Open the doors and see all the people!
In Italy, and in many other countries in Europe, when we arrive, we look for the steeple and we know we have found the center of town. Many towns and cities have multiple steeples, but every time we arrive there is a community and a piazza where people gather. This has been important to us at times when we have been lost but even more significant is the fact that we can find community easily as soon as we arrive in a new place.
In or around the church piazza is often the weekly outdoor market. We have not been to a village yet that does not have a market at least once a week. Some villages have more than once a week. Every morning the main piazza is a place where mothers meet and toddlers play, people get their cafe and rest on a bench with their baskets of produce. More often than not, there is a group of men, wearing hats and playing cards. The piazza empties from 1 pm to 3 pm (or even 4 pm) during siesta and slowly comes to life in time for evening passeggiata. People walk arm and arm, waving and kissing friends and neighbors, raising a glass, and discussing the events of the day.
We get the best education about village life near the steeple. The kids learn Italian hand games and take turns riding scooters and making friends. We sit and listen to stories people are telling us or each other. We watch how people move and interact, how they treat each other and their parents and their grandparents. We spend time observing community and feeling community and understanding community.
I used to feel so burdened by the community and say things to myself like, “I should do more for the community. I should volunteer. I should do community service. Where do I fit in my community?” The community was always there but I was so busy thinking about how to serve in the right way that I found very little time to enjoy all it had to offer.
Italians have taught me that a huge part of the community is just showing up every day because you want to AND because it is fun. In Italy, the first priority is to family and connections ripple from that central focus, under the towering steeple. It’s that simple.