Let’s Talk Italy

Portofino,  courtesy of istockphoto.com


I love Italy. I loved it from the moment I stepped from the southbound train onto the station platform and met a Canadian named Helen, a woman as lost in the language as I. We roomed together during her stint at the language school and became life-long friends. (To Helen Minshull, I dedicate these memories.) I loved Italy during the next two-plus years of studying in the small, Umbrian mountain town of Perugia.




Typical steps,  Perugia, courtesy of istockphoto.com

I’ve never been as fit as when I climbed the Perugian stairs from one level to the next in those long ago days before they installed an escalator from the car parks to the town center. And I’ve never eaten as well as I did there–and for pennies per meal. (I know, that was back in the day. I won’t tell you how little it cost me to study and live and eat…back in the day.)

Years later, I visited again when my daughter graduated from high school. Three years after that, Ariana studied for a semester in Firenze, and I returned to travel north with her to the Italian Riviera.

Much has changed in that glorious country, but much will always be the same. Have you visited yet? Have you met the friendly folk who go out of their way to help strangers? Have you allowed their language, the language of amore, to flow over you and lighten your smile?

Italy figures much in my stories. Sailing out of Darkness (to be released by WhiteFire Publishing in spring of 2013) uses a town just north of Portofino as the setting for half of the story. Ariana and I spent almost a week in Rapallo, the seaside town that influenced my creation of Reggio sul Mare as Teo Anderson’s ex-pat home.


Rapallo, Italy (courtesy of Discover the Trip)

Portofino by Stan Shebs

Reggio sul Mare is neither of these towns, and yet it is a bit of both. Sam sails these waters with new friends as she tries to recover from the past she left stateside. (To find out whether or not she succeeds, you’ll have to read the book!)

I’d love to hear about your trip to this magical place. Or the plans you have to visit. What do you like best about the country, about a particular area, a particular town? Won’t you leave a comment? Let’s talk Italy.





13 Replies to “Let’s Talk Italy”

  1. Your pictures make me want to go there! I’ve been to Italy, but my short stay didn’t take me out of Rome. Although I loved that city, I know I missed the jewels of the countryside and seacoast. Someday I’ll go back.

  2. Shortly after my 20th birthday, a friend and I took off for Great Britain and Europe. Never having traveled outside the USA and very little here, it was an endeavor that I worked and saved for over a year. Of course this drama queen left the comfort and shelter of her parents’ home to chase after a British film star who I saw and was greeted by on my final day of this nearly three month long trip.

    We traveled via Eurail Pass to Italy along the Riviera but didn’t stop until Venice. Loved Venice. Then to Rome where, unfortunately, we spent the evening inside after being followed incessantly by young Italian men and propositioned by an older man on the steps of Sistene Chapel. Another man exposed himself – my girlfriend saw “it”, I didn’t – while we walked through a pedestrian tunnel. 😉 Then we went to Florence, another lovely place. This was in the latter part of 1968 so I do imagine it’s changed. I didn’t get to see the added beauty of those little towns, but it was an amazing country. My grandparents who I never had the opportunity to meet came from the province of Lucca (where Venice is located). I’m proud to say I’m genuinely 1/2 Italian.
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    1. Oh, Nicole, you had the experience in Rome that I had on my first trip to Paris! I was 18 and alone and only wanted to hide out after that short fellow asked how much I charged for the night. I looked down at my deerskin boots, my long suede coat (it was December, and I’d buttoned to the hilt), and wondered what on earth made him think I was for sale. I was on the Boulevard St. Germain, in the student district, grinning madly because I was young and in Paris. (Do you think the grin is what did it?)

      But in Italy, I learned early how to deal with pappagalli, and no one suggested I looked like a street walker. The shopkeepers took me into their world and helped me learn the language. I grew accustomed to walking arm-in-arm with another female, as all the Italian girls did. I never wanted to leave.

      I hope you go back one day to visit the small towns. And then stay a while. Let the pace creep in and teach you to linger…

  3. Yes! We finally adopted that arm-in-arm walk together. So foreign to American girls in that era. (We won’t go there now.) I doubt it made us look any less American, but I think it helped. I would love to go again with my husband. Don’t know if that will come to pass in this current state of affairs . . .

    I think it wasn’t the grin, but the joy. Had to be American. Therefore: American tourists/girls are easy marks. Offer to pay them and voila! 😉
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    1. I hadn’t thought of that, Nicole, but I can see it from the perspective of now. Back then? I was young and scared in a very foreign city, unprepared. What I’d love to do is return to Italy with Michael. You and your Michael might do the same. How much different it would be for us now.

  4. Oh, yes, I am a big fan of Italy! There is so much beauty there, it’s almost unbearable (and I don’t mean the Italian men, although of course they believe they are the most gorgeous in the world). I have never been south of Rome, so I really want to go to Naples, Sicily and all of those places some day.
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  5. MarinaSofia, my brother and I took my little VW (summer of 1968) and drove south from Perugia. The Amalfi the coast is breathtaking–there’s no other word for it. We ate the best figs I’ve ever tasted and dribbled blood-orange juice down our chin… Such happy memories. Then we crossed the base of the boot to Brindisi and caught the ferry to Greece. I really must return, this time with my husband–who has yet to visit Europe. We had planned to sail there. Sigh.

    And you must see the southern bits. Perhaps in the frigid winter months?

  6. Gorgeous photos! I love Europe–the history and general feel that thousands of years of memories are steeped into the very landscape sets my internal antennae aquiver. I was stunned when Hubby and I received our first lunch bill–24,000 lira! Twenty-four thousand anything takes my breath away but it only accumulated to $13 US dollars. Rome has the most amazing ruins in the middle of modern architecture, the contrast creates another “I can look at this forever” moment. –And the food. Dear heavens. My fave is a zucchini blossom stuffed with goat cheese, breaded, and lightly fried. Fresh green olives sold by the elderly guy, pushing a handcart on the angel bridge, are delish. I learned to eat aged romano with wildflower honey while sipping wine in Tuscany. Someday, I’m going back and hanging out in a small town where I can learn how to bake bread in a wood oven. 🙂

    1. Ah, Denise, yes! In a restaurant near the Duomo in Firenze, my daughter and I ate wood-oven cooked pizza with zucchini flowers and arugula. I’d never had something so scrumptious. We then hunted mussel dishes as we traveled north, trying them out in restaurants small and large. My favorite? A small place in Rapallo that served mussels two ways. Ariana and I shared the dishes, dunked incredible bread in the broth, and moaned with pleasure.

      Back when I was a student there, the exchange rate was app. 625 lira to a dollar–so it wasn’t unusual to see clothing in the million-lira range.

  7. What you might like, Denise and other food lovers, would be a stint at one of the cooking schools. If I could afford it, that’s what I’d like to do. We stayed in a pensione just south of Firenze when my mama and step-father treated Ariana, her cousin, and me to a trip after the girls’ high school graduation. The pensione houses a cooking school, which also served as the restaurant. Such meals. Such incredible food.

  8. Ciao Dede (I only know you by this!)
    I too have very fond memories of Italy but Perugia especially……. Bar Turreno, Corso Vanucci, the passeggiata, your little VW that took us up those hills, out to Lake Trasimeno and that memorable trip to Gubbio and of course the vino. I never did get used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. You taught me so much about the art world and sculpture…..things that were not a part of my early education. Remember that wonderful word, ‘boh;’ the answer to so many questions. What heady idealistic days they were!! And of course it was where our paths crossed and maybe our paths will cross again before too long. I am looking forward to reading your new book in our autumn. Buon Natale.

  9. Ah, Lis, you and Faisal were my family, beloved forever even if we haven’t seen each other in more years than we had under us in those long-ago days. I remember it as if we’d just made the drives, just sipped the cappuccino, just eaten one of Faisal’s piselli e riso dishes or his fried vegetables, just learned about a larger world. Those holidays we spent! Dressing up and laughing together, all of us, silly and fun as we became an international community that cared about each other.

    I hate that we never sailed into Sydney Harbor so that we could invite you out to sup with us on Sea Venture. You know that the welcome mat is always out for you here. We’re just a (very long) plane ride away!

    Dede (aka Normandie)

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