Cassandra Santoro is the CEO and founder of Travel Italian Style. As a personal trip planner, she has visited all 20 regions of Italy. Cassandra also spends six months each year traveling the country. Her focus is to find inspiring and real experiences, since she also specializes in heritage trips. Today, she’s sharing with us a reflection of life in Italy through grateful eyes during this coronavirus lockdown. She’s also a member of the NYC chapter of The Nomadic Network.
For fourteen years, I have been either traveling, working, and/or living in Italy. The highlight has been the past five years of owning my own travel company, Travel Italian Style, and living a life split between Italy and NYC (six months in each).
However, for four of those five years, I allowed the pressure of my work, social media, and competition to get in my head. Every day was about go, go, go, instead of taking the time to appreciate that I had created my dream job (Travel Italian Style) and that I was living between two places I believed were the most beautiful in the world, New York City and Italy.
I was planning to return to Italy on May 15, 2020. Except, as I am sure you can relate, thanks to COVID-19, the universe decided it had other plans for my life. Right now, I am currently neither in New York City nor Italy. I am living in the guest room of my mother’s home on Long Island. Yes, I am sad not to be traveling, and I am discouraged about my business. But right now, I understand the priority is not sacrificing my health or the health of others.
Nonetheless, I say bluntly, it sucks.
During the quarantine, I haven’t picked up cooking or baking bread. I haven’t started a workout channel or read four novels. Instead, I have sat still for the first time in a long time.
I have also been going through my 1,000+ iPhone photos and reflecting on the moments I’ve loved the most. Most of these memories are simple, everyday occurrences. I realized I miss the calming, distant sounds of the sea outside my apartment rental in Amalfi and the clinking of the restaurant’s glasses below. I miss the lingering conversations from the local signore and the children playing soccer in the piazza. I miss the everyday cultural lessons and warm Italian embraces.
I am using this time as a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have the opportunity to travel. I also remind myself that while hard work pays off, it’s okay to sit back every once in a while and enjoy la dolce vita too.
I hope to be traveling again sooner than later. In the meantime, below I reimagine one of my typical Italian morning scenes.
Grazie, and I hope to see you one day in Italia!
When I wake, I will hear the barking dog, the ringing of the church bells, and my neighbors yelling at one another in their Neapolitan dialect. I won’t even mind if they make extra noise, banging their pots and pans as they sometimes do. As long as I feel I am there, but not right there where they are standing. You see, the husband is usually yelling from outside on their balcony, where he stands almost entirely naked, except that area covered by his white Jockey briefs.
When I wake, I will not open my eyes right away. Instead, I will stretch my arms out wide and savor every second of the one beam of sunlight shining through my narrow door. I know, I know. In the past, I complained about the lack of light that comes through that slim opening. But today I will see that sunray for what it is: a tiny golden treasure.
I will take in all the daily aromas around me: the fresh buttery cornetti baking downstairs in the local shop, the lavender laundry detergent creeping up through the wind-blown blue sheets hanging below my window, and even the smoky dust from the construction of the apartment across from mine.
When I wake, I am not going to check my email right away. It can wait. My ciaos to Signorina Martini are going to be my priority. She may complain about her son-in-law (the Man in the White Jockey Briefs), but that will be okay. I know she likes to get her problems off her chest, and I appreciate the company.
In fact, I will rearrange my schedule to give her more of my day to chat. I will start by setting the alarm for 6:30am, just like I used to. I will watch the sunrise while going for a run or practicing yoga. When I come back, I will not feel rushed and can finally devote a full twenty minutes to Signorina Martini. Yes, that is what I will do!
Next, it will be a walk to the caffè in Amalfi. I’ll allow myself extra time for this, as well. Then I will capture the scenes that usually pass me by, especially those of the gleaming Italian sea and the Vespas riding through the fresh, salty breeze. And on this beautiful morning, instead of throwing on a pair of jean shorts, I will put on a flowy summer dress, one with designs that coordinate with the multicolored, pastel-painted buildings lining the streets.
When I get to the bar, it will be as if COVID-19 never happened. No social distancing here. Today I won’t mind fighting through the typical chaotic crowd, even if I receive an accidental elbow to the face as I make my way to the counter. That’s because I will be grateful that Leo, the barista, will have my caffè macchiato ready for me upon arrival. Behind him will be the cheerful Lena in her white pastry chef hat and black apron. She will be preparing for me a warm brioche filled with the fruit of my choice.
“Frutti di bosco,” I will mouth to her from a distance.
She will respond with a kind smile and nod, letting me know she understood my order. The locals and tourists will continue to push their way through for Leo and Lena’s attention, but I won’t notice. Because I will be too busy savoring each bite of my breakfast and every sip of my coffee. Nothing will faze me.
But now I hear church bells. Ding-dong-ding-dong. It’s time to get out of bed, but I won’t open my eyes. I saw the disappointment of Cinderella when the clock struck midnight in that fairytale, and I won’t let the same happen to me.
If I wake up, I will understand the reality: those bells are coming from the church on the corner of Smith Avenue in New York, not Atrani, Italy. There is no Man in White Jockey Briefs, no Signorina Martini, no smells of cornetti, laundry, or the breakfast that Leo and Lena have just presented me. It will instead be the sound of CNN and the smell of burnt toast coming from the kitchen downstairs.
For this reason, I will keep my eyes closed and yell to Alexa to play Pavarotti’s “O Sole Mio.” Then I will also ask her nicely to wake me up when they announce that the borders are open for Europe once again. Until then, I will rest easy, because stillness is my only escape.
Cassandra Santoro is the CEO and founder of Travel Italian Style. As a personal trip planner, she has visited all 20 regions of Italy. Cassandra also spends six months each year traveling the country. Her focus is to find inspiring and real experiences. She also leads motivational talks in hopes to inspire others on their journey. Her highlight appearance was being a speaker in Germany for TEDx DHBW Mannheim. Cassandra currently lives between NY and Italy. Follow her gorgeous adventures of life between two countries on her Travel Italian Style Instagram account.