As you may know, I haven’t been a fan of social media. (For more on that, click here.) All this crowd-sourcing, this electronic interaction--it's a stage for narcissism. “Look at what I made.” “Look at what I ate.” “My life’s better than yours.” Or “my life’s worse.”
I post on facebook, mostly because my publishers insist on it. I refuse pinterest. I can't fathom google+. And I don’t tweet much. I don’t want my experiences reduced to a hashtag. #bestdinnerofmylife. #sickofbeingsick. Or the ultimate insanity: #iloveyou.
Then we went to Italy for two and a half weeks: Venice, Florence, and Siena. They say Stendhal passed out from all the cultural treasures. I’ve always accused him of daft drama. I hadn’t been in twenty-five years. I didn’t pass out. But I, too, changed.
I’ve always fallen on the Gallic side of the France/Italy split. I like French culture, French food, and best of all, the French countryside, particularly down south in the Vaucluse. As a committed introvert, I like the way the French are often silent, rather than talkative. I like the way they don’t feel the need to smile at strangers. Heck, I even like Parisians. I love grammar. I love that it’s a national sport. And I’m not embarrassed to be wrong. I once had a French woman stick her finger in my mouth, not to provoke anything nefarious, but to help me pronounce “poivre” to her liking. She wanted to hold down my tongue. You gotta love that chutzpah. (Which is a word she couldn’t pronounce if she tried.)
I've always found most Italians too brash, too loud: “too much of a muchness,” to quote Lewis Carroll. I quoted Julia Child regularly: “Anyone can make a plate of pasta but it takes a skilled chef to put out a fine, French meal.”
Not any more. Maybe it’s because I lived in Manhattan for a decade and got fully bored with ennui. Maybe it’s because I grew up and learned to stand on my own two feet, mostly to brawl in conversation. Maybe it’s my current penchant for Italian wine. Something snapped—and I now find myself on the other side of the divide.