To Italy With Love

| Thu, 06/11/2020 - 03:50

In late February, I was at a press event for Cremini, a new Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. The boutique space teemed with energy because the restaurant was unique, the first in America to feature the cuisine of Le Marche; and - more importantly - the owners, Italian newlyweds, had decided to embark on this endeavor while vacationing in America just prior to their wedding. All the guests, journalists and influencers and dignitaries, both American and Italian, recognized the passion between the two countries that inspired the owners bold adventure.  

I knew how they felt. Twenty years ago, two days into my first visit to Il Bel Paese, so overwhelmed by everything that was Italy, I decided to change my life and move there. Two years later, I was living in the hills south of Florence writing my first novel. And even though I eventually returned to New York, my career as a writer, of both novels and journalism, has been informed in many ways by Italy. This is why I was invited to Cremini for the celebratory opening and why I was so excited to be there. I was among my people. Yet among the joyful toasts and friendly chatter and new acquaintances being made was the ominous murmur about the arrival of coronavirus in Italy.

Andrew Cotto's paradise in the hills of Florence plus the cover image of his book Cucina Tipica
Andrew Cotto's paradise in the hills of Florence plus the cover image of his book "Cucina Tipica" 

Two weeks later, the country was in lockdown. The despair this caused the lovers of Italy in America is hard to quantify, even when the corona-virus came for us. Like so many of my fellow lovers of Italy, not a day went by when I didn’t follow the Italian experience through Social Media (props to Italy magazine for doing such a great job!) and messages with friends in Italy and friends here. The constant question was: When will Italy reopen?

Restaurateur in Milan protesting against reopening
Restaurateur in Milan protesting against reopening 

And here we are, with Italy open again to other European nations and soon to America. The opening is slow, which is wise, and I imagine the return will reflect that pacing. Even fervent Italy enthusiasts (like me!) will remain Covid-weary for the time being with not so much a hesitation about travel to Italy in particular but travel in general. I don’t see a lot of excitement from the average tourist for getting on a plane going anywhere, especially long distances.

I can see travel professionals and journalists (like me!) coming this summer (Me! Me!) to get a sense of the conditions on the ground, to report back to clients and readers. Caution, it seems to me, will prevail over passion, and that’s a good thing considering the trauma we’ve all experienced and the unknowns that still remain. 

That said, when the glorious day arrives when coronavirus is a thing of the past (this fall? 2021? hurry already!), Italy will return to its status as one of the most desired places on earth, though I imagine a new normal. 

The pantheon before the covid 19 pandemic
The pantheon in Rome - precovid19 

Corrections are coming as a result of this experience. All of our perspectives have changed; the realities of the way we live will change, too. The days of rampant tourism to certain places will be over. 

Responsible travel, with consideration to the health of humans and the environment, will be more expensive. Those of us who want to visit the magnificence of Italy should be willing to pay more for the splendor that is provided while there. The experience will be somewhat more expensive yet more enjoyable and appreciated as well. 

The passion for Italy that filled the tiny restaurant in Brooklyn on the dawn of corona-virus will only have increased with the pandemics passing. We will return to Il Bel Paese with a deeper love and a new dedication. We will reconfigure our commitment to meet the times in which we live.    

Did I mention I’d love to come asap?

Make sure to check out Andrew's novel: "Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure"  - the story of Jacoby Pines, a disheartened American who arrives in Italy on holiday, and decides he never wants to leave. What follows is a wine-soaked, food-filled, travel-laden adventure about one man’s quest for an antiquated existence in the modern world. You can purchase the book here