This month marks my two-year anniversary of blogging about Italy, mostly Calabria, the region in the toe of the peninsula, and I would like to reflect a moment on what I feel makes something worth blogging or writing about. As with my book, I’ve put my all into my Italy blog and when people ask me, “When are you going to write your next book?” I’ve found myself responding, “At this point I’m busy with my blog.”
I began my Italy blog on the recommendation of Everyone. You know who they are; sometimes they’re referred to as Everybody. My non-fiction book Calabria: The Other Italy was coming out, and according to popular wisdom I was already behind, not having started out with 500 website subscribers, 1,000 Facebook Likes, 2,000 Twitter followers and the equivalent on Instagram, Pinterest, and perhaps other forms of social media of which I’m unaware. I’m still behind in that sense, but perhaps that’s okay, as I haven’t chosen the path most worn. I’ve written and I’m largely writing about a region that is still unexplored by many a world traveler or Italophile. And while I have devoted much of my energy to highlighting the beauties and wonders of Calabria, I have also focused on serious social, political and economical issues that may help to explain why the region has not yet managed to make it to even the periphery of the mainstream tourist trail.
As readers, we’re bombarded with the “top ten” and the “best of,” particularly in travel writing. On the other side of the aisle is the experiential piece, the sites and the sounds, putting the reader smack dab in the middle of it all, or way up on a bird’s eye observational platform. Some make the dubious attempt to combine the list with the experience. I recently flipped to an article in an airplane magazine entitled “Rugged Escapes,” anticipating at the very minimum a few minutes of vicarious escape. I found six mini-paragraphs alluding to fulfilling fantasies and discovering an array of delights in six diverse locations – not enough to whet the appetite on even a short commuter flight. I’m not ruling out personally making a list of some sort in the future, but I will certainly strive to fill out those bullet points a bit more.
I’m often asked how I choose what to write about. Sometimes I feel as though I’m not choosing as much as the subjects choose me. I need to be grabbed in some way. There are both beauties and challenges all around us, but what makes something special, interesting, blog-worthy?
I don’t have just one answer to this question. However, a very important aspect that enhances any travel experience for me is an interaction with local people. It can be a warm, simple smile from a green grocer or an extended conversation on a train. These encounters often come about when you least expect them. I include several in my book. In this post, reflecting on chance meetings, some remaining finite in time while others continuing to the present, I would like to mention a few of these special people.
THE MUSEUM GUARD from Chapter 2
Anyone who has read my book or acquainted himself with my blog must surely be aware that I’m a museumgoer. I like all types and subject matter, and they don’t have to be state-of-the-art. Simple handwritten cards or descriptions typed on an old Olivetti are okay by me if the art or artifacts are of a high quality, have some sort of cultural interest and are preferably well-organized. I like to learn, but I must say that I really enjoy a good docent-led tour with someone who understands how to pull it all together and knows what to leave out as well as what to put in.
Very soon after my arrival to Calabria I showed up at Reggio’s Archeological Museum without having read much about it beforehand. I knew it was home to the famous Riace Bronzes and there would be enough to hold my attention for a couple of hours. I didn’t know that there was a museum guard named Antonio who would hold my attention for many more.
A few years later I would learn his full job title: Addetto ai servizi di vigilanza, assistenza e accoglienza. (Authorized personnel of security, assistance and hospitality). Antonio took the accoglienza to heart. And having read every placard many times over and listened attentively to local and visiting archeologists for 25 years or so, he was incredibly knowledgeable and delivered a thought-provoking presentation of life for the ancient peoples of Greater Greece. It was the most enthusiastic docent or other type of tour presentation I had ever experienced, and perhaps what impressed me the most was how much he loved his museum.
THE FOREST RANGER from Chapter 14
Italians on the whole are a gregarious people, and Calabrians are no exception. I’ve often heard the stereotype that people from small villages aren’t open to strangers. In certain instances this may be true. However, more often than not, I’ve found Calabrians to be quite open and welcoming, but a connection has to be made – an acknowledgement, a smile, an exchange of ideas, a common ground. This was the case with Michele, the forest ranger of the Santa Maria del Patire Abbey near Rossano. The former monastery and its lovely wooded grounds had become property of the state and was overseen by park rangers.
Who would have thought my traveling companion and I would have been invited into the private ranger station and offered a meal with wine? At the time I didn’t know I would write a book or have a blog and I was usually shy about taking pictures, but I was glad I snapped one of the capocollo, pecorino cheese, rolls and homemade wine before we dove in. Later, he added his wife’s preserved anchovies to the picnic. I can’t say how long our lively conversation lasted – a little politics, food, the abbey, the weather, but at least an hour, maybe two.
How many times have you been invited into a complete stranger’s home or workplace, or vice versa, for a meal and a chat? In Calabria, it happened to me on several occasions. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?
THE SECRETARY from Chapter 18
I liked Donatella immediately. Quiet, reserved, with a warm smile, she was a magnet for the parents, students and other teachers at the private language school where I taught in Reggio. She was always at her post – positive, helpful, efficient and even amusing when the opportunity presented itself. Just what you want in a colleague and friend. Need I say more?
THE TEACHER from Chapters 9, 12, 13, 16 and 18
When Veronika, my German friend visiting from out of town, told me that she had met a woman on the street in front of one of the art deco mansions on Reggio’s Via Marina and she had invited us to see the inside of her home the following day, I figured she had misunderstood. To extend an invitation to a person you met for an instance is one thing, but to include a friend sight unseen? Veronika insisted she had heard correctly. She had, and that was the beginning of my friendship with Luisa.
The next day at about teatime I found myself eating cookies and sipping fruit juice in her elegant living room on the corner of her second floor flat. When we mentioned that we had tickets to the opera that evening, it became Luisa’s turn to insist. She figured we wouldn’t have time for a proper meal before curtain, and we ended up staying for dinner of a beef stew she already had in the oven.
A commonplace occurrence? I think not.
A BLOGGABLE ITALY BLOG
The above individuals, amongst others, were definitely special and greatly enhanced my experience as a resident and visitor. Several blog posts have highlighted other chance meetings and newfound friends, such as An Artist in Amantea and Calabrian Eateries: Trattoria La Collinetta in Martone. Others focus on the historical, such as Joachim Murat in Calabria and Certosa di Serra San Bruno, or the political, for example, Reflection: Drills and Politics in Italy. Palizzi: Yesterday and Today and Cosenza: Old and New compare Calabria past and present. Popular posts about food include The Bergamot: Calabria’s Incredible Citrus and Le Frittole: The Pig Boil, Calabrian Style.
Amongst my fifty posts thus far I have also written several about holidays, such as Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s and Woman’s Day in Italy, and articles about the creation of the book, as in Reflection: Lining Up Today’s Pixels With the Columns of Ancient Greece and its reception with the International Prize for My Book.
I would like to thank you for reading and commenting on my Italy blog, and encourage you to subscribe below to future posts. And please visit, “like” and “follow” my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. With your help, I might just have the hang of this social media by my next blog anniversary, or by the time I finish my next book!
Here I am at Reggio’s Archeological Museum with a terracotta sarcophagus in the shape of a foot with sandal from a Reggio necropolis, Hellenistic period.
Interested in reading more about my experiences in Calabria, the region’s history and culture, daily life and society, food and travel? Check out the contents of my Calabria book, available in print and electronic formats!
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