Friday, June 29, 2007

Where Have You Gone?

As folks pour into Italy for vacation, looking for that special trattoria or isolated stretch of sandy beach, what are they finding?

More and more, we turn to faraway places to re-fuel our oft-depleted enthusiasm for our wells of inspiration. People are worn out from the hustle and incessant pull for their attention. A lunch break, and 50 e-mails show up, 25 requiring some action or response. Connectivity has tied us up in a web of our own making, and one that is hard to untangle. We have our little victories, and our passion gets acknowledged once in a while. But the escape to another place, to stop the world, and step onto a little piazza for a cool glass of wine and a plate of fresh anything. Now that, for some of us, would be like hitting it out of the park.

Here’s my proposal. Don’t plan your next trip to Italy. Yes, get your plane ticket and rental car (optional), but save your fretting over where to stay and where to eat. Now don’t do this in August. But from late September on, how about arriving in Rome or Milan, stepping outside and seeing which way the wind blows you? I wonder how many of us could do that?

What’s my point?

A few days ago a colleague e-mailed me; he was in Florence and wanted to know where to go to eat. I took 20 minutes and arranged a couple of options for him and his family. Nice, not touristic. Bam, done. Later in the day, he e-mails me back, tells me to add another restaurant to my list. He found a different one, on his own. If I could tell you how many times this has happened to me. But it’s OK, Ma, because in reality, they only needed someone to get them out the door. Then Italy would take it from there.

A winemaker friend once took me to a little spot in Tuscany above the Castello Banfi. A little place whose name I don’t recall at the moment. It seemed like a deserted film set, up on a hill. Dusty, quiet. As we got to the end of the road into the village, it dead-ended. There was a dog barking and dust flying, kind of eerie. My host took me through a door that had glass beads covering the opening. No one was inside. We took a seat and listened to some Coltrane-like jazz. About five minutes passed and a gent showed up. He had been running to the market to get a few things. The meal that followed was simple but memorable.

Had this scene occurred back home, how many of us would have waited or even stayed upon entering a deserted restaurant at lunchtime? By the way the patio had a view of Montalcino worth sharing, as the accompanying picture shows.

Sharing, now that’s a whole ‘nother subject. But let me digress. If one takes a trip to Italy with this criteria - that you will stay in the level of luxury you are acclimated to - it's a virtual guarantee that you will not come into contact with Italians and the people and places that make Italy so desirable.

Tracy from Ischia laments on her blog about the wealthy Americans with their Hummer-Yachts who fear of venturing off their platform to experience a typical restaurant or see a vineyard that doesn’t look like a McMansion with vines.

I say Jump! Wander! Lose your Blackberry and find your soul. Go to Italy, open up to your instincts and round the bases. That's if you have the guts to go there and simply do it.

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