Tuesday, August 11, 2015


After the long flight and a blissful tussle through airport security and customs, we finally arrived in Italy's largest city: Milan. We didn't plan for a Milan visit and stay this time around. So we immediately jumped into the hustle and bustle of the mass transit taking a shuttle bus to Milan's main station. Then off and on to the ever so beautiful--and comfortable--Frecciarossa: Italy's high-speed rail, and now our preferred choice of travel. Whew. We made it that far. My trusty side-kick Katie is quite fluent in Italian and made the craziness of traveling and moving about much easier than it would've been were it just little ol' me and my American accent: my smile only gets but so far. An hour and a half later, we arrive in birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and fashion capital of the world, Florence.  We will spend more time here in Florence later in the trip, but for now the rolling hills of Northern Tuscany were calling us. A family friend swooped us up and we hedged forward to our final destination: the beautiful mountain town of Covigliaio.  Almost on the verge of carsickness because of the twists and turns up and down the mountains, we finally arrived at our final destination to the sweet sounds of "Ciao. Ciao. Ciao Katie. Ciao Domenico".

The townspeople looked up. There was lots of commotion: and for a lot of reasons, but mainly two. For one, Katie hadn't been home to Italy in a very long time. There was so much love to be shared and felt in that moment. People were in tears and excited to see her and celebrate her presence. The other reason for the commotion: everyone found it extremely fascinating and funny that a New Yorker making his first trip to Italy decided to come straight to Covigliaio. Yes, yours truly. I mean if we are comparing apples and oranges: New York -- 12 million, Covigliaio -- 100 (112 in the summer). I think it's safe to assume that these people are not so high strung, stressed out and fast paced. Everyone looked into my eyes when they spoke. They were thoughtful and considerate in every thought, word, and action: and without trying. It was a natural sense of togetherness. I was happy and overwhelmed all at the same time. Everyone was talking. Everyone was greeting. And then more people came and greeted us. This grand sense of togetherness was uncanny, and not something I was quite used to in all honesty. And so began my lessons in the Italian lifestyle.

1. Togetherness
It was Michela's birthday: one of the cousins. Yes the very day we arrived, we walked right into the early preparations for a birthday party. Were we tired? Um. Ya. Had we been traveling for 18hrs from start to finish? Yes. But at this beautiful home, a party was about to go down and the entire town was invited. Yep. All 100. Luckily for us, only about 60 showed. What kept us going that day? The entire energy and excitement of the family. The love bubbling over from complete strangers. The meal preparations by everyone. The sweet smell and sight of Prosciutto di Parma and freshly cut heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella from Roberto's (a local farmer and store owner). And of course, the beautiful round glass filled with an amazing tuscan wine that was made not too far away. Yes. To say it was all 'Heavenly' is an understatement. The love. The happiness. The total togetherness. The meal. The humor. Everything. And although I'm not even remotely close to being fluent in Italian, I never felt left out of any conversation (thanks to my trusty side-kick and translator). I felt like I was a part of the family from the first second, to the final day two weeks later. No Drama. No complications. Just togetherness. That day and every other day, every meal was eaten together. Breakfast, lunch and dinner: all with family. We never had to be alone. We cooked together. We shared together. We ate together. We broke bread together. We drank wine together. We drank cappuccinos together. Everything together. Yea. I could get used to that.

2. Passion
So one night, the entire family was sitting outside and trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner. Then an intense discussion begins to take place between mother, daughter, granddaughter, auntie, uncle, and a couple family friends. Everyone seems fired up. I was thinking to myself, 'Man, they must be talking about politics or philosophy or social issues.' People were standing up. Hands were flaring all over the place. Everyone was interrupting everyone else. I didn't want to make direct eye contact with anyone just in case they asked for my opinion on the state of the European union or my views on President Obama. I wanted to stay out of this one. Nevertheless, I was sincerely intrigued to find out what everyone was fired up about. I leaned over to Katie and I asked her, what they were talking about. She smiled with a little laugh and replied, "Chicken". Chicken? Yes. Chicken. Apparently the granddaughter said she liked the way another family in town prepares chicken and that spiraled into a full on discussion and debate about herbs, spices, proper preparation techniques, recipes, etc. Yes. All over chicken. My apologies to my vegan and veggie friends out there, but I found it extremely fascinating how a family could be so deeply passionate and excited about the nature of chicken preparation. I thought it was odd, yet so beautiful that there was so much passion about food preparation. And throughout the remainder of my stay, I realized that many Italians are very passionate about everything: cooking or otherwise. There were intense discussions heard throughout my stay about the weak crop of olives in Tuscany this year (true story). There was also intensity around whether or not the local karaoke singer at the town pizza party was there to steal husbands. And let's not forget the unlimited invites we received commanding us to visit various homes for lunch that was prepared for us before we even knew we were going. God forbid we even think of not going to any of them and run the risk of offending an entire family. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm not necessarily as passionate when it comes to the simple things in life. But you know what, it was nice to see that passion and experience it.

3. Living With Less
What I found most interesting throughout the region of Tuscany was that from small towns to the big city of Firenze (Florence), not many people are flashy or seemingly materialistic. Many people wear the same clothes day after day. And the only time you really see people "dressed up" is when there is an outing of sorts that revolves around a celebration. Even when we walked the busy streets of Florence, many of the shops like Prada, Gucci and other luxury retailers were filled with tourists: Americans, the British, Asians, etc. Italians seem to be rich in culture, happiness, and experiences. Many people drive smaller cars or motorbikes that are economical when it comes to gas, and also because they are easier to move about the tight curves of the Italian roads and countryside.

If the interior of an Italian family's home was opulent and extravagant, you wouldn't necessarily notice it from the outside in most cases. Most homes and villas were simple on the outside. The things we hold in high regard here in New York and in other metropolitan cities like bronze architecture, pine cone statues, and marble floors and finishes seem to be very much the norm in most households in Italy: and possibly quite cost effective to produce there.  The restaurants in Tuscany are always packed, but never with the same faces. To go out and eat is also a special occasion, and not something that is necessarily done daily. Most families--as tradition holds--either cook or go to someone else's house to enjoy a meal. Big jewelry? Didn't see it. The latest iPhone, iPads, iWatches: didn't see those either. Expensive watches? Nope, none of those. This is not to say people don't have these things. But I think it was fairly noticeable that most Tuscan people are not major consumers of products and things. On the other hand. Pasta? Cheese? Bread? Wine? Pizza? Prosciutto? Macchiato? Definitely big consumers here. In most cases though, if the money is not spent on the family, it's stuffed in the mattress. Because the Italians, they are not spending it.

And the best lesson of all....

4. Art of Wine
It's passed around like water at every dinner table. No one gets drunk. Everyone just enjoys that beautiful glass of Tuscano Rosso e Bianco. The wine is constantly poured as you go from meal one to meal ten. With every plate. With every dessert, there is another glass or another bottle on the horizon. And it's all a part of the celebration. It's a part of that sweet life celebration. And as we learned earlier, no one drinks alone. Drinking and eating go hand in hand. So naturally, I smiled, I laughed, I ate, and I put on 10lbs: and all while savoring every robust glass of wine that was served. Chin-Chin all around.

Yea. I feel blessed. I feel educated.

God Bless, La Dolce Vita

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