Read an Excerpt
MANY YEARS AGO, THIS COUNTRY OF MELODIOUS
language, stunning natural beauty, and friendly, open people conquered my heart and shaped a dream.
In the late 1950s our family lived along the Tyrrhenian Sea, not far from Florence. It was during those early years that I came to know the Italian people--and their country--in a deeply personal way.
We often accepted gracious invitations for dinner from our landlord and his family. Their living room had large western-facing windows that welcomed in late afternoon light. The air was filled with the smells of the fire and of the kitchen's roasting meats. After dinner, the landlord's wife, Anna, would sit at a baby grand piano near the windows and play music of the Italian masters while we sat satiated and dumbstruck by the beauty around us.
These were times when we were wrapped in the intimacy of Italian life, times when the country seeped into our souls. A love of Italy pulsed through our hearts, forming the core of memories with which it continues to bless us.
Thirty years of visits to this richly diverse land have further reinforced my passion for all things Italian. I've walked the corridors and countryside of Italian history, spent hours in museums full of too many masterpieces to recall, and enjoyed espressos in cafés near unnamed piazzas. I have spent time talking with shopkeepers about the weather, the city, and the river, of politics, music, and love. When I have driven the roads of Italy, umbrella pines along the roads flashed by; the towers of Renaissance churches spiked the sky; ancient Roman villas or centuries-old aqueducts faded behind me. The beautiful soul of Italy seeped into me so deeply that I had to return to live, as a semi-Fiorentino, (nearly Florentine). Every year the desire to return, to live there, grew stronger and stronger. Two years ago, my opportunity arrived.
With the help of a small U.S. based company, Homebase Abroad, I made arrangements to lease an apartment in the center of Florence, steps from its ancient bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. The small retreat, directly on the River Arno, offered views over the city in every direction, a large terrace, and privacy. And so, on the first day of May, bags packed and plans set, I set off to bask for months in the spiritual and soulful power of Italy.
Florence was my home for that season. There was a two-week trip into the heart of Umbria, and a few precious days were set aside to visit another glorious Italian city, Venice. I spent the latter part of the season exploring the region of Tuscany. A few friends visited. All in all, I lived a life once only dreamed of. I wrote this book, and I flourished in the moments that so many take for granted.
Time became the gift that provided opportunities to take in quiet moments and places, to capture the special essence of Italian life. Even now, I need only close my eyes to feel the heat of that Tuscan season. There were days when an infinite clear blue sky soared overhead, hot breezes shrilled the cypresses of cloisters, olive trees shaded fields of straw punctuated by bright red poppies, and aisles of Chianti grapes marched forever up every hill. On every day, in every corner turned, a new discovery was made; with every museum entered or church visited, there were thousands of other events that reached out to be remembered. As the seasons turned, leaves blew at my feet and, eventually, the rains of fall arrived. My hope was for this beautiful land and her people to teach me, to show me new sights, new sounds, to renew a tired soul. The Italians, as they always have done, welcomed me in.
This book is my gift to Italy and to those of you who love her. It is my hope that a poetic soul will be discovered, and that you will find within these pages some deeper understanding of what makes this place rest so powerfully, yet so softly, upon our hearts. To those who have yet to visit Italy, Tuscany in particular, it is my hope that you will be inspired to a moment when you simply say, "I must go."