(The title is based on the name of the movie Una matta, matta, matta corsa in Russia” (Невероятные приключения итальянцев в России), which is a 1974 Soviet-Italian comedy film directed by Eldar Ryazanov and Franco Prosperi)

Italy is some people’s dream to travel, some people’s dream to study and some people’s dream to live. Or for someone, it’s just a desire to take a photo with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The unique buildings, expressive people, special gestures, abundance of food, musical accent, Sophia Loren’s charm, and Toto Cutugno’s music come to my mind talking about Italy, which I have seen in Italian films since my childhood.
My journey to the Italian world, culture and cuisine started with Marica and Francesco, my European Solidarity Corps colleagues. Their positive aura, emotions, and warmth had already begun to shape my opinion of Italy.
During my volunteering, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy twice. We implemented an “Eco-heroes” activity on Elba island in August. I can say that it was the most memorable and special activity for me. I was also pleased to meet Marica’s family, Sara, and Margherita, the staff of Sassi Turchini, the place where we spent 2 weeks. There is an opportunity for European Solidarity Corps volunteers of IYNF to volunteer at one of the NatureFriends houses in different countries. My choice was Italy. So the second time I visited Italy to volunteer for two weeks at the Gran Pino Italian NatureFriends House in Cecina, Tuscany.

Even before visiting Italy, I heard that there were many similarities between Azerbaijanis and them. I can confirm this after seeing it.
At the exit of the train station in Cecina, a place reminiscent of Azerbaijani teahouses (Azerbaijani: çayxana) where men sit, a parking attendant, a man standing on the balcony in an underwear white vest, emotional and loud talkers with gestures and foodie people, hanging clothes on a line in the balcony reminded me of my country.Italy brought warmth in every sense of the word after Prague, where the weather is usually cold, people are going through the motions (But Prague still remains one of the most beautiful cities for me).

Gran Pino, where I was volunteering, is the first Naturefriends house in Italy. The Italian movement was born in this old farmhouse surrounded by green and only 150 m from the beach. There are many guest rooms and a large garden for spending a good time outside in Gran Pino. Every member of the team of Gran Pino is special, kind, and very hospitable.
The day I arrived in Cecina, I was planning to go on foot from the train station to Gran Pino. But Ursula, the person responsible for the house, met me at the train station and drove me there. This behavior is rarely observed nowadays. Ursula, who is of German descent with an Italian charm, helped me not to feel like an alien in Gran Pino with her politeness, attention, and sincerity.
Bashir and Boukari, who were volunteering at Gran Pino, kindly introduced me to the house, the tasks to be done there, and the surroundings of the house, and even arranged a walk to the nearby sea and to the city center of Cecina. It seemed that Boukari was enthusiastic about teaching me Italian for a few hours. He even tried to teach me French at the same time. Boukari, thank you a lot for your good intentions. I’m sorry that I don’t have the potential to learn a language in the course of two weeks. Bashir told me that he had not laughed for a long time as much as with me, although I wasn’t joking. But anyway, I am glad that I made him smile.

Franca, the mainstay of Gran Pino, is everyone’s favorite with her caring and delicious food. Everything was clear when Bashir said, “Franca is like a mother to me,” and Ursula said, “Franca is the heart of Gran Pino.” Although she was new to me, she cared for me as much as anyone else. She was preparing food for me every day on time, and as soon as she saw that I was working a little too much, she would say, “Basta! Basta.” (Italian: enough) Although we both were speaking different languages, she confirmed that kindness, smile, care, love, support, the pure soul don’t need any language to be expressed. I was enjoying the sipping of a small but strong shot of Italian black “caffè” with her. Franca was cooking so fast that it was impossible to steal a recipe from her. And finally, she agreed to teach me how to cook and I enjoyed eating a lot of Italian food, thanks to her. And I hope that they really enjoyed Azerbaijani “Qutab”. Once she was aware of my wish to go to Florence, she talked to Ursula and after a few days, they arranged my day trip to Florence.

Three Italian ladies – Sara, Donatella, and Franca – were examples of how Italian women are as caring, compassionate, and full of love as Azerbaijani women.
Giovanni, the volunteer of Gran Pino is a humorous person. He couldn’t remember my name, therefore I was Maria for him, and he sometimes was calling me “signorina”. It was a great pleasure to work with him in the garden.

Carlo, who helps in the cleaning of the garden, was creating a real Italian atmosphere with his sunglasses, specific hairstyle, cigar, and the sounds of music with slow tempo coming out of his phone. Giovanni was calling him Elton John of Gran Pino.

My volunteering coincided with an activity in the frame of The Global Naturefriends Days by the motto “Enjoying nature together”. The activity, attended by representatives of Thonon-Le-Bains, the local group of French NatureFriends on September 23-26, was dedicated to two problems in the Cecina River – water absorption by industrial institutions and low rainfall in the area.

On the first day of the activity, Marco Ricci, a former member of the Gran Pino, gave a presentation on the current state of the river and its pollution. 

In the following days, discussions on the relevant topic were held with the French guests while walking from the seaside to the source of the river in the hillside in order to look at the state of the river from different angles.

Then we visited the Il Vile NatureFriends House in Mazzolla village, Volterra, Tuscany, where we were delivered presentations about the activities of Italian Naturefriends GIAN (Amici della Natura) regarding protecting the rivers and Bosnian association Prijatelji Prirode Oaza Mira (PPOM) by Christian Facchetti and Irvin Mujčić.

In the next day’s walking from Vada city to Rosignano Solvay we were aware that the “White Sea”, the beach, about four kilometers long, is named after the Solvay factory, which produces soda ash for making glass as well as sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.

Rosignano Solvay is a frazione of Rosignano Marittimo located some 25 km from Livorno. The effluent from the Solvay factory contains natural limestone as well as other suspended solids such as gypsum, sand, and clay since 1914. These materials are responsible for the particular color of the “White Beaches”. But there are also bioaccumulative heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead. The site, according to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), is among the 15 most polluted coastal stretches in the Mediterranean.

We have to worry about how the sea, which looks clean and deep-blue water at first glance, affects the health of aquatic plants and animals, and people swimming there. While watching artificial beauty, I experienced the regret and amazement of human intervention in nature. Does nature need artificial beauty?
It is said that man is a part of nature. Perhaps nature has already begun to regret giving humans a piece of itself. Maybe not. Because I think nature is more compassionate and generous than human beings. Otherwise, if nature loses patience with injustice, no one will be able to withstand its wrath. Humans still don’t comprehend what they are fighting against.
But I am sure that the universe will never regret Italy and its beauties, as I do not regret choosing this place to volunteer. I almost rested here, more than volunteering, because of the very valuable people I got to know here. I hope I could help them in return.

I am blessed that Italy passed by my life. 

P.S. There was one thing I didn’t like in Italy – terrible mosquitoes. Like in Azerbaijan

Khadija Aliyeva