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Dismantling Italy

Nancy Lytle

Italy got constructed in my mind and heart in 1993, when I appeared as a presenter at an arts festival in Rieti and made a deep, joyous and confusing connection. Five years later I had sorted out the signals and realized that my move from San Francisco to Italy was what was intended. I arrived in Sorrento in June, 1998, to a new life. An Italy of extraordinary visual and sensual beauty. I painted for two years, wrote. Lived.

Nancy on the Amalfi Coast, 1998

In October, 2000, I moved my shebang up to Firenze where I have been living ever since. Discovering artists - Pontormo, Fra Fillipo, Fra Angelico, the brothers and sisters of the Renaissance - these were people handing out precious gifts. The city presents a challenge: think about where you are, what happened here, who are you? I painted for two years, wrote.

On Sunday, I'm getting on an airplane and flying back to live in the US, to yet another new life, this time in Santa Fe. My heart is full, all of me is full. My mind, my memory bank, the images behind my eyes, my feet walking, the wedges of sky, the last times I will see the people in my Florence world, the night coming down only two more times.all of this is with me now. Every last second. the smell of the coffee in my suitcase, oh god, got to have that particular coffee for as long as possible--- in the morning, in another place, with the sun rising over the mesas.

It's a lot like dying - leaving a place like Italy. You know it will all go on without you; it should go on without you --- you just won't be there to gently elbow and lean your self into those spaces of everyday life. Maybe again in the future, as a visitor, yes ... But not this, the feeling of long days living the seasons; the rightness of strolling down streets you have chosen to make part of your life, stopping here, there --- what is that? At an old bar, a bearded man with a Disney sketchbook saying "allora" over and over - the lady with the five dogs and the battered stroller with a missing wheel, the dogs wrapped in old sweaters. The guy in the kilt and slippers who often greets you at the train station taxi stand, enthusiastically organizing your particular cab ride home.

Taxis triple park outside my house on Via P Giordani at lunchtime to scoff down the best fresh lunch in the city at the caffe across my little street. A marvel of perfection, and cheap. Every day, I hear cabby conversations under my windows as they sip little paper cups of coffee. "Berlesconi - Bush ." Exasperation. Laughter I will miss.

The leaving of Italy is just as sharp a hook as the arriving. Like being flung by a slingshot around a blind corner into a new land. You last slept here, now you will be there. You ate this, now you'll never have it again. (Because you've become fussy). My clothes will be sweet-smelling but stiff until they are processed through a foreign machine to made them soft and pliable.

I'm writing tonight from a home that has been reduced to "before me." That's all right if I'm all right. I made it full, now it's emptied. I'm still completely full. Of Italy, of changes, of history, rapture, astonishment, frustration and --- good news --- learning. Curiosity securely banked in long-lasting ashes I carry with me. Glowing.

My blowsy, vivid garden has been emptied out, plants gone to people across the city, the end of the green refuge of summer friends for the past two seasons. The old willow tree will come back next spring - will someone else give it enough water to make it glorious?

Somewhere on the ocean there is a boat carrying bits and pieces of my life in Italy, heading toward the US. Two long pizza paddles, an old curlicue iron chair, an overly-padded stash of glorious ceramics. I'm enjoying thinking about the last five years of my life (stuff-wise) bobbing on the Atlantic as I write this.

Happy New Year to all Slow Travelers - slow is what we want.

Nancy Lytle lived in Italy for five years, writing manuscripts for two novels and various travel essays.

© Nancy Lytle, 2003

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