Friday, July 31, 2009

How Did All This Italy Stuff Get Started, Anyway?

This article also appears on our Italian Journal page.

My first trip to Italy was in 1995, for 2 glorious weeks in October. It was a trip of several firsts for me: first vacation with a girlfriend, first villa rental, first overseas car rental and of course, my maiden voyage to the land of half of my ancestors (the land of the other half, Sweden, would have to wait).

It was perfect timing for Lena (not her real name) and I. Each of us had finished with a marriage and freed ourselves from romantic entanglements for the time being. Each of us had migrated to California from our East Coast origins. Although we had moved for our own personal reasons and at separate times (we had only met a year or two beforehand), we found ourselves sharing some very similar life experiences and open-ended, who-knows-what's-going-to-happen-to-us-from-here future uncertainties. So, it was the perfect time for a vacation.

Fast forward to a gloomy, gray and damp-cold winter day. If you were a fly on the living room ceiling, you'd look down and see the San Francisco Chronicle Travel Classified Section spread out on the floor. Next to that, a world atlas (because we weren't sure where a lot of the places we were reading about actually were). Interspersed among the papers, you'd see glasses of red wine constantly moving from hand to mouth to floor to hand to mouth as two women study the information laid out before them with all the intensity of the Normandy invasion. From your vantage point on the ceiling, you'd hear "Fiji! Let's go to Fiji!" "Yeah! Where is Fiji?" "I don't know; I'm checking the atlas! I don't know where to start; doesn't this atlas have an index?" and on and on.

We almost decided on Fiji, until I saw an unassuming little ad that said something like "Rent a Villa in Tuscany". It sounded right to me. It sounded right to her. Although she'd already been to Italy and had some idea of what we'd be in for, I had no idea whatsoever. Looking back, we were happy at that moment with our decision, but there was no fanfare, no instantly recognizeable bolt of universal confirmation. Instead, it just sort of snuck up on us. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn't have a clue as to how it would alter my life.

So much has changed since then. After several trips to Italy and some astonishing life experiences, Lena and I lost contact a few years ago. As for me, Italy has continued to beckon and I have answered as often as I could. I've traveled throughout the country, taken classes in language and dance, planned many a foreigner's wedding in Italy (Italians don't need to hire a wedding planner; they've got mothers and grandmothers and aunts and cousins), attended conferences, concerts, birthday parties, lost my way down dark narrow streets and found myself in places I never knew existed.

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