Out walking recently I met a lady who looked to have stepped straight out of a fairy story. Vanda was tiny, dressed entirely in black, and carrying a large bundle of sticks. Age? Obviously elderly, but hard to guess because she was clearly sprightly, in mind and body alike.
She showed me her home – a beautiful four storey house – and invited me to call next time I passed.
This morning as I pass by, the kitchen window flies open: ‘You. You. You were meant to call on me’ she calls out, ‘You MUST come in now to have coffee.’
Over espresso, she tells me that she is 80 in a couple of months. ‘Do you think I look young?’ she asks (Italians are always much more straightforward about these things).
She has a straight, slim figure, at most an English size 8 that would look good on a 20 year old. Her skin, although lined, is glowing, and her eyes are bright.
Even the way she is dressed – slim black skirt, silk paisley scarf and chunky knitted cape – wouldn’t look out of place in a snapshot on Grazia Daily.
I tell her in all truth that she is ‘vivace’ (it means lively, spirited and vivacious all rolled into one).
Hoping that I too will be ‘vivace’ when I get to my 80s has made me think about how Vanda, and other women I meet approach life. Much of this we know already, and it often sounds corny, but they are proof it works:
However you do it, keep moving: There are no gyms in rural Italy, but life itself is physically hard. Walking up Vanda’s lane is like a 15 minute step class. Almost every day she works in her field. She says she always has.
My neighbour Gabriella, a few years younger than Vanda, and rather stouter, bends effortlessly at the waist to pick vegetables. She can do it – because she always has.
Think carefully about every single thing you eat: Not as in ‘Should I have another chocolate biscuit?’, but making sure you choose something you will really enjoy.
The Italian women I know love deliberating over their meal choices – then they never seem tempted to snack or graze.
Vanda is preparing <em>baccala </em>(salt cod) for lunch. ‘We will have this at lunchtime and <em>minestra </em>in the evening. It’s better for your digestion this way,’ she says.
The portions look tiny but it clearly is enough to sustain her active lifestyle.
Get outside as much as you can: Yes, it does rain here, but even in the worst weather people still go for a stroll.
When I worked in an office, and saw no daylight at all in winter months, I know how much better I felt if I went outside for 15 minutes at lunchtime. I never felt like going, but I was always glad I did.
Lastly, go with the flow and take delight in what you have: Vanda tells me it has taken her 30 years to get her home to its present condition: ‘It was a ruin and whenever we any had money we did a bit more.
‘When we sold a calf we bought windows; when we had oil to sell we bought bricks. Just do what you can,’ she says, ‘Home is where your family is.’
When I pass Gabriella’s house we chat about the weather. I’ve heard that it will rain next week: ‘But we have a lovely sunny day today. Here is a flower for you from my garden’ she answers, and picks me a red camellia.
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