Coming to the end of this series has left me content, but wistfully heavy-hearted; I don't want to say goodbye again. I could not hold back tears as we prepared to board the van for the airport in Florence.
The visit was capped by our consummate experience in cooking (see post below); but even that precious idyll was but a small part of what we had just been through.
Although the big-picture perspective of Italy lingered, that picture alternated in my thoughts with the small things we encountered at every step. Like one of the vast and intricate mosaics in St. Peter's Basilica, it offered an overwhelming impression of beauty, which compelled me to look closer and marvel at the small moments and anecdotes that produced it.
Sort of like a glorious spray of wild caper plants growing from an ancient stone wall which, upon closer inspection, reveals the most beautiful little caper blossoms, not visible from far away...
I don't know yet all of the ways the trip has transformed me. But I do know that the experience has changed me, even in small ways.
Transformed? Yes indeed, in various subtle ways.
First of all, I have seen a whole new style of serving and eating food. Wine, too, will make more frequent appearances at our table.
Being surrounded by wonderful pieces of art and artifacts has soothed me, at least for a while, and helped me re-gain much-needed perspective on the annoyances and outrages of everyday life. Alas, these have not gone away...but instead, in a sense, I have.
I have always believed in the power of language; so communicating in unfamiliar tongues has confirmed that belief.
In one respect, the transformation may not be to my benefit....While Italians have their share of social and economic problems, their ways of life, perfected over centuries, still seem more full, more meaningful, than what America purports to offer. And so, my discontent is becoming greater here.
Mostly I am ever more impatient with American ignorance of world issues, the American obsession with trivial things, with technology for its own sake, for a certain sterility of imagination that pop-culture pundits and taste-makers insist is the wave of the future. We willfully forget the traditions that make pop culture simply a necessary diversion, not the basis for our economy or our existence.
I have always had an appreciation of the way my grandparents thought and lived. Being in their native land, I felt their presence in the very air around me.
Best of all, I am a different person by virtue of the many people we met. I asked almost everyone where they were from. I had some nice conversations that way. We met folks from South Africa to Portugal, London to Spain, Holland to Maryland, and many others.
In particular, I will never forget a family from Oslo, Norway we met on a boat cruising between the coastal towns of the Cinque Terre. The two parents and young daughter occupied the bench in front of us, and their son, 18-year-old "O.J.", or so he was known by his friends, sat beside us. He spoke English very well and seemed to enjoy the company of us Americans, telling us about his role as a youth-leader and mountain-climber, and his proud love for American horror movies.
My encounter with this family occurred just a couple of days after the tragic massacre in Oslo that took the lives of dozens of young people. I was glad OJ and his family were away from Norway during that chaos, and were not among the unfortunate victims.
After all of the Italian phrases that I used (and misused) for over a week, perhaps my most treasured language acquisition was the 4-word phrase O.J. taught me in Norwegian: