Like a shy suitor, Padova, Italy, has revealed itself to me slowly over the last year and a half. Never quite sure where I would like to call home, this city has won me over, brick by brick, season by season.
After five years of feeling like I didn’t fit where I lived, this slow intertwining of myself with Padova is a gift.
I am falling in love with where I am.
Winter: Solstice and ghosts
I first visited Padova with my sister in the dead of winter 2014 — literally, on the shortest day of the year, winter solstice. Arriving here from sunny, brash Rome, we were cold, and it was dark and so medieval — close-in streets, cobblestones, almost dreary. I half-expected knights to round a corner with someone in chains, miserable and wet, in tow.
We met up with Dan, an Italian friend of mine from a lifetime ago in the jungle of Amazonian Ecuador, who kindly showed us Padova’s strange astrological clock in the main square and introduced us to the joys of a cocktail called “spritz.”
At night, we walked the city’s streets, quiet and nearly alone with the city’s university out of session for the holiday. The specola loomed out of the darkness, a 1,000-year-old tower with a complex history of torture, defense and even discovery — in the late 1700s, it was converted to an astronomical observatory.
We wandered to a lovely circular open garden, where a huge Christmas tree warmed the space with lights, and a few couples marveled. I imagined this is where the ghosts of the specola come to spend their time in the long cold nights.
I imagined I could return here some day.
Fall: Every movie ever about Italy
The day after returning in September, I joined new friends at a neighbor’s vineyard near Padova to pick grapes (not grapefruit, as was originally explained to me, to my great confusion).
Here, I met Paolo, a 70-something-year-old who proceeded to create the most Italian experience I could possibly imagine in all my “Walk in the Cloud” dreams — but for real.
First, we sat in a stone building, the door thrown open wide to let the lovely early fall warmth circulate. Paolo began loading the table as he finished preparing dishes: risotto with fresh-grated cheese. Salami with bread. Homemade strawberry wine. Grappa — northern Italy’s grain alcohol of choice — white wine, coffee.
Paolo chatted on toward me as if I completely understood what he was saying (I had absolutely no idea) but I smiled wide anyway, happy to be in what felt like a real-life enactment of the vineyard scene in every movie set in Italy I’ve ever seen.
Only after we were good and decently liquored up were we given a pair of sharp scissors and sent into the vineyards. I snipped along, the majority of the grapes making it into the basket below but a fair number into my mouth — juicy, sweet and rich explosions on the tongue. The sun lowered in the sky as Paolo’s cat Mimi meowed along with us in the field.
At the end of the row, we took a mildly-earned break for more wine (really, we were just starting to sober up) and salami and coffee. And heck, why not, one more shot of grappa.
Spring: Poetry and invention
Last weekend, I parked myself at café on a plaza next to a profusion of white blossoming trees. I ordered a café and chocolate croissant (in Italian, thank you very much!) that sticky-flaked on my fingers.
I thought about how this was the appropriate moment to use Italian’s newest word, petaloso, which means “full of petals,” and was added by blessing of the Italian Language Academy that makes such decisions just this February. A young boy wrote this word for a class paper, and instead of correcting him, his teacher submitted it to the Academy. They agreed.
Now, my new Italian friends, with one exception, hate this word and love to talk about how ridiculous it is. I have since suggested other new words — biciloso (full of bikes) and vinoloso (full of wine) — with no success so far.
A man walks by, asking to another man, “Hai visto la luna? / Did you see the moon last night?”
I think: Yes, and I was struck (lunaloso).
Summer: Inside and known
I have yet to know Padova in the heat of summer, but this year, I should. I’m told it’s the kind of hot that presses you into the cool ground and saps all but the energy to create lazy daydreams at midday.
But may I please confess, Dear Reader, that I believe I have found Summer inside of me here in Padova already.
Take, for instance:
- Some weeks ago I wandered the streets at night with my boyfriend. We had a drink at a wine cellar, walked arm in arm, and he dipped me for a kiss, both of us laughing under a charming street lantern.
- People here regularly say “Mamma Mia!” in all earnestness — and I jump (just a little bit, enough to be kooky-cute but not crazy) every time I hear it.
- Paolo has sent a bottle of wine just for me via a friend.
I have to leave Padova for some weeks, so I will keep this light burning bright. I can’t wait to return in the heat of summer to know this city further.
Padova, until then — un bacio.