I spent my honeymoon in Italy. I chose it because I have a strong attachment to the country - I first went there when I was 21, and spent a lot of time riding around on the back of vespers with handsome young men. Then I returned in 2012, following a difficult time on a posting to Pakistan, and spent spent almost a full year there, working, eating pasta and rock-climbing. It was an amazingly healing time, and I feel a huge sense of gratitude towards the country.
It seems that I'm not alone, going to Italy for adventure or healing. Women have been going there for years to find romance and mend broken hearts. Just look at Lucy Honeychurch in Room with a View (yes I know she is fictional) and Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love. Italy has long had a magical lure for foreigners.
So what is it about Italy that is so special? What did it teach me that helped me so much?
Firstly, it taught me about food. Actually, not just food, but a new way to perceive the whole process of eating. A few times I had meals that were so delicious, my mind went blank and I became completely absorbed in sensing the flavours. I particularly remember sitting on a bench in a small town that was having a cherry festival. I had a punnet of cherries, and next to it, cherry sorbet. I'd try a scoop of the sorbet, and then eat a cherry. Unbelievably, the cherry sorbet tasted more like cherry than the cherries did. I still have no idea how that is possible.
The appreciation of food pulled me into the present moment. You can't avoid mindful eating when the food is that good. And Italians encourage you to focus on the food. I always think of Inspector Montalbano, the fictional Sicilian detective, who refuses to talk while he is eating. At the core of most spiritual practices is to be completely in the moment. Italians achieve that through food.
Secondly, living in Rome made me feel my place in history. The Romans left a lot of stuff behind. Being surrounded by the sheer weight of history everywhere meant that I was constantly reminded of the past. And more than that, I was reminded of just how close the past is - how few generations separate us from the Romans. My favourite fact about Rome is that there is an obelisk that stands outside St Giovanni in Laterano that stood in Egypt for longer than it has been in Rome, despite arriving there in the fourth century AD. That puts things into perspective!
Finally, Italy is undeniably gorgeous. The weather is beautiful, the views are beautiful, the trees are beautiful, and the air smells of wisteria, jasmine or orange blossom depending on the season. You can swim in the sea, climb mountains, and eat delicious food, all on the same day. At the start of our honeymoon, my mind was still whirring with 100 things I needed to get done. I found it pretty hard to unwind. But everything was so clearly wonderful around me, that it became patently ridiculous not to enjoy it. By being so extremely lovely, Italy really pushes you to appreciate the world around you, and take the time to savour it. My stressy internal monologue becomes particularly unwelcome and out of place, and therefore easier to banish.
So thank you Italy for your healing properties. I look forward to a long and happy relationship with you!