Like everyone I look forward to my vacation all year and I tend to choose big, noisy, fun cities as my destination. I love New York City and Los Angeles. I prefer to spend my well- earned time off taking in a sold out concert, clubbing and dancing, eating at the Cheesecake Factory and PF Chang and staying in a really great hotel in an excellent location.
But these past few months I felt a mix of guilt and emptiness. I had not returned to Italy to see my extended family for almost 23 years. A lot happens in 23 years – we age, we suffer, we change, we love and we grow as individuals. So not seeing people I truly love and not being present to have a full understanding of where they were all at in their lives – was the final tug it took for me to book a “family reunion” holiday.
Going back to the time of my ancestors, all of my relatives were farmers. They planted, cultivated and harvested so that they could eat and live in the truest sense. Things were simple in terms of a given day but extremely challenging in terms of the physical labour involved and the long days worrying the weather could come along and take it all away.
I had decided to stay with my aunt in a small rural village in the south of Italy. Since I was visiting alone and there were so many people to see, they all came to me and I was immediately surrounded in love. The first thing I realized that it was as if I had been there all along. There was no awkwardness, no search for words – everything came together beautifully as did we.
My aunt insisted on cooking for me every day. She made pasta in true Italian style – from scratch. We spend hours in the morning chatting while she tactfully played with the dough in between her hands, shaping it into something sensational and then stuffing it with fresh cheese and meat and covering it in her sweet basil tomato sauce.
Why was she cooking so much in the morning? Because my family as with many others in Europe (especially rural) ate their big meal at lunch not at dinner and they did so on a 2 hour “siesta lunch break”.
So there I was, barely having digested my morning pastry and most remarkable, delectable creamy espresso (the water there has to make a difference because I brought the same coffee home and it did not taste as good, then again everything tastes better on vacation – (see our blog post about exactly that here..http://www.idealtravelalongtheway.com/2012/08/how-to-save-world-wit...
I found myself sitting down with all of my cousins and their children for a seriously carb-loaded lunch.
Three days in, I was so full I could barely move.
One day we sat down to lunch and every relative in the country of Italy attended. I looked around the table and it brought back all sorts of childhood memories. Some of the younger members, I had never met but when I studied their faces I could see so many familiar expressions and features. I thought of those who had passed away during my absence and how sad that was yet how wonderful it was that the younger generation carried on their traits. I could feel the presence of my late relatives but it wasn’t scary, it was comforting. It was as if they too had come to see me on this holiday.
When we did leave the house and take a recess from eating, we walked along cobblestone streets to the local church designed centuries ago in Gothic architecture. We shopped at the market where my aunt knew most of the farmers by name and some even had her package ready for her when she arrived.
I felt as if I had gone back in time. I wondered what it would be like to live in such a small place. Would it be too quiet for me or would I discover a new way of life? Would all of the noise in my head dissipate or would I find myself running for the closest club and yearning to be back in Montreal?
I was able to answer some of those questions the day after we made our way through town. I was sitting at a café. I hadn’t brought a book with me as I usually did. I ordered an espresso and a berry muffin and I just wanted to take it all in. I realized I didn’t have any noise in my head. The usual monologue we all have with ourselves reciting the long list of things that need to do and something that someone said that bothered me or something I keep putting off – all of those thoughts seized to exist and I found myself in the perfect vacation moment except it lasted for more than just a moment; it lasted for the remaining two days I had left in Italy.
It was tough saying goodbye to my aunt. I didn’t know when I would be able to return and she meant a lot to me. You know the way you have a friend who you’ve made at one time in your life and although you only have the opportunity to see them once in a while, you still feel extremely close to them and there is no negative energy because all of your experiences have been positive and they really get you and you really get them? That is what it is like between her and me and it’s a rarity in life.
But we can’t all live together forever. We grow up and we venture out on our own and start our own families and make new friends who are sometimes also like family and we all live our lives sometimes thousands of miles away from those we started our lives with and whom we really love deeply.
For me, my vacation to Italy was a “return to my roots” experience. It was enriching, loving, beautiful and made me keenly aware that we only have one set of roots, nothing else in life is planted that deep in the ground. Like the farmers who planted the crops and then harvested and nurtured them into the food that gave them life, my family roots gave me life and always will.
I hope to find my way back soon and I hope that when I do, everyone is still there around the kitchen table for a heavy lunch of laughter, love, and family.
This story is part of our series “Our Team Travels” in which our travel professionals journeys are recorded. This “OTT” is based upon Silvana Martinello, who traveled to Italy to see her family for the first time in 23 years.
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