They say Ciao when they greet you, and they say Ciao when they say goodbye. This way of communication was perfect for me to begin with while getting to know loud, laid back and friendly Calabrian people.
Through my sister I got to know a real south Italian, who in Calabria’s region is widely known as Dr. Antony Matozzo. There he is well respected and appreciated for his work ethics and fine personality. As a General Practitioner (GP) and Dentist Dr. Matozzo gets to meet a huge variety of people daily, that also includes hosting foreign guests in his own home. Hospitality and sincerity are the main characteristics of South Italian people. He with his open heart and hands welcomed me into his home and his beautiful, colourful and hot country. By then I truly needed to have some holiday, some good rest, some time away from responsibilities, from pending work and many other projects that I have been working on. So therefore, his friendly invitation to spend a relaxing time on Calabria’s land was given to me at the exactly right time. Without a second thought I packed my suitcase and in the middle of August between London Olympic and Paralympic Games flew all the way to South Italy. There, at the Tera-Lamezia airport, I was met by Dr. Matozzo himself and brought back into his beautiful home in a small town of Soverato – a place often visited by tourists from around the world.
It is a small town that has the most amazing panorama views pleasing onlooker’s eyes, gorgeous beaches; sunrises and sunsets make you speechless, and peoples’ warmth and welcome melt your heart each time, not to mention delicious foods and tasty wines.
I appreciated getting an opportunity to experience the delicious taste of South Italy. I immersed myself into its living, breathing, being. I indulged myself in various delicious foods, took naps in afternoons, went out at night and met Italian youth, enjoyed a glass of wine with each meal, tanned my body in the sun (actually, wisely hiding under umbrella), swam in the swimming pool, met a sunrise at 6am in the morning while strolling down the beach, conversed with a variety of Calabrian people, meditated, rested and expressed my gratitude to life for bringing me to places that always seem are there to inspire me. South Italy has this potential of not only recharging your internal battery, but also opening the door to the world of different, never experienced tastes and flavours of life.
I arrived in the evening and was immediately taken to the local seafood restaurant for dinner. I was hungry. Food was delicious. I guess by that time I was already ready to eat almost anything, anyway. I tasted a variety of seafood that before I thought I could never eat. Unexpected transformation!
On our way back to Dr. Matozzo apartment I listened to him talking non-stop. Italians have this habit of interrupting each time you try to say something. They seem not to have enough patience to listen to the end of the sentence you are trying to convey. So at one point, just 20 minutes after meeting each other, I opened my mouth and sang opera completely out of tune. This helped me to make a clear point, which was – Let me finish my sentence! He seemed obviously surprised. Then I said: “This was the only way to keep you quiet at least for that one brief moment and for me to finally finish expressing my thought. So, from now on, each time you interrupt me, I will sing opera out of tune. End of story”. To be honest, he thought I was joking, and two minutes later interruption began once more and my opera singing switched on automatically. I had to repeat my singing number of times on that evening, but on the following day conversations seemed to get better and smoother.
After I woke up in the morning, I found two huge deliciously looking chocolate croissants on the kitchen table. That was my breakfast. My friend left me a note as well informing me that he will be home by 11:30am and he also kindly insisted for me to be ready for the sunbathing on the beach. His word is his sword, I must say. He is extremely punctual and he appreciates when others respect his time. Thanks God, I have the ability to be punctual too, even though I am a woman. As you may know, we, women, have the right to be late at times, but unfortunately not in Dr. Matozzo case.
The moment we got to the beach, lunch at the local San Giovanni restaurant was already ready. Everything must be on time! Everyone seems to know everyone there… Seafood salads, tasty rose wine and gorgeous fruits made my day.
My Italian friend seemed to have a sense of humour as well, even though at times I had to think whether he was joking or being serious. At one point Dr. Matozzo very seriously told me: “Jolita, your skin looks like mozzarella cheese. Please get some sun, otherwise you look like a tourist.” I replied while laughing: “I am a tourist!”
I am not a fan of staying under the hot sun and frying myself alive, but he seemed not to hear me speaking, and instead just kept repeating over and over again like a stuck radio: “Get some tan, young lady. You are in my home country and I cannot let you go back to London with this mozzarella skin. My reputation will suffer.” He was not joking, he meant every word. Stubborn, honest Italian!
I must say, eventually I did get tanned, however not because it was my goal, as I was always hiding under umbrella, but simply because the time spent by the sea and swimming pool covered in a hot Italian sun eventually gets you some brownish skin colour. I guess, for as long as you have some healthy limits, then everything, including frying yourself under the sun, can be more than OK. I observed that it is normal for the Italians to sunbath during hot afternoons or from morning till evening almost daily. They seem to never get enough of the sun. For them it seems their skin is never brown enough. Sun is the best friend for the Italian people.
During my stay I also had a wonderful opportunity to get to know Dr. Matozzo’s niece Cathy, who tends to spend her summers in the sunny Soverato and the rest of the year with her family in the cosmopolitan city of New York, USA. This friendship made my time there even more beautiful and enjoyable. What a lovely young woman! And now a very good friend of mine. We bonded straight away and spent the whole afternoon and the rest of the days talking and discussing various subjects, going for long walks, meeting Italian youth and enjoying time by the swimming pool at luxurious 5* hotel Villa Ersilia. I must admit, I do enjoy spending time at 5* hotels, but just for two main reasons: service there is excellent and swimming pool area is often empty, so I can have fun and space as much as I want. My new friend Cathy and I knew how to take advantage of it all: we swam, we laughed, we talked, we played with water, we ate, we enjoyed the sun and talked and talked and talked.
My friend Cathy on the first day of our meeting made me a surprise gift. She decided that we both needed to get our hair washed, brushed and made-up and hairdresser’s salon was a perfect place for that.
I did put some effort in insisting that I can do without it all, but she did not seem to hear me. After the beach we went straight to a small town known as Davoli near Soverato, where three hairdressers worked on our hair. The first word I said after I saw what they have done with my hair was ‘Wow!’. I am not sure if that was due to my admiration or kind of shock. I was impressed though anyway.
My friend, Dr. Antony Matozzo, was generous in introducing me with his friends, family members, colleagues and people that he accidentally met on the street. The popularity of this person there is immense. Italians tend to embrace people they meet with their whole sincerity. I found it very easy to get used to Italian people’s warmth and closeness. Dr. Matozzo every day throughout my stay kept repeating to me: “I like your craziness and free spirit, young lady. You know, I am crazy too!” Yes, I must say in a healthy manner and lifestyle we matched.
And about Italian language… Let me just say – it sounded like a lovely melody to my ears.
Another thing that I truly enjoyed there was coffee. I did not hesitate in indulging myself in tasting delicious Italian coffee. I must say, if you want to have a good cup of coffee, you go to Italy – at least that’s what I do.
Italian people know how to enjoy their time. Sun, delicious foods, tasty wines, eye catching landscapes, the almighty sea – those are their greatest indulgences. I think to know how to take advantage of the gifts so naturally given to them is not only an ability but also a pure talent. No time is ever wasted, no regrets for over-resting, no rush, no stress, just pure enjoyment of life. That’s delicious!
Before I took my flight to Calabria, South Italy, my sister jokingly warned me as if I asked for it: “Jolita, if you expect to meet some nice young guys there, then please do not waste your energy. It is a town for retired people, no handsome guys found there.” And, oh boy, how wrong she was! Most definitely I did not go there to catch some fresh Italian ‘fish’, if I may say so, but I was very glad to tell my sister that indeed in summer the town of Soverato becomes an abode for all kind of people, including youth.
I had an opportunity to meet and spend a quality time with all sorts of them: young and old… Anyway, is there any difference between young or old, if all you look for is inspiration and good conversation?
Cathy and I enjoyed spending our time together. On one of those days she invited me to see how Italian youth party. She picked me up from my temporary home before midnight. Apparently, going dancing at this hour was still quite too early for the Italian people, but good enough for them to gather around and enjoy time together.
I was quite surprised to see such a huge crowd of people at that hour of the day. It seemed that everyone came out of their houses and hotels and gathered on the same street for one and the same purpose – to party.
Our main purpose was to get to the nightclub, but by 2am Cathy and I changed our mind and ran away from all the people. Instead we spent our time sitting in a small coffee shop by the sea, drinking tea and talking; later walking bear-feet on the small streets of the town. Eventually, by 5am we turned to go home, and Italian youth by then were somewhere in the midst of enjoying their night life. Honestly, I was happy to stay away from the nightclubs, especially after noticing that Italian people tend to blow the smoke of their cigarettes straight to your face or get far too close to you without any consideration.
Time spent with my friends Dr. Antony Matozzo and his niece and also being surrounded by a huge part of their family brought a cosy feeling to me.
I felt at home straight away. I felt relaxed. I felt welcomed. This is something I love the most about Italians – they know how to welcome their guests and make them feel like at home.
Food is their main tool gathering everyone around the table where conversations begin and lasts until late hours of the night.
I spent one full week on the soil of Calabria. In some parts of the mountains I could see trees burning and smell the smoke. An enormous heat is something that even Italians themselves are not able to handle easy – air conditioners and fresh cold water are the must.
The last few hours there I spent with my friend Cathy, who dedicated the whole morning for me. We sat by the sea watching waves gently breaking into the sandy shore, listening to the humming of the sea and breathing in some of its salty air. We talked little. Just minutes before I was about to take taxi to go to the airport, my friend Cathy surprised me by bringing me a freshly made chicken sandwich. She could not bare a thought of me being hungry while waiting for my flight. This gesture of hers warmed my heart to its fullest. I was speechless and grateful beyond words.
The moment of goodbye is not something I enjoy the most, but within time and lots of travelling I learned to stay detached and keep hope that within time we will meet again. This hope to this day keeps fulfilling itself at its own time to my greatest joy. Life can be very generous if you are open enough to notice and know how to use the gifts and chances given. You are always presented with the opportunity to find a way back to the ones you share the piece of your heart with, and then you meet again… There is always a way to continue what you have begun. My friend Cathy and I agreed to meet in New York at our earliest convenience and also I invited her to pop-in to London on her next trip to South Italy. It seems, my experiences with sweet Calabrian people did not end there and then. It shall continue for as long as it meant to in the most surprising ways possible.
Copyright © Jolita Kelias 2013
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