There are moments in Italy that stay with you forever: moments such as simply walking down a centuries old lane in an ancient old town. Ahead the grandmothers (nonnas) are selling pasta: as they have for centuries. The beautiful music of spoken Italian uplifts your soul, washing dances in the summer breeze and you've never felt so alive.
People often ask me which are the most beautiful places in Italy? My answer is that beauty is everywhere in Italy. It is more than a place, but rather an experience, a feeling, an understanding. The following story shares moments in time, moments in Italy, moments that I will always remember with great joy.
Andrew here for Maria; people often ask us what is it we love about Italy and I thought I'd share one thing that I truly love... walking Italian cities and towns.
I grew up in cities where people seldom walked. Need to go down the road to visit a friend... get in the car. Pop out for a few groceries... jump in the car. At first it was strange to see how Italians walked everywhere. Slowly I grew to love it.
Maria would send me out in the morning, to buy a few things for lunch, and I'd be gone for hours. Round the corner was my barber, he was never that busy weekday mornings, he'd see me and invite me to the bar next door for an espresso... where I'd meet another three or four people and get caught up in discussions of life, politics and sport.
Then I'd walk to the fishmonger, passing by a little bakery. The aroma of freshly baked bread made all resistance crumble. I'd leave loaded down with breads, pastries and enough calories to cover for all the walking.
Just along the lane to the fishmonger lived Rosalinda, an elderly lady who'd lost her entire family in a Sicilian earthquake decades before. She'd stand on her balcony and sing sad, beautiful songs for hours. I always stood and listened, even though she never failed to bring tears to my eyes.
Finally I'd get to the fishmonger, where he'd share the life history and provenance of all his fish. He often knew the names of the fishermen who caught them. The only fish fresher than these were still swimming in the sea he'd say. Of course we had to discuss family, politics, life too.
Then it was onto the little corner store selling pasta, then the butcher, the fruit shop. Each time we'd have to talk for ages.
Sometimes I'd ask for something and get told I'd got it wrong. They'd tell me that what I asked for was not what Maria wants... and you know what, they were always right.
I'd always come home with the right items - no thanks to me. Anywhere else in the world, when Maria sends me to the supermarket, you can bet I forget things, buy the wrong items etc. etc.
To me, walking in Italian cities is the way you discover them. The sounds, aromas, sights - these are the memories you treasure. The people you meet, the stories they tell, the things you see; these all become a part of who you are.