Wednesday, 8 April 2009


I placed my hand on the dusty wall, one finger lying directly over a crack in the faded plaster. The spot had warmed to blood temperature by the morning sun crawling over the apricot rooftops. I gazed at the broken off corners of palazzo balconies and marvelled at the iron work on doors leading to secret, hidden courtyards spilling over with flowers. My feet followed the polished cobbles set in fans spreading beneath the soles of my shoes. It was quiet enough to hear the gentle slump of a cat turning in a sun spot through an open window and somewhere far away a radio chattered like birdsong.

This is my Italy.

The Italy I fell in love with as a student on a year's secondment. Exiled from the familiarity of London to an alien country where I barely spoke the language and which I saw for the first time from an aeroplane window as we descended over the Dolomite Mountains.

My Italy. Which charmed me, excited me and stilled me all at the same time.

I lived in a small, nondescript town, famous only as the birthplace of Mussolini. Nearly destroyed during the war, first by the Germans and then by the British it had regrown the way ivy does. Crawling back through marble and concrete to quietly sit again.

I changed that year. Slowly and imperceptibly Italy crept into the very bones of me. I became braver, and stronger and simply more than I believed I could be. I met people who inspired and intrigued me. I learnt to listen.

When I left, Italy came with me, in the gestures I make, the way I feed my friends and family, the life I lead and I kept coming back.

It is where my husband I decided, hesitantly, in promises, dreams and hopes that we would marry, start a family of our own and eventually in our dotage, we would return to Italy to spend our days.

My heart fractured for the people of Abruzzo this week, their lost loved ones and broken homes. The fear on their faces that only a force of nature visiting its fury upon you can bring. It is an indescribable tragedy, but I know that once again, like ivy, the towns and people will quietly, gently grow back through marble and concrete.

It's what Italians do, its what Italy does.

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