Italy’s Greatest Gift to the World
by G.G. Vandagriff
At the beginning of The Only Way to Paradise, my latest novel, I had four ladies with individual problems, who were certain that they would find answers to in Florence. MacKenzie had promised them that the creative energy of the Renaissance was still there, and that visiting Florence made you feel that all your dreams could come true.
She didn’t mislead them. It was just that MacKenzie didn’t realize the real truth. (Neither did I!) In the last weeks of my visit, I had several tender experiences that demonstrated to me that Italy’s greatest gift is the love emanating from this remarkably “agape” centered people. Some examples follow,all of which found their way into my story, which I was forced to rewrite, reflecting this theme.
When I fell face first onto the concrete sidewalk, I was really shook up and in pain. Florentines gathered around, wondering if I needed a doctor, cheering me on to get up. One young man, about 30 years younger than me, crouched in his business suit, so his face was level with mine. He said in gentle tones that he would help me up, a little at a time. He did. Then, he escorted me, holding my arm, to the corner cafe, where he proceeded to buy me a Coke. For forty-five minutes, he sat across from me, discussing the Duomo–the miracle dome that crowns the cathedral, and was the first one of its kind to be created. He said, “My heart pounds with excitement every time I pass it. It is a miracle.” When he got up to pay, he returned to me and handed me a parting gift–a bus ticket for four rides!
When I had finished my shopping at one of the stalls in Florence’s famous San Lorenzo street market, the vendor, overcome by emotion, handed me a sterling silver ring with an enormous turquoise stone. He said, “Because you feel like one of my family, I give you this for free.”
Possibly the greatest surprise came when I was feeling unwell at the theater. After convincing dozens of Italians I didn’t need a doctor, one of them summoned a special taxi, Milano Twenty-Five. Driven by a lady dressed in a huge flowered pink hat with flowers and pink and purple cape, the inside of her taxi was fitted out with plush pink upholstery, 3 video screens playing cartoons, and a bevy of pink plastic pigs. Later I found out that the driver had been left the taxi by her fiance who had died of cancer. She used it primarily to escort children, free of charge to the hospital for treatment.
This small sample of my adventure with agape couldn’t be topped by the love and caring of my hostess, Elisabetta, at the Residenza Betta. She mothered me, scolded me, fed me, and even invited me to her oldest son’s birthday feast! I miss her greatly.
So while the art, the countryside, and food were all wonderful, I must say that the greatest thing I took away from Italy was love. Unlike a postcard, it is in my heart forever.
After watching a romantic Italian movie together, four women in a therapy group discuss the question, “If Italy is so wonderful and therapeutic, what are we doing in Ohio?” Dubbing themselves “The Crazy Ladies of Oakwood,” they all take off for Florence, packing their worries with them. Their lives will change forever in this seat of the Renaissance, but not at all in the ways they expected. Possessed of more than artistic treasures, they find that Italians seem to be born with unique gifts of agape (unconditional love) and phillia (love for mankind). It is this balm that is applied gently into their weary souls. The Crazy Ladies slowly transform while embracing these Italian virtues. They discover romance as well as a healing that binds them together and puts them on the road to recovery, “The Only Way to Paradise.”
G.G. Vandagriff is the author of twelve books, including The Only Way to Paradise. You can visit her at her website http://ggvandagriff.com.