God created love in Italy. He created love for beauty in Tuscany, love for life in Rome and love for food in Sicily. And because God is love, I believe that God still lives in Italy. Which I guess explains why the country is so divine.
Italy is far from perfect but there is beauty even in its imperfections.
Take Sicily for instance with all its well-documented problems. She is like a Contessa who fell on hard times, or a stunning actress who hit a rough patch. You can still see the inescapable beauty behind the unpolished exterior. And you do not have to even look that hard. There is a common link between the villages in the mountains, the seaside towns, and the major cities on this island. And no, it is not the Mafia. It is the Sicilians’ appreciation of the simple things in life. Their food, in my opinion, is the best cuisine in the world, unpretentious and uncomplicated. If you have not tasted the sea food platters of Aci Trezza or the ricotta cannoli from Catania, then your life is not yet complete. The Sicilians will be the first to complain about the daily hardship of living in a maladministered region, but they will never disrespect their land.
The same can be said about Rome whose days at the helm of an empire are long gone but never forgotten, not least by the Romans who still consider themselves as a cut above the rest. I do not blame them. I envy them. For I would feel special if I woke up every morning to be greeted by those magnificent cupolas reaching out to the blue sky, if I sauntered on cobbled streets, built during the emperors’ reign, to have my first espresso of the day or if I have the luxury of sitting in a church and admiring works such as Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Michelangelo’s Moses, or The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio. There is art everywhere in Rome. It is omnipresent like the Church.
Enchanting as Rome is, the capital was not my first love. Florence was the city that stole my heart. It is the city of Da Vinci and Michelangelo, of the Medici and the Uffizi. It is also home for arguably the best steak in the world. Florence is the birthplace of calcio storico, a distant relative of the game of football. It remained my favourite Italian city for years until I toured Rome with my father. If you happen to be driving out of Florence, I strongly suggest that you do a pit-stop in Arezzo, a walled city known as the city of gold and high fashion. Benigni’s La Vita è Bella was filmed there.
I have a thousand memories from my days in Italy and a million reasons which compel me to visit again and again.