Italy is an idea, an image, a lifestyle.  Italy is art and Italy is architecture…innovations and experiments.  It has also been defined by conflict and by plague.  Italy is a sum of its past and its present, of its conquests and its defeats…of dreams that span millennia.  People are drawn to Italy for its monuments, for the achievements of human endeavor. But what strikes me year after year as I return to il bel paese, is something that seems so small in comparison to the Coliseum or Michelangelo’s David, but something that contains all that has come before it; I am most drawn to Italy’s humanity.  The stereotypes contain some truth: the emotionalism, warm and fiery, the slow sensuality, the musicality of the language.  When I arrive, I must remember to walk more slowly, to devote more time to meals, to take everything a bit less seriously.

Yes, it’s all about the people.  Italians understand how to find pleasure and meaning not only in their own grand accomplishments, but in the most mundane activities…walking through the center of town just to say hello to other people, to try a new flavor of gelato, to share a coffee or a glass of wine.  Italians are quite insistent.  If I try to go to fast, if I forget to look my neighbor in the eye, if I fail to find the humor in the comedy of life itself, they will be patient…up to a point…

”Edmund, calmati…be calm.”

This year, when I arrived, a few of my friends came up to La Romita and convinced me that we could ignore the rain and gather some wild asparagus on the hillsides among the olive trees. The showers of spring were just doing what needs to be done…the first buds on the trees, the rainbows of wildflowers blossoming across the hillsides, and signs of the pastoral bounty to come. We got drenched but gathered enough of the knee-high stalks, in shades purpureal to citrine (, to make my favorite pasta dish…garlic and oil and chopped wild asparagus.  The meal, from the time we began gathering, through preparation and dinner, took most of the afternoon and evening.  By the time we were through I realized that it was the most effective way to reenter Italian life…to celebrate the humility of gathering the bounty of the earth…of sharing it and gaining sustenance not just from the plentiful nutrients, but from people who are so certain that these are among the most important moments available to human beings.


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