A Love Letter To Italy


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Dear Italy,

Today marks 10 years to the day since we first met.

I was a reluctant and grumpy teenager then, and although I had heard a lot about you and was curious to meet you, you didn’t make a very good first impression.

I was already unhappy due to having been taken away from my friends for a good portion of the summer, but the burnt and lifeless scene you presented me with on the tarmac of Fiumicino Airport in 2003 didn’t win you any favour in my eyes. Neither did the subsequent hours-long quarantine in a back room in the airport terminal because our plane had come from SARS-infected Toronto, or the heat sickness I suffered on my first trip to Pompei.

Slowly but surely though, Italy, you revealed some of your charms to me. First, through a young, sweet waiter who paid me some attention one evening in an oh-so-Italian way, then with the experience of unearthing some of my familial roots in my Dad’s hometown, then through the discovery of what remains to this day one of my favourite dishes: eggplant parmigiana. Further exploration of your different regions revealed the types of landscapes I had always dreamed of seeing, and it was in Florence with the purchase of a stylish red leather jacket with a turned up collar and cuffs, that you sealed the deal and won me over.

By the end of our first 3-week meeting I was now reluctant to leave you, and you had me curious to know you better. I decided that the best way to do this would be to learn the language of your culture and your citizens, so I vowed to work at learning la bella lingua and then return to immerse myself in your culture and customs.

We had to wait another 7 years to meet again, but during our time apart I learned a lot about you.  Armed with a better knowledge of your language, I returned to meet you again, this time for a longer stay. I wanted to know what it felt like to live as Italians do, to speak your language and meet your people.

It was then that my feelings towards you, bella Italia, changed.

Many people claim that they “fell in love” with Italy.

I didn’t fall in love with you.

I simply found a place in you, where I felt as though I belonged. Please don’t think that I had come to you feeling like a displaced person, because Canada is my home and I have always felt as if I belong there. But it was just simply so beautiful to discover another place where I fit so seamlessly into the culture and the rhythms of life.

And while I spent a bit of time marvelling at some of the eccentricities of your rich culture and your vivacious people, I didn’t stumble over the cultural roadblocks my compatriots (even the Italian-Canadian ones) would have. I had no problem eating later, talking louder, forgetting my idea of personal space, and keeping my patience as even the simplest of things became difficult.

When our time was up, I knew I had to return again. I had originally come to you hoping to satisfy my curiosity in 3 months and be done with you, but it wasn’t meant to be. Back I came the next year, for 4 and a half months of getting to know you better. And do you know how much you affected me in that time? You influenced the way I dressed, the way I ate, the way I thought, the way I spoke. My Italian, although already good, became coloured with the accent of the Senese territory, and my taste buds learned to crave things previously unknown to them.

Since then, Italia, although I haven’t spent as much time with you as I would have liked, you’ve influenced my life in innumerable ways. You’ve provided me with mountains of material to write about, countless memories to replay in my mind’s eye, and enough fodder to supply me a lifetime of daydreams. Your landscapes, your language, your culture, and your people have helped me expand my knowledge of the world – of life, of love, of passion, of both the dolce and the amaro that this world has to offer.

So here’s to you Italia, my second home, my wonderland.

To a lifetime of loveliness between us.  

Con affetto,

Sarah 

Venezia 2-53

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Singin’ the Post – Travel Blues


Welcome Back To Canada

The “Welcome Back to Canada” sign, Canadian flag and homemade Peanut Butter cookies were what greeted me as I climbed up the steps to my front door after more than four months of being away. (Thanks, Gramps!) Between the warm front porch welcome, and my parents’ braccia aperte (open arms) at the Arrivals gate of Pearson International, I felt pretty good about coming home.

So with that out in the open, I can report that I’ve been back from Italy and  in my hometown for two months now. During this time I’ve officially graduated from my Masters degree program, landed a good job, enjoyed the Christmas season and caught up with my dearly missed family and friends. Not a bad way to spend two months, right? Right.

Except, woe is me! I was, and still am, suffering from a moderate case of the “Post-Travel Blues”. And let me clarify before going any further: my problem was not coming home to family and friends and Canada. My problem was leaving Italy. Don’t misunderstand. Non fraintendere. For the first little bit that I was back, I couldn’t even look at my travel photos for fear of being overcome with (even more) heartbreak and anguish than I already felt. I had to fight against the urge to run to the nearest airport and ruthlessly elbow my way onto the next flight back to Italia. I even thought of buying a dinghy and rowing across the Atlantic, you know, to beat the rising fuel costs and find a way around the astronomical cost of checking extra luggage.

Everything I ate was bland and tasteless. I told a restaurant manager that the tomatoes on my sandwich weren’t nice enough. Six months ago, I didn’t even like tomatoes on my sandwiches! I skipped listening to the Italian songs on my iPod that were too cariche (loaded) with memories. There were days I didn’t get out of my PJs. I began to measure money in terms of the number of plane tickets to Italy it could buy.  I cried. I moped. I complained. There was a general sense of malinconia (melancholy) to each and every one of my thoughts and actions. I missed everything and (almost) everyone that belonged to my life in Italy.

All in all, it was a pretty low time for me.

Talking with fellow travellers and researching “post-travel depression”, I learned that I was not the only traveller to experience this type of end-of-voyage grieving. I then went on the hunt for a remedy, because no way in heck did I want to feel like this forever. What did other people do to get over it? Potions? Elixirs? Weird yoga routines? My research told me that some really did throw themselves back onto airplanes just to avoid the Post-Travel Blues all together. Some started planning their next adventure, thus probably just putting off their suffering for awhile. Some did nothing and probably never recovered, reduced to an existence of clutching their guidebooks close to their heart and staring blankly at the Travel Channel. And some decided to find new and challenging things to do back at home. Weighing my options and leaning heavily towards the one that included the next plane to Italy, I finally decided to give my “wings” a rest and see about test driving some “roots”. For awhile, anyways.

So I’m on the hunt for new and challenging things at home.   And while I struggle every day with the restlessness and the voglia d’Italia (yearning for Italy) that are a part of me, I’m becoming less “blue” and more of a “winter-in-Canada” shade of pale. I happily look at my pictures, eat Italian food, listen to Italian music and talk to my friends about my experiences. The sadness has lessened, and I’ve really tried to adopt the “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” attitude. I’m still working on it, but I know it’s the way to go.