I have just returned from a family holiday in Italy……and it was a new experience for us. With our kids all leaving behind the toddler years and firmly established as schoolchildren, we were slightly more adventurous than in the past and joined school friends of our kids and their Italian family for an authentic experience of Northern Italy and La Dolce Vita, “the sweet life”.
At the foot of the Dolomites, Arsiè (pop. 2,500) exhibits a collective contentment. As with even the smallest communities in this hospitable and picturesque country, there is a piazza, a church, a school and a football pitch. Much of your shopping is done by picking fruit and vegetables from your allotment, or a daily walk to the bakery for your bread……no sign of the Ocado delivery van here! Everyone knows everyone, and they stop to chat. As I open my window in the morning, on to the sprawling fields rolling in to the distant mountains, I notice local folk beginning their day……it’s early but they are not in a rush!
Our friend’s parents live 10 minutes up the mountain, a short, slow winding drive up and away from the town. There is a consistent trickle of visitors dropping in to the old couple, and they all get the same treatment whatever the time of day. A glass of homemade wine or Prosecco, a short strong cup of Moka coffee, and food……always food on the stove ready to feed anyone within speaking distance of the kitchen. It’s clear why, as a Jewish family we have been drawn to our Italian friends. Food, drink, hospitality, the unbreakable family bond…….and lots of chat! We felt at home straight away.
The kids build tree houses, play with sticks and homemade bow and arrows, and with acres of green space to use, run around a lot. Our friend’s 93 year old father is out every morning with his wife picking vegetables, catching up with the locals in the little piazza over a coffee and checking on their kids and their guests from London!
And the wonderful thing about the life of this small Italian community is the natural tendency to communicate with each other. No texting or using Whatsapp to let you know what they’re up to, or checking in on social media. Just pop in, share a drink and chat face to face, talking to you, making eye contact, engaging in conversation. They do have phones, they do have internet, and they do have TV, but they value the importance of human interaction.
We mixed up our time and also enjoyed a few days at the beach (and visiting the beautiful town of Caorle), at the lakes, visiting Venice, Padova, dropping in on a Prosecco vineyard and climbing mountains. By spending much of our time out of the big cities though, we were lucky enough to experience the individuality both of the towns and villages throughout this beautiful Italian region and within them, from building to building. Even in the building of their houses it’s so refreshing to see the freedom of expression and creativity.
I don’t think this is necessarily an Italian thing. If you venture out to the rural areas in the UK you will find countless charming villages in beautiful countryside with equally friendly locals living life at a slower pace, appreciating the natural environment they live in and the benefits of personal communication with those around them.
So, are we really so busy connecting with the whole planet via our various devices and communication channels, that we don’t have time to notice, and connect with what is right in front of our eyes? Don’t have time to look into another person’s eyes and engage in meaningful conversation?
Find the time to appreciate what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste right in front of you. “Virtual” is a very apt description, but do you want your experiences to be second hand, “not quite as described”, or would you rather have the real thing?
I know I would rather have my La Dolce Vita.