It’s been at least a decade since I have taken a vacation. I am sure this void of an individually motivated holiday is common amongst most parents who are driven by commerce in order to provide for others. It is how we live and we often find comfort in the fact that we sacrifice for those who need us; our devotion for their successes becomes more important than our own, including our personal needs and desires. We put others before ourselves. I know I always have with my children and my clients and certain men in my life. Period; it’s just how I am wired. So during the last twelve years, I weathered the storm of responsibility, seeing a light once I turned forty-four years-old: I would travel to Italy, once my children were adults, and I’d go there alone. It was always Italy, my light.
I am an American who was raised German. Not one bit of Italian heritage is in my DNA. As to why Italy has called to me for so long, I cannot say. I know my off-the-boat German grandmother had nothing nice to say about Italy or Italians when I was growing-up, well into my adulthood. However, as much as she was and still remains to be one of the most influential people in my life, I have never let her disdain for that culture influence the beauty of my “light.” And possibly somewhere way, way back in my German blood, there’s an unrecorded German Uncle who was retained by King Odoacer circa AD 476 as a mercenary to enhance the Roman Army. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch…
All I know is that Italian influences in architecture has always sung to me in the USA, especially in my real estate excursions in Manhattan. And so many, many years ago, I wanted to know why. Why do I hear music when I see classical variations in Italian workmanship? I have studied and obsessed over balustrades, terra-cotta tiling, pilasters, loggias, limestone, marble, sandstone, and so on. And one day I told myself, at forty-four years- old, I would view the originals—the real thing. It was my goal.
I reached my goal a few weeks ago, and it was not as I had envisioned, over the last decade. Yes, I saw beautiful and majestic pillars and forms of art in the buildings I downloaded with my eyes, centuries old. But, as I was walking the streets of Florence, you’d think I’d hear romantic arias via that soundtrack of my mind looking and finally witnessing “originals.” But, I didn’t. No Puccini, no Verdi, like in New York. All I could hear was Jon Bon Jovi. That’s right. Jon f’in Bon Jovi.
“Oh, if there’s one thing I hang onto
It gets me through the night
I ain’t gonna do what I don’t want to
I’m gonna live my life.”
“Shining like a diamond, rolling with the dice
Standing on the ledge, show the wind how to fly…”
“This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted
No silent prayer for the faith-departed
I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd
You’re gonna hear my voice
When I shout it out loud
It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive.”
Yeah, I am losing some serious street-cred admitting that when I was walking cobblestone streets admiring century old structures in Italy, I was hearing Bon Jovi via the i-pod in my mind. Very American, I do know. And not at all aligned with my highly-trained classical music persona. And my God, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is probably laughing at me or with me from his tomb. But, it is what it is. The truth: I was empowered, as I traveled through Italy, sola. Bon Jovi in tow.
Finally, it was all about me, for once in my life. And it was wonderful.
Florence was my first city. It was beautiful and a disappointment. I was turned-off by its showiness, cater-to-tourists, Times Square display. It seemed cheap, to me, disrespectful. I did my best to travel off the beaten path, and I was successful at times. I didn’t eat at any place that offered an English translation for the menu. I walked through non-desirable areas, ridden with graffiti to find the true Florentine-vibe. I took Vespa lessons and drove far beyond the limits of Florence. My Vespa tour of those Chianti hills was by far my highlight of the area, and I don’t even like Chianti. I met so many cool and different people on that Vespa tour of eight hours. Looking back now I probably should have shaved a day from my time in Florence.
My number one destination was Northern Italy: Piedmont, Alba.
Back story: In addition to my craving of architectural beauty and splendor, I am a HUGE connoisseur of food and wine. Back in October 2009, I had met a man from London and his agent in Greenwich Village at an Italian restaurant, owned by my friend from Montenegro. We sat near the fireplace to negotiate a deal for my listing on the fifth floor of Palazzo Chupi. The buyer from London ordered a 1978 Barbaresco for our negotiations. So there I was, negotiating the biggest sale of my life at the time–$11million—cash. And that damn wine haunted me. I was seduced by a grape called Nebbiolo, from that moment on. So, Piedmont has been a part of my “light” since that night of 2009.
After I had pre-orchestrated my time in Florence and then Alba, I realized I had miscalculated my AirBnB accommodations with no place to stay on 23 October. So I opened up my Northern Italy map book to find a place half-way, near the sea. Water has always soothed me. And I have always lived near water for most of my adult life. So the coastal town of Genoa, seemed ideal, to me.
Genoa was a pleasant surprise. Even though it was raining most of my time there, I was chasing-the-dragon by elements of pure architectural wonderment. I traveled alley ways that weren’t necessarily deemed safe—full of prostitutes, drug traffickers, and other not-so admirable individuals. And, this was exactly where I wanted to dine, authentically. I had one of my best meals via a dark alley in Genoa. Sea Bass and Squid Ravioli, and then Stuffed Anchovies. Genoa was the only city where I actually stayed at a hotel. After my grastromic dream-meal, I decided to stop by my hotel bar for an after dinner digestif of Pernod and cup of coffee (not very Italian, I do know). I met three people at that bar. 3 different people. And to my utter shock, a man, who captivated my mind. Yep, I know it is a cliché: American woman meets a man in Italy.
But, he wasn’t really that dark haired, well-dressed Italian dream, I have encountered previously or those fine men in print and film. He dressed like an American—jeans, t-shirt, flannel shirt, and actually looked more American than Italian. I am not usually attracted to American looking men. I like and usually only release my mind to Europeans, and at times Middle-Easterns or South Americans.
To be honest, I thought he was gay. So I was open, going on and on about my life, and my Italian adventure, not thinking I would ever correspond with him again. Plus, his eyes are the same as mine, hazel, and we are both 44, permitting easy banter for me. About an hour later, he proved not to be gay. Yep. And I will not to go into to all the details of that proof, but I learned something from him. I learned what a strong man is. I learned the man I need in my life actually exists, even if it was a brief encounter near The Ligurian Sea. If I never see him again, I will be forever grateful to him for the time we spent together and the messages and calls since that time. He showed me, I am worthy and he showed me honor is real in a man.
The next morning I left for Alba. Oh. My. God. Alba is magical. I don’t want to tell you to go there because I don’t want it to EVER to become like those cater-to-tourists places. But, I restored my soul in Alba. Those scars over the years disappeared. I found a love in Alba—me. I cooked with white truffles, alone in my apartment, every night. Eggs—OMG, the eggs in Italy are supreme. Gnocchi, veal, I cooked it for me, while drinking a bottle(s) of Barolo I can’t even afford in the US, lunch and dinner. I wrote—poetry and diary moments, and unfortunately I worked on a deal in NYC, while I was there. But hey, it was still MAGICAL, for me. Additionally, the Cleveland Indians were in the midst of the World Series, too. I lit a candle the first night I was there for my hometown natives and they won. I didn’t light a candle the second night and they lost. Interesting. And yes, I don’t really like American baseball, just like I don’t like Chianti. So I guess, it just wasn’t meant to be a CHAMPIONSHIP… Furthermore, when I ventured alone in Alba, I was a bit sad, to tell you the truth. I wished I had someone to share it with. It is so romantic and should not be experienced alone. I realized during this time, I am ready for love. Real love. That’s what Italy gave me, outside of food, wine, and architectural wonderment. I am ready for love and I am restored, empowered to give and receive like I have never been able to in my past. Finally, I realized some things about my profession—well, there’s more and it isn’t confined to just deals in the USA…
I am ready for an international adventure. That’s for sure.
P.S. DO NOT GO TO ALBA, DEAR READER. DO NOT GO THERE…I WANT TO KEEP IT MAGICAL. A SECRET FOR ME ALONE. DO NOT GO TO ALBA!