You stole my heart a long time ago. You wrapped me up in your magic and swept me off my feet. From the moment I first set eyes on the Amalfi coast, the glistening Mediterranean sea sweeping round the coast sparkling in the sunshine, oozing with Italian class as speed boats glided along the coastline, I knew it could be the real thing. I don’t know what made me fall in love, perhaps it was your charm as I watched people shouting ‘Ciaooo!’ as they passed friends in the street, or watching locals talk with such passion that every sentence was accompanied by arms being flailed around, or the madness of drivers out of Naples beeping their horns, the sound and smell of vespas whizzing by with gorgeous Italians on board, OR perhaps it was PASTA!
Year after year I returned to see you with my parents, we explored regions from Puglia to Tuscany, and to the lakes in Lombardy, but eventually it was summer in Sardinia that I fell harder than I had before! I always say ‘my heart is in Sardinia’ and it’s true, it’s my happy place – the sea, the mountains, the food, the passion of the island, it caught me. Summer 2006 is etched in my mind as one of those fabulous summers, the kind I’ll talk about until I’m old and grey; at 21 it was my dream to finish uni and live with my love, Italy, how was I going to do that? I landed myself a job as a holiday rep and where better to be posted than the stunning island of Sardinia. I couldn’t wait, I used to read and re-read the Citalia brochure and imagine myself living out my days there with you. Of course, like any love affair it wasn’t all smooth-going, I quickly realised I didn’t talk your language of love (not well anyway), I didn’t know anyone and I was indeed, alone. It wasn’t long though before I was yelling ciao! across the piazza and speaking in broken italian to friends around the little town of Pula that fast became home.
I remember speaking to my mum and telling her “I don’t miss anything’, I embraced your lifestyle from morning to night, day in, day out. I took my cappuccino with a cornetto con marmellata (my favourite!), if it was after 11 it was always un cafe (an espresso) so I wasn’t frowned at by my friends, I learnt to eat spaghetti with just a fork, I never went for dinner before 9pm, evenings always started with aperitivo, I abandoned my car with reckless abandon on streets and pavements – “I’m in Italy!” I would declare. I welcomed both family and friends with love and passion and showed them the way of life you had shown me, in this little gem I uncovered in the south of Sardinia.
My friends in Sardinia knew how much your island resonated with me, they knew I wanted to live and breathe it for evermore, saying goodbye that summer wasn’t easy, but I know whenever I return they are there waiting for me – waiting to greet me with Ciao Kate! Come va? like I never went away.
Italy does that though, if you let it. If you embrace the lifestyle it will embrace you back with the warmest abbracci e baci. Your heart will flutter at the sound of someone speaking Italian, it will catch you unaware, on a tube, in a quiet cafe, in a queue – it will make you smile with a warm glow, and you’ll transport yourself momentarily to a piazza con un bicchiere di vino, watching the world go by with the Mediterranean sun beating down on you, even on the coldest winter days.
I suppose my Love Letter to you wouldn’t be complete without talking about the food… your combination of simple ingredients, with sun rich produce is a combination that can’t be beaten, throw in great wine and the Italian way at meal times and you’ve got a match made in heaven. From long, leisurely lunches to grabbing un gelato – everything is perfect!
My life wouldn’t be complete without pasta, the different shapes, sauces and pairings – I try to recreate a bowl of all this goodness in my kitchen every week. My kitchen shelves are full with Italian recipe books, pasta shapes, flour, olive oil, olives, and much more of your fabulous produce, not to mention the wine rack!
I suppose there isn’t much left to say, except Italy, you will always be my greatest love.
Grazie mille, ti amo.