Tag Archives: italy

being an american in italy

I dreamt of Vermont, of skiing and boots crunching in snow, a real serious cold in the air, but the hot chocolate warming you up, even the cheap watery stuff that tastes like ice-skating as a kid, when I was still waist-height, out of some big metal tureen.

Why are we always wanting to be somewhere else?

Maybe I’ve had the dreams because it’s cold here now, snow flurries all day yesterday even though it’s mid-March, but they don’t know how to heat things properly here so the chill is always there, under your skin. It’s actually warmer to go outside, bundled up, and work up your own warm by walking around, window shopping, treating yourself to a cappuccino.

My friend Marco says that nobody is ever content with where they are from, and by that logic maybe we’re never really content with where we are. I don’t really agree, it’s just people like us that aren’t content; there are plenty who are fine never moving far away from home, who are already looking to buy their own place in their early twenties. I just don’t understand people like that, I don’t think I’ll ever be one.

I dreamt of homemade donuts from the farm, when we drive all the way up to Brewster past the horse farms to get them, still hot, with the cinnamon sugar getting all over your hands.

Today I wanted to just be totally American, jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, nice and comfy, pancakes for breakfast and teaching my new British and Italian friends what the hell s’mores are. There’s one place I’ve found in the city where I can get maple syrup, but I don’t think you can get marshmallows anywhere. It’s those little things that add up, and add up to you missing home.

Someone asked me the other day if I’m proud to be American, and I’m not really, I’ve never been that flag-waving type, I just wasn’t raised that way. But I’m not in that cliched phase of the America-hating ex-pat either. Maybe I was the last time I was living in Europe, during the Bush years, when a lot of us liberals were quite cynical, and it was fashionable.

Now things are different, not that our problems have been solved, but even if I complain now that not much seems to have changed, Marco tells me we just have to give him more time. I see Italian teenagers who wrote “yes we can” on their back-packs. People always ask me who I voted for last time around, when I tell them where I’m from. All these things make me smile in a funny sort of way, because it’s strange how things change, in the world and also in us. Things are a little bit different now, and I can notice that there are some things Europe does better, but there are some things America does better too. It’s nice to be able to see both sides, and not have to choose. But not being so starry-eyed, or black-and-white, this time in Europe, those little things that do bother me here make me miss home much more. Overt racism, stereotyping of different nationalities and even just people from different parts of Italy. My British friends like to make fun of how politically correct we Americans can be, but then sometimes all that just doesn’t look so bad. And I want to be here and there at the same time.

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benvenutto a italia

The other day I commented on another blog that I should post my own shameless name-dropping post sometime soon. I should say things like that more often, because somehow the stars aligned to make sure it would happen: on Saturday I ran into two Italian celebrities. Actually they’re the only two Italian celebrities I even know of, to be able to recognize in the first place, so I’m not sure what the chances of that happening are. I know of the actress Monica Belucci as well, but I’ve never seen any of her movies and I probably wouldn’t recognize her in person anyway. It’s sort of like if you went to Colombia and ran into Shakira. Except the funny thing is, since only about two of my friends actually know who this Italian band is, I can’t really impress anyone with this story. But I’ll certainly tell it anyway.

It was the first day since I’ve been here that it was actually almost sunny, so I was enjoying the day walking around the fancy designer shops on Via della Spiga, a street filled with women in fur coats and people literally lining up down the block to get into stores like Louis Vuitton and Hogan. But I was just window-shopping, people-watching,  going in places when I got cold, and building up an appetite. So I made my way to a little “bar” on la Piazza di San Babila (I haven’t completely figured it out yet, but apparently a “bar” here isn’t really a bar, it’s sort of a café, informal restaurant and they often do a happy hour with a big spread of appetizers) and got a seat outside in one of these little tents they do with blaring heat lamps overhead.

While sipping my Coca Cola (the American champagne) I noticed someone standing at the coffee bar looking particularly stylish, with Wayfarers and a skinny black overcoat. He and three friends sat at the table directly across from me and – wait, I know one of those faces. Holy ****. It is, isn’t it? How do these things happen to me?! Is nobody else seeing what I’m seeing, or are we all just being polite? Our eyes met, but I’m not sure if my recognition was obvious – I spent the rest of my lunch trying not to stare, but let me tell you for when this situation inevitably comes up in your own life, it’s very hard not to when someone is in your direct natural line of sight, and they are famous. Luckily I had panino crumbs all over my coat to distract me, and I ran over ways to say “Excuse me, I don’t want to bother you but…” in Italian without the words just being thinly veiled Spanish (my own personal language which I dub Italianish).

Finally I paid my check, got myself together, and did what any other self-respecting, mature, adult, non-teenybopper person would do in this situation: err, I went over and asked for an autograph. They asked where I was from, and I think the implicit question was how does some girl from New York who barely speaks Italian know who we are? The short version is that I had an Italian friend in Barcelona who listened to them, and I started to, and spent basically an entire summer listening to them on repeat. Intelligent me would have tried to relay this information, but I just smiled a lot, thanked them a lot, and collected my autographs, complete with my Italianized name. Apparently I was not the only one who recognized them, but I was the only one shameless enough to approach (this is one term I do know in Italian, senza vergogna), because a few other girls asked for a picture with them and so on. I think it only takes one person acknowledging the obvious, and I’m fine with that person being me. Not a bad way to be welcomed to Italy.

So what? There is no point to this story. Only that, while I’m not really someone who believes in signs, it’s hard not to see something like this as a good one. Seeing as how things are really tough right now, it’s hard not to interpret this as some message that I am meant to be here, that things will be ok, I just have to keep going one step at a time. That I’m on the right path, even if I’m not sure what that is, or where it’s going. There’s a line in one of their songs that I always quite liked which goes: prometto a me stesso la felicita senza limiti, gustare tutto quello che da… (roughly translated: I promise myself happiness, without limits, to enjoy everything that comes my way…) It’s the idea that making yourself happy, without limits, is worth doing things that don’t seem rational or prudent or sure at the time. If we only do things that are sure, we walk around ourselves in circles. Isn’t that why I’m here in the first place?

[Video and more name-dropping after the jump.] Continue reading

wherein i may or may not be completely insane

This morning I woke up at 6, paced around the house, waiting for other people to wake up. I made tea hours before I’m usually even awake and read the newspaper. This morning on the front page of the New York Times was an article about race riots in southern Italy. This isn’t exactly what I needed to see first thing this morning.

Ok, enough being coy. This morning I had to wake up in (what are for me) the wee hours for a telephone interview in a far-away time zone: in Milano, Italia, at the training institute for my teaching certificate. I will find out later today, which is really within hours, since it’s already late afternoon there. Calling 6 hours into the future is a good analogy for how surreal this all is for me: if I go for this course, it will start in exactly one week. On a different continent. Apparently this is how I do things.

A few days ago, mulling over this possibility, I looked through some old things and found a little notebook I kept on my last trip to Italy. It was a long weekend to Rome that I took by myself, spur of the moment, while I was studying in Barcelona. It’s filled with more organized lists of the places I went, and the sites I planned to see, and there are also random things I wrote down — sitting down by a fountain here, stopping for a cappuccino and to duck out of the sun there. These are the words that are the real snapshots of that trip, the letters often veering off into messy diagonals, written in haste. One of the things I wrote was:

The best things seem to happen to me when I just let the wind take me where it will.

I suspect this might not mean too much to someone else. That’s the funny thing about the ideas you write down really “in the moment” — reading them back yourself, even years later, you’re taken immediately back to that spot, the visceral feeling of it, the words sink in. It’s like a cliched phrase that you hear a million times but it doesn’t mean anything to you until you have the experience yourself. But to my eyes, these simple words say a whole lot, about who I am and I how I decide and do things, how I phrase it passively: things happen to me. I always think that I should have a better decision-making process, that I should consciously and concretely know what I want. I could be making a horrible mistake here. I try to gauge how crazy people think I am when I tell them, to see if this idea really is insane. I’m hesitant to tell many people at all. But maybe the way things work for me is for them to just feel like they fall into place on their own. And this thought is enough to push me, to just say yes.

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PS: Check out today’s post on Ivy League Insecurities, which touches on a very similar theme, and helped me figure out how to put these thoughts together.

love letter to the mediterranean

I looked out at the clear green water and the rough, sun-bleached rocks, and the more beautiful it was, the sadder it made me. The beauty only reminded me of what I had lost, and as always, I couldn’t believe that I would ever be so lucky again.

Why is it — that curse and blessing of the human condition — that we see whatever we are experiencing as a pinnacle, and we’ll never have it so good again, and we can’t imagine ever getting up from where we’ve fallen.

I shouldn’t have been waiting for him, and I wasn’t, not consciously; I tried not to think about him or make hypothetical plans for the future. But I was waiting — there was anticipation in my blood and I let days pass without thought, I was counting even the seconds without noticing it.

I needed to figure out all over again what type of life I wanted to have. Living alone, shopping and cooking for one, having a comfortable place to curl up and read. The wave of liberty that would come after comfort: to be able to walk without destination, buy whatever I liked, wear whatever I wanted; the immense freedom in knowing that in any one moment I might meet someone who would change my life, start something new. It only takes a second and the movie reel changes.

I had to accept that I had no idea anymore what I wanted to do, I only had some ideas about where I wanted to be. Maybe that was enough, to start.