A border view: Florence, Europe and the World

“So, you want to know about Italia, yes?” the woman said in a thick Italian accent. She had her hands on her robust hips and looked down at all 25 of us seated under the veranda.

I looked around at my peers, each also a student from the U.S. We were tired, hungry, some of us slightly hung-over, and most of us seriously jet-lagged. It had been three days and culture shock was no longer just a vague term.

To distract us, the program decided to take us on a tour of a nearby vineyard.

Maria, one of the owners, explained to us how the vineyard worked and what they did day to day to keep it running.

“But what more can I tell you,” she said to herself, biting her lower lip. “I can teach to, ah, how to make a bolognese sauce!”

Our ears perked up. “Well you get the poÂmodori … uh tomatoes? And the cream and the meat, the carrots, but …” she paused as she looked us over.

“You know, the cooking isn’t just about the eating of the food. When you eat something, a part of that, a small, um, piece will stay with you forever!” she gestured eternity with her clean hands, a stark contrast to her stained shirt.

“Italians, we think that to cook for someone is to love them. We know that, like Jesus, who shared his food, who loved others, we share our food and love others. That is why we eat together.

“You want a bit of everything, some pasta of course, pasta gives you energy! And you need the milk for strong bones, and meat for the muscles, and wine … wine is healthy too,” she said.

“We drink the wine because it is good for us. We do not drink alone, no no, that is not good. But wine helps to digest the food, to build the muscles, and if you get a little tipsy, helps the conversation!

“But we no drink for the sport. We no go out to get drunk. We drink when we eat, when we are together, because it is good for us,” she finished.

I rarely had heard ‘alcohol’ and ‘good for you’ in the same sentence without ‘not’ in-between them. My entire life, alcohol was this mystical ‘drug’ that was to be avoided at all costs.

People were addicted to it, teenagers abused it and parents locked it up like they would guns.

Food, too, was a constant harbinger of doom. While at home, I could barely turn on the TV without seeing reports of obesity or commercials for diets.

And yet in Italy, none of that seemed to be a problem. Food and wine are built around the principals of faith and family. They are to be enjoyed and savored, not shunned and reÂcoiled from.

“Come, come, I cooked for you, let’s eat!” Maria said.

We all sat down to her home cooked meal, excited and hungry, wine glasses at the ready. However, this time the meal wasn’t about the wine or the food, but more about the people we were with.

I guess the culture wasn’t so shocking after all.