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!