When I started to write about the “face of Italy”, I realized that, for me, growing up in an Italian family and the “face of Italy” are inextricably intertwined and interwoven.
It was a natural segue to fold in the past with the present. So rather than write something new I decided to tweak, recycle and add to a guest post I wrote a few years ago for my friend and fellow blogger, Rick Zullo (Rick’s Rome) about what “growing up Italian” meant to me.
Today I have folded that into how being a grown up traveling to Italy has been and continues to be a rewarding and enriching experience for me.
I hope you enjoy the result as much as I enjoyed writing it…
Scrolling through literally thousands of photos and reflecting upon the past few years, I am positively overwhelmed with gratitude. So many heartwarming memories and moments… And I am touched and reminded over and over of my love and passion for the country of my roots and for its people.
For truly, it’s the people that are the face of Italy – warm, beautiful faces. genuine, welcoming faces and arms that embrace you. And I’m reminded over and over again of how fortunate I was to grow up in a loving Italian family and to have roots to a place and a people that I love so much…
♥ Grazie di cuore ♥
“Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it, Italy.”
Drama! Emotion! Passion! The gesturing and waving of arms! The raising of eyebrows and the shrugging of shoulders...the look! No soft undertones or measured words, no discreet glances… Everyone talking at once! Everyone trying to talk louder than everyone else! Everyone interrupting everyone else! No shades of gray here! Everyone has an opinion about pretty much everything and you are going to hear it! A soap opera? A movie? The opera? A play? Heavens no. just life growing up in an Italian family!
And growing up in an Italian family, I pretty much took all of this for granted. I didn’t think about “being Italian”. Didn’t everyone have coffee (with lots of milk) and a sweet for breakfast? Didn’t everyone display their emotions and express their opinions freely? Didn’t everyone pretty much have a home life like we did? Over the years I realized that, of course, they didn’t.
We lived in a small town (at the time), Napa, and there were quite a few Italians there. My parents spoke Italian to each other and like so many of my generation (boomer), sadly we were never taught the language (except for mangia, basta, a letto and a few other commands!). Of course, even as a child I could interpret a lot from the very expressive tone, volume and gestures (facial and hand!).
There was a generation of Italian old-timers in Napa, including my grandfather, who never learned English but worked hard – most often with their hands. They tended their little vegetable garden, made a little vino, smoked their pipes, played a little bocce, rarely learned to drive, wore those classic suspender-ed pants and a fedora, and loved their families.
We were a rather small family and although most of the families in my neighborhood and most classmates weren’t Italian, I never thought about it much. I never knew that my Dad was discriminated against at work (subtle but nonetheless…). Even after traveling to Italy for the first time in my twenties, I loved it, but I still didn’t get how much it meant to me to be Italian. That took another 20+ years ( please, don’t do the math, OK?)
When I decided that it was time to go back to Italy, and since no friends or family were going to join me, I signed up for a terrific tour. I’m not sure why, but landing in Rome and setting foot in Italy after a long absence, I wondered why in the world it had taken me so long to come back?
Well, despite that, it still took another five years to get back, then another five and by this time, I had lost both of my parents. My Father had wanted to make a return visit to Sicily and we were going to go together but it never happened. That’s when I knew I had to go to Sicily… and finally I just got it!
I understood that thread of DNA, the roots, that run so deep. I understood him more, I understood me more. Not just understood, but embraced. I had a new respect and gratitude for all of my grandparents who I barely or never knew who came here with so little but with hopes and hands ready to work…and I got what it meant to love a place so much…to miss it every day…and to feel like you really have arrived “home”.
That’s Italy for me…my passion, my heart’s home. Oh, she has her critics and detractors, but her allure is inarguable. She touches everyone who visits her. There’s just that certain undeniable something that fascinates us. La bella figura? La dolce vita? La spezzatura? Is it that sense of style in everything from a Ferrarri to the way fruit is arranged in the market? Is it that unmistakable sensuality and love of beauty? Or is it that gorgeous melodic language? Or, the passion and romance that seems to permeate everything and enthralls us?
For me, si…all of that and something more… it’s something that comes from the heart that….well, it’s like being in love – it is being in love…
Oh, I don’t know the name of every type of pasta or every region, I don’t know every custom or historic detail and I’ve taken Italian language classes more times than I can count (and I’m still not even close to conversant, much less fluent). It used to bother me, but not anymore. No matter, I will always be 100% Italian and I let my heart and love of being Italian speak for me.
You’re invited to join me in 2016 in the Italian Riviera, Tuscany and Puglia!
Also, learn more about Italian Ways in my book: