Today we boarded our flight for our Italian adventure. We battled traffic on the LA freeways, passed through the gauntlet of security, and ourselves into seats that would be restrictive for hobbit. There is not much to tell about my odyssey at this point, so let’s talk about Italy.
For those of you who are familiar with my work, you know that frequently I ask if Italy is as truly a wonderful place as I see it to be, or is it that I am biased when it comes to this little piece of heaven on earth. I can’t believe that it is a matter of bias. There are so many things about Italy to which no other nation could really compare.
When people talk about their love of Italy, they drag out all the standard tropes; the food, the countryside, the history, the music, the familial connection. Of course, one can ramble on and on about any one of these things. However, Italy is so much more.
Oh Italia, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
IERI, Italia di ieri.
Italy is rich in history. Italy has contributed so much to western civilization. From the Etruscans to the Romans, to the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment, Italy has been at the forefront of the advancement of western civilization.
There is no other nation that has as many United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites as Italy. The only other nation that comes close is China. With all due respect to China, however, the percentage of UNESCO sites that are natural as opposed to man-made is much higher in China. In addition, China has a much larger landmass.
As we approach Italy, I am looking forward to visiting many of these UNESCO Sites. We will see first-hand the remnants of the past, trod the paths that have been traveled over for centuries, look across the same vistas as our ancestors.
Oggie, Italia di oggi.
Unfortunately, Italy is, in a sense, a victim of its own success. We think of Italy in terms of the past. When people talk about their love of Italy, they drag out all the standard tropes; the food, the countryside, the history, the music, the familial connection. Of course, one can ramble on and on about any one of these things. However, Italy is so much more.
Let me explain by way of example. When I left my home town of Utica, N.Y. the people and places were kind of frozen in time, at least in my mind. Not witnessing the changes they experienced over the years, my only knowledge of them was the way they were when I had left. My childhood friends Frank Custadero, Denise Tringo, and Sammy Ventura remained in my mind’s eye forever young. Years later, when I saw them again (or at least pictures of them) I was shocked to see the changes the years had made, although those same changes I saw in my own reflection in the mirror every morning.
This is a bit of the way it is with Italy for Italian-Americans. Our memories of Italy are locked in a time when our parents or grandparents left. Our memories are handed to from a day that has long since passed. The expressions we use evolved from the Italian dialects they brought with them years ago. As I travel through Italy, I hope to encounter the Italy of today. I hope to experience not the Italy of memory, but Italy as it truly exists today.
Domani, Italia di domani.
Finally, I hope to gain a better understanding of Italy going forward. It is such a cliché to say that the world is changing, that nations are faced with unprecedented challenges, but it has become a cliché because the truth behind it drives the repetition. I hope through my encounters with Italian friends which I have yet to meet, I will be able to get a clearer image of Italy’s future vision.
So, come on along. We are on the road to find out, to quote Cat Stevens.