I heard a story about a Manhattan shrink that intrigues me. His prescription for female patients who are depressed or suffering from low self-esteem is this:
Take one Italian Vacation and call me when you come home...if you come home!
Smart shrink! From my experience, the test results are in: Every woman I've ever met (including me) who takes an Italian vacation comes back rejuvenated, strengthened, and often cured of whatever had been plaguing her.
So what is the secret ingredient that Italy has to turn our lives around?
I delved into this question while writing 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go, talking to over a hundred women about their Italian travel experience and remembering my own, that began in 1976. I kept asking: "Why do you love Italy?" Inevitably this answer came: "It feels like Home."
I understand "It feels like home" coming from someone like me, an Italian-American, who grew up with grandparents, aunts, and uncles who emigrated from southern Italy. I fell in love with Italy at my grandparents' dining room table in Newark, New Jersey: a loving, abundant, and delicious place. Ever since my first trip there, over 30 years ago, that beautiful childhood feeling from that New Jersey dining room table rushes back at me each time I touch down in Italy.
But what about all those women without a drop of Italian blood who answered, "It feels like home."
Obviously, we're talking "Home" in that wonderful sweeping sense-Home meaning "a place that understands us, a place that feeds our soul."
We feel it as soon as we land in Italy: a deluge of sensual pleasures: We see masterpieces, gorgeous sunsets, fountains, gardens, we smell the ragu, taste the wine and gelato, hear church bells, the lilting Italian language. We feel the Mediterranean sun on our shoulders. It's such an overload of sensual pleasures, we lose our minds and our hearts melt open.
And then Italy embraces us.
It's this embrace, I believe, that leads to the answer to my question. Yes, Italy is probably one of the world's most welcoming country to everyone, but it seems to be especially custom made to welcome women.
Why do Women Love Italy? Because Italy Loves Women. Women are adored here, from baby principessas to nonnas. And who doesn't adore being adored?
On the surface, the adoration comes from those handsome Italian men, who in the great tradition of Casanova, have mastered the art of flirting. But in Italy, the adoration of women goes even deeper than that. It's rooted in this culture that's worshipped women as divine beings ever since the earth was cooling.
Could this be the secret ingredient? Italy's long tradition of female worship? You're surrounded by it everywhere you turn. It comes on most strongly through two deities who reign supreme, side-by-side: Venus, that Vixen Goddess of Love and Beauty, and the Madonna, the Mother of Abundance and Compassion. We come face to face with these females in sculptures and paintings in museums, temples, and churches. Their essence floats in the Italian air, buoying us. Together, Venus and the Madonna embody the complete woman: The Venus side of us that's the whimsical, adventurous beauty who revels in sensual pleasures and the Madonna side of us-the nurturing, compassionate soul whose generosity is boundless.
Stand back and take a look at an Italian woman striding down the via-she knows those divine Venus-Madonna sparks live inside her. For the rest of us, a trip to Italy fans those sparks. It reawakens us and takes us back to our true divine nature, to our souls. Effortlessly, it takes us home.
So you could spend years on a psychiatrist's couch. Or, as that Manhattan shrink suggests, you could take a trip to Italy. I say, Go! Buy that ticket. Enjoy every moment. Revel in coming home.