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OTHER ITA SITES:
A Tuscan State Of Mind
Sometimes traveling isn't just about going to a destination; it's a state of mind. Physically, I've been trapped in South Carolina for seven months now while mentally I try and put myself back in my favorite European places. One of my very favorites is the Tuscany region of Italy. While the city in South Carolina is a blistering desert of concrete, Tuscany radiates a rejuvenating warmth that washes over you like the rolling green of the hills.
Since I'm currently unable to experience the area in person, I can only do what I can to substitute the experience. CDs full of pictures taken during my travels bring back stifled laughs and fond memories. The coffee table books I've collected over the years are so full of intense color and vivid landscape scenes that it makes my ache even worse. I even read "Under the Tuscan Sun" this week (which isn’t done justice by the movie). Mayes is such a descriptive writer. She does such a perfect job bringing the area to life and I believe, deserves much credit for putting Cortona on the map. Her book stirs memories of my one day in this little town – hot chocolate and pastries at a little café in the morning, gelato under a patio umbrella in the pouring rain, and linen shopping after the sun triumphed over the stubborn clouds. It almost makes me forget that my 'gelato' is now Eddy's or something from Dairy Queen.
I also try to substitute with cooking – of course, I'm far from the authentic cuisine I once savored in the local family-owned restaurants. Tortellini al forno, penne al'arabiatta, even plain old spaghetti marinara is a work of art in Tuscany. I throw basil around like it's going out of style, get all giddy when I find a sweet gorgonzola or pecorino cheese at the grocery store, and keep Verdi on full volume while I create my own personal Italy in the kitchen. Fortunately, I've been able to bring back the very best extra virgin olive oil in the entire country – La Macchia.
The green, aromatic oil tastes so fresh and so light that you taste what you are meant to taste – the fruit of the olive tree – and not something reminiscent to wheel bearing grease. So even if my bruschetta is made from imported North Carolina tomatoes, South Carolina french bread, parmesan from Kraft, and dried basil from a lousy little plastic jar (out of fresh basil again…), I still have my beautiful drizzling Tuscan olive oil.
Italians also understand and appreciate the concept of 'breaks' (and not the 15 minute kind). Time doesn't rule a Tuscan's day, rather it revolves around life at the moment. I rush from one end of my current hometown to the other, running errands and trying to make it to appointments on time – in Italy, being late is 'normale.' And when it gets to lunchtime, there's no rushing through the meal and then jumping back into a schedule. Between the shining sun at its zenith and a full stomach that's pulling you into a food coma, the day calls for a siesta. This ingenious concept not only refreshes the body but it literally pulls your mind into another world. Why fret about the next two hours when everyone else's life has also come to a relaxing standstill?
Daydream, watch the tall grasses blow in the wind, or drink a cappuccino among friends with a vineyard as a backdrop. Until the notion of a daily siesta takes hold in America, I attempt to create my own with plastic patio furniture and a Coca-Cola …that is, until the phone starts to ring with endless telemarketers anxious to sell me siding or refinance my mortgage.
There are just some places that feed your soul and remain in your heart no matter where you go. The rise and fall of the graceful hills, the glittery silver-green leaves of the olive trees, the way the aged bricks glow in the last rays of the evening sun all call me back for more. In the meantime, though, I'll remain in a Tuscan state of mind.
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