What I learned from a tour guide, Chef and Michelangelo
I went to Italy on a 10-day trip to Tuscany and Rome a couple of weeks ago. It was my immediate family and our significant others. We went to Tuscany for 8 days and then ended the trip in Rome. We stayed in a beautiful villa in Panzano, Tuscany and took small day trips to the local towns and then some of the bigger cities like Florence, Luca, and Cinque Terre. We had a private tour guide who was local to the area and brought us around. We had a chef who came and taught us to cook homemade pasta and pizza, and then we have another tour guide bring us all through Florence to point out and teach us about the art and history of the city.
It truly was the trip of a lifetime. We had such a blast drinking wine, eating unlimited bread cheese and pasta and just being together. But the icing on the cake was really learning about and getting to know some of the locals. Our tour guides and chef were so gracious, all with huge smiles and a deep appreciation for their country and its history. They all lived very different lives, but they all taught me something that I didn’t think I would find in the classic Italian laid back culture.
They all taught me that they are all incredibly hard workers, you can reinvent yourself many times in your life, and don’t rush the process.
Italy is known for its laid-back culture, focused around food family and an appreciation for the things that are all around them. Going into the trip I was expecting only this type of lifestyle and I absolutely saw this, but once I really learned more about our tour guide, chef and the life of Michelangelo, I realized there was so much more to the people than that.
Like any good book, or an onion, when you dig deeper in and peel back the layers, there is always more than what meets the eye, and I absolutely found that here in Italy, in its people.
Now, my opinion and experience could have been completely different if I got to know a different set of people, but they are the ones that I met and what I learned from them really stuck.
Let’s start by giving a quick back story on each of them:
Our tour guide who was with us for 3 days bringing us to all the local cities, was actually from Germany. She moved to Italy after “Hotel School” and worked in a hotel to “practice her Italian” and she never looked back. She met her husband who was a chef, then they opened a restaurant in a small local town that became a Michelin Star restaurant. They had two kids and the restaurant became too much, so then she became a tour guide and started bringing people all over the local Tuscan Chianti Classico region.
Our chef went to school to be an English teacher and then moved to London to find work. The first job he found was a cook in a big fancy hotel. He always loved cooking so he took the role, and then stayed there for 15 years. During that time he met his wife who was also Italian, and they moved home to Italy to have their family. In Italy, he started a huge restaurant that had over 30 tables in it. He ran that for years and then also decided to back off a bit and slow down. Today, he owns a wine bar in the center of a small town and teaches cooking lessons to tourists who rent in the area.
Then there was Michelangelo. He is not alive, so I didn’t personally meet him but I was blown away by his story and the impact that he made in not only Florence but the world of art. Michelangelo was the greatest of the Italian Renaissance artists. He was born in a small village and then grew up in Florence. By the age of 13, he was an artist’s apprentice and creating work that we still are paying to see today. He also became a sculptor and later in his life he got into architecture. In his lifetime he was commissioned to do many pieces of artwork for churches and wealthy families. A few of his greatest pieces of artwork include the statue of David, the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Pieta, and the Last Judgement which is also in the Sistine Chapel. These are just a few of the many pieces of artwork he created in his lifetime. All of which crowds gather around to this day to get a glimpse of the masterful work he has done.
Clearly, these three individuals are all VERY different. Not even remotely similar, but there are parts of their story, characteristics they all have that are all the same. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.
They are all incredibly hard workers. You don’t just casually open up a Michelin Star restaurant, slave in a restaurant of a famous hotel, or paint a 40.9-meter ceiling in the Sistine Chapel without working hard. The Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo 4 years to paint, and it took our chef 15 years of experience working in a high-end restaurant until he had the skills and knowledge to open up his own. That is HARD freaking work, and you have to work even harder to do it and then become the best at it. The culture may be known as laid back, but it doesn’t mean that the people within it aren’t working their butts off to achieve their dreams.
They all ALSO reinvented themselves many times in their lives. They didn’t have one path or do one thing for their entire life. In the U.S. it seems as everyone is on a path. They go to work and then work their way up one path, without much variance. It’s just what you do, and if you don’t do that and you try something different or new people question you, it’s like taboo. They don’t understand. With these three individuals that were completely the opposite. Michelangelo started off as a painter, then became a sculptor and then an architect… AND he was renowned in his work in each of those areas. Granted he was known as a genius in what he did, but he still did it! So many people who are geniuses or have lots of talent don’t even try to do something like that.
Then there was our tour guide who ran a hotel, then a restaurant and now it is a travel guide. She doesn’t quite measure up to Michelangelo’s level but she still reinvented herself time and time again and found success with each new turn. That still takes guts and work and is incredibly impressive that she found success over and over in completely different fields.
I think that was one of the greatest lessons I learned, that all of us could learn. Just because you are doing something today, or you are on this path, it doesn’t mean you are stuck there. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make a change and reinvent yourself and still be successful. You CAN reinvent yourself, you CAN do something differently, you CAN follow your dream and have your cake and eat it too.
Then finally, none of them seemed to rush the process. Now I must reiterate, I did not meet Michaelangelo so he could have been a crazy man speeding through every project he had to finish. But in the attention of detail in his work and the quality of what he created, I just can’t believe that was the case.
The two people I did meet, our tour guide and the chef did not rush the process. The chef took his time and learned all that he could in the restaurant business before starting his own. Then when that became too much he downsized and opened a wine bar that became the top bar in the town we stayed. He was never in a rush to get somewhere or to the next thing or goal, and he still got there successfully. Even when he was teaching us how to make pasta and bread, there wasn’t really a sense of urgency to get it done, but he carefully went through the process of showing us step by step with no impatience in between.
This was another huge lesson to me because I am super type A and don’t do anything slowly. I walk fast, talk fast, everything. I am also always eager to hit the next goal and do the next thing so I am always looking for ways to hurry up the process to get there faster. Understanding and seeing that things not only take time, but you will still get there, in the end, was almost a relief for me. It showed me that it is okay to give yourself space and time to slow down and fully be in the process of working through it one day at a time.
So there you have what I learned about the Italian lifestyle from a chef, tour guide and Michelangelo!
You meet so many different people when you travel and learn about the history and what made the people and the country who they are today. But how much of that are you fully absorbing and analyzing, making comparisons and contrasts to how you live your own life? I think making mental notes of reflection makes it all the more interesting. With that, I would like to challenge you, the next time you go away to ask yourself, What did you find to be different? What do you notice? What will you learn?
Until next time, ciao!