Monday, February 1, 2016

Elevate the Senses

Elevate the Senses
Gino the Wine Knower
Returning from a month in Italy, most friends asked, "Was it great?" Expecting a yes answer they quickly moved on to the next topic. Others were more curious, wanting to learn more about the trip.  When they asked "What was the best thing you saw or did in Italy?" it would have been easy to say Florence, or Sorrento, or Tuscany. Instead I had to stop and reflect on not just the journey, but the experiences that wove themselves into my being and which now present as the best things about Italy.
It began with Gino who was known in Tuscany as a "wine-maker" but who called himself a "wine-knower."Reverently touching the vines he said "God and nature make the wine. Only by observing nature, the sky, the earth, the wind and the water do you know the wine." He continued, "Wine is not liquid. Rather wine is the heat of the sun, and the womb of the earth which produces the wine in this sacred valley where grapes were first discovered 2,600 years ago." 

Gino felt the drinking of wine should be a slow and holy journey.  And indeed, his wine stories were a metaphor on living a conscious life.  He asked, "Why do you race to the end of the
Four Generations of Gelato Makers
journey?  If you do, it's quickly over!  Go slowly and enjoy the pleasure of the trip. Bring all your senses into every experience and elevate each sense along the way. Smell the musk of the earth that produced the wine.  See the crimson color created by the chill air.  Hear the tone of the liquid as it's poured into a glass.  And feel the tingle at the back of the tongue as you taste it. That is how you become a knower of wine!"

Gino was the first of many Italians we met who said the same thing, delivered a similar message, and made you realize the Italians really do live like this. Theirs is a modern country, yet their lives are tied to the old ways - the elements, to the cycles of the moon and sun for planting, and the tides that come in and out. They do this as a matter of course, and without fanfare.  They do not rush about.  They take each day, each hour, each moment for what it presents. Every day they go to market for fresh produce or meats. The are restored in a three hour rest mid-day when stores close and dinner is served.  They work hard but
Family Sunday Dinners
take rest as needed.

The hearts of the Italian people are tied to their relationships with family and friends.  We learned Sunday was family day across Italy. Nothing interrupts Sunday meal gatherings that span several generations.  Yet, with warm hearts they invited us into their family celebrations. Seated at an open air restaurant by the Bay of Naples, we shared food and drink with them.  We were strangers, yet they offered us appetizers and tastes of food off their plates, along with glasses of Limoncello.  With my broken Italian and their broken English we laughed and talked and felt part of an extended family though we were far away from our own.

What was the best thing about Italy?  The people!  In Tuscany, we remember a "wine-knower" who was really a philosopher. In Sorrento we remember afternoons spent with a shop owner who told us her life story and called us "her angels."  Also in Sorrento, we remember four generations of gelato makers, learning about their religious faith, the loss of a child, and the joys of being a
Laura & Luca's Shop
large family. In Rome, we got taken for a ride by an unscrupulous taxi driver.  But he was overshadowed when Zina (an Italian warrior princess) came to our rescue, driving us around Rome at a fair price then picking us up at dawn to go to the airport so we wouldn't get caught by another unregistered taxi. These were the people who were the best thing about Italy.

Like Gino said, we experienced a most holy journey.  It was one we took slowly with elevated senses.  We touched the core of the people and their land.  We were embedded with them, their families and their stories.  Now, each of those treasured moments and the people who brought them to life are forever etched in our hearts.  On Valentine's Day we especially remember them.