It’s a daily occurrence that I feel gratitude toward the culture and the place of Italy for the meaning and the values it has given me that far exceed Italy itself. In honor of World Gratitude Day, I woke up today reflecting on the reasons why, with a flood of cherished memories anchoring my journey from young adulthood, to motherhood, to middle age.
As a young woman, I somewhat accidentally ended up in an abroad program my sophomore year of college in Florence in 1993 when the program I was planning to attend in France fell through. This sweet serendipity led to one of the most watershed years of my life—in Italy, amid its humanity, and the intangible welcoming of the place, I grew into my own skin, transitioning from the uncertainties of teenagehood into an inspired and confident young adult. In the spring, my mom and my grandmother came for a week-long visit. When they arrived, they could not believe the change they saw in me, describing it as a calm reassurance, a sense of peace, contentment, passion—happiness. During their visit, we ate some very special meals and visited sites of interest to the elder women in my life. Who could have predicted at that time that those experiences would generate simple, beautiful places of pilgrimage where I have returned for many years, later with my own family, to remember precious moments with my grandmother.
During this visit, we headed down to Rome for the day. Despite her mobility issues, my grandmother was zesty as ever, quoting the entire Marc Antony speech from Shakespeare as we stood at the Roman Forum, and dancing to gypsy music. A local friend in Florence had arranged for a special lunch for us at a place he explained would be a true experience of cucina Romana—it was Sora Margherita, a now legendary foodie destination, a type of “slow food club” in the Jewish Ghetto that requires a card (tessera) to the club to eat. At that time, there was no menu, and, as it is now, no sign of any kind indicating it was a restaurant. With much hesitation we rang the bell at the door covered with a red ribbon curtain, and kindly exuberant Margherita greeted us. She had set a round table for six in the front room (at that time there were only a few tables), and we were the only guests. There was no menu, she simply brought dishes out one by one for us to enjoy as the sun peered in from the only window, shining dramatically on our table. The meal lasted for 2 hours, my first experience of a true Roman lunch amid beloved company.
As fate would have it, my career has meant a lifetime of returning to Italy, with my two daughters growing up to experience the warm embrace of its culture. When we are in Rome, we like to visit Sora Margherita (Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30) for lunch, for the heart-warming cuisine and in remembrance of my grandmother, Ruth. My oldest daughter is now on the verge of that same transition to becoming a young woman. Our journey together in Italy has shed more light on the gift of this culture. Family time in Italy has not been free of challenges, in fact, it has presented many, but the orientation in Italy toward appreciating the things that matter, living in the moments that bring us satisfaction, above all time with family and friends, and a generous emphasis on giving back to the community, global and local, results in an acceptance of life’s challenges as part of the path toward fulfillment.
In 2012, I had an opportunity to live in Rome with my daughters. In particular, my older daughter was enamored with the city and excited about the adventure. As part of her home schooling curriculum, she had to keep a daily journal. We were living in an apartment in the neighborhood of Monti, and on our last day, while returning from last-minute errands along Via Nazionale, a winter sunset lit up the Winged Victory crowning the Vittorio Emanuele II monument magnificently, a breath-taking sight. My daughter paused to take a picture, but couldn’t quite capture the beauty of the real deal. In her final journal entry from our sojourn in Rome, she wrote about this moment. From a child’s eyes, it encapsulated the gift Italy has to offer: the journey was not what she had expected it to be, but when she paused for that brief moment to look up at the sky, it was more magnificent than anything she could have imagined, and she was grateful for just that.
In honor of World Gratitude Day, I would like to thank Italy for its humanity. As visitors, we have all received so many gifts from Italy’s culture. With appreciation, travel also brings respect and understanding. As the Mediterranean region and Europe struggle with the tragedy of the current refugee crisis, I would like to encourage our readers to reflect on their gratitude today, and in turn, give back in appreciation. The organization Charity Navigator is a great resource for identifying the most impactful way to give back by contributing to efforts to alleviate the human suffering of today’s Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. Please join us today as we say “grazie” by donating to support relief organizations.
Author Shannon Kenny is the Founding Editor of Italiakids.com, Director of the Arte al Sole children’s arts and cultural programs in Italy, and Founding Partner of Elaia Travel, a boutique travel concierge specializing in custom travel to Italy and Europe.Add to favorites