Italy - My Family Travels

Whenever asked, “Where is the one place you would travel if you could go anywhere in the world,” I would always answer, “Italy”. Not only do I love the carbohydrate-laden food, but the Roman history entrances me. The only thing I was worried about was interacting with the Italians themselves. Of the little I’d heard about Italians, their boisterous attitudes and steadfast loyalty to family seemed to leave no room for outsiders.

Upon arriving in Italy, I was immediately attracted to the beautiful countryside but hesitant to break my way into a culture I thought had such an exclusive vibe. Pair my hesitance with my limited knowledge of the language—I only learned how to say, “Look, fire!”—and you end up with a shy girl not ready to take on a new culture.

But take on Italy I did. The Italians were helpful and patient with me as I struggled through gelato orders and asking for directions. But despite their friendliness, I still felt like an outsider not yet accepted into the club.

After a family argument in Cortona that left tears and separate restaurants in its wake, I was in a horrible mood. Walking back from dinner to meet up with family I was struck with the most unexpectedly magical moment.

Part of my family decided to walk to the top of Cortona to “see the sights”. After five minutes of hiking and getting no closer to the top, I told them I’d wait on some steps until they returned.

It was about ten at night at this point and I was so exhausted from the day of sightseeing and the recent arguing that I lay down at the base of the steps. I looked up into the clear sky dotted with stars and sighed with happiness. Despite the horrible day, I was in Italy—a place I’d always dreamed of visiting.

As I took in my surroundings, my eyes drifted to the nearest building. To my surprise, a woman was staring back at me in wonder. We took each other in for the briefest of seconds before both looking away. At that moment, I felt like we were the only two beings in the whole town, curiously surveying each other.

The not-so-subtle glances we exchanged took in more than just appearances. We appraised each other as foreigner versus native but for the first time on my trip, I felt like I was being accepted—welcomed—into a culture so foreign to my own. After those few calculating seconds, she withdrew from the window into her house but I still felt her presence by the window. It was strange but exhilarating to see someone who was as curious about me as I was about her. I was so thrilled from that moment of acceptance that I began to hum one of the piano songs I had been practicing before I left. For the whole ten minutes my family was gone, I kept humming and still felt her presence beside the window, listening. Although my voice was barely higher than a whisper, it rang clear in the utter silence that enveloped us. All too soon, the voices of my family interrupted my humming and the moment was broken.

As we left, I felt so thankful for the brief glimpse into another life. The woman’s gesture, however small, has left a resounding impact on how I view Italians. She could have glared at me for intruding on her quiet street so late at night but she didn’t. She was just as amazed by me as I was by her.

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