Random thoughts (loosely) related to my recent travels.
Euro Paradox No. 18:
If I see a grown adult eating an ice cream cone in the middle of a workday, I think of them (read: judge them) as borderline gluttonous. But in Italy when I observed the same situation, I viewed the ice cream/gelato eating adult as charming, perhaps whimsically indulgent. Yesterday on the freeway I passed a 40-something-year-old man in a bright red Mini Cooper, enjoying an ice cream cone. I imagined that he must have once lived in Italy and let him slide.
Woah. That heading caught your attention, didn’t it? Well, read on. Since returning from my trip, I’ve had many people ask what my favorite part was. We also spent some time talking about this in a debriefing session during our last day in Orvieto. I’ve tried to explain several times that for me, the most meaningful part of the trip was not the cathedrals, the frescoes, the sculptures, or even the food. It was the sensual Italian people. But whenever I use that word, sensual, I know I’ve used the wrong one because of the looks I receive. Like they’re wondering if I spent my trip in dark corners of smoky cafes with a different Giovanni or Lorenzo every night.
Fair enough, I guess. But here’s what I mean by sensual:
I’ve always wanted to spend a chunk of time in Italy so that I could sink into the culture, slow down, and try to experience la dolce vita, the sweet life, that they have so artfully and famously mastered. I learned to spend 90 minutes savoring our midday meal; I learned to walk slowly, bordering on aimlessly, through the winding, jasmine-scented streets of the little ancient town; and nobody had to teach me how to enjoy gelato con panna (with whipped cream) or an espresso with a little bite of chocolate on the side. One day near the end of our time in Orvieto, I sat on the steps in the shade of the cathedral, with the piazza to my right and a long stretch of grass at my feet apparently reserved for teenagers to come and smoke, gossip, or make out. I had a book with me but instead I just people-watched, one of my favorite past-times. I watched old women move slowly through the heat, and young children play tag all over the cobblestones, stopping once in a while to pat a stranger’s dog and ask its name. A pair of twenty-somethings ambled over to the grass and flopped down about 10 feet in front of me, with the girl using the guy’s chest as a pillow, both staring up at the blue sky and puffy clouds and lazily smoking cigarettes.
The sensuality that steeped that afternoon was intense. My five senses were heightened: touch, taste, smell, sight, sound. I felt connected to my body and to my surroundings and so appreciative of the earthiness of Orvieto’s citizens. They are unapologetically human, embracing life and settling into their humanity in a way that is a bit startling, maybe a bit unhygenic when compared to Crest-white-strip America, but altogether admirable.
So if I can’t use the word sensual, what word can I use? Maybe I’ll just continue to shock people and let them think what they want.