There is the old cliché about travel being broadening. If the originator of that observation had Italy in mind it is true personal girth could be at serious risk of enlargement. The catchall phrase ‘Italian Cuisine’ does not come close to suggesting the rich variations in the mosaic of unique, regional dishes. Italians have lived close to the earth for centuries and have developed a wonderful harmony in making the best out of what the immediate, natural environment has to offer.
In our case, if it weren’t for all the walking we are doing, we would have ballooned as a result of the indulging our taste buds are getting. Because Italian cuisine is identified as ‘close to the land’ in no way means it is monotonous, bland or lacking in creative invention. There are the endless varieties of pastas combined with an even larger variety of sauces plus the cornucopia of locally raised fruits, vegetables, meats, fowl plus the harvest from the very nearby Adriatic Sea. And that is before we talk about the pastries, the gelatos and the obvious love Italians have for sweets of every kind.
We have been drawn to the immediacy of the Italian table. The ingredients tend to be very fresh and the preparation has the gift of bringing out the best of what freshness has to offer. On the other hand, regimentation in the promotion of ‘consistency’ to support the ‘bottom line’ can degenerate into a corporate imposed, standardized formula that is intended to not vary in a franchised chain.
It is easy and delightful be get spoiled in Italy where what is placed before you is, at its best, a unique production that was carefully prepared. The food is not surprisingly like a good Italian wine – it has complexity and one senses individual flavors but yet the internal harmony is a joy. This added aesthetic dimension elevates what could be an otherwise perfunctory experience for simply meeting basic bodily needs to a whole new level. This is one of the joys of Italy. At its core, it is saying to us simplicity is not a minimization out of a forced economy or a subtraction in the quality of the experience. It is the apparent product of a respect for what gets to the essence of what really matters.
And that leads to another inference in the concept of travel being broadening. We talked previously about reinvention. One of the benefits of aiming for a less complex and less material object-oriented life is one has the wonderful opportunity to keep asking the question, “Just what is really important and has lasting value?”
Administrative matters happen slowly in this part of the world so learning patience and calmly waiting is new for us ‘get it done now’ Americans. The positive byproduct is you get a chance to think and feel things out. I say feel because a byproduct of age seems to be the development of what can pass for instinct or intuition. But I suspect it is more likely an inductive logical process that is going on. It may be running in some off-the-computer-screen sub-routine, our mind is chewing on.
The accumulation of past experiences probably provides too much data for the conscious mind to efficiently sort. But the data of past lessons learned may well be stored somewhere and evolutionary process appears to have found a means so it doesn’t go to waste. As we have gotten older, we have begun to trust ‘how we feel’ about something we are considering. I have come to believe the conscious mind may be a little too susceptible to the influence of emotionally based rationalizations to be counted on to always provide reliable, unbiased analysis. So staying still for a while and trying to pay attention to how the issue really feels can be an interesting and often, productive exercise. Just maybe, we could be talking about starting on the journey toward an attribute sometimes associated with getting older, the gradual development of – ‘wisdom.’
There are also some concepts we thought we knew, but with the benefit of spending more time in thinking about this new experience, some of these ideas have taken on new meaning. High on that list is the vital nature of interpersonal relationships. I believe it was the English writer John Donne who observed, “No man is an island entirely of itself.” In an American culture that touts ‘individuality,’ almost to the level of fetish, it can be too easy to loose sight of the depth of the underlying reality; we are at core social beings.
It appears we are designed to be nurtured from birth in close social bonds. However much our own initiative and inherent abilities contribute to successful maturation, in reality there has most likely been a supportive framework within which we were aided in the quest to grow. An unfortunate byproduct of success can be that hubris can depreciate the debt we owe others and the larger community for what we have achieved. The concept of the ‘self made man’ appears to be nothing more than an unfortunate conceit bordering on an obscenity.
It is also evident on a daily basis the already close bond between Arlene and myself has grown stronger through this experience. We find strength in each other that extends comfort and support quite automatically. There is no need to ask – it is just there. Plus, we truly cherish the bonds over distance with family and close friends back in the U.S. But the real reinforcement to our being social creatures and needing a human context within which to function has been repeatedly demonstrated in this town in Italy.
Without our asking for it, some wonderful people have come forward and engaged us. Even with the handicap of not yet being able to linguistically communicate nuances, what gets communicated non-verbally is recognition of our common human nature. We can be made whole by a smile and a tender actual embrace by a new friend – Italians are so much better at this than us ‘up tight’ Anglos.
There are the words of the old Barbra Streisand song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world!” We probably thought we knew that before but we have had multiple demonstrations of that reality since arriving here.
We are now in the Christmas Holiday season as I write this. I find myself reflecting often on the wisdom of some guidelines laid out by the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong. My paraphrased reconstruction from memory of his advise for a life worth living goes something like this:
– Love Extravagantly;
– Strive to be the best that you can become; and,
– Encourage and support others to become the best they can become.
May we wish all who share this Blog with us, the blessings of a rich appreciation for the life we all share with the much larger world in which we live.