…and what my Italian friends taught me about reconnecting
Saying I Miss Travel is an Understatement:
If you feel like I do, saying you miss travel is a HUGE understatement. I tried as hard as I could to keep my dreams going but over the last 2 years I have planned and canceled 6 trips to Europe. It felt like someone kept sucking the air out of my lungs…and I’m not being dramatic.
Last September things seemed to be clearing up a bit, so I thought I would go ahead and give it a shot! Planning was nerve-racking and a week before my trip, they changed the rules on COVID tests coming in and out of the country. It couldn’t be just me, right? The Italians had to be unsettled by all of this too? I’d been in contact with some American friends and some UK friends and we all planned to meet in our favorite small town in Tuscany. It’d been WAY too long…actually 2017 since I’d seen one of the couples and a solid 2 years of basic isolation for all others.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy during the last few decades, and I was so ready but I never expected this return to inspire me in the ways that it did.In General Italy has done a great job of trudging through these past 2 years. They are resilient and hardworking people but they will also always do their best to make sure they take every possible moment to enjoy their lives. They wore masks where required and they checked my vaccination card for indoor dining and museums, but it all seemed very matter-of-fact. In our country, the pandemic has been so polarizing that we seem a little freaked out! Not the Italians, just relaxed as usual about the constant changes. They are figuring it out just like the rest of us and I’m sure they will be ready and standing strong when the time comes to get back to normal.
I had missed all of my ex-pat and Italian friends; restaurant owners, hoteliers, artists and writers. Some of them are just great characters, but what I learned is that they have REALLY missed us too. Not necessarily missed us filling seats in their restaurants and beds in hotels, but missed us as human beings. I’ve attended their weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties, (we had a great outdoor birthday party while I was there) these are people that I have strong connection with. I know now that seeing me show up in their small town was also a sign to them that things MAY be getting back to normal and the sense of community was stronger than ever. I’m sure that there are a lot of Europeans that are glad that tourism is slow and I get that.. but I will also say for the most part, that they have genuinely missed us.
On my way out of Tuscany, I stopped in a leather store that I love and frequent in Lucca called Officina Della Pelle, to shop and say hello to the owners. They have been super kind and generous to the groups I’ve brought in over the years. They were so excited to see me that one brother called the other to ride his bike down from their other shop to say hello! We took photos and chatted, then they closed up shop to go have lunch with their father. Later that day I got a message on FB from an Italian friend I hadn’t seen in years saying “I thought I saw you in Lucca today but when I turned around, you were gone.” I don’t know about you, but those things don’t happen to me most days.
Without a doubt, this trip was more special than others, hugs were long and so were conversations; it was like saying “We made it!” We stayed up too late, probably drank too much at least once and laughed until our cheeks hurt. Being together in these uncertain times made things seem easier. My friends are “real” people, like me. They share their family lives with me, their ideas and stories. Each of them is special to me in some way. Maybe what is most inspiring is the way they care for each other; Italians are relationship-oriented people, and they reminded me how important it really is to spend moments with those you care for. Reconnecting with friends, face to face is important. THAT’S really what this trip was all about.