There he was in his mother Mary’s arm, tucked away in a small notch in the ancient brick wall of our farmhouse, the baby Jesus. I knew I was home.
Seriously. What’s an atheist to do in Italy? Mary (at least I think it’s her within “him” it’s hard to know) is hanging over our bed and she does NOT look happy. I can never get over the influence of the Catholic Church no matter how often I’ve been to Italy. It dawned on me the other day, she got written out of the series. What happened to her after her son was killed? She had a MAJOR role in the narrative and then once Jesus disappears, so does she. Except there’s no explanation for her sudden disappearance! She didn’t even get a reoccurring role! Was her contact not renewed? Did people find her difficult to work with? What?! I asked around a bit. Nobody seemed to know. There’s a lot of Jesus in Italy. And I can’t see a Vespa without thinking of Eddie Izzard, saying “ciao” when he does his Italian imitation.
La Quiete il Vigneto, our home until June 17, is magical. It’s centered in the middle of a vineyard in the agritourism area, which mean nothing but fresh, local food. Miles of olive and wine vineyards and organic farms and gorgeous old farmhouses. The dogs are beyond themselves. Obviously dogs have an acute sense of smell, but I’ve never seen them like this. They walk around with their heads spinning in every direction, raising and burying their noses. It’s hilarious.
When I was growing up my parents would criticize me because I couldn’t take “no” for an answer. I still can’t. There are good parts of it and bad parts of that particular character trait. The good part landed us in our charming little farmhouse in the middle of a beautiful vineyard. The bad part landed me in ditch outside that charming farmhouse at 1 AM trying to picture on the lights of Cortona.
The Italians are so unlike Americans they might as well be from another galaxy. They are not driven by money. They’re not driven period. They simply want to live and enjoy life. When I’m in the States and see people lacking ambition, I feel judgmental. But here it seems to make perfect sense. Imagine two people lunching at URTH café when a lost turisto stops for directions. Would one of the people sitting lattes say “follow me?, jump into his truck (it would be a BMW) and take the lost turisto to Laurel Canyon?? HELL NO! Even if I wanted to take some poor lost soul to Laurel Canyon, I’d think about the traffic going up that hill (or down) and I’d draw the person a map.
Many people, and nations, are critical of Italy for this very thing. They’d say the guy who drove us here should have 1) been eating at his desk; 2) if eating away from office, should’ve been mindful of his one-hour lunch break. I know if was in the middle of a lunch or notes meeting and the person I was with got up and drove a lost tourist to their destination, I’d go mental.
Yet when I’m here and watching Italians live their lives, it all makes perfect sense. Mainly what I (and most of us) do is work and run errands and press buttons to try and get human beings on the telephone to deal with our endless list of frustrations and problems. Without exaggeration, I (and I can’t be the only one) spend two hours of every day dealing with problems not of my own making i.e. sitting in traffic, dealing with insurance, cars, bills, trying to get people on the phone, getting things repaired, trying to find a parking space, etc. And at the core most of those things are money related. We have to get the money to buy the things. I’m a MAJOR contributor to that mentality. But the moment I’m away from a culture that reinforces my worst instincts, I’m aware of how utterly insane a material life is. Americans travel less than ANYONE is the Western society. Why? Because we’re always working. What the hell are we all so busy working FOR anyway??? Certainly not vacations. I think it’s to pay taxes so the rich don’t have to. We’re the drones of capitalism. I’m not just throwing out some Marxist line. Think about it. There is more poverty, homelessness and more working poor than in our entire history. Those people have been marginalized and are hanging on by their fingernails. They can’t support the US because they can barely support themselves. But the Bros Koch, Trump, GE, etc. are living la vita locca! They don’t pay taxes. That leaves us. No wonder Americans are afraid to take a two-week vacation! Three weeks forget it. Four weeks you’re considered a missing person and the police move into action.
We went to get petrol for the car and there was nowhere to pay. We refused to believe that you pump your gas and then pay, but that’s exactly the situation. NOBODY would pump there gas and take off without paying. Even in small town America, you pay up front.
I happened to speak with an eight-year raised in the States . He moved to Italy a year ago. There are no schools anywhere near his family home, so he’s schooled on the Internet . I immediately rushed to judgment. He should be in school! But as I began to relate to him I saw that he speaks two languages fluently (more than I can say for myself or 99.9% of most Americans); he’s engaging and personable; sharp as a tack with a wicked sense of humor. I asked him which country he preferred. He replied, “I miss some of my friends in the States; but I prefer Italy. People aren’t rushing around all day. There’s never any tension and I get to spend time with family.”