Sunday, April 30, 2023

Italy is Ready For You – Are You Ready for Italy?

Recently I returned to Italy, after an absence of four years – for me, the longest interlude in a generation. It couldn’t be helped. There was Covid, of course, which altered everyone’s life on the planet. But there were subtle factors; health, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the economic turbulence in the world. And the reality that Italy was hit hard by the pandemic and I wanted to give it enough time for them to recover and be ready for visitors.

Well, they’re ready for you – but are you ready for Italy?

I say this in earnest, because in my travels recently, I noticed a lot of tourists back in Italy. I also noticed a lot of confusion. Of course, that could also be blamed on where I was - Venice - which can be challenging to get around, for those who don’t know the ins and outs of this village, or who are not acclimated to the kind of peripatetic roving this car-less burg insists upon.

In any case, I as well, found myself lost, more than once. But this time it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to be anywhere.

Well, that’s not 100% accurate. I was there for a photography workshop. There were times when I did need to be somewhere and at a particular time. But that was part of the plan. For the rest of the time, I was on my own.

This time was different, though. I’ve been to Venice a handful of times since 1985. But every time was in service to the wine trade. So, I was either taking clients around, or staff, or meeting suppliers there, on our way to Prosecco Land or somewhere else in the Veneto region. In fact, in the last 50 some odd years of traveling to Italy, this was the first time since 1977 that I wasn’t in Italy somehow attached to wine. 57 times prior to 2023, all for wine. This time, number 60, was for the next chapter.

That being, a bit of a throwback, as photography came to me long before wine did. It was an early passion and has remained so throughout my life. It has informed me, even as I was trudging along wet winery hallways, sloshing along from one stainless steel tank to another. What churches and cathedrals are to tourists, the stainless-steel tanks were to us wine geeks. Fortunately, I can forgo any more inox silos from here on, unless I find them graphically interesting.

And I might. But in the meantime, the world of images is back in my viewfinder.

What did I learn in Venice this time? Not much, wine wise, although I did savor wine at lunch and dinner. There was this quirky little wine bar not far from my hotel, Ozio, which specializes in natural wine. It was there I sipped on a couple of Sicilian wines, the Flavia Allè Catarratto-Zibibbo and the Flavia Alfarà “skin contact,” both tasty, dry and most suitable as a legitimate alternate to the ubiquitous spritz cocktail that permeates the Veneto.

The rest of my wine imbibing involved mostly whites from the Veneto, along with the occasional interloper from Marche or Abruzzo. All very simple wines to go with the seafood, which is my soft spot, when I get anywhere near the Adriatic. Oh, and the seasonal produce, although one would say the vegetables in season right now, namely asparagus and artichokes, offer more than their share of challenges when pairing with wine. I brooked those streams with the necessary tolerance. I was in Italy, after all. I could endure it, with pleasure.

For me, it was a moment to savor, visually. Tourism in Venice wasn’t quite at its peak, yet. The weather was cool and pleasant. The locals hadn’t tired of the tourists yet, tolerating us in their typical Venetian manner. Which is to say, they live here, we don’t. We will leave, they will stay. It will always be their Venice, not ours. As it should be.

I love Venice, as much as I can love any urban setting, for its lack of cars and hubbub. Step 100 meters away from St. Mark’s square, and one can find the quiet, almost deserted little village that makes Venice so appealable to locals and tourist alike. I should say, tourists who appreciate an Italy not made solely for tourism.

So, what should one do to be ready for Italy?   

Try not to conquer Italy in one fell swoop. Savor it slowly. Go to one place, maybe two, and sink in. Find a morning shop where you get your coffee and pastry. Try and soak up some of the local (and usually ancient) culture, but don’t lose sight of the moment. Take time to sit on a bench in a park and watch the birds and the dogs and the children living life out in the open.

Eating is important, but if you don’t get into that highly-rated place all your friends are talking about, so what? Walk down the road, take a right, and then a left and find something no one knows about which only the locals do. Walk in, tell them you don’t have a reservation and they will either tell you it’s no problem or they will tell you when to come back. In any case, you won’t starve. And you might run into something even better than your pages of recos. I did. Just by happenstance. In Venice, which can be quicksand for tourists. Use your gut, listen to your heart.

Look, the Italians lost nearly 200,000 of their people to Covid, and 25 million have had the disease, so far. I lost friends in Italy, people I will never see or talk to or drink wine with, ever again. Do not think that this did not affect them, or us for that matter. It was momentous. That we can travel now and pick our lives back up is no little thing. So, when you complain about Wi-Fi in your room or the wine doesn’t arrive to your table soon enough, or the hotel is more expensive than it was five years ago, or the gelateria is out of gianduja gelato, take a breath. You made it. You’re alive. You won. Be the graceful winner. And let Italy be Italy, once again.


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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