Italy is a place where one loses and finds oneself in equal measure. It has long been my contention that people feel so drawn to Italy because we are all vulnerable to seduction. With natural wonders that border on the sublime, a gastronomic and enological culture that defies every imagination of what food and wine can be, and a sense of kindness that grasps the heart, Italy is not short on seductive tricks up its very beautiful sleeve.
We spent a decade here, drawn by a calling to eschew the boardrooms and city life. We worked harder than either of us ever thought we could doing things of which neither of us thought we were capable. We came to understand that you can feel physical pain from the top of your head to the souls of your feet simply by supplying yourself with firewood - if you have to cut it yourself. We learned, from people who kindly befriended us, what it means, truly means, to live with the seasons and never to underestimate the power and wrath of nature.
We learned how to be with each other, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without pushing each other's buttons to the point where one of us would actually leave. Believe me, that is no easy feat, even in the best of relationships.
We came to learn that hard work comes in no relation to money earned, and that the hardest workers in the country side don't feel as though they are owed anything. We came to learn that we were no more or less entitled to anything simply because we came to fulfill a certain desire to be independent in a beautiful place - we would have to work just as hard, if not harder, than the person who makes his sustenance by planting potatoes and harvesting a couple of acres of grapes.
We learned that people have always struggled, and will always struggle, and it's what you do with that struggle that will determine what kind of person you are. We learned that people who struggle the most often have the greatest sense of empathy for the struggle of others, and are the most willing to make a plate of pasta and pour a glass of wine for others in need of it.
We learned we didn't miss boardrooms, or meetings, or getting up in the morning to have to go to a place where we had no real stake in the process, other than what it paid us. We considered ourselves inordinately lucky as a result.
But Italy pushed us. It prodded us, and sometimes, it tortured us. We were willing to throw ourselves into the task of being students, and often, too often, it ate up large parts of us. As time went on there, we knew that the lifestyle we lived would too challenging for us to continue forever.
But that doesn't mean it didn't hurt like hell to leave.
I will never be the same person I was before I went to Italy. It took me right up to the very edge of my limits. Sometimes I stepped beyond my own limits, and I dealt with the consequences of it. My health, both physical and emotional, suffered. Now, almost two years after selling our home there, I have had a time to rest and distance myself from the hard work, the brutally equalizing nature, the unending uncertainty of the harsh economic situation the country still finds itself in, and I can see, with ever increasing clarity, the magic that seduced me so completely.
And I miss it. I miss it in the depths of darkest and brightest corners of my soul. And just to be able to know that kind of longing makes me eternally grateful that Italy seduced us in the first place.
We leave in a few days for Piemonte, and I will once again be able to hold the hills in my closest heart as the farmers harvest the grapes.