Nov. 23rd, 2003
Enjoying yet another one of these amazing Southern California days where the sun is shining, the air is warm, the Pacific Ocean is brilliantly blue and the pace is slow and easy. The rest of the world may make fun of us because of our laid back ways - but while they're all bundled up trying to stay warm, we're busy taking off yet another layer of clothing because we've overdressed for the day. Even with our earthquakes and fires and mudslides and smog, this is still an amazingly comfortable and beautiful place to live.
I returned earlier this week from my three week trip to Spain and Italy where I celebrated my 50th birthday and am still a little jet-lagged. But my thoughts are filled with the amazing memories of a journey that I had been looking forward to for a long time. I wasn't sure before I left why I felt so strongly about being in Rome for my birthday - I just knew I had to be there. Now that I'm back I understand better why it was so important for me to go.
For most of my life I've felt torn between two countries - my loyalties and pleasures divided to the point of never really allowing me to feel settled either on one side of the Atlantic or the other. But now I know what I didn't seem to know before; that I'm not Italian, I'm American. That Rome isn't my home, Southern California is. I no longer have anything to prove where speaking Italian is concerned either. I speak the language easily and with a lot of native skill and comfort. But I don't speak Italian like I speak English and I never will. I think I can let go now of the need to speak Italian flawlessly and with the same range of understanding and subtlety that I speak English. English is my native language and it's where I'm most perfectly capable of expressing who I am and what I feel. And at least for now that feels like enough.
My friends in Rome kept saying, "Oh my god Tom, you haven't spoken Italian for over four years and yet here you are speaking it better than you ever have! What is it with you and Italian?" But in my head I knew all the things I wasn't saying because I just didn't have the facility with idiom and humor in Italian to equal what I have in English. That didn't stop me from trying though - but eventually I realized that it was sometimes better to just sit and listen rather than work so hard at trying to say something they weren't going to understand anyway. Not an easy thing for someone like me to do, because damn if I don't always have so much to say!
Being in Rome with my childhood sweetheart Rosarita for this special birthday was a wonderful experience. We've been friends for forty years now and there's no one else outside of my family who even comes close to being in my life that long. I stayed in Rome with Rosarita and her husband Leonardo who are both professional musicians and we had a lot of fun sharing music, food, laughter and stories. The Novello wines had just come on the market and Leonardo made sure that there was always a new bottle or two on the table for dinner. Trying to describe the Novello wines to you would be almost impossible, so let me just say amazing! The Novellos, or the Nouveaus as the French like to call them, are the new wines from this fall's harvest that aren't aged but ready to drink immediately after bottling. They are most often light and fruity and absolutely a treat that's available only at this time of the year. And they're what I had with lunch and dinner almost every day of my three weeks there. Between the wine and the mind-bogglingly delicious food I was in a constant state of gastronomic and enophilic euphoria.
One of my Sundays there in Rome was a trip to Rosarita and Leonardo's little country home about an hour north of Rome near Lake Bracciano. Rosarita packed a lunch for us and we sat on the terrazzo behind the house that overlooked the countryside and ate, drank wine and shared a lot of stories and laughter together. In its way, it was as beautiful a Sunday as any that I've enjoyed here in Laguna. We took a walk after lunch into the countryside where I took some pictures of Rosarita and Leonardo and enjoyed the exquisitely beautiful rolling green hills, the fall-colored vineyards and the sheep that grazed lazily on the hillsides. Leonardo stopped to talk to an old man who was out in the fields gathering herbs and wild greens for dinner while Rosarita and I chatted and giggled about this thing and that.
I think it was somewhere late that afternoon as the sun was casting its long, deep shadows across the trees and fences, that I realized that this was a place that I would always enjoy coming to visit without feeling the need to make it my home. Perhaps if I didn't have to carve out a living for myself here, I would be able to enjoy it more and be more aware of the subtleties that often get lost in the rush of life.
My week with Rosarita and Leonardo was wonderful and interesting and sometimes even a little challenging. I learned that all of us had grown and changed a lot since we'd last been together four and a half years ago and that perhaps holding onto what was, was getting in the way of what is. I began to see Rosarita as a woman far more complex and layered than I'd been aware of before. The love and friendship that has bound us for forty years will always be there, but there are realities in the people we've become that required some adjustments on my part. In surrendering to the reality of who we are now, I let go of who I needed Rosarita to be and found pleasure in enjoying her just as she is. Somehow I can't help but thinking that my needing to go back to Rome for this birthday was more about being with her than anything else as she brings a feeling of continuity and happiness to my life that few others can approach.
For my birthday on Nov. 11th, I invited a few friends to join me for dinner at the Taverna degli Amici in downtown Rome near Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum. It's tucked back into an old Medieval part of the city in such a way that tourists for the most part don't find it. Taverna degli Amici, which means Tavern of the Friends, seemed like a fitting place to be with my treasured Roman friends and celebrate not only my birthday but our enduring friendships. In addition to Rosarita and Leonardo, there were also Rosarita's children Valerio and Margherita by her previous husband Mauro who is also a good friend and was there that evening. Rosarita's mother Daniela, who was turning 83 the next day, was with us as well and it was wonderful having her there. We blew out the candles on our cake together. My longtime friend Gianni from Pescara drove in to be with me and my most Roman of all Roman buddies Giacomo joined us as well.
It was an unforgettable evening with my Italian friends who have brought so much richness and flavor to my life. It was everything I had hoped for and more and I'm glad I moved heaven and earth to make it happen.
I started and ended my trip in Barcelona, Spain and though I'd love to tell you all about it, that story will have to wait for another time as this letter is already getting quite long. Let me just say this though - I totally fell in love with Barcelona and found it to be one of the most beautiful, vibrant and exciting cities I've ever visited. I can hardly wait to go back. My visit to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Temple on a sunny Sunday afternoon was one of the great experiences of my life. I had always thought that no artist could ever rival the sheer brilliance and wonder of Michelangelo. But Antoni Gaudi` has given me pause. His work is otherworldly in its beauty and uniqueness and has penetrated deeply into my creative imaginations. I visited Sagrada Familia twice and feel as though I've barely begun to take it all in. It truly is in my opinion, one of the great wonders of the modern world.
Two years ago Alejandro Sanz' music lit a fire in me and I had to know what this country called Spain was all about. Now I know and I can hardly wait to go back and keep exploring.
So all of that on top of traveling through Italy, Spain and the South of France by train for several days and I have to say that my creative juices have had an extraordinary new infusion of colors, textures, people, panoramas and possibilities that will no doubt sustain me for a long time to come.
So I'm back home now with a treasure chest full of great memories and a renewed enthusiasm for the life that I've created for myself here in Southern California. For as beautiful and interesting as the world is out there and for as much as I love being a part of it, something about being back on the beach in Laguna this morning was equally as satisfying and enjoyable. I could easily go out and be a gypsy if I chose to. But for now it looks like my choice is to put down some roots here and make Europe a place to look forward to visiting rather than a place to try and live. It's good to be home with both feet planted firmly here on the beach. I needed to know that this was my home, and now I do.
My heartfelt thanks to those of you who made this trip possible and to all of you for including me in your lives the way you do. At fifty I feel rich and young and alive and ready for another fifty years of adventuring. Life is good.
From the water's edge as always,