Where hap­pi­ness is a way of life

The peo­ple are pro­grammed with the fun gene, and it’s what makes the coun­try so ap­peal­ing

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - with Ann Rickard

I’VE been dream­ing of Italy, and I want to go back there. Apart from a cou­ple of shore ex­cur­sions on a Mediter­ranean cruise last year, it has been too long since I have en­joyed the many dis­tinc­tive plea­sures of Italy.

To turn my Italy dreams into re­al­ity the first step is re­search. And how easy it is in to­day’s mar­vel­lously mod­ern world to click a mouse and be in­stantly trans­ported to the place of your dreams. It is also easy to be­come con­fused. There is much out there to con­tem­plate.

Should I do Tus­cany, visit hill­top vil­lages and min­gle with the lo­cals? Buy fat red toma­toes at the mar­kets and eat them be­neath the cy­press trees? Munch on slip­pery olives with a glass of chi­anti and then spit the pips into those cute lit­tle ce­ramic dishes that come to you in ev­ery Ital­ian bar?

Or hit the gal­leries in Pisa, Florence and Lucca and let da

Vinci and Michelan­gelo have their way with me? Or should I go to the south, the glo­ri­ous Amalfi coast and revel in Ravello and party in Posi­tano? Get on a vin­tage Vespa and zoom along the wind­ing coastal road (am I mad?) or bet­ter still, hop on a bus, stand up hang­ing on to a strap, and en­joy one of the most hair-rais­ing and scenic rides in the world?

It is es­pe­cially ex­cit­ing when the big buses meet each other head­long on the nar­row, twist­ing road. They have to slow right down and inch their way past each other with a hair-width be­tween them, and a ter­ri­fy­ing drop to the sea for the un­for­tu­nate bus on the coast side.

See how de­light­ful it is to dream of Italy?

Per­haps I should not fo­cus on one re­gion. Do all of Italy. Hire a car (al­ways a dare­devil act in this coun­try where ev­ery driver con­sid­ers him­self a For­mula One con­tender) and mo­tor from the top of Italy to the tip of its boot, stick­ing my head out the car win­dow, wav­ing my arms the­atri­cally shout­ing “mi scuzi, mi scuzi’’ when the Ital­ian driv­ers honk im­pa­tiently as I fum­ble my con­fused way through the toll booths on the au­tostrade.

Ev­ery­one who vis­its Italy has their own spe­cial mem­o­ries. My first time in Italy in the late 1960s I could not walk the streets with­out a small crowd of men sud­denly ap­pear­ing around me like a pride of lions on the hunt. They seemed to come from nowhere yet ev­ery­where: out of shop doors and dim bars, even apart­ment win­dows. They all called af­ter me “bella ragazza, bella ragazza’’ and I had no idea what it meant.

It be­came a mantra ev­ery­where I went, from the busy streets of Rome to the back al­ley­ways of Naples.

It was not un­til a few decades later that I re­turned to Italy as a ma­ture woman (won­der­ing why the crowds of men no longer sud­denly ap­peared like magic as I hit the streets) that I both­ered to look up the mean­ing of bella ragazza. Beau­ti­ful girl.

I was stupidly flat­tered even though it had taken about 30 years to un­der­stand the com­pli­ment.

Need­less to say there were no more crowds of men, no more calls, not even a sin­gle “bella donna’’ (beau­ti­ful woman) as I made my way around Italy at this later stage of my life.

The thing about Italy that is so com­pelling is not just its stu­pen­dous art, its an­cient his­tory, its en­vi­able sense of style, it is the way Ital­ians en­joy life like no other race I can think of. As Frances Mayes ob­served in her best­seller Un­der the Tus­can Sun, the Ital­ians have a gene the rest of us do not. A hap­pi­ness gene. A spe­cial DNA that en­sures they make their way through life hav­ing more fun than any­one else.

And that is a lot of love about a coun­try, and a good phi­los­o­phy to base your hol­i­day dreams on.


Pic­turesque Posi­tano on the Amalfi coast in Italy.

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