After my first weekend trip to southern Italy during Easter weekend, I quickly realized I had the South all wrong. I associated it with the mafia, warmer weather, and cannolis, but any expectations stopped there.
In class, we discuss the southern small businesses that are forced to pay allowances to mafia members each month, just to insure the safety of their families and business.
The documentary Italy: Love It or Leave It showcased one Sicilian farmer who denied the mafia’s demands, suggesting there’s no progress in giving them what they want. As a result, the mafia burned his tractors and he was ostracized by his family and friends. It’s something few Americans are aware of; and no, watching The Godfather or Jersey Shore doesn’t count.
To our pleasant surprise, the Aeolian Islands welcomed us with warm weather Easter weekend, a post-hike picnic on a volcano, and a spontaneous Vespa cruise. We enjoyed cannolis courtesy of Alzo, the generous and chatty Sicilian fisherman, who only spoke Italian. He force fed us homemade cheese, poured us wine we didn’t request, and called his friend in Naples for me to talk to, also in Italian. So we got two out of three, but I’ll take wonderful people in lieu of the mafia any day.
This past weekend, my family ventured south to the small city of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Just like Alzo, what stands out the most for me is the people. They had days spent on the beach, amazing local seafood and a sunset private boat cruise to compete with, yet somehow that southern charm trumps all.
At breakfast one morning in Positano, we met thee Teresa, of our Bed and Breakfast, Casa Teresa. Thrilled to find out I speak un puo Italian, she quickly jumped into stories of her family and expressed genuine interest in our travels. Sure enough her daughter and son-in-law live in Wisconsin, which prompted her to get her iPad (tech savviness I underestimated of Teresa) and show us pictures of her granddaughter’s first communion.
This semester, we realized the Italians have a forceful approach to hospitality, which rang true here too. It’s not a matter of if you want to sit down, have more coffee or take their recommendations; before long you find yourself at a table with the best view, on your fourth caffé, and eating a meal the waiter ordered for you.
It brings a charming, although confusing, sense of security. Somehow in Italy, you’re always at home.
Once our time in Positano came to an end, we moved north to Naples to train further north to Cinque Terre. After rude encounters at dinner, a canceled train, and conniving taxi drivers, you could say Naples wasn’t the best experience. The details of this story could be a blog post of its own, but I think that’s the issue with vacations, or maybe humans in general. We allow one bad experience, one story of misfortune to overshadow all the beauty, adventure and laughter of our other experiences we are fortunate enough to have.
My biggest fear is coming to someone’s mind and having their last memory of me being a negative one. Similarly, I fear when my family returns to the US, the first story they will tell is that of their disastrous time in Naples- despite the historical tours of Rome, the stunning scenery of Positano and the delightfully tiring hikes in Cinque Terre.
Things can’t always go as we expect, and if they did I’m not sure we would appreciate the reliability life offered. However, recognizing and valuing the wonderful aspects of any day, vacation or life in general, takes the edge off surprises. In my case, the greatest photo-ops tend to not work out- but to be in Italy with my family, have gelato two blocks away and getting to laugh together over all my awkward photos, is something that makes this day, vacation and life, one I wouldn’t change for the world.