While visiting Italy twelve years ago, I learned that using my time wisely in a new place didn’t necessarily mean getting a lot accomplished each day. There was much to see and do in each city my husband and I visited, however, it was not the amount of popular sights we trekked to that made us feel like our trip was worthwhile. Instead, I felt more gratified after spending the day navigating unfamiliar streets, buses, and train stations; communicating with people who didn’t speak my language; noticing the differences in architecture and dress and interactions of the locals.
There were so many small and unique details packed into each day, and I felt like the beauty of my time there was simply in noticing them.
One of my favorite experiences in Italy was the day we arrived in Rome. After finding our pension, and taking the rickety, old-fashioned elevator up to the fifth floor to drop off our backpacks in our room, my husband and I headed out to explore the city. We took the address of our pension along, so we could find our way back, and then hopped aboard the first bus we saw, throwing caution to the wind. Our ride was a lurching and sweaty introduction to the city, nevertheless, we would have stayed on there much longer if our stomachs weren’t grumbling from hunger.
We hopped off at the next stop, figuring there must be some place nearby to eat, but soon realized the area we had landed in was not terribly commercial. We went into the only store we could find—a tiny corner grocery mart—and mimed our request for a ristorante.
The store clerk motioned us outside and around the corner, or so we thought until we ended up in a desolate cobblestone alley. I was already backtracking, scanning for another bus to flag down, when my husband said, “Let’s just look.”
I nervously followed him down the darkening alley, and sure enough, there was an unmarked glass door halfway along, with twenty or so cloth-draped tables inside. When we entered, we were the only customers, so we tried to ask in our slowly-improving English/Italian mash-up if they were actually open. The waiter nodded many times and seated us. Before long, a group of men in suits entered and sat at a long table together. They were of mixed ages and wrapped their arms over each other’s shoulders as though they were family. We enjoyed watching them and speculating on whether they were actually family, or a group of businessmen. My husband even suggested the mafia.
Soon the wine came, and then the bread and pasta. We were getting quite full, so were surprised when our waiter, in broken English, asked us what we would like for our main course. I guess a filling pasta meal is only an appetizer in Italy! Even though the waiter looked at us a little funny, he agreed that we could skip the main course and go straight on to dessert. The meal wasn’t cheap, but the atmosphere was one of the richest memories we brought back from our trip. That, and the memory of the best tiramisu we have ever tasted.
Reflecting on this trip never ceases to remind me of all the little moments in life that can be so impactful if I only take notice of them. Because of this, even though Italy has a vast amount of land and architecture and historic sights to see, I’ll always think of it as My Little Italy.
About the Author: Denise Jaden is the author of critically-acclaimed fiction for young adults and nonfiction for writers. Besides writing, she enjoys traveling, homeschooling her young son, and dancing with a Polynesian dance troupe.
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