Italy Is The Answer (December 2020/January 2021)

This article originally appeared in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Dream of Italy.

I’m sure of it. You may be too.

What’s the question you ask?

I don’t even know if you need to pose one to know Italy is truly the answer.

But let’s play along,

Maybe…

What is one word to summarize all that is good in life?

In the darkest moments, what feels like a warm blanket and a hot chocolate?

What do you call the cherry on top?

This past year forced us all into an uncomfortable stillness, an absence of many of our usual coping mechanisms. For me personally, running off to Italy is at the top of that list. As is true with many things in life, this year presented us with an amazing opportunity, disguised as a hardship, to look closely at what we value most in life.

If you’re reading this magazine, chances are, we are kindred spirits. Italy has captured our hearts and just won’t let go. Many of us have built so much of our lives around our travels to il bel paese, planning our next Italian journey and counting the days until that plane takes off and we can exhale.

Until the unthinkable happens and we simply cannot go to Italy. We think it won’t last long and still it continues. There is so much suffering with the pandemic that we might even feel guilty to be longing to be somewhere else.

But are we really cut off from Italy? Physically yes, but I know personally Italy is what has sustained me through these difficult times. Not only the goal, whose post keeps getting moved, of returning again, but what it is I experience in Italy and how the culture has added to my life so deeply.

Escape: For almost 26 years, Italy has been my go-to coping mechanism. Maybe it has been yours too. I have been fortunate that it has been my work for the past 18 years making it easier to justify my own travels. When the going gets tough, I go to Italy, the antidote to romantic heartbreak, illness, loss. I run to Italy for her warm embrace. I had the roughest two years of my life just before the pandemic started, losing both my parents. I knew those days of loss would come and took for granted that Italy would be there to scoop me up and save me.

And Italy has, just in a different way, in my mind and in my heart.

Warmth: If I had to use one adjective for what draws me to Italy, it is this one, warmth. Every time I am there, I feel like I am back in the small home of my Italian-American grandparents with something cooking on the stove, steam rising, sumptuous smells, two of the people I love most maneuvering around the kitchen in a fine choreographed dance, loud voices, music and love.

Connection: When you visit Italy, you never are alone. It might be because Italians, much like the terriers I’ve owned, love to be in everyone’s business. I say that with love. Italians are interested in what you’re doing. They create community – the piazza, the daily check-in at the caffe, the age-old celebrations – in everything they do. The pandemic has made us all realize just how vital connection is in our lives.

Simple Pleasures:  What are your favorites? I miss people watching in Italy. Their expressions, language, movements are so animated. I miss the simply perfect taste of Italian tomatoes and the strength of a morning espresso. The light, especially in Rome, is impossible to duplicate in any other place. Even navigating in real shoes on cobblestone streets which might seems cumbersome is something of a pleasure. I  remember that I’m just a blip in time in a place where history extends for millenia.

Beauty: It is like Italy invented beauty, both formally and informally. Of course, this land gave birth to some of the world’s greatest artists. But ordinary modern Italians take beauty in their own hands, decorating a table, wearing an accessory, noticing everything around them. I’ve always felt that beauty and art will outlast humans. Never has there been a more important time to recognize beauty and take joy in it, near and far.

And while I wax poetic on Italy, I know well the reality of it. Italy and Italians are perfectly imperfect. I keep threatening to host a podcast or write an article about revealing the difficulties of Italy, the flip side of the dream. Have you ever stood in line there (or something resembling a line) and noticed that more than one nonna feels entitled to cut in front of you and does it so well?

The challenges of Italy are much more than line-cutting nonnas but is anything we love completely perfect? The foibles of Italians and a sometimes contradictory Italian culture only make us love them all the more.

Yes, I’m still sure.

Italy is the answer.

-Kathy McCabe