The doors in the Florence airport fling open as my big toe hits the mat in front of them. I’m momentarily dazed at their flagrant efficiency, and then chide myself for this typical North American attitude. Yes, they have sliding doors in Italy, too.
Standing on the hot pavement outside, I spy a sign displaying the temperature as 32 degrees, although it is 6:30 in the evening. I watch a bleached blonde girl join the taxi queue while smoking a cigarette and drinking a bottle of beer. Although the smell of cigarette is affronting, it is at the same time a refreshing sign that I have indeed changed continents.
My husband and children pick me up and we proceed to get lost for the next three hours in the Tuscan countryside as we look for the villa they have inhabited for the last three days. We navigate narrow roads void of center lines that look like one-way lanes, but yet lorries and boxy Italian cars fly past us going the other way. We circle round abouts again and again looking for the names of villages we recognize, and finally just guess on a direction after seeing none that are familiar.
Finally, dusty and hungry, we arrive at our villa, named La Torre, not far from the village of Panzano. It is 900 years old, and nestled amongst vineyards and olive trees, postcard perfect. It is split up into 5 apartments, and there are two other families staying on the property; one from Chicago and one from Germany. The Chicago family leaves early to explore different things each day and return late at night. The German family rarely leaves the property.
We are somewhere in between, taking small, short daytrips, but spending lots of time lounging by the pool. The German’s have an eleven-year old boy named Paul, who in desperation for a playmate turns to our three girls. He speaks no English, but after a day or so they are speaking the language of play; which here means various forms of ball, pool games, and cricket hunting in the vineyards. Their voices echo all over the property, bouncing off the medieval walls of the tower, as they call each others names.
It is curiously true that everything tastes better in Italy. The tomatoes are sweeter, the basil more lively, the parmesan more pungent. I was prepared for this. What is surprising to me is the aromas that you encounter.
Rosemary bushes are everywhere, their intense sweetness can be smelled long after they are out of sight. Lavendar plants send floral cues floating about the nearby atmosphere. Lounging under the shade of an olive tree the smell of sage is overwhelming. Taking our clothes down from the clothesline, the fresh mint in the field overwhelms the scent of fresh laundry.
Walking through the vineyards is to experience all of these scents mixed together, like living in an overgrown herb garden. A sensory pleasure, especially of the nasal sort.
The decision to travel to Europe this summer, en famille, was not a light hearted one. My children tend to complain loudly on any walk that is longer than the length of our driveway, so there’s that to consider.
And then the sheer expense of the sojourn – multiplying everything by 5′s was great when we were learning our multiplication tables, but when we’re talking dollars it can be painful and exorbitant. When people used to tell me, children are expensive, I was thinking more along the lines of the extra toothpaste requirements, not additional plane fares. Yowsers.
Yet we are dying to show our children places that we have fallen head over heels in love with, and France and Italy are chief among them. My husband is taking a rare sabbatical, six weeks off work, and so with such a luxurious amount of time – unprecedented and perhaps never to be repeated – we have decided to carpe diem.
Despite the fact that my six year-old tells me every night she wants to stay home and practice her new monkey bar skills, we are flying to London in a week. After a couple of days there we will be spending time in rural villages in Tuscany and Provence.
My nine year-old is most excited about the mere fact she will be leaving North America for the first time, while my eleven year-old is under the illusion she will be shopping in Paris.
I have attempted to play Italian language CD’s in my car to familiarize my kids with some basic words, but it’s been impossible to hear them over the peals of laughter from the backseat. Mature guys, very mature, I tell them. Then they laugh harder.
Which leads me to ponder whether or not they will appreciate the food, the culture, the language, or the lengths we are going to to show them these things. Children being children, I expect not.
I recognize we are lucky to be able to take this trip – it’s a huge privilege I am so thankful for. Yet when my friends ask me if I’m excited, I tell them excited might not be the best word. More like trepidatious, cautiously optimistic, fingers crossed, hoping for the best.
I have been a parent for long enough to realize this experience will certainly fall short of the Von Trapp’s dancing through the hills of Austria, yet hopefully rise above National Lampoon’s European Vacation. The Griswald’s set the bar pretty low, after all.
Exactly where our happy medium lies is yet to be seen, but come along for the ride for the next six weeks, and I’ll give you an idea.