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Cheese, Wine, Swimming and Crosby, Stills and Nash

The Italians, in general, were the warmest people I met and this was especially true in the rural area where we stayed. Great food, clean rooms, rewarding bike rides, and a refreshing swimming pool--it felt like a vacation. A small group of us stayed up late by the pool with a few bottles of wine. When the last bottle ran out we went inside to find another where we found the owner, Sonia, having a quiet conversation with one of our guides. She looked like she was ready to be finished after a long day, and the last thing she wanted to do was stay up for us, but within a few minutes she was laughing and telling stories. She said she had always wanted to visit San Fransisco, which to her seemed to represent the American culture she loved, especially Crosby, Stills and Nash. But, my favorite question she asked us was: "are you hungry?" We all looked at each other, silently wondering whether it was a trick question. 15 minutes later, Sonia returned with a plate full of cheeses and meats, and a bottle of her preferred wine. It was fully engrossing to hear her stories and her perspective on things like youth, relationships, work, music and parenting.

Tuscan Sun

But, how much beauty of another kind is here, when, on a fair clear morning, we look, from the summit of a hill, on Florence! See where it lies before us in a sun-lighted valley, bright with the winding Arno, and shut in by swelling hills; its domes, and towers, and palaces, rising from the rich country in a glittering heap, and shining in the sun like gold!

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

The Value of Art

Italy remains the home of Art, and it is but just she should keep these treasures, though the age that brought them forth has passed away. They are her only support now; her people are dependent for their subsistence on the glory of the Past. The spirits of the old painters, living still on their canvas, earn from year to year the bread of an indigent and oppressed people. This ought to silence those utilitarians at home, who oppose the cultivation of the fine arts, on the ground of their being useless luxuries. Let them look to Italy, where a picture by Raphael or Correggio is a rich legacy for a whole city. Nothing is useless that gratifies the perception of Beauty, which is at once the most delicate and the most intense of our mental sensations, binding us by an unconscious link nearer to nature and to Him, whose every thought is born of Beauty, Truth and Love. I envy not the man who looks with a cold and indifferent spirit on these immortal creations of the old masters—these poems written in marble and on the canvas. They who oppose every thing which can refine and spiritualize the nature of man, by binding him down to the cares of the work-day world alone, cheat life of half its glory.

Bayard Taylor, Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff, 1875


Here, open to all comers, in their beautiful and calm retreats, the ancient Sculptors are immortal, side by side with Michael Angelo, Canova, Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael, Poets, Historians, Philosophers - those illustrious men of history, beside whom its crowned heads and harnessed warriors show so poor and small, and are so soon forgotten. Here, the imperishable part of noble minds survives, placid and equal, when strongholds of assault and defense are overthrown; when the tyranny of the many, or the few, or both, is but a tale; when Pride and Power are so much cloistered dust. The fire within the stern streets, and among the massive Palaces and Towers, kindled by rays from Heaven, is still burning brightly, when the flickering of war is extinguished and the household fires of generations have decayed; as thousands upon thousands of faces, rigid with the strife and passion of the hour, have faded out of the old Squares and public haunts, while the nameless Florentine Lady, preserved from oblivion by a Painter’s hand, yet lives on, in enduring grace and youth.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

In a Dark Time

We passed through the strangest, funniest, undreampt-of old towns, wedded to the customs and steeped in the dreams of the elder ages, and perfectly unaware that the world turns round! And perfectly indifferent, too, as to whether it turns around or stands still. They have nothing to do but eat and sleep and sleep and eat, and toil a little when they can get a friend to stand by and keep them awake. They are not paid for thinking—they are not paid to fret about the world's concerns. They were not respectable people—they were not worthy people—they were not learned and wise and brilliant people—but in their breasts, all their stupid lives long, resteth a peace that passeth understanding! How can men, calling themselves men, consent to be so degraded and happy.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869