Written by Cosima Smith, (University of Virginia) Student Correspondent CET Siena, Fall 2018
People have a love for Tuscany that is literally incredible–there are stories written about living and loving and exploring the countryside of Florence and the surrounding cities while the rest of Italy is, quite unfortunately, ignored. I mean, some of my favorite credits ever received were earned in a course that explored, and perpetuated, this habit entitled “Love Affair with Tuscany” (big shoutout to UVA’s amazing professor Cesaretti and the wonderful lecturer Stella Mattiolli). Having been here for a few months, I still can understand why people are drawn to this region, even as the bitter cold begins to set in. However, in our recent traveling seminar, a new world unfolded before my eyes!
Sicily. The place stereotyped as home of the mafia, a dangerous land full of gangsters and mafiosos. To say I fell in love with the cities we visited would be an understatement. I was enamored by the people’s open demeanor and light humor, the liveliness of the city and those that inhabit it drew me in like the sweet smell of pistachio butter or the tangy ragu of a fresh arincinu. I was once more a child, full of wonder and revitalized after a semester in Siena. Don’t get me wrong–I love the city I chose for study abroad–but, Calabria was an amazing melting pot of fresh faces, smells, sounds, and colors.
Italy has held a very special place in my heart since the very first time I visited. In, and even before, high school there is a tendency to ask kids where they see themselves in five, 10, 20 years. I always dreaded this question because I was never able to see a future for myself even five years down the line. After starting college, I still wasn’t sure I would make it to my ripe old age of 21. In my second year of school, I studied for two weeks in Prato and Florence, two cities of the Tuscan countryside–and, for the first time, I saw myself 30 or 40 years in the future. I was wearing what I know only as a church hat, basking in the beautiful sunlight, skin beginning to wrinkle.
Sicily, and more specifically Calabria, reinvigorated this daydream. I could see myself living there–being alive in the city of wonder I had the opportunity to experience first-hand. Located near Mt. Etna, the fire of volcanic energy seemed to seep into all of us experiencing the city together. I constantly found myself alive with energy, ready to tackle the objectives for the day, ready to bask in the sunlight and the heat which the dark volcanic stone comprising the city collected throughout the day. Others around me seemed to echo my feelings, smiles beaming from their faces as they passed strangers on the street, ever ready to strike up conversation to any that seemed interested and able to spare some time to make a new friend.
Of all of the wonderful experiences I’ve been utterly blessed to have, visiting Calabria takes the cake. My program isn’t even over and I’m already thinking of the next time I’ll be able to visit (Southern) Italy! Sure, I love Siena, and I love Tuscany. I really do–I can still see myself here at 50 or 60 years old, large hat in tow, soaking in the sunlight. But because of the traveling seminar, I can see more of that in-between period–for that I am thankful.