Each time we leave a country, I thought it might be entertaining and an exercise in gratitude to write a thank you note to the country itself.
From the bottom of our hearts (and bellies), grazie. Your ancient history, your Renaissance art, your fun-to-speak language, your artisan economy, your delicious food, your Brunello wine, your pecorino cheese, your stracciatella gelato, your love of family, your deep Catholic faith and your beauty made the first 30 days of our journey rich in a way that would have been impossible had we just visited as tourists. We lived in your cities and towns, we met so many of your citizens, we explored your countryside, we relaxed here and there, and we ran as fast as we could to keep up with what you had to offer us.
When we were with you, our jaws hung a little lower than normal most days. Jackson said it best, “You just can’t find a bad view in Italy.”
Yes, you are beautiful, and you know it. Perhaps too beautiful, but I never felt like you were flaunting it. You dressed up for everything. You spoke to me in broken English with a pronounced “A” or “I” at the end of every word. I loved it, especially since I often responded with something from my limited Italian vocabulary (buona sera, buongiorno, grazie, prego or my personal favorite arrivederci). I never found an opportunity to work in “ciao bella” or “mamma mia” but I heard Walker say it several times and it made me happy.
You eat late, get up late and charge less than two euro for a cappuccino. I now know I need to say “molto caldo” if I want it hot. Many of you asked me if I was Italian when I introduced myself and looked at me with a confused look when I told you “no” but that Renzi was, in fact, an Italian name. You even inadvertently turned me on to the origins of my name – Rienzi – an early opera by Richard Wagner that I knew about but had never spent much time understanding. You pronounced my name with a long “E” instead of a long “I” just like everyone else. I found myself saying my name the way you did. You pronounced it incorrectly in such an elegant way. A lifetime of frustration might have been solved had I heard it like that.
While you are beautiful, we also experienced some small annoyances in your company. Your idea of air conditioner (a small window unit), a shower (almost intentionally a trickle and sometimes not very hot), and a wifi connection (slow) was frustrating at times. Your citizens drove so fast on the Autostrada. I could barely keep up through your long, deep tunnels, your narrow cobblestone streets or on your fantastic roundabouts. It seemed like 150KM per hour (93 MPH) was about the right speed to keep up but I was still constantly passed. I’m not from around here, I thought, giving myself permission to let people lap me like a grandma on a Sunday drive. For all your flaws, I forgive you.
Your people are wonderful, but your ancestors in Rome stole the show for me. As I devoured every bit of historical info I could lay eyes on, I sum up the Romans like this; Romans from antiquity were the greatest. They were like many dynasties in business, sports or even countries. They were first and foremost innovative and did things differently than the rest of the world. The advances your ancestors made boggled my mind. How did they do it? Rome worked until it didn’t. The remnants of that greatness were sad and a warning sign for any civilization that loses its way.
A note of observation; even though your buildings, palaces, arenas and city planning were first class, the gladiator fights were over the top. I think we can all agree that lions eating Christians and all the brother-against-brother blood and guts fighting was barbaric for such an advanced society. Might doesn’t make right. I’m not trying to lecture you. That was a long time ago.
In close competition for my historical affection is Firenze (a.k.a. Florence). You taught me that art can be incorporated into every part of every day. Art is about creativity. Art is about inspiration. Art is about innovation. Art is life. Life in Florence is good. Actually, life in Firenze used to be even better. Today, Florence is overrun with tourists and it must be hard for your locals to enjoy living there anymore. A shout out for the Medici and Sforza families for kickstarting the Renaissance in the 1400/1500s. Michelangelo, Donatello, Rafael and da Vinci would be lost to history without these great benefactors. It is an obligation of those with wealth and influence to make these kinds of investments for the enjoyment of all. I don’t need to tell you this. Preaching to the choir here.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give specific remembrances to your small towns of Perugia, Arezzo, Montalcino, Assisi, Gubbio and Lerici. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. Oh, and also to Santa Margherita, Monterosa, Pietrasanta and Rapallo – wow! You guys nailed it. Everyone felt like family and your pace of life was something to strive for in this crazy, busy world we live in.
I’m saving my final thank you for Portofino. I knew you existed, but I didn’t understand how perfect you were. Yes, you are the jewel of our Italian journey with your colorful buildings, your yachts, your perfectly clear water. You are a scene out of a movie.
Walker made us all laugh as we were oooohhhh’ing and aaawwww’ing. “Guys, there’s the boat we want,” Walker said of the superyacht in front of us. Yes, Walker, it would be nice to have a yacht. Maybe we’ll all get to ride on one sometime. The wealth and the yachts were only window dressing. The physical beauty is what made Portofino so special. Thank you for allowing us to enjoy you for a couple days. Next time we will leave the kids at home and return with friends.
As we planned the grand adventure these past few years, there was some real competition for where to start. We knew the beginning would be important. Beginnings set the tone and we knew we needed to get off to the right start for we had so much to learn. I’d like to thank you for allowing our friends to have their wedding in Fiesole (oh…and I forgot to thank Fiesole!).
Weddings are symbolic of a new beginning, a commitment to love. I’m curious about so many of the places we plan to visit on our itinerary, though none of them for as many days as you. I can’t think of a better place to have started than Italy – our new beginning for life on the road. We made a deep and intentional commitment to the adventures to come and planned to do it all in the spirit of love.
Italy, there was not enough time to see everything you had to offer. What we did see, we loved. We thank you for that gift.
I leave you, Italia, sipping on my second limoncello. Americans like us in our late 30’s and early 40’s with small kids could learn a lot about the benefits of a digestif, but then again we would have to stay up later.