I just returned from a spectacular 8 days in Italy. I feel so refreshed, and so lucky. It’s true what they say: travel is broadening – and I’m not referring to the 3 pounds I gained from eating all that spaghetti cacio e pepe, but about learning how to successfully manage in a country where English isn’t universally spoken. You have to not make any assumptions of any kind. People may not think the way we do, or like the way we make our ways into the world. We were in a small town in Umbria; English was rarely heard, and my instinct was to try to speak Italian, based on little scraps of the language I know, and trying to Italianize my French. It was primitive; occasionally it worked.
Being an American abroad makes one think a lot about being an American; what it means to one’s self, and what it means to others. The world gets smaller, and we are all citizens of the world. Suddenly you must deal with kilometers instead of miles; of Euros instead of dollars.
As a city dweller, being in the country was a treat. Yes, we woke to the sounds of roosters, and also woodpeckers and mourning doves. Birdsong! It gave our mornings a dreamy quality. You feel away-away. In any case, I want to thank my friend Marsha for inviting us to her place. We enjoyed her company and that of her guests.
1. A fresco. My friend Diane alerted me to the existence of a famous Piero Della Francesca fresco of the pregnant Madonna in a small town near the house where we stayed. The town, Monterchi, is walled and tiny – a population somewhere between 1-1800 inhabitants. Yet it has 2 museums. One dedicated completely to the fresco – (you don’t run into many pregnant Madonnas) and one dedicated to scales (ancient and old fashioned weights and scales). I have to confess that after the first room, I’d seen enough balancing scales for a lifetime.
One ticket gets you admission to both. The young woman behind the counter at the latter museum said she liked living in a small town where she knew everyone and everyone knew her. Which was great because at dinner much later that night in the little town of Anghiari, the ticket taker and I recognized one another and gave each other a warm hello. A few people asked me who she was. Someone I met earlier in the day. I felt connected. And of course, I wondered – as I always do when I’m not home – “could I live here?”
2. One thing Tuscany and Umbria have in abundance is Jasmine. If you haven’t gotten a whiff of that blossom lately, I urge you to find some to sniff. It’s heaven. It was everywhere. I sighed with pleasure at every encounter.
3. We met a lovely man in Rome at his elegantly simple clothing shop – one of those places where you have to touch everything. (And I did.) Michele Am Russo spent time showing us his work, his fabrics which were extraordinary, and told us his story. He spent a few years in America as a child when his mother owned a shop in Soho in the 1980s. They moved back to Rome to this shop. Now he’s in charge, and takes great pleasure in the exquisite textiles he has made in India, Japan, and at the best mills in Italy. The store is called Bomba, the street is Via dell’Oca, and it felt like another special moment in time.
4. European pharmacies are the best. First of all, the products all look exotic and appealing in their foreign packaging. (Oh this beautiful tube of face cream is actually for your feet?). If they sell product lines you buy here at home, they are much less expensive in Europe. And, if you need a prescription filled, there’s a chance that the medication is considered over the counter. Note to American girls in Assisi: Except Aderall. They were onto you.
5. The novel Normal People by Sally Rooney. I had first read a short story by this very young (born in 1991!!) Irish novelist in the New Yorker in the last year. This novel is told in a way that is both emotionally urgent and emotionally detached. It’s a love story with a protagonist who growing up sees herself as damaged and unlovable. She resigns herself to a life without much pleasure, save for academic success. It spans three years. That’s all I will say, but the author seems to understand her characters in a breathtaking way.
And now, please welcome my two guests today, Jessica Mindich and Amy Peterson! Two dynamic, hard-working women, who after careers as lawyers began to give back. I can’t wait for you to meet them.
Amy’s 5 Things:
1. My son's daycare. They allow him to wear costumes on a regular basis which makes him happy and my mornings less stressful
2. Podcasts. They are an outlet and also a new way to learn on the go
3. Daily Harvest: works for our family
4. Running my own company and being surrounded by amazing women
Jessica’s 5 Things:
1. Being near water
2. When my teenage sons and their friends camp out at my house
3. Being a redhead
4. French fries.
5. Having the power to transform pain into hope.