Last Saturday was as good as it gets. A year ago my friend, April, invited me to Italian Lights, calling me back to my first love affair with a culture. Check it out here: https://cmccain.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/finding-an-old-love-in-new-venue-italian-lights/. This year, I invited a gang and I was back in Italy again. I spent hours at table exchanging stories, laughs and food with friends I’d met through my salsa world, Kim K, Dorothy, Jose, April, Jason, Emila, Tricia, and Mayuresh; my sister, Penny, and brother-in-law, Jeff (It was his birthday!); and Kim R.
I’m often asked how I became part of the salsa world in Nashville, a global community who loves Latin dance. My response in short: Italy where I first learned to just BE.
I’ve written other posts on why I love Italy…how it all began one summer when I taught English there. I’d gone with students-in-tow in 2000, 2004, and 2009, each time loving sharing with them places both ancient and beautiful—Venice, Rome, Florence, Capri, Naples, Sorrento, and Pisa. But it was 2005-2007 when I met, then stayed in homes of Italian friends, Antonio, Anna, Fabio, Antonio, Vilma, and Georgio, that I learned firsthand how to live La Dolce Vita. Still framed on my daughter’s wall is a picture of her dancing with Antonio at my surprise birthday party in Torino. She says in just one visit Antonio and Vilma were like grandparents to her.
Meanwhile, Kim Roberts was spending summers with friends in Spain, sometimes doing weekend trips to Italy. We met in an Italian class, sharing a love for travel, the romance languages, and the passionate people who speak them. I liked her instantly as she burst into the first lesson, swishing a bohemian skirt with stories of dancing till dawn with some girlfriends the night before.
Kim admitted that she’s a closet expatriate, that she ached the first time she left Spain. I understood and confessed I felt the same way the first time I flew out over the Italian alps. In Spain and Italy we love the way meals last hours over good wine and interesting conversation. We’d both said, “When I’m there, I finally feel more alive. In a strange way, I feel I’m home.”
Though we’ve never been to Italy together, our simultaneous travels bonded us. In the early fall of 2007 I was on the shores of Lake Como while she was on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, we found through travel joy, serenity, adventure, and relationship. But in 2008 when our slim bank accounts prevented our escaping by the usual flight plan, we were forced to embrace what Gilbert says is the main point of her book—that to change our lives, we don’t have to go far. We just have to shift. So our gypsy souls resolved to refocus. Like Dorothy, we would stop chasing rainbows and find contentment and happiness in our own backyard. We had to find what Kim calls, our people…those who seek joy and find it in a celebratory culture right here in Music City.
And we did…first in folks like Patti Nelson of Italian for Fun and later in the Latin dance community. More on that later… Off to make potato salad for today’s Chilean Independence Day Celebration and a trifle for the Hicks’ Copacubana party. For some serendipity, check out my tribute to Latin culture and the Hicks’ house parties, just published on Italian chef, Paulette Licitra’s award-winning food journal, Alimentum. Ciao!