A Love Note to Italy
It’s been a while since I’ve written such a personal post on this blog. But here I find myself with time on my hands, trying to do my part by keeping to myself. Like most people, I have my worries. It’s not a carefree respite from routine. I have little worries like how will my kids do without in-person school? What if the stores run out of supplies? I have bigger worries like what if someone I love gets sick? What about people whose livelihoods depend on me going shopping, to the car wash, to restaurants and on trips?
I’ve been watching things unfold in Italy with a great deal of interest and concern. Like many of you, I’m interested to see how things may occur here at home and watching for lessons that can be learned. But I also watch with the heartbreak of someone who has spent a lot of time in Italy and knows a bit about the culture there. I know the warmth among friends, the double-kiss greetings, the family style dining and living, the openness and hospitality to others. The concept of social distancing that Americans are beginning to embrace is referred to in Italy as resto a casa– essentially staying home, but sounding more like a lovely rest. Though the friends I know there are keeping a positive attitude, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds. I also know my beloved Italy will return to its former self. In the meantime, this is my love note.
It all began, this affection for Italy, with a 6-week stay in Florence during a 2009 sabbatical from my former job. The kids were only 4 and 2, so they hardly remember. But my memories from that trip are so poignant I can almost touch, smell and taste them. We stayed in an apartment and walked everywhere. I took a life-changing art class and painted Tuscan landscapes each day, while the kids played with new friends in a local summer camp. I look back at these photos in disbelief. Where the kids really that little then, was it really that long ago?
Five years later (2014), the Florence itch needed to be scratched again. Now the kids were school age- going into 5th and 3rd grades. We relocated for 3 ½ months and really steeped ourselves into life in a Florentine suburb. The kids went to school, made friends, while I explored Tuscany in the name of research, blogged like crazy and made friends. Again, the photos bring rushing back every sight, sound and feeling, including how hard it was to say goodbye.
Fast forward six years, it’s 2020 and there’s that itch again. We have plans to spend the summer in Florence, and are stubbornly hoping for the best. This time, Eve (age 13) will join me in that same landscape painting class I took before, and Kate (age 15) will study art and architecture up close in the Renaissance city itself, with a study abroad program. My husband Bob, forever patient with my Florence addiction, will join for as much of the time as he can.
While the prospect of possibly having to postpone this trip is a source of personal angst, it’s the other implications of this that break my heart- the ones that have nothing to do with me personally. It’s the fact that I may be among countless visitors to cancel on Italy when they need us most. It’s the quiet streets devoid of scooter horns. It’s the empty churches and museums. It’s the businesses that are suffering, and those that may not recover. It’s the nonnas and nonnos who are very sick, and those who have passed.
The Florentine recently posted a photo montage of life in the city during this time- link here. The images are so eerie and have a sense of such quiet, peace and sadness. But Florentines are not ones to sit around and pout. Just the other night, they held a “Flashmob Sonoro” where folks opened their windows and shared a moment of singing or playing instruments. One of my favorite local bloggers, Girl in Florence, compiled some amazing moments that were captured on social media at the moment of the event- link here. That’s the Italy I love, the spirit that is not easily kept quiet.
Similarly, my favorite art school, Florence Academy of Art, is holding a “View From Your Room” contest, where house-bound artists are encouraged to send in drawings and paintings of the view from the safety of their homes. I love this idea, and may get around to submitting something myself.
Meanwhile, I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies, to which the art school alludes in the title of its contest- “Room with a View.” A fabulous way to pass the time during resto a casa is to catch up on the many excellent movies set in Tuscany- list here. There are also countless books to read, offering an escape to my favorite place. My favorite modern Italian author, Elena Ferrante, is coming out with a new book in June, but has many older books I have yet to read. If you haven’t yet read her captivating series of books known as the Neapolitan Novels, now’s a great time to catch up. I wrote about this mysterious, reclusive author and her incredible talent here. HBO has made a series from her books, called “My Brilliant Friend,” and season 2 comes out on March 16th. I will definitely be spending some quality home time in Ms. Ferrante’s world.
Lastly, and most importantly, I’d like to share with you another article from Girl in Florence, where she offers us a way to help Italy by buying online from local artisans. This is a great way to ease the financial strain on a country that may face hardship for some time to come. Check out the link here. It’s no surprise how beautiful the items are that are handmade in such a beautiful country.
Italy, I’m sending you love and wishing you a speedy return to health and vitality. I’ll see you soon.