This is my first blog post (yes, I showed up to the party a little late, I’m sorry, the traffic, you wouldn’t believe, couldn’t decide what to wear, does this make me look fat?, but I made some amazing dip, where can I get a glass of wine?), and, as seems inevitable with firsts,—the first of the year, the first day of a new job, the first time you wake up and realize the details of the party you attended the night before are a little sketchy and whose apartment is this, anyway?—it has led to a bit of spontaneous stock taking.
I recently got back from a trip to Hawai’i, where I spent the holidays with my brother, who just moved to Kaua’i (my brother has many laudable qualities, not least of which is his predilection to reside in beautiful places). When I returned to my “hometown” of Assisi, not a few friends, after hearing me recount my absolutely perfect vacation on the Garden Isle (for which I would like to publicly thank the aforementioned Brother, who is also one of my favorite people on earth and really knows how to show guests a good time), asked me in a conspiratorial murmur, “Weren’t you tempted to move there?”
And I have to say that I surprised even myself by answering honestly and decisively, “No”.
Now don’t get me wrong, Kaua’i is breathtakingly gorgeous…but of course, I already live in a place that is breathtakingly gorgeous, though Kaua’i is all about pristine palm-fringed beaches and verdant jungles where Umbria is all about rolling wooded land interspersed with vineyards or olive groves and tiny medieval stone hill towns. However, once you live in a gorgeous place you start to get a little insouciant about the whole marveling at other places’ natural beauty thing.
And the people of Kaua’i are certainly warm and welcoming, in a very forward “ALOHA!!” sort of way. But, of course, the people in Umbria are the same, though in a much more formal and reserved “Buongiorno, Signora” sort of way. In fact, it took me a couple of days to get reacclimated to the American peculiarity of readily starting up long and intimate conversations with perfect strangers, who just minutes later are crowned your New Best Friend. I am considered quite gregarious in Umbria, but a bit stand-offish in Hawai’i.
The rhythm of life in Kaua’i is certainly a sustainable one, as is that of Umbria. These are doubtless two populaces who have not tacked up “winning the rat race” amongst their top ten life goals. Both spend an admiral amount of time doing what we humans are programmed to do: enjoying life. One dedicates itself to surfing and pimping monster trucks, and the other to truffle hunting and pimping tagliatelle, but the end product of contentment with their lot is the same.
And speaking of tagliatelle, these are also two places where one can eat wonderful fresh local food. Kauai’i has a cuisine which reflects its social history of successive waves of immigrants from Polinesia and Japan, where Umbria’s is a testament to an immobile and insular regional history, with a cuisine which has remained largely unchanged for centuries (they still eat unsalted bread, after a spat with the Vatican over the salt tax in the mid-sixteenth century. They’re not into nouvelle cuisine, here.).
In short, Kaua’i, according to all the usual parameters is, indeed, paradise on earth. I must be crazy not to want to move there, right?
The thing is, is that sometimes you move to a place for very tangible reasons…its beauty, its economy, its convenience. But sometimes you get off a plane, set your suitcase down, and in a flash, or a wave, or a slow, flowering moment you feel you have come home. It’s nothing you can really put your finger on, but instead a primordial recognition of having arrived where you are supposed to stay. I have experienced that with only one place in my life until now, and that place was not Kaua’i, or Paris, or Charleston, or Mykonos, or even Chicago, where I was born. That place is here, in Umbria.
Not to say that my life here is perfect. In the more than 15 years since I settled here, there have been beginnings and endings, births and deaths, gains and losses…in a word, there has been a life. But I have the conviction that it has been the life I was supposed to have had in the place I was supposed to be. And just that feeling of it being right is…paradise.