My relationship with Italy has changed since I first came to study in Florence. It’s changed since I returned unprepared and since I started commuting back and forth as I fell in love with both my now-husband and the country. After a year in Italy, it’s still changing.
I can’t argue against all the friends who claim that my life is so amazing, so lucky, but it doesn’t capture the entire story. The thrill of a new place wears off. It evolves from a traveling love to a rough accepting. Being an expat is hard and weird and unnatural; it’s being out of place at all times and trying to relearn everything.
When you live in a place it is no longer a vacation. Like any romantic relationship it morphs from a honeymoon love to something a bit more secure, more sophisticated, and definitely more complicated.
Yes Italy is a dreamland, a perpetual vacation spot, but my life is not a vacation and the Italy I live in is not the same as the sweeping movie scenes or the Huffington Post articles. My Italy is not what a first-time visitor’s is, nor an Italian’s, nor a regular visitor’s. My Italy is unique, unico, mine. It’s my own Italia.
My Italia is the nuanced, everyday aspects and events that make Italy, Italy.
My Italia is my 3rd floor apartment, called the second floor in Italian. Covered in white tile, gas escape holes in the windows and mold in north-facing corners. It’s the sunset views I sit front row for from my balcony, the martini’s drunk on the terrace.
It’s relearning how to write numbers, how to say the date and how to respond when hurt – “Aye-ya!” instead of “Ow!”
My Italia is garden walks listening to my father-in-law classify each flower species, hands clasped behind his back, first in Latin then in Italian. Most names I don’t even know in English.
It’s practicing my Italian before ordering prosciutto and ricotta and gorgonzola at the counter. It’s fresh meals that get better each time. It’s long dinners at home with friends, not embarrassed by the mix-matched glasses or cooking errors or mosquitos.
My Italia is learning how to drive aggressively but calmly. It’s about accepting the rough maneuvers and illegal turns of those around you, about knowing that if someone has the opportunity they’re definitely not going to wait for you, and knowing that neither will you. It’s small roads and expensive highways. It’s stick-shift and GPS.
My Italia is Sovico and then Monza and then Milan. It’s telling others “Milan” right away because even Italians don’t know where to find Sovico. It’s learning the streets of these towns, which fields to cut through, which river paths to follow during a run.
My Italia is little old men, pushy old women and too small sidewalks. It’s years of bureaucracy, faulty and aging social systems and graffiti. It’s being a stranger, despite seeing the same people every day.
My Italia is the back and forth commute. It’s riding my bike rain or shine. It’s meeting my husband at the train station.
My Italia is exploring the museums, sights and restaurants in towns so small that you know you could never add such a trattoria to a guide book just like you could never explain how this mountain town has such good fish or fully explain the bergamasco dialect the owner uses.
My Italia is the six hour difference with Ohio, the struggle of planning a Skype date and seeing my niece and nephew grow up through photos. It’s saving pennies and dimes (or euro) for a flight home. It’s not understanding what culture is truly yours.
It’s tires on cobblestone, sun over the Duomo and Tuesday lunches with nonna, complete with real silver, tablecloths and long espresso.
My Italia isn’t a top ten list. It’s not a sunny seaside resort or a famous Michelangelo painting. No, it’s mornings listening to my students roll their r’s with “rrrrready” and the joy I feel when they ask me, “Teacher how are you?” though they ask every class.
My Italia is a million things, but it’s always living. My days vary from the magnificent views to the petty bureaucracy. So to those who call me fortunate I’d say yes, but I believe it’s because I know that no matter where you are, it’s all about noticing the little things, good or bad, that help us to appreciate all the more.
Because though my life in Italy is not a vacation, the charms of My Italia threaten to make it so.