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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Nov 28 - Dec 4, 2001

  Opinion Columns

Finding what 
to savor in Italy

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

Thus, when I awaken, I am touched not only by an almost daily series of gentle mists clinging to the rich loam of the surrounding hillsides, but also by that impressionistic, picture-postcard view.

Through the window on the north side of the farmhouse I currently occupy in Umbria near the Tuscany border, I see every morning emerging from the fog two of the unrenovated brick structures that comprise part of the vast farm belonging to my landlordís family. Sometime during the night, after I turn off the lights, I have arisen and flung open my little unscreened window so that bugs will not plague my reading. Thus, when I awaken, I am touched not only by an almost daily series of gentle mists clinging to the rich loam of the surrounding hillsides, but also by that impressionistic, picture-postcard view.

That sight reminds me to count my blessings. Yesterday I may, indeed, have had an unpleasant encounter with the police at the questura (regional headquarters of the state police) in Perugia over the requirement to obtain a certificate of travel if one lives in the countryside for more than a week. It has been the cause of innumerable poor translations and frustrations and challenges when confronting Italian bureaucracy. I have already spent more hours in wrong lines than I wish to recall.

I may also have spent a relatively isolated day in my area of the country: I didnít realize how limiting my lack of proficiency in the Italian language would be, nor how few people speak English, in spite of the influence of the Eurodollar and the European Common Market, whose official language is English. I am searching for an intensive language school as I write this, but many have closed for the year. In the meantime, I am at least spending some time each week with a charming tutor in one of the small hill-towns nearby.

I also expected more visitors to my place: it can accommodate up to 38 guests, and until Sept. 11 had at least a few bookings through Christmas. That obviously changed. Perhaps I am the only foolhardy person to keep intended plans. In addition, at this time of the year most tourists have departed and residents close down for the fall and winter, so there is none of what I fancied as lively repartee among fellow tourists who would also spend some time at the farmhouse. I had a naÔve image of big hearty lunches around a communal table. Thatís for summer. I am the only person staying here. I realize I have to be more assertive and just go somewhere and hang out, hoping to use my minimal skills in the native language to meet people. That is daunting. I am much shyer than I would wish.

When I watch the BBC World News occasionally on the large TV in the central living room of the complex, I often have to stifle the urge to leave here and return to the proximity of home and hearth, to the arms of my friends and family. I have probably chosen to be too far away at this time from our country.

But then there are those soft images at dawn!

The other morning, I recalled the sensations I experienced upon awakening when I lived in Thailand. There, I would be summoned from under my mosquito netting by the crows of roosters and the calls of exotic birds, the yips of neighborhood dogs fighting over food, a village loudspeaker playing the national anthem at 6 a.m., the chants of the monks worshipping in the wat next door, and the dampness of my nightclothes from a night spent in stifling humidity. I taped the sounds as a reminder of the reasons I had gone so far from my comfort zone.

Now in Italy I experience different sensations: one is the forgotten pleasure of freshly laundered and pressed sheets every weekóno perma press convenience laundry. My "luxury" sheets at home pale in comparison! There are also sounds foreign to my usual Idaho awakening, the pap, pap of gunshots from the rabbit hunters in the surrounding fields. My landlordís grandfather is one of the hunters: I see him heading out to the fields, weapon in hand, dressed immaculately in a fine tweed jacket and ascot. He cuts a handsome figure, the gentleman farmer with his erect posture and full head of white hair, the regal master of his acreage. He even occasionally works the fields in those elegant clothes, the retired overseer helping his farmhands plant trees or monitoring the seasonal turning of the earth.

"My" farm is one of many the Italian government and the Common Market have wisely subsidized as part of what is called agriturismo, the thrust being that decaying farms be renovated to accommodate guests. Thus the beauty of the rural countryside is insured as economic reality makes running farms alone less and less profitable. There is a caveat: The farms must remain fully productive, working farms. Mine grows tobacco and fat red and yellow peppers and seems to thrive.

So I guess I will stop complaining about feeling isolated and treasure this brief respite from the tensions of the world. My language tutor even wrote "molto bene" on my homework, and I felt like a proud "first grader." There may be hope for me yet. In the meantime, I awaken to that view, to solace and peace (except for a few gunshots), blessedly healthy and ready to go out into that countryside one more day.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.