As we contemplate taking an extended trip back to the United States, I think about the things we’ve learned and changed in Italy. We hopped on our bikes yesterday afternoon (it was another of those afternoons where Axa was not quite tired enough to nap, but not quite rested enough to be nice. It’s a tough transition from nap to no nap.) and rode out another country road. We stopped in a little town called Margherita, which boasts a 13th century tower.
The tower is impressive. It’s not particularly large, nor does it stand out much on first glance. But if you really look at it, the tower does project an aura of age, of permanence, of having overseen many, many events. Tony wondered aloud how much of the tower was actually 13th century. I’m not sure. Architecture here in Italy is sort of like the human body; in a continual process of renewal and regeneration. They keep things up here. Even if it has a new coat of paint, it might be hundreds of years old, and at least as serviceable as the day it was built.
The little municipal plaza just through the tower was quite beautiful; not grand in any sense, just very neat and quaint, with flowers in little metal-worked pots hanging on the outside walls like art. On the opposite end of the piazza was a shrine to Santissima Maria and Santa Lucia, in gratitude for protecting the place from an arial bombing in 1944. It was all so unremarkable, and yet so remarkable in that lovely, indefinable way that makes me repeat to myself over and over that I will never move back, never, ever.
The reason I love every new town we discover is simple. It’s like living our first day in Italy all over again; seeing the beauty as if it were the first time. I think of it as a living example of the fairy-tales Chesterton commends, remarking that “these tales say that apples are golden only to remind us of the moment when we first found that they were green.” It’s a large part of my obsession with travel. What is new, I find beautiful, entrancing. And when I return home, everything familiar seems suddenly new.
I hungered before for this beautiful freshness steeped in history, without knowing what it was. Tony and I tried to research the history of San Francisco, and found that there wasn’t really much to catch the imagination. Some planners from L.A. thought they’d expand South, and the climate drew everyone else. There’s a little more than that, but not much.
But here! Every town has been here for centuries; millennia. It’s been part of a dozen or more different empires, makes its own cheese like nobody else makes it, and speaks a language of its own, not quite like any other, even the one spoken in the next village over. We can put down roots here because there’s soil: deep, intricate, complex, nourishing soil.
There’s another reason too. We already have roots here. All our ancestors, or nearly all, are from Western Europe. The history of our family in the United States goes back a few generations: four, five, perhaps twice that many on some lines. Few, if any, were here when the country was founded, much less when the Mayflower landed. We have no Native American blood. Farther back than one or two hundred years, our history is here.
So here we are, sifting through the collective unconscious and trying to remember what we remember, finding a new way to live that reaches inside of us to make us what we really are, and enjoying the pure, delicious adventure of it all.