When I was 21 years old, I lived in this outdated, but charming little apartment on the top floor of a home in this sleepy little medieval hill town in Corciano, Italy for about 4 months. It was a study abroad program for art. The old lady who owned the house (and lived downstairs) would come up early in the morning while we were still sleeping and curse at us under her breath in Italian, lazy art students, while she picked up our clothes off the floor.
She showed us how to cook pasta the right way, motioning to the two ceramic canisters on the counter, speaking with short slow italian phrases and lots of exaggerated hand motions. The sale gross (coarse salt) goes in the pot of boiling water and then the sale fino (fine salt) was for finishing the pasta after you have cooked it, is what I pieced together from the game of charades.
The other two girls and I would get super desperate for food during that time, because the grocery store was a good twenty-minute complicated bus ride.
Once we got to the store, we then had to figure out where the milk was and why on God's green earth was it in little boxes just sitting on a shelf (non-refridgerated!) I thumbed through the tattered edges of the worn translation phrase book I kept in my purse religiously. (This was just before the smart phone boom). I remember we ate a lot of strange food combinations in that humble apartment kitchen. When I walked in to my roommates eating hard boiled eggs dipped in mayonnaise for dinner, I knew we had reached an all-time low.
The view was breathtaking though. So there was that.
I remember sitting on the cool terra cotta tile balcony floor and staring out across the valley, mesmerized by the straight and narrow cedar trees lining the driveways like soldiers, getting smaller and smaller and disappearing into the pale blue fog of the distance. They brought to life all of the paintings we studied. I sat there several afternoons and painted the scene with watercolors and sent them as postcards in the mail back home.
We lived about half-way down a steep cobblestone street. It was a short walk straight uphill into town. I'll never forget that beautiful hillside. All along the left side of the street surrounding the homes was a mature olive tree grove. One day, after returning from printmaking class, I walked down the hill past neighbor after neighbor all standing on wooden ladders, their heads in the boughs. They were shaking the branches while showers of little green marble-sized fruits plummeted to the ground and landed on nets laid out, skirting the old twisted trunks.
Each neighbor would stop for a moment as I passed, peek down at me through the leaves and cheerily shout, "Buongiorno!". There was an excitement in the harvest. A real sense of pride and of plenty. A time to celebrate. We shared meals together at long tables that began in the kitchen and connected to other tables and even more tables, all hodgepodge until they made their way out into the garden area and we ate pasta and olives under the evening sky. It was our group of quirky artists from America and the locals who hosted us, such an interesting mix of people all enjoying life together.
I often think back on those rich experiences and wonder how to get back to that earthy, simple way of life. It wasn't perfect, but it was real. And it was beautiful.
What is it that makes being a Mom hard to live a lifestyle like that? Why do I sometimes feel bound to the American standards and the daily grind? Why do I feel like I may never have adventures again? How do I invite my children into that kind of lifestyle? Why do I feel so much pressure to join the rat race?
Maybe the heart of the question is more about how to be open. How do I open myself up to live a life that sees that kind of beauty again and cherishes it, prioritizes it?
To stop and chat with a neighbor and allow them to come into my kitchen and teach me how to cook pasta, even if they do swear at me under their breath. I can't help but think that God can move in those messy, sometimes unpleasant ways to teach us all more about the beauty of life.
Let's open our hearts and our lives to the ordinary things of life and in turn find the beauty.