Returning from a month in Italy, most friends asked, “Was it great?” Expecting a yes answer many quickly moved on to the next topic. Others were more curious, wanting to learn about the trip. A few asked, “What was the best thing you saw or did in Italy?” It would have been easy to say Florence, or Sorrento, or Tuscany. Instead, I had to stop and reflect on not just the journey, but the experiences that wove themselves inside of me and which now surface as the best things about Italy.
It began with Gino, who was known in Tuscany as a “wine-maker” but who calls himself a “wine-knower.” Reverently touching the vines, Gino told us, “God and nature make the wine. Only by observing nature, the sky, the earth, the wind, and the water do you know the wine.” He said,
“Wine is not liquid. Rather, wine is the heat of the sun, and the womb of the earth which produces the wine in this sacred valley where grapes were first discovered 2,600 years ago.”
Gino felt the drinking of wine should be a slow and holy journey. And indeed, his wine stories were a metaphor on living a conscious life. He asked, “Why do you race to the end of the journey? If you do, it’s quickly over! Go slowly and enjoy the pleasure of the trip. Bring all your senses into every experience and elevate each sense along the way. Smell the musk of the earth that produced the wine. See the crimson color created by the chill air. Hear the tone of the liquid as it’s poured into a glass. And feel the tingle at the back of the tongue as you taste it. That is how you become a knower of wine!”
Gino was the first of many Italians we met who said the same thing, delivered a similar message, and made us realize that Italians really do live like this. Theirs is a modern country, yet their lives are tied to the old ways—the elements, to the cycles of the moon and sun for planting, and the tides that come in and out. They do this as a matter of course, and without fanfare. There’s no rushing about. They take each day, each hour, each moment for what it presents. Every day they walk to market for fresh produce or meats. They are restored in a three-hour rest midday when stores close and dinner is served. They work hard but take rest as needed.
The hearts of the Italian people are tied to their relationships with family and friends. We learned Sunday was family day across Italy. Nothing interrupts Sunday meal gatherings that span several generations. Yet, with warm hearts they invited us into their family celebrations. Seated at an open-air restaurant by the Bay of Naples, we shared food and drink with them. We were strangers, yet they offered us appetizers and tastes of food off their plates, along with glasses of Limoncello. With my broken Italian and their broken English, we laughed and talked and felt part of an extended family though we were far away from our own.
What was the best thing about Italy? The people! In Tuscany, we remember a “wine-knower” who was really a philosopher. In Sorrento we remember afternoons spent with a shop owner who told us her life story and called us “her angels.” Also in Sorrento, we remember four generations of gelato makers, learning about their religious faith, the sad loss of a child, and the joys of being a large family. In Rome, we got taken for a ride by an unscrupulous taxi driver. But he was overshadowed when Zina (an Italian warrior princess) came to our rescue, driving us around Rome at a fair price then picking us up at dawn to go to the airport so we wouldn’t get caught by another unregistered taxi. These were the people who were the best thing about Italy.
Like Gino said, we experienced a most holy journey. It was one we took slowly with elevated senses. We touched the core of the people and their land. We were embedded with them, their families, and their stories. Now, each of those treasured moments and the people who brought them to life are forever etched in our hearts. In February, we especially remember the heartfelt connections with these strangers who became friends.
Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to www.starsoundings.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.