La Bella Calabria

April 13, 2011

All my life I have identified myself as being an Italian. Taking pride in old world traditions, and finding wisdom in Italian idioms, but I didn’t come to understand what being Italian really meant until the summer of ’88 when my father took me to Italy.

I was 15 years old and finally getting the attention of the boy I liked when my father announces that he is taking me to visit my grandparents. I pleaded with him to no end to let me stay, but his resolve was stronger than my will to spend summer with friends, and so on a warm summer day I said goodbye to my mother and boarded the flight for Italy.

Spectacular view from the plane!
It was my first time taking a plane and so my hurt feelings were quickly replaced by excitement. Who knew you could shop 30,000 feet in the air and did I ever, until finally, after 10 long hours of travel, we landed in Lamezia Terme. There are a few things you should know about this airport; firstly, it’s located next to the sandy beaches of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and secondly, you exit the plane going down a large flight of stairs directly onto the runway. A runway might I add that is lined with young military officers holding riffles. Not exactly the greeting I expected, but a welcome one nonetheless. Did I mention they were ‘good looking’ young men?!

After waiting what felt like hours for our luggage, we headed out into the sweltering heat. The chaotic parking lot was lined with European vehicles, little compact cars that resembled Hot Wheels more than they did transportation. The highway (one-two lane might I add) was lined with bright pink and violet flowers that looked ever so beautiful as cars sped by. The landscape was a world away from the modern structures I was accustomed to. I sat there mesmerized as we drove along the ancient roads that wound among rolling hills, past small villages and large olive groves until we reached our final destination - a small town in Northern Calabria.

The Famous Italian Bruschetta
The place I would call home for the next month was a striking white bungalow with sky blue shutters covered in vibrant bougainvillea flowers and a large wraparound terrace with sweeping views of the mountains and surrounding countryside. A big white swing, covered in a pretty floral pattern, sat on the terrace. This would quickly become my favorite place to sit and read during the long summer days.  

After being smothered by a million hugs and kisses from my family, we sat down to indulge in what I can only refer to as a Foodies paradise. We feasted on homemade pasta covered in a fresh tomato basil sauce, warm crispy Calabrese bread dipped in the most delicious olive oil I had ever tasted, juicy mozzarella di bufala with prosciutto, black olives, an array of local Italian cheeses, stuffed eggplants, spicy sopressata salami, arugula salad with flakes of parmiggiano, and fresh fruit accompanied by warm delicious lemon cake. I was stuffed to say the least and decided I would take a stroll in the small town I would call home for the next month.  

If you’ve never been to Italy in the summertime, let me tell you that the heat is unbearable during the day, but nonetheless I set out to discover my new surroundings. I began walking along a dirt road observing the sweeping curves of the land, captivated by its organic beauty, until I reached the narrow streets of town. It’s a wonder cars are able to drive through them! The old buildings were covered in weathered shades of white, gray, and earthy hues. Wooden shutters, iron lamp posts, and the occasional green foliage adorned their exteriors. A few homes even had courtyard gardens filled with plants, flowers and cast iron benches.  

It was so quiet that I could hear crickets singing and every once in a while I would see a stray dog who found shelter from the scorching heat under an old wooden portico. I had been walking for over an hour when I realized that I had not seen a single soul. There was a stillness that gave me the impression of having travelled back in time and into a vintage photograph. Unbeknownst to me I had just discovered ‘siesta’ and quickly understood why so many Europeans find pleasure in their long afternoon naps. Between the large meals and the heat, you have no choice but to find refuge for a few hours. And upon returning home I did just that. 
It would be impossible for me to sum up in one blog entry that first summer in Italy, and so I have decided to do it in increments. Allowing me to give each unique experience the proper attention it deserves, so stay tuned as my tales of Italy continue…

Praja a Mare Coast, Calabria

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