Sometimes the Europeans seem to me almost larger than life.
And I'm not just talking about the ancient marble I saw in Naples' Museo Archaeological Natzionale, either.
I've always believed we're so much alike under the skin.
We all want to be loved. We hunger, thirst, have dreams and hopes, disappointments and sorrows.
No, I'm not talking about that.
I'm talking about the ways in which culture has made us different.
The Europeans are just plain different than us.
And it makes for great people watching.
Sunbathing, for example.
In Europe, people are far less worried about body image than we are.
Maybe that's why they can pull of a chic flair better than I can.
The beaches are rocky, but they seem to be able to sun like lizards, comfortable in places Americans would hardly consider suitable.
Italians feel no guilt about stopping to relax and enjoy the moment.
I love that attitude.
Perhaps I should feign being just a little bit Italian...
And the French insistence on the finest, most colorful ingredients, chosen just a bit at a time...
They would never put up with stodgy foodstuffs made in a factory.
The French love their farmers as I do mine.
Southern Europeans are so different in their relationships with one another than we are here.
You often see two or three older men having a spirited discussion
or sometimes simply resting a good long while on the streets.
Life on the streets of French and Italian villages is so vibrant.
Here's a typical scene from Monterosso, Italy.
We were looking for gelato (when were we NOT looking for gelato?)
and found a nearby gelateria.
There were boys licking cones out in front, and the ever present laundry drying outside the shuttered upstairs windows...
Just below, a conversation in rapid Italian.
Did you notice the fellow above the gelato shop?
"EH, MARIO!" shouted the old man, leaning down over the drying wash, and suddenly the street was alive with conversation. There was lots of laughing and absolutely no sense of self consciousness.
I love the vibrant openness of European friendships.
I enjoy the way they dress up to make everyday life a special occasion.
A romantic soul right to the core, I love the storybook look of old stone and the art of the ages, terraced vineyards and rugged coastlines.
But the best thing about Europe (just like the best thing about anywhere else in the world) has got to be its people, in all their rich diversity.
Everyone, even the least of us, has something to teach, to share, to inspire the rest of us.
Being in Europe again has made me a more reflective observer.
I want to notice the people at home more, too.
Old or young, rich or poor, here or there, it's so important to take time to notice, to stop and listen and revel in the people around us.
To value people, just as they are.
Because nobody is really "ordinary," are they?