The Simple Life
By Michele Meier Vosberg
Dreaming of Italy
My friend Rita is going to Italy and I am jealous. I’ve been thinking about going to Italy for some time now. I’ve read, planned, looked at maps and even bought a CD entitled “Learn Italian Now!” What I haven’t managed to do is save the money to actually go to Italy. But rest assured that when my day comes and I actually get to go to Italy I will be ready.
I’m not sure when my Italian obsession began. I haven’t always wanted to go to Italy; there were years when I dreamed of Jamaican beaches or the Hawaiian Islands. I have had many wonderful vacations in places that were not Italy. Somewhere along the way, Italy became my new fantasy destination of choice.
It might have been the wine that pushed me over the edge. Years ago, when my children were small, we patronized a small mom and pop Italian restaurant. The food was excellent, the prices were reasonable and best of all, they didn’t mind a couple of sticky faced toddlers. My children were not only tolerated, but welcomed. One night, when I was feeling particularly frazzled, I decided to order a glass of wine. Not being much of a wine connoisseur, I ordered a glass of white zinfandel. What did I know? I have since learned that white zinfandel is not the wine of choice in Italian restaurants. I’m sure now that they didn’t even have a bottle of white zinfandel. The owner appeared at my table. He put a glass of red wine in front of me. “You don’t want that other wine,” he said. “You try this, now this is wine. You need a glass of good wine.” I looked at him, dumfounded, I’m sure. ” You don’t like it, I’m buying,” he said. I drank the wine and there was no going back. He was right, that was a glass of wine.
If it wasn’t the wine that turned my thoughts to Italy, it might have been the books. I stumbled upon Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. It is about a college professor who buys an old farm in Italy and restores it. I spent ten years of my life restoring a lovely old home once, I could relate. I read it five or six times. It was a life I could aspire to: teach for a few months, move to Italy, fix up your house during the week, eat good food, drink good wine and on the weekends travel around looking at Etruscan tombs and the art of Florence. After a couple of years, she wrote sequels and I read those too. Then I discovered there were other books about people restoring other old houses in Italy. It turned out there was a whole genre of books about people buying old houses in foreign countries and fixing them up.
About the time of my Tuscan book fixation my daughters gave me a CD for Christmas. It was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s A Place in the World. My favorite song on the CD turned out to be “What If We Went to Italy.”
“What if we went to Italy
a suitcase of books and one bag a piece
for the summer
I don’t speak a word of Italian
Except for Campari and soda for two,
how much is a lire
Yes a villa will do
and a breeze,
in Tuscany please.”
It sounds good to me. I close my eyes and listen to the mandola and I am transported.
My aunts and an uncle went to Italy a couple of years ago. They didn’t like it. My aunts complained of too many museums and too much walking. My uncle didn’t like the food. I suspect it wasn’t what he was used to, he was trying to find the American in the Italian instead of accepting the trattoria as an art form. How can you not like Italian food? I’ve never met a foccacia I didn’t like. It is not a hamburger bun, but then that is the point.
When I finally get to Italy, I am sure I will like the food. I will like the art and the walking and the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the plazas of Siena. I will enjoy walking along St. Mark’s Square and driving along the Amalfi coast. In the meantime, I have painted my walls the whitewashed peach color of a Tuscan villa. I can sip a cappuccino and listen to Puccini. I can learn a few more words of Italian and read another book about somebody fixing up an old house. Maybe Rita will send me a postcard and I’ll learn about someplace else I want to go. And when the time comes for me to go to Italy, I’ll be ready.