Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Author Interview: G.G. Husak

Passeggiata:Strolling Through Italy

Dear readers: Please help me welcome G.G. Husak to my blog today. She's written a fun, inspiration book about traveling through Italy. It's more than simply a travel guide ... it's a personal diary of the annual treks she and her husband take to this beautiful country.

(This travel memoir will appeal to those who love travel in general and Italy in particular. A couple’s journey that is both personal and universal, the author recounts their first shared trip to Italy in 1993 and their annual passeggiata over the next decade.)

Why did you choose Italy as the subject of your book? Why did you go there?

In the early 1990s, my husband and I visited our daughter, who was studying in Florence.
We returned to Italy the next spring, just the two of us, and have gone back every year since. Every trip gave us more ideas for other places to visit, small out-of-the-way villages, as well as the cities. We always seemed to come home with a plan for what we needed to go back to see, for the things we missed. Somewhere along the way, we got hooked on the whole Italian experience.

Your book makes a great guide for couples traveling to Italy. What are the advantages of couples travel? Are there any drawbacks?

For me and my husband Al, these trips coincided with our empty nest years and gave us a new way of connecting. These years were a good time to share travel experiences, just the two of us together. And even when we came home, anything about Italy became a kind of shared hobby. We would clip articles about Italian politics, try new Italian restaurants, seek out Italian films.

It can be hard to travel for an extended period with anyone, but with one’s spouse, it’s a particular challenge to spend two or more weeks in little hotel rooms planning what to do each day.

One key for us is instead of driving, which is more stressful, for both Al, as driver, and me, as navigator, we take trains and buses. Al likes the challenge of figuring out the schedules and I like not having to worry about us getting lost!

Traveling as a couple definitely has its moments of arguments and disagreements, since we are spending so much time together and have to make so many plans and decisions every day, but we’ve gradually learned how to blend our differences as we travel around Italy. Our disagreements are fewer and we have enjoyed every one of our trips. The special travel moments we experience together are memories we can share when we get home.

Are there films that have influenced your writing, travels and how you look at the world?

We like lots of movies, but once we started going to Italy, we began to pay more attention to Italian movies and Italian subjects in movies. We saw an early Fellini film that was inspired by his life in Rimini and liked it more because we had been to Rimini on the eastern seacoast. We rented “Ciao, Professore,” about a teacher in a village in southern Italy, and appreciated its view of village life we had only seen on the surface. These films deepened our understanding of places we had seen.

The year after we saw the Sistine Chapel, I watched Charlton Heston play Michelangelo in “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and the year after we went to Assisi, we watched “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” about the life of St. Francis. And we will watch any old and new American or British movies filmed in Italian cities or countryside.

So, I guess our film watching has been inspired by our travels in Italy rather than the other way around.

Tell us about the people of Italy.

In some ways, it doesn’t feel appropriate for me to describe Italians as a group since we are outsiders. But from our perspective as visitors, we can say that hospitality is a strong national characteristic. When you walk into a restaurant for dinner, you are greeted immediately “Buena sera!” and enthusiastically offered a table. If we don’t understand something on the menu, waiters try to explain. We have even been taken to the kitchen to be shown the fish or piece of meat in question. We are never rushed through our meal and feel welcome until we ask for the check.

It also seems to me that, for all of the honking horns and rushing cars in the cities, Italians are in less of a hurry than we are. Life is savored for itself. The traditionally long midday meals are a sign of that. Most stores still close from noon to 4:00. When they reopen, they stay open until 8:00. The tradition of the passeggiata in the evenings, of just walking with others for enjoyment, is still almost universal. Italians also seem to be very family and community-minded. They like to be together.

Italy is modern in lifestyle, but very different from the U.S. in tangible ways. Takeout food, for instance, is still more likely to be a sandwich in a piece of waxed paper than Styrofoam-packaged meals.

While Italians like nice things, there is less materialism. When we come home, I often think that Americans could learn a lot from Italians, especially how to enjoy life more simply.

How different is Italy from the rest of Europe as a destination?

We love to travel and have been to other countries in the European Union. We always have a good time and are glad we went, but still like Italy the best. Italy has so much variety – mountains, great old cities, art, seacoast villages – in a relatively small space. It’s easy to get around by train and the distances aren’t excessively long.

One year, we crossed the border into Italy after two weeks in Spain and southern France. While waiting for our train connection at 10:30 at night, we ate delicious pasta and red wine in the cafeteria of the small station. The small staff chatted with us and one another in an upbeat way that was different from the other countries we visited. Maybe it’s our familiarity, but in Italy everything feels better. We experience a sense of homecoming when we arrive.

Your book came out last year. Do you think that 2009 is a good year to go to Italy?

This year will be interesting. We’ve noticed in the last several years, tourist crowds have been bigger, even in the off season of early spring when we like to travel. It’s good for Italy’s economy, but we’ve missed the years when there were fewer travelers. With the present world economy, we are curious about whether Italian tourist centers will be less crowded. We’d also like to see how the Italians are doing since they depend a great deal on tourism.

Prices might be down a bit with less demand. The euro is less expensive now compared to our dollar last year. 2009 could be a great year to go.

I’m looking forward to hearing the Italian take on America’s new President when I ret

You now live in Houston. That’s one of the better points of departure for foreign travel, isn’t it? Is it the airport or the mix of cultures in Houston or what?

We moved to Houston in the early 1980s from the Northeast and those were two of the things we liked the best. The cultural diversity and the number of internationals working here gave us new perspectives. Being in Houston inspired us to see the world from a different point of view and made us curious to cross other borders and learn more.

By air, we can get to most places with minimal stopovers. Lately, we like to travel through New York directly to our European destination. It’s nice to get the stopovers out of the way on this side of the Atlantic. Houston also has nonstop flights into Europe. When we fly European airliners, we sense a different culture as soon as we’re on the plane.

How can readers learn more about you and your book?

Please visit my website, www.passeggiataitalia.com

Thank you for visiting my blog today and I hope you will pick up a copy of the book. It's a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about one of the most beautiful countries in the world.


krisT said...

Great interview. The book really sounds good. It brings back fond memories of when my sister and I went to Italy one spring. I love the way the cities feel and the people are very welcoming. I would travel there again someday because like GG Husak said there is always something else you want to see next time.

LuAnn said...

Thanks, Kris! Glad you stopped by.

bermudaonion said...

Okay, now I wish I could go to Italy.

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G. G. Husak said...

Hi, Kris,
I'm glad that reading about Italy brought back memories of your own travels there. I hope you get to go back. It's still a wonderful country and culture.

GG Husak

Author of Passeggiata Strolling through Italy


G. G. Husak said...

I hope you get to go to Italy soon, too!

GG Husak

Author of "Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy"