Italy–Taste

I saved the best of the senses for last—taste. I could write pages about the food in Italy. In fact, I’ve never eaten as much in a day as I did while in Italy, yet I only gained 2 pounds. All the walking keeps the weight off. It’s the perfect diet/exercise system, you get to eat and eat and not gain weight!

While in Italy, my day went something like this, eat breakfast, sight-see (which involved walking at least 6 hours a day), then around 1 p.m., when the shops all closed, we’d go for lunch. Lunch was followed by more walking. Then we’d head back to our home base, rest a bit, swim, then between the hours of 8:30 and 10:00 p.m. we’d go out for dinner. So much food. In fact, it felt like our day revolved around food!

A typical day in Italy started with coffee (Americano, cappuccino, etc.) and pastries. Most pastries were filled with chocolate. I’d buy something, thinking it looked like it had apples in it—nope, chocolate. It became a bit of a joke. However, when we came upon a larger pastry shop the selection was greater and you could buy everything from cupcakes, to croissants, to pastries with fruit, nuts, etc. While in Italy, I also ate a lot of biscotti. It’s so good dipped in your morning or afternoon coffee! You’d think a breakfast like this would be enough to pack on the pounds, but no, from here the day brought even more calories.

Lunch in Italy usually consisted of pasta or pizza. The typical Italian menu is broken down into many sections, so the mid-day and evening meal each had the potential for several courses. At first, we felt like we had to order something from each section! No! We soon figured out that we couldn’t eat that much food! Sometimes for lunch we’d order two or three antipastos and share them. This could be anything from a cheese plate with honey and figs, to stuffed squash blossoms, to prosciutto drizzled with truffle oil, etc. Super yummy. Most often, we’d try to eat our big meal mid-day. The pasta in Italy is the best, fresh and delicious. Sometimes it comes without sauce, for example, ravioli in truffle oil. My favorite pasta dish had a fantastic gorgonzola and walnut sauce—this dish was pure heaven.

Dinner was a different story, at least for me. I had a hard time eating pasta at 10 p.m. I just wasn’t hungry, so I’d often get a salad of mixed greens (Italy has the best butter lettuce, it melts in your mouth) or I’d get a bowl of Tuscan soup—if I could find it. My husband, however, loved ordering from all the sections on the menu. He’d get an antipasto, then a pasta dish, like pasta with olive pesto, then a beef dish (where they would bring a big hunk of meat to the table, cut off a piece, then take it away, prepare it and bring back, and finally the waiter would salt it for you at the table—quite a presentation). My husband also ordered a vegetable, and maybe a dessert. Who can eat that much? And he didn’t gain any weight!

Dinner was often followed with an espresso, or a limoncello, and/or a dessert. The tiramisu in Italy is wonderful, so much better than in the U.S. There is more whipped cream, less cake and rum. One of the best desserts I had was a ricotta cake. We were at a little restaurant right off the main piazza in Assisi. The cake was served on napkins and we ate it with our hands. Delicious!

I ate so many wonderful things in Italy. Here’s a list of my top favorites: caprese, pizza cooked in a wood-burning brick oven, pasta with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and fresh tomatoes, coconut gelato, lemon gelato, pasta with truffle oil and shaved truffles, eggplant parmesan, chocolate croissants, any of the cheeses—gorgonzola, pecorino, parmesan, goat—drizzled with honey, served with walnuts, capers (the best I’ve ever had), olives (also the best I’ve ever had). The melons were sweet. Cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto is fabulous and refreshing. I had crepes stuffed with berries, chocolate layer cake with coconut, and cheesecake. I had ravioli stuffed with ricotta, and duck, and lemon. I’m not much of a meat eater, but my friend had a steak cooked in a balsamic reduction sauce that was out of this world!

Okay, okay, enough about food! Someday I’ll put up a list of some of the restaurants we ate at. Many were off the beaten path, in small hilltop towns I’d never heard of.

We never had a bad meal in Italy. How could you? Beauty surrounded us on a daily basis, both within our sight and on our plates!

 

Italy–Smell

The title implies that Italy smells—it does not. Italy is full of enticing aromas. A lot of my trip was spent in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside where jasmine perfumes the air in the most intoxicating way. I think it’s because the sun warms the flowers all day. Rosemary and basil flavor the air. Lavender is everywhere. I love to cook with lavender and while in Italy I made simple syrup. Lavender sweetened the air in our villa and tasted fantastic in our drinks!

On the coast, we were treated to tangy sea air. Along with that came the scent of deep fried seafood, and of course, the coconut of suntan lotion.

While all of the above smells are still firmly in my memory, some of the sharpest smells came from food. I’ll never forget the strong aroma of espresso, or the smell of spun sugar that escaped the gelato shops and found its way out into the cobblestone streets. No wonder so many people eat gelato!

There’s nothing like the scent of rich red wine as it swirls in the glass. On market day, the scent of smoked meat rolls off the meat and cheese truck, calling the market goers in for a fat sausage, wedge of cheese, or slices of prosciutto.

Most of the churches in Italy hold a musty smell of days gone by, but I found the smell comforting. There is so much history in Italy’s basilicas and duomos. The old, musty smell conjures up a feeling of peace for me.

Italy is very clean. In fact, we were amazed at the community garbage system we had while at the villa. Because the roads are so narrow, homeowners must take their garbage to town, to one of the many dumpsters available, and dispose of it. From there, the garbage truck collects the garbage. They do this often, maybe daily? I never smelled garbage or saw garbage on the street, even the city.

If I had to pick one smell that described Italy most I’d probably say the simple scent of the air. In the evening the wind whips all of the outdoor scents together, the rosemary, lavender, the dry grasses—for me the scent was like nothing I’ve smelled at home. I asked my husband what he remembered most about Italy’s different smells and he said the air, so fresh and fragrant. I was surprised to find we both picked the same scent.

If you go to Italy, take the time to notice the many smells. You won’t be sorry. In fact, I bet you’ll be as in love with all the different scent sensations as I was!

Italy-Touch

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been writing about my trip to Italy in the form of the five senses. Today I’m writing about touch. I figured this would be a hard sense to write about. How much do we touch? What did I touch in Italy? The first thing that came to my mind was all the handrails I touched. Having a bum knee made hanging on to railings, walls, and rocks a necessity. I bet I touched more International germs this summer than most people touch in a lifetime! I didn’t get sick in Italy because I also touched a lot of soap and water and hand sanitizer!

Okay, now onto the fun things I touched. Number one, all the marble, so smooth and cool. Marble is everywhere in Italy, in the sculptures, churches and buildings, in the floors and countertops. Italy is also famous for its hand-painted ceramic pottery. Again, this is smooth and cool to the touch. The pottery is painted in bright intricate patterns. I was lucky enough to bring home some of this pottery. I love looking at it, a beautiful reminder of my trip.

I remember hot tiles, rough sand, and coarse grass under my bare feet. Sea water and saline pools that refreshed skin baked too long in the sun. Sometimes it felt like I bathed in gelato, my skin sticky with the sweetness. Sun baked my skin each day, but oddly, I never got sunburned. Someone told me the sun isn’t as intense in Italy in the summer that it’s more intense in the spring. I don’t know if that’s true, do any of you?

In the summer, there’s nothing like getting in a hot, stuffy car and having the cool air from the air-conditioner blow against your skin, or using an ice cold water bottle as a make-shift ice pack against your forehead or neck. Heaven.

Lightweight clothing is important in Italy. Nothing feels like white linen against your skin on a hot day, or breezy chiffon and silk at night. Clothes fluttered like a whisper against my skin. In the evening a soft breeze is always blowing, and in the summer, after a blazing hot day, this feels absolutely delicious! Italians take their nightly stroll through the main street of the city, to the main piazza, each night. This promenade, or passeggiata, usually takes place around sunset as the city or town is bathed in the most beautiful blue light. This is a romantic time, when the air goes from warm to soft and magical, like a kiss on your skin.

When Italians say hello or good-bye they hug, they do the double-cheek kiss. The first time this happened to me I wasn’t sure what to do and our faces collided. The next time, I was ready and did much better! Such a civilized way to greet one another, an intimate touch, and a great way for me to end this blog.

Ciao!

Italy–Hearing/Sounds

Sounds are everywhere in Italy, some of them familiar, some not. If I had to choose one word to describe the sound of Italy I’d choose bells. Church bells are everywhere you go. A single town may have many churches and many bells. You don’t need a watch in Italy. The bells ring on the hour and half hour. In some towns they even ring at the quarter hour. I grew to love the bells. For me they signaled a more relaxed way to measure time. One night, while we were staying near Massarosa, the bells stopped. In the morning, I realized I had no idea what time it was. When I went down for breakfast, I was surprised to learn that my friends were also disturbed by the lack of bells—we’d grown so accustomed to using them as our measurement of time. The bells didn’t return for a couple of days, and when they did ring again we were so excited. Bells are Italy.

If you’re in a city, traffic noise is high. Motor bikes/scooters/Vespas race along the narrow streets like angry bees. Cars don’t honk much. I found this strange in a city where traffic and near accidents are part of each day. Again, the Italian good manners come into play. Italian drivers are very civilized, even while driving with no speed limit! After all, in Italy Stop signs are only a suggestion!

I remember hearing rapid, sometimes angry Italian. Italians sounded angry to me, but they were not. I came to realize it was just their natural passion for the language and each other.

While in Italy, nature surrounded us. At one point in our trip we had a bullfrog outside our door. This bullfrog sounded like a cross between a bullfrog, a cow, and a pig. We called him our frog, cow, pig. I’ve never heard a sound quite like this. At first, it was a little unsettling, like something was being slaughtered, but I got used to it and grew to like our strange Italian frog. Birds sing in Italy just like they do at home, delivering sweet songs in the morning. Giant bees buzz, and I mean giant! The biggest bees I’ve ever seen. Cicadas roost in the trees, their constant whirring sound deafening at times. The whirr was so loud I had trouble reading. I’d look up into the trees, but never saw a cicada. Around three, each afternoon, the wind would kick up. I lived in fear that one of these insects would be blown out of the tree and on to me. Yikes.

On the coast, I remember the gentle sound of waves lapping at the shore, the roar of powerboat engines, and the questions from the beach venders, “Do you want a foot massage, lady?”

The excited chatter of the open air markets brings to mind the many venders trying to sell everything from leather goods to spices. Market day in Italy is fun, both in the big cities and in the small towns. Although, the small towns are more challenging. You really need some Italian or you wind up buying everything you point at!

On the flip side, I also remember the silence in Italy. We spent a lot of time in churches. Silence is absolute and brings with it a peace I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Each church in Italy holds so much history. I’ll never look at a church the same way again.

Italy was, at times, a crazy cacophony of sounds. As writers we need to bring sounds into our stories. Let our readers hear what we hear, experience what we experience. Let’s make our stories as active and alive as we can.

 

Italy–Sight

Italy

I’ve just returned from beautiful Italy, more specifically the areas of Tuscany and Umbria. To say this was a trip of a lifetime would be an understatement. For me, traveling to Italy has been a lifetime goal, a dream. Early in 2012 I was sidelined by two knee surgeries. In the months that followed, when I was struggling to regain my knee health, I wondered if I’d be able to make my trip. I couldn’t believe fate would be so cruel as to snatch my trip away after I’d finally booked it. When I stepped off the plane in Florence, my heart felt full, as if I’d finally grasped the brass ring.

I knew I’d blog about Italy, but I wondered how I could spin my trip into something useful and interesting for fellow writers and readers. This morning, it came to me. Italy is a feast for the senses. Every part of me was engaged, in tune with my surroundings. As writers, we need to be mindful of the five senses. I want to share my trip with all of you in the form of five different blogs, each one concentrating on one of the five senses.

I’m going to start with sight…the most obvious of the senses. I saw so many awesome things. My three week journey took me from the hill towns of Cinque Terre, to the beach of Viareggio, on to the spiritual town of Assisi and the Basilica of Saint Francis, and finally to the heart of the Tuscan hills and valleys. I was not on a tour, although I did have a private tour guide in Florence. This was more of a journey for my soul. That said, I saw so many things.

The views in Italy are stunning, so beautiful they took my breath away. Florence is filled with beautiful art, frescos, and sculptures (think David). Italians are fiercely proud of their history, their artists, their basilicas and rightly so. Seeing such great works of art is awe inspiring. Art is everywhere, even in the piazza. It’s not heavily guarded like in America. Italians seems to thrive on the honor system for so many things. You are trusted to be respectful around the art. No one babysits you, and for an American who is photographed by surveillance cameras around 65 times a day, this is a refreshing concept.

The architecture in Italy is magnificent. There is even art in the way the cobblestones are laid out in the streets. Walking down a street in Italy is like going back in time. You can’t help but think of all the people who have come before you. Florence is a busy city. Cars, taxis, and motor bikes all race along the narrow streets. My sense of sight sharpened. It had to, or I would have been run over! There is such energy in the air. Yet, between the hours of one and four p.m. the city shuts down. Shop owners hang uptheir closed signs and go home for their mid-day meal, to rest, regroup. At first, to me, a busy American, this seemed insane. Think of the lost revenue, the wasted time, but the longer I was in Italy, the more I came to appreciate this break in the workday. Now, I wish we had it here!

When I tune into sight I remember beautiful basilicas and duomos with intricate stained glass windows and stunning works of art. Some churches hold the remains of saints, sometimes parts of them, for example a single finger or a severed head. To possess part of a saint is a great honor, and I felt honored as a gazed at the remains of these people who hold such an esteemed place in history.

I remember the lush valleys, the blue haze over Assisi, acres and acres of sunflowers, lavender filled with butterflies, Italian men—so dark and good looking, sometimes wearing tiny speedos. I think of the sea of colorful beach umbrellas on Viareggio beach, the blue water, the hot sand, and the beach clubs that seems like a throwback to the fifties or sixties—yet they work in Italy. I saw tiny hummingbirds dipping into petunias. Red geraniums are everywhere in Italy and stand out brilliantly against the stone of the old buildings. Italians take great pride in the curb-appeal of their homes. Flowers are everywhere. Altars are everywhere–on the side of the road, built into stone walls, tucked into tiny corners in the hill towns. The Virgin Mary is everywhere. The sunsets are glorious. Fireflies enchanted us. At night, many of the graveyards are lit up with candlelight. The first time I saw this, I wondered what was going on, but then I saw it many times. I asked why, but was given a shrug and a “Why not?” How can one not feel spiritual in this country?

I encourage you to give your readers something to feast their eyes on. Give them vivid bright images. Make your setting a character in your story. Your writing will be richer, your reader more satisfied.

Until next time, Ciao!

 

Italy

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

I’ve been running behind on my blog this month.  I have a lot going on with my day job, my writing and my family. Although life is crazy, one thing is keeping me sane, beckoning to me like a great gift. Soon I will be traveling to Italy for the vacation of my dreams.

Have any of you been to Italy? I’m a total sucker for books like Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I’ve read everything related to Italy written by Frances Mayes. She’s such a great visual writer. In another life, I’d love to be a food and travel writer. What a great job! Instead, I’m going to settle for my own Italian adventure. My trip will start in Florence, moving on to Cinque Terre, then to Umbria, and finally spending one full, glorious week in the Tuscan countryside. My trip will be taken at a slow place (3 weeks long). I want to savor and enjoy as much of Italy as I can. I want to soak up the sun, and enjoy a glass of wine while looking at a stunning view, one I could only imagine until now. I want to memorize the scent of the air. I want to meet the people, absorb the culture and just be in the moment.

What does my trip have to do with my writing? Plenty I hope. I’d love to write a book set in Italy. I plan to do several short stories with Italy being the link between them. I also intend to blog from Italy (in July) and share some of my adventures with all of you. It’s my dream to continue my love affair with Italy long after I’m home.

Anyone have any good travel tips to share? Do you know about something wonderful that I should see on my trip? I love to hear from you!

Arrivederci!