What is it about Italy that plays music in my heart even now, two months after we left those heritage shores, whose memories kindle electricity in my stomach at the darkest hour of the day, whose tastes and smells still linger in my mouth long after we had our last bottle of wine that last evening in Rome? Rome - just the word makes my fingers tingle. Florence - just the word makes my eyes cloudy. Venice - just the I missed Venice. Yet, it still does something to me. 
There are two aspects to all our experiences - the physical experience of it, and, all the psychological baggage we lug around before the experience and after the experience. 
These two - their intertwining -  make up what we experience and what we remember about the experience.
It is no wonder then that Italy has left such an impression - there is so much we already know and love and obsess about. Food, movies, cars, history, nature - few other countries have so many claims to fame. 
All these famous things come together and colour your experience even before you step out the plane, even before you first talk to an Italian, even before you smell the Roman streets. And so when you actually do these things you are experiencing double the experience.
This should be the case with all experience but in Italy everything is emotional and emotions, whether we like it or not, are what shape people. Sure there are myths about German efficiency but will the memories of the trains running on perfect time leave you teary-eyed? On the other hand when you speak to an Italian and she waves her hands around and sings her language and says "Mamma mia," every few sentences, every time you recall that conversation you will feel a warmth and a fuzz that feels very much like happiness. 
On one train journey that was meant to be 9 hours but finished at 18 hours nobody seemed very bothered except the two Indians in seat 13 and 14 and the two Australians sitting behind us. Sure the train was broken, sure we didn't have food or water, sure the toilets were beginning to develop dangerous levels of toxicity - so what? The Italians chatted and chatted. Only the foreigners were hassled and upset. You realize only later that they were right - 18 hours isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things. We barely remember how we 'suffered'. Instead, we remember how beautiful and blue the sea rushing past our windows, how friendly and curious and open the old lady from Acireale (and the flower sculptures from some festival she showed us on her tiny phone, every time struggling to her feet and coming over).
Italy is more than a physical place - it is a movie, set in real locations, with real people, jumping backward and forward in time, and like the best movies, it leaves unmistakeable impressions in your mind. For example, there is one corner of my mind that has been permanently painted the colour Amalfi blue. Another corner of my mind has taken on the stark rock and snow and ice of the Dolomites. Another still is constantly singing in Italian. A small corner is forever drunk on cheap Italian wine. 
Allora, how can I end this miserable little tribute to that least miserable of countries? With a disclaimer of course: I am aware of the philosophical and practical objections to the romanticising of places. But I am not documenting the country. I am merely translating and providing a conduit for all the emotions that Italy provoked in my soul and continues to provoke. 
Do yourself a favour - go to Italy. That feeling in your chest months after you come back when you sit at your desk and think of the rows of Tuscan Cyprus trees, there's a word for that feeling my friends, and there's plenty of that feeling in Italy. 
And if nothing else, know that a decent bottle of wine costs 3 euros. 

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