Archive | Food experiences RSS feed for this section

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 26: What I Learned in Italy

30 Mar

IMG_6300

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 26: What I Learned in Italy

It seems that I always learn many things when I travel. Here are some of the things that I found important to me on my recent trip Italy to Florence, Sienna, Cinque Terra (all five villages) and Genova, from March 15 to 29th, 2014. I was particularly open on this trip to new ideas because my life was in transition before I arrived. Therefore, my head, heart and spirit were listening for information that would help me consider the next steps in my life. Travelling always provides answers to me when I have questions in my life.

Language Keeps Us Connected: It struck me on this trip, more than at any other time, that languages are all very similar in the end. If you really listen, it all makes sense. Although I relied on my Italian language guide periodically, I learned that if I paid attention I could decipher the messages. In most cases, English and French helped. In other cases, it was just exchanging words, expressions, gestures, anything, and then we found some common ground. I could hear the similarities between Spanish, French and Italian, and at times, English words. It was powerful to consider how we are all really speaking the same language through some etymological connections. The non-verbal language is still the most powerful of all the communication systems. The inflection, gestures and eye contact we share with each other is truly all of the information that we really need to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings. The smaller details require words, and when this is necessary, we find them.

Bells Remind Us to Pray: I was moved by the bells that rang from all of the church, cathedral and bell towers wherever I went in Italy. I could hear them when I was climbing the trails of the Cinque Terra, or when I was sipping wine in the Chianti vineyards. Their gentle timbre sang out to me throughout my holiday. They rang first thing in the morning, calling people to mass, and awakening me gently from my sleep. They rang in the middle of the day, calling people back to pray, or to celebrate someone’s special occasion, like a wedding or other special occasion. They rang in the evening, and sometimes later at night. They rang for funerals, and sometimes they just seemed to ring for no reason at all. Whenever the bells rang, they stopped me from doing what I was doing, and I considered them for a few minutes. They call for us to pray and think of a higher power that connects us as a whole people.

Good Food is Everything: These people take food very seriously. The discreet details about the quality of the ingredients, how they are pulled together in complement of each other, and then there is a taste exaltation later in the evening when everyone has time to come together and share in the daily festival of eating. People eat together here. Food is not just a means to and end, rather, it is a time to gather and exchange what is happening in people’s lives, and to celebrate the food with each other. The food was rich and intoxicating. Granted, my body is not designed for wheat, dairy and eggs, but I found that by embracing the experience, I found a new appreciation of the culture. I lived out the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

None of my food experiences will match the taste sensations of my own homemade fresh pasta in first ever Italian cooking class. As well, my favourite spaghetti vongole in white wine sauce, Florentine pizza, pistachio gelato or tiramasu held a close second place. Unfortunately, despite my rigorous exercise of hiking mountains and ascending and descending numerous stairs, I still managed to gain weight while in Italy. Therefore, portion control, or some modification of the Italian diet would be required if I lived in Italy. However, I think that I can take some of the joy of cooking and eating back to Canada, regardless of my food sensitivities and while still staying at a reasonable weight. I just need to try different recipes that might bring just as much joy to the food experience. I think the key is simply to slow down, take time to find healthy and good quality ingredients, while creating the time to relish cooking and eating them together.

Communicate Openly: People communicate very openly in Italy. I found people hugging and kissing in public places. Rapid conversations over important topics happened all around me. Arguments, and animated ones, seemed to happen anywhere and at any time. People seemed comfortable letting out their feelings regardless of the content or context. Unlike the festering land mines or the nuclear bombs of some of the emotional arguments that I have observed at home in my Canadian culture, there was just a general outpouring of feelings in Italy. In all of the ones I observied, there was no time to wonder what might happen in them because they were over before they began. By the time there was much contemplation, the outburst had vanished like a freak weather squall that hit me while hiking up in the Cinque Terra trails. The rain came, and then the sun came out to dry me off. I found it refreshing to see people communicating so overtly, and it reminded me that it is healthy to say out loud what we really feel without fear of repercussion, hard feelings or grudges. That’s amore!

Climbing Stairs is Rewarding: This is a country of stairs. Everywhere you go, you have to climb up or down stairs in order to make your way around the towns and cities, and, as well, to go between buildings. It is truly inspiring to see very old people making their way so capably where I would have thought the obstacles of the stairs would be prohibitive of the elderly. Instead, the stairs simply serve as part of the daily exercise, and might explain the long life span of the average Italian citizen. Where we do everything to avoid stairs in Canada with escalators, elevators and electric walkways, Italy makes no such concessions. If you want to get around, you have to embrace the stairs. Some of them are wide and shallow, or deep and steep, or crooked and uneven. In general, your legs get a good work out, and you have to stop periodically to catch your breath. It always feels good to get to the top, like I felt when I made it to the top of the mountain in Monterosso, and looked down over the five villages of the Cinque Terra trail. It was a rewarding triumph to manage it…and yet, I had to then climb down the daunting 1000 or so stairs to get back into town. As well, climbing 467 stairs to the top of the Duomo in Florence made me appreciate staying in health so that I can travel into my retirement years.

My concern has always been that places like Italy might be too demanding when I get into my 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (and beyond). Perhaps this is not a bucket list place. However, perhaps the key is to stay in better shape at home so that these trips are manageable all of the way through my lifetime.