During one of our Photographer's Getaway tours of Tuscany, I had the opportunity to visit a remote village, seldom seen by tourists. I consider myself a "traveler" as opposed to a "tourist", which means that I am willing to stray far from the beaten path, eat in places meant only for the locals and to encounter folks that otherwise would not be seen by the average tourist. I am a beginning student of the Italian language, but that does not deter me from being adventurous. I like to leave "Main Street" and venture away from the crowds, especially during a photography tour. I depend on gestures, enthusiasm, and smiling a lot to see me through.
I followed a cobblestone path into a neighborhood on the very edge of a small village. I was intrigued by all of the ancient Tuscan doors, many of them centuries old. I was determined to get as many pictures of them as possible. I stopped before each doorway and focused my camera, taking great pains to frame each shot. As I moved down the alley, I noticed a very old man coming out of his home just a few doors down. He pulled over a chair and sat directly in front of his door. "What does this mean?", I thought to myself. I wondered if he was protesting my taking a picture of his door. I certainly did not want to invade his privacy. I pondered if my picture taking of doors was a cultural no-no.
As I got closer, the man called out, "Pura Vida!" What? Pura Vida? I live in Costa Rica and this is how we greet and say good bye to each other. It means, "The Pure Life". I felt my brain twist at warp speeds. The Italians say "La Dolce Vita", or "The Sweet Life." I said to myself, "I am not in Costa Rica. I am in Tuscany. How does this man know that I live in Costa Rica?" Why isn't he saying, "La Dolce Vita?"
I have never been one to wear "talking T-shirts", those that have something to say. But I found myself looking at the front of my shirt to see if there was anything that could possibly give away the fact that I lived in Costa Rica. There was not a monkey or toucan in sight, not one thing that I was wearing to indicate my Costa Rica home.
I'm a friendly sort. I decided to go with it, so with a wide grin I yelled back, "Pura Vida"! I gave him the thumbs-up sign. I figured this gesture was universally understood. The old man looked at me quizzically. He said very softly, "Pura Vida?" I just kept yelling back, "Pura Vida", with both thumbs up and all of the excitement that I could muster. I even threw in a couple of dance steps. (Remember that for me, travel causes adrenalin rushes which can result in dancing....)
When I returned from my personal photography getaway to rejoin my group, I told my Italian friend, Carlo, about my exchange with the elderly man. "How did he know that I lived in Costa Rica? Isn't that amazing? I think that man must be psychic!" Carlo burst into laughter. "Oh, Linda! You are mistaking the language. He was not saying 'Pura Vida'. He was saying, 'Povera Vita' which is Italian for the 'Poor Life.' What the old man wanted was for you to give him money to take a picture of his door!"
This incident prompted me to buckle down with my Italian language studies. Whenever I feel unmotivated to tackle another lesson, all I need to do is to imagine myself dancing in cobblestone alleys at inappropriate times. One day soon, I will return to the village and revisit my friend. I will show him the picture that I took of his door and slip a few Euros into his weathered hand. I will quietly say, "La Dolce Vita!", as I smile and give him a thumb's up. I shall refrain from dancing just this once.