phone company and spend two hours pleading to have it turned back on. But in the sunshine it doesn’t matter. You find you have a mutual friend, an art restorer, and you all arrange to meet in town at the Villa Borghese to see the works being restored behind the scenes. After, you have dinner in the hills and drive back in the golden light in another Roman evening, still in love, languorous after a day of talk and wine and laughing.
- My Italy, with its infuriating politics and perfection of the senses, is the affair that never ends.
Nothing good was ever achieved without enthusiasm. ”
Free lance writer and editor, not sexy (read creative), largely commercial. I take clients' websites, corporate brochures, speeches, papers, and either create original content with them, or take what they have and make it electric. I have a family, two cats,...