I'd been to Italy twice. First Rome, then Milan. Neither visit was spectacular. I told myself if I ever went back it would have to be on entirely different terms. No tourism, purely local. Four years ago, five months into my first year in New York City, I met an Italian artist who would make it possible.
She picked me up from the airport and drove us to Maremma, a region in southern Tuscany where her family had a country home. As we rode past hills growing to mountains, I looked forward to nine days of food and wine and sea. I had assumed we would go straight to the house but she veered the car in another direction and instead we headed for the beach. We drank espressos and ate sweet pastries from the cafe that sat against the water, catching up on what had changed since the last time we saw each other. She was progressing with her work, thinking of looking for a new apartment in Milan. I had circled back to where I'd been before, only older now. Maybe a little wiser.
The sand was hot on my feet, little crystals spreading between my toes. Still, my focus remained on the mountains, their tall peaks rising from the Mediterranean. I sat in the water, the low-tied washing over my skin, and closed my eyes, smiling to myself. "Incredible," I whispered.
. . .
Sunlight lit the walls, welcoming me inside the grand, earthy home. A warm breeze swept through the halls as I climbed the steps to my room, windows open to the pool and mountains ahead. Life is communal here, less in the sense of sharing and more in the sense of community. Although sometimes those are the same thing. Her mother cooks every day, all of her guests invited around her table for lunch and dinner. House assistants bring the platters of thoughtfully prepared food while she sits back to savor her own meal. Bottles of wine seem to appear from thin air as afternoon turns to evening. There is always laughter. So much laughter.
This isn't entertaining, it's simply the Italian way.