When it comes to meeting people on the internet, it’s a “grab bag”*, that is, you never know what you’re going to get. But I have been very lucky. Over the past few years, I have met fellow Italy bloggers and a few of my frequent readers, people I have known first from their comments on ArtTrav, with whom I developed an epistolary or Twitter-ary relationship before meeting in person. It’s kinda like online dating, though with more honesty thrown in.

*You see, the topic of this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable is ‘grab bag’ because none of us had time to write a post about a specific topic, so I suggested an easy way out – we all write whatever we had to write this week. Then, Rebecca suggested we call it ‘grab bag’, pretending that we actually did this on purpose, this assortment of posts, unlinked by a common theme. We plan our roundtable topics in a secret Facebook group, and the banter around choosing this topic felt like a conversation amongst close friends. An almost predictable dialogue in which each of us plays an established part – the slacker, the italian, the pragmatist, the eager (ya’ll know who ya’r – though slacker could apply to any one of us).

How is it that I got so lucky, to meet such wonderful women online? Oh, many a male reader would love to know the answer to this question, but I think it has to do with me being a woman (and anyway, I think I have no male readers. If you’re a guy reading this, please identify yourself in the comments.) On occasion we attend a conference or blog tour and we find that the world of travel blogging is relatively insular (Craig from Indie Travel observed to me last week that we are the only blogging category that spends more time talking amongst ourselves than to our public) but very friendly. I’d like to focus on the friendly part. I am far from a gushy person, but I feel very happy when I think about these friends of mine. I only wish we had more opportunity to spend time together, for the internet diminishes distances thanks to daily facebook posts, but seeing each other in person is often a challenge as each of us balances many elements of her busy life.

Gloria (from At Home in Tuscany) is one of the first fellow bloggers that I met in person, back when I was working still for the Regione Toscana, writing the blog Tuscany Arts. We met up wtih a common acquaintance for dinner in Grosseto, quite spur of the moment, after much exchange of compliments and chatter on Twitter. This girl’s brutal humour doesn’t come fully across in her blog. I think she tries to temper herself for fear of offending. She is 100% Maremmana, which comes complete with fast insults and an absurd sense of humour that has me unable to keep up – I just gaze at her in admiration. This girl is also a full time professor, balancing research and teaching, and runs two apartment rentals (in Civitella Marittima and Pisa – now go stay there!), with different turnover days since they are about two hours apart, and she also has a rambunctious toddler. Married to a Canadian, her English is the best I’ve ever heard from an Italian, though she will likely ask me what rambunctious means. Perhaps we’ve seen each other five times in three years, but we could easily pick up where we left off, and our dinners (with respective husbands) are one long stream of chatter.

Katja and I

The most recent person I’ve met is another Maremma-based blogger – I seem to cultivate them. Katja (of Map it out Tuscany) and I have been trying to get together for probably two years, but finally made it happen last week. Sticciano (my adoptive home in Maremma) and her town of Cinigiano are less than an hour apart on small country roads, but my routine when in that area is pretty fixed (napping and going to the beach) so we had trouble finding a point of encounter. Her routine involves the wilder, free beaches and 20km long hikes across terrain that I would consider torture – many of our exchanges involve her inviting me on dubiously long hikes and me finding excuses not to attend. This adventurous, Swiss-born mother of two is one of those free spirits who seems to have found the perfect place to carry out her life, and she generously shares it with others. Her husband Sergio is a moustachioed humorist and wacky chef, and together they opened up their home to Tommaso and I for an afternoon and dinner with friends. It’s amazing how with some people you just click. We could have talked for many more hours.

When I met Rebecca two years ago – the American, down-to-earth hotellier of Brigolante – she said that she had formed an idea of me from my blog, and was pleased to find that I am consistent online and off. I consider this a big compliment, and it makes me feel more confident about meeting up with any of my readers, figuring if they tolerate me online, they’ll find me okay offline too. Like when, a few months ago, someone who has been commenting as ‘Steph from Ottawa‘ for many years finally wrote me an email suggesting we meet up while she was to be in Florence, I invited her immediately over to dinner at my house. A restaurant would have been okay, but we needed quiet and a long, comfortable time to talk. Somehow I knew she and I would have a lot to discuss. Both Rebecca and Stephanie are super smart, naturally beautiful women who could have chosen any path in their lives and been successful in it.

Hasan and I at The Florentine’s office

Although not a woman who resides in the Maremma, Hasan of the art history blog 3 Pipe Problem deserves a special mention as another great friendship developed online. My mother would be jealous to hear that he and I probably exchange more emails than she and I. Ours is a more intellectual relationship, but we exchange writing, collaborate when possible, and look forward to our next opportunity to meet up in Florence – since he lives in Australia I’m not likely to head over there any time soon.

If there is one thing I need to take away from these encounters, it’s that I need to pay more attention to people, to memorize what they say and write (both Katja and Stephanie have scarily good memories, whereas my mom has always said I have a brain like a sieve), and to seek opportunities to spend time together. If anyone ever tries to tell you that your online friends are not real, tell them they are wrong. I am so privileged to be read by, and to read, these women (and one man) who are people I can see myself staying close to for a lifetime to come.

Italy Roundtable on ‘grab bag’

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