THIS IS WHY I CAME HOME!!
All gloriously coffeed-up and with a happy apple brioche in my tummy, my luggage stored safely at the station, and sat with my essentials, in a park of towering brick antiquities, palm trees and daisy lawns.
I’m encamped on the grass in the half shade, checking whether the sun is taking over the day yet. It’s late March: where I came from was a furnace, where I’m from originally would leave your arse frozen damp and muddy, but here, I could forgiven for getting teary-eyed about it.
It’s fricking perfect.
Life in Italy is something folk romanticise about, obviously – films, songs, paintings, blogs – the Guardia Sanframondi Renaissance movement – and the Italian branding plays to it, like a Latin lover wooing a stupid tourista – easy.
But underneath all the marketing and all the folks getting lured in by the promise of that postcard idyll, there’s a profound possibility of CONTENTMENT here: a potential of fulfilment, nourishment, spiritual ease, social synchrony, community wealth, which cannot ever be bought, bargained for, commercialised. It can only be earned.
It is earned through one’s presence, a willingness to embrace and accept, a dedication to the moment, a belief in truly good things… and a humility that lets all the crazy wash right off your back.
I think that it’s easy to overlook the small pleasures – to take them for granted, and not be joyous for them. It’s only in being without them, that we see their preciousness. The Italiani in Guardia are often perplexed as to why we stranieri would like to be in such a setting as this previously-abandoned medieval town, when we come from cultures which – at least to the outside – seem to offer such a pinnacle perfection of the consumer machine.
It’s hard to sum it up in a short blog, but for me, it’s this moment – the Easter Sunday bells are thundering with the force of all those centuries of religious consent – but they are so solidly, absolutely, delicious in how their sound wraps itself around this park, around me, around this moment, like a familiar blanket. The birds join in, as does the chatter from a biodiverse park clientele, of Romans, stranieri and dogs. And even the traffic seems to lap like waves, close as it is, adding not unpleasantly to the ambience.
The air is as clean as air gets in a large European city, and the breeze touches my skin just enough to cool the parts that the sun is beginning to burn. My bare feet are tucked under lush clover and grasses, dotted thickly with proud bright daises.
The park begins to fill with Easter Sunday passeggiatori, none of them particularly heading to or from church, and none of them looking like they’re carrying the weight of Jesus’ martyrdom, on their shoulders. Punctuated by regular Vespa buzzing past, laughter and jollity flows around, from group to group.
We all consent to and support this good vibe, this rich life, this perfection, and we all want to keep it flowing benignly. Italy is not just about the absence of danger, discomfort, visible poverty or tensions (having just returned from a month in Uganda, I find this all very tangible), nor about the presence and availability of tasty treats, cultural resources, mod cons. For me, Italy – loving Italy, and living here – is about that quiet perfection which every single day is sewn together by; the rightness of the underlying paradigm, and the collective agreement to honour it – set in stone.
Belonging to this culture is never something I thought to show off or hold up as a status symbol, but it is something that I can now sense and enjoy. Having tried and tested and failed and overcome a stack of initiation challenges thrown at me by the place and the people, and having woven my own perceptions and contributions into the tapestry… and now having stepped right away completely from Italy, and come back to it…. I feel a sense of – not ownership, but – that I am responsible to my place in it.
I feel utterly joyous to return to this benevolence, this warm familiarity and nourishing ambience; it feels like it is mine now. There are so many reasons why Italy projects such a strong romantic appeal, a seductive façade. But more importantly (for me), under this glam exterior, there’s a depth of riches quite unimaginable.
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Tante belle cose, Clare