Every September, Peter and I return to school and travel from our seats as we immerse ourselves in cinematic stories from around the globe. At TIFF, we attempt to make sense of our chaotic world. Does it work? My brain is always jumping during the festival, that I know. This year, we attended the first half of TIFF (read here for my picks), then flew to Europe for a special family event and our own anniversary. Celebrating thirty years together in Italy seemed impossible in the heart of lockdowns. Yet here we were!
Jet lag is a bitch; swiftly tamed by the jolt of new vistas unfolding before you. Montepulciano. Monticchiello. Pienza. San Gimignano. Florence. Lucca. Greve in Chianti. Siena. Montalcino. Rome. Magnificence was our banquet, but our surest delight came from sharing the limpid light of Tuscany with my eldest daughter, Kate and her partner, Nico, who live and work in Paris. Like us, they began their visit to Italy for a magical family wedding in a dreamy setting, the wedding of my niece Caileigh Langford to her Aussie partner Sam Lavery. The pandemic moved these nuptials through one calendar year than another. That we could be there for their triumphant moment was fortune smiling upon us. Renaissance artists must have painted the sky surrounding us at their beautiful outdoor wedding dinner.
Young love, indeed, is a contagion.
Medieval towns and marble ruins. Prosciutto paninis. Sumptuous sunsets and ancient church bells. An ode to Puccini’s Women sung in the great composer’s hometown. Living history. Rural landscapes with rows and rows and rows of wineries and olive trees older than time itself. Grand allées of tall pencil cypress trees, curving hills and seducing us at every turn.
But what of the food, you ask? Of course, nothing is surprising in discovering the wealth of wine and pasta in these parts, but dammit, it sure goes down easy.
September is an excellent time to travel, we hear. You won’t have the heat. But we will have millions of tourists, all of us avoiding (by the narrowest margins) the madcap circus of scooters, Vespas, and cab drivers. Crowds usually don’t deter me: oohing and aahing at the fireworks on the Toronto beach, inside a sports arena, cheering until my voice is hoarse. At a concert in August, I was belting it out with all the rest of the Alicia Keys fans at her Toronto concert. Watching movies in a crowded movie theatre is always a kick. I feel at ease in large gatherings. But in Florence, we navigated narrow sidewalks on narrower streets choked with visitors and elbows and air space as I tried to get close to paintings I have waited my whole life to see up close. In Rome, inside the Vatican museums, we ceased being individuals but instead one human stream shuffling along the vast corridors of opulence. In these moments, there was something entirely claustrophobic in how I interacted with all of this potent culture, even though most of the time, my thrill of being there trumped everything else. Travelling anywhere is precious post the wretched pandemic. Italy’s income from tourism is expected to reach €17 billion from the 2022 summer tourist season alone.
What moved me?
For many of our days, we put ourselves in the hands of a series of brilliant Italian tour guides: artists and scholars, a savvy young anthropologist here: a witty writer there, one who managed to take us through the vast Colosseum of Rome and keep our group, including a young boy, enthralled for several hours from start to finish.
The gladiators? Think of Broadway with blood.
Art, art, and more art. Absorbing masterpieces, one after another. The sculptures by the brilliant Bernini in the Borghese Gallery were my last and most cherished outing.
Career wait staff beamed as they poured our
medicine wine and unveiled deliciousness in every region we travelled.
The immense pride of cab drivers, pointing out landmarks and dishing politics with my other half. Italians don’t vote with their minds; they vote with their wallets, lamented one. (We were there for a sobering election result).
At an intimate wine resort, we met three other couples celebrating their thirtieth year of marriage; all hailed from Toronto. Can you hear the glass clinking as we toasted one another?
Are you Canadian? Lucky you, says one American couple we met outside a café in Rome.
On another afternoon in Chianti, we shared a long banquet table with strangers who ceased to be such within minutes: six were brothers who lived in different cities but managed to make a trip once a year together: instant party.
The ceiling in our hotel room in Florence.
First order of business upon arriving home: Paint a fresco on all our ceilings. I need to channel some Michelangelo and stare up at something celestial. Secondly, spruce up my vocabulary now that we are again in the land of skyscrapers. Most of my language while visiting Italy was reduced to “Wow! Wow!” and” Wow!” To visit Italy is to be awed and amazed. Wrapping ourselves in this magnificent culture (and copious amounts of wine) was an easy chapter in our long marriage.
If this is thirty years, we’ll take another, thanks.
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