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Musings on the Regions of Italy
On my recent trip to Italy, alone after a walk at sunset in San Gimignano, and still in a dreamy mood, I returned to my caffe with my journal and a second glass of Vernaccia. I opened my journal and began to muse about my past travels to Italy. I thought about the regions of Italy I have visited in my five trips, and the feelings or words each area evokes in me. Here is what I wrote.
The majestic lakes of Lombardy with their quiet, tranquil views and craggy, rocky backdrop make me lazy and relaxed. My visits to Lake Como and Lake Garda were relaxing respites from the energy of the cities. The feeling I associate with this area is "calm."
Venice, La Serenissima, has an energy and magic of its own. I love sunsets on the canal, morning fog, empty neighborhood streets coming to life as the vendors set up shop, laundry as it goes out on the clotheslines. The colors of Venice strike me as spectacular: the glass jewelry, the houses of Burano, the purples of the eggplants at the Rialto market, the masks and crowds at St. Mark's Square, the shades and textures of endless walking though back streets in the Dorsoduro and San Polo neighborhoods, the regal splendor of La Fenice or a drink at the Danieli, the "wedding cake" look of Santa Maria di Salute shining in the sun (or rain) - all remind me of a kaleidoscope of hues that make Venice unlike any other city in the world. My emotion for Venice is "mysterious."
Of the Ligurian coast, I have only sampled Portofino: "lavish." In Emilia Romagna, our enjoyable days in Parma make me "hungry." These two regions will require a lot more of my time in days to come.
Tuscany, for me must be divided further into the three areas I have experienced: northern Tuscany, Chianti, southern Tuscany.
Southern Tuscany is like a first lover that never leaves one's heart. The Val d'Orcia brings me a deep and moving joy I can hardly contain. The hills and vineyards, the stone farmhouses, the light on the green hillsides, the cypress-lined driveways, the storybook villages, are what I dream of. I guess as long as I get to stroll in a place like Monticchiello, Montalcino or San Quirico, when I visit Tuscany, I don't even see the throngs of tourists. I tune out the world and could disappear onto a tiny terrace and stare at a bowl of ripe figs, or sit under a shady tree and watch a ladybug on a clump of wild poppies, for hours. I can be moved to tears by the site of a scruffy dog sunning in the road, or an old woman on a bicycle riding home with her groceries. The views from Pienza's wall on Via di Amore are my idea of "Heaven."
Val d'Orcia in southern Tuscany
Chianti is another love affair. I can weep from the joy of ripe purple grape juice running down my face in a vineyard, or a dinner of fresh cheese, fruit and prosciutto at an old wooden table overlooking an olive grove. The mystical sfumato that shrouds the hillsides in early morning, the golden and rusty grape leaves at harvest time, Brad with a "glow" from a Chianti Reserva in a local enoteca, and shopping for salamis at the Macelleria Falorni in Greve, are all etched in my mind as I remember my first visit to Chianti. Wooded roads to Castello Broglio, buying ripe figs in Radda, anticipating gelato in Castellina, a four-hour gourmet meal Al Gallopapa, and drinking grappa with the locals at midnight, make me smile and drool. Chianti: "delicious" and "earthy."
In northern Tuscany, I have enjoyed both Pisa and Lucca on three very different trips. Lucca is a city where I feel comfortable and safe, wandering back streets, visiting churches and shops. I need to return to Lucca to study Italian, and experience a walk or bike ride on the beautiful three kilometer raised wall around the city. Recently, I have been introduced to the area north of Lucca: Bagni di Lucca's charming stone bridges; Barga's medieval steep streets and mountain views; and the tiny village of Vico Pancellorum, where I lit candles at mass in the lovely church of San Paolo, ate olive oil soaked lobsters, and was welcomed by amazing local women close to 80, who continue to drive, honking, up the narrow road to their tiny village above the world: "timeless."
All of these simple but intense sensual experiences are what I associate with Bella Toscana.
Florence is another category all by itself. My first experience in Florence in 1987 was one I'd rather forget. On a cold and dark night I had a miscarriage there. I returned with Brad on our first anniversary trip in 2001, and had a gushing nosebleed while walking down Via Tornabuoni. I managed to clean up and change my bloody clothes in time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening, but what was it with me and this "bloody city?" We returned in 2003 during a rainy May downpour, hiding in shops until the sun came out, but no blood, and a little time to explore neighborhoods, the tourist sights and have a great dinner. Last year, we returned for only a day trip from Amorosa. The weather was glorious, and we decided to put several days in Florence on the agenda for next summer. I hope to discover the real heart of the city. I, as yet, have no word, except "curious."
Last year we got just a taste of Umbria, and plan to return next July when the sunflowers are blooming and we can spend ten days exploring hill towns, or doing absolutely nothing in a rental property overlooking an olive grove. We will NOT complain about hot weather, as July at home would be weeks over 110! What we saw of Umbria was "charming."
Rome and South
Rome with its history, majestic fountains, architecture, and unique neighborhoods is another place we wish to return to. We were there as tourists, doing the required "must sees" in a whirlwind four days. We want to go back and just "hang out" at the Campo di Fiori or Travestere, and experience a slow week in "majestic" Rome.
When we visited Puglia in 2003, I felt like I had returned to my childhood. We met several families of "maybe relatives" that I dug up through an Internet search before our trip. We traveled from home to home, meal to meal and were welcomed with open arms, gifts of homemade foods, regional cookbooks, and my mother's Barese dialect for three days without a word of English. We toured a "cousin's" pasta factory in Gioia del Colle, and feasted on fresh and smoked mozzarella, taralli, and homemade limoncello.
We visited a great, great, great zio's home where a hidden grotto to the Madonna was uncovered in his wall during some renovation. We were taken to the Sassi cave homes in Matera by another family who "adopted us" because of my mother's maiden name. The men were shorter, the women were less sophisticated and fashionable than in the north, but these lovely, warm, kind folks were "my people", and welcomed us in a spirit of generosity I will never forget! My feeling for Puglia with its farmland, agriculture, fruit and nut trees (that look just like California's San Joaquin Valley where I grew up), trulli houses, and hearty peasant foods, can only be described by the word "family."
On that same trip, we spent a few days on the coast of Basilicata in the quiet and beautiful town of Maratea. These were peaceful, "romantic" days to relax during a marathon pre-Slow Travel trip.
I guess I have saved the Amalfi Coast for last, because after three visits to Positano, Ravello and Capri, the images there remain for me, enchanting. Prosecco on the terrace of the San Pietro, glitzy jewelry stores in Capri, a dressy dinner at Le Sirenuse, walking through a blooming garden at Villa Cimbrone, watching the jet set congregate at the Quisi Bar in Capri; these are all experiences that while they are extravagant and over-the-top luxury travel, are still a wonderful part of our Italy experiences. I think of Campagna and smell lemons, feel sunshine and visualize the glimmering aqua Mediterranean and the deep azure waters of the tourist trap blue grotto. I remember the sandal-maker in Anacapri, and the impatiens blooming at Villa San Michele. I can taste delicate lemon pasta and white pizza on the beach in Positano. Deep pinks and orange shades of an Amalfi sunset remain as my screen saver. My word for this region is "luscious."
Sunset on the Amalfi Coast
More Travels to Come
As I ponder the regions of Italy that I have experienced, I look forward to a love affair with Piemonte in the fall, and walking and eating my way through Bologna a week later. We talk of future trips to learn of the pleasures of the Ligurian coast, the tastes and scents of Sicily and Sardinia, the villas and hamlets of the Veneto, and to explore or even house hunt in Le Marche and Umbria. So many places, so many future trips!
I have been blessed with an Italian heritage, the resources and opportunities to feed my Italian wanderlust, and with my amici in the Slow Travel Community who truly "get it," to share it all with! "Priceless!"
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