"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust
I have never had an easy relationship with my country. Until the "American period", when I moved to Washington DC and taught Italian for three years, I had lived in Italy my whole life. My hometown is Bergamo, a city close to Milan, where I studied, made intimate friendships, met my husband and lived happily with my family. Yet, when I graduated, I felt the urge to leave. It was a strong feeling, something from deep inside. I needed to find my own way, my way of thinking and living. I am happy I left for a while---America was a land of opportunities to me, a place where I felt free and happy.
As weird as it may sound, during the time in the United States I grew to know that country much better than my own---I was living every day like a tourist, surprising myself like a baby for every doughnut covered in chocolate, cinnamon, sprinkles, maple iced, lemon filled and so on. Places like Barnes & Noble were new to me---could I really take a magazine from a shelf, read it for a while and then place it back? In Italy, that was (still is?) quite unimaginable. And what to say about sports---I am a couch potato, oh yes, and seeing all those people running at all times was a kind of culture shock. I was about to convince myself to go running, too (not sure I could survive a mile!) but well . . . I made it back to Italy before even trying.
In the last couple of years my family of two rooted between Bergamo and Milan. Husband and I made a promise to ourselves: stop thinking that traveling means going to the most faraway places, and start exploring Italy a little more. So this past Halloween we left the north and drove all the way to the south to visit a real gem, a place which is unknown to most of the people who visit Italy, and a little out of the main routes. The city is Matera, and this is why I call it a gem . . .
We arrived in Matera in the evening, and here is what we saw, a landscape that at first sight was very similar to Jerusalem.
At night, the cathedral's tower jetted out in the black sky, and the rest of the sassi glimmered in shades of yellow and orange. Have you heard of the movie "The Passion", by Mel Gibson? It was shot here.
We dropped our bags at the Hotel in Pietra and asked the receptionist, a very nice lady, to recommend us some good restaurant to taste local food. After a few minute walk, I had already fallen in love with Matera, and there was still more to see the next day! We spent the night in a tiny and beautiful room at the hotel (by mistake, Husband had made reservations for a single room, and since it was too beautiful to give it up we squeezed a little!) and the next morning we had breakfast with homemade cakes and foamy cappuccino. Everything was so delicious, and the atmosphere was quite relaxing. Imagine a 12th-century Benedictine church converted into a hotel, where the rooms are dug in the rocks.
After breakfast, we explored the sassi and the cave churches. The sassi left us speechless and in awe of its beauty. It’s hard to describe the feelings–when you see such places, you can’t help but thinking there must be something beyond this world, some holy entity that gave us all this beauty to enjoy.
Matera was a gift, and now it is one of my favorite places in Italy. I can’t recall having met such wonderful people elsewhere. Everyone was smiling and ready to help, the food was great and the sassi were so unique and beautiful you could easily get lost in the small paths by looking up and around all the time.
This trip to the south helped me to recall that Italy is an amazing country. We struggle with politics, unemployment, financial crisis, but still we find our way to smile broad smiles and treat each other with welcoming hospitality and warm hearts. I’m happy I took this trip. It opened my heart and mind to places I didn’t know, that felt so far but were yet so close.
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