There's a statue in Rome whose history is of feuding artists. The fountain—called The Fountain of Four Rivers—is located in the famous Piazza Navona. When it was commissioned by the pope in 1651, the story goes that the project was first given to an artist named Borromini and then stolen away by his arch nemesis, a man named Bernini.
It was the middle of January and I was on a beautiful coastal walk with the sun warming my skin and a gentle breeze cooling my face. To my left, fields of bright green clover, patches of fresh thyme and chamomile, and small stone goat sheds made from pinkish-white stones stretched up a hill. To my right, sheer cliffs dropped into the ocean, which stretched into the horizon. Behind me, a small ancient fort stood watch over the coastline. And ahead, a dusty, but well-kept path led over rocky beaches, deserted swimming areas, and clay mudslides, now dried in the sunshine. When I describe this January scene, where do you picture me? In South America, where January is summertime? In Ecuador or Hawaii, with their year-round mild climates?
Doug and Diane Jones' retirement dream had been a small organic farm in the Oregon wilderness… So it came as a surprise when, nearing retirement, they realized that they were tired of working sun-up to sundown on the farm and a new and unexpected retirement dream—of living in sunny, rural, authentic southern Italy—had taken its place. "We worked most of our lives because we didn't come from money and we had to work for it. We always spent our vacations visiting family—you know, the guilt-trip thing. We never took trips abroad. We were too poor in both vacation time and money.
Recently, I was sitting on a French beach. The sunshine was warm on my back and bathing suit-clad locals and tourists splashed happily in the surf in front of me. A gentle sea breeze blew over the water, as couples strolled the promenade behind me with their small dogs and young children. It felt just like the middle of summer. The funny thing? It was actually November. In fact, that day, Biarritz—the French beach town where I was staying—was officially the warmest city in Europe. It beat even southern Spain and always-temperate Malta to claim the title. And everyone was celebrating the early winter sunshine with a dip in the Bay of Biscay.
For most of history, home was simply where you were born. It was your tribe. Your family. Your community—big or small. It wasn’t really something you chose. But today, you have more freedom to go your own way. You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to. In short, in an increasingly-globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default. I could delve into the reasons for this—air travel, the Internet, globalization. But you already know the world is getting smaller, easier to travel, easier to navigate.
When I think about my winter in Italy, I think of cobblestone alleyways sparkling with rain, mist-shrouded cathedrals in the "hill country," days spent with tourist attractions almost all to myself, and a pleasant chill in the air—cool, but not too cold. I based myself, during my five winter weeks in Italy, in the mid-sized university town of Perugia, which is the capital of Umbria, Tuscany's lesser known but just-as-lovely neighbor. It's a place of rolling hills, world-famous wines, and postcard-perfect mountain towns. Because Umbria is nestled in between Tuscany (where you will, of course, find pretty, popular Florence, as well as a sunflower-dotted countryside that has inspired writers, artists, and tourists alike) and Lazio (the region that houses historic, grandiose Rome), it was the perfect place to do a little exploring.
It was New Year’s Eve 2012 and the view outside my window was perfect. In the darkness, I could just make out the rolling Italian hills, dotted with brick houses with terracotta rooftops. A lone bell tower rose from a small, ancient church into the sky. And as the bell tolled midnight, the sky lit up with fireworks from three different directions.