Is it possible to fall in love with a place you've never been? For me the answer is Yes! I'm in love with Italy.
America is a great place to live, but Italy,...oh Italy, what a place to dream about. People say the light in Italy has such a luminous quality. "Perhaps the sunflower crops radiate gold from the surrounding fields," suggests Frances Mayes in her book, Under the Tuscan Sun.
Mayes is partly responsible for my fascination with Italy, especially Tuscany. When I saw the movie version of Under The Tuscan Sun, I was mesmerized by the scenery. I wanted to drive up one of those zig-zag roads lined with tall cypress trees and tour a 15th-century stone farmhouse. I wanted to look out over that lush green land of never-ending hills and breathe in the beauty all around me...sloping fields of red poppies, silvery-grey olive trees, sun-drenched vineyards and, of course, the sunflowers, bright yellow bursts of warmth and light. Italy is endlessly alluring.
When you fall in love with a foreign country, you find ways to bring it home. My wall calendar takes me on a photographic journey of Tuscany. I buy travel books about Italy and savor the photos, fantasize about where I would stay, where I would eat, and what sights I'd take in. And for the price of a movie rental, I can escape to Florence or savor the Tuscan scenery while watching one of many screenplays filmed in Italy.
A culture with countless charms, love of family is one of Italy's greatest. I want to sit at an Italian family's long table and hear everyone speak at once, laugh heartily, hug and kiss faces. Their love of food is another allure. Italians get excited about food. Just watch The Food Network's Giada DeLaurentiis as she tastes her finished creations. A slow surrender of total bliss comes over her face.
For Italians, food seems to nourish soul and spirit, not just the body. In Italy, the ingredients seem fresher, more rustic and real. They have more reason to get excited about eating. I don't picture Italian women buying food at a grocery store. I picture them gathering eggs warm under the hen, buying fruit and vegetables at an open market, and getting fresh meat at a butcher shop. When I go to our local market and auction on Fridays, I feel more Italian, but I draw the line at raising chickens.
Speaking of drawing lines, art is another reason I love Italy. Having an unfinished work of art on my easel makes me feel more Italian. Some of the greatest artists and writers of the last 1,000 years have hailed from Italy, specifically Tuscany. Perhaps Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were inspired by the luminous light. As both an artist and a writer, I feel drawn to a place where so many movers of pen and brush found inspiration. Mark Twain described Tuscany as "the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit."
A satisfied spirit? Is that the allure of Italy? Do I long to go there because it seems a place that would tantalize all my senses and invigorate my soul? Although my soul is quite satisfied, a change of scenery often does wonders for the spirit. I want to gaze upon colorful frescoes inside an isolated hillside abbey surrounded by oak, pine, cypress and olive trees. I want to sink my sweet tooth into a cool strawberry gelato and dip crusty bread into light sweet olive oil so fresh it hasn't been bottled yet. I want to take an evening stroll through a Tuscan hill town and touch the textured medieval walls as I walk through its maze of lanes. I want to hear Italian music drifting out of an open shuttered window and smell the morning cappuccino being sipped in an outdoor cafe.
Yes, Italy is endlessly alluring. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I found ways to bring it home. Sitting by my fountain sipping summer berry frullati among potted red poppies takes me to an Italian garden. Discovering a rustic gold-framed print of Venice at a yard sale and hanging it in my dining room satisfies my longing. But my favorite way to bring Italy home is paging through an Italian cookbook, planning the perfect meal and treating friends to a Tuscan feast of Bruschette, Basil Lemon Chicken, Apple Bread Pudding and, of course, a sweet red wine.
There's nothing sweeter in any culture than sharing the things you love with friends and family. So even if I never visit the most enchanting place on our planet, I still have the greatest of Italian charms right here at home--love of family and friends. Reality isn't so bad here in my American homeland. But when I want to dream, I dream Italian.