Saturday, June 9, 2007

The secret life of Jenny

As I've written in all my posts dedicated to Jenny, Jennifer has often remained a stranger to the many people I have known during my fifteen years in Italy. I've grown to miss Jennifer so, to dream about wearing her shoes again that I often forget the nostalgic love I feel for Jenny.

Last week I met a dear longtime American friend that I grew up with. She was in Italy on holiday, and I decided to take an entire day off (no small task... I leave in 20 days) and meet her in Sirmione, on the shores of Lake Garda. Sirmione was the backdrop for the first four weeks I spent in Italy, and was were I feel in love with the man who would be the catalyst for abandoning America.

Each time I rattled off something in Italian to the waiter or the ice cream vendor, I realized how strange Jenny must appear to someone who sees me as Jennifer. I've been here so long that much of Jenny has permeated me forever. When I return to the US, people often comment on how animated I have become, and how I talk with my hands. My mother loves the way I break my bread open right on table, and worry about cleaning up the crumbs later. My boys sit just like their father, with their long legs gracefully crossed in a pose that seems feminine and awkward on an American man, but that is unmistakabley European and beautiful on an Italian. And even though I am always in jeans and a tee shirt, you can bet my accessories match! It just happens that way over here...

My longing to finally return home and excitement/dread over my upcoming trip had so overshadowed everything else, that the attack of utter, weepy, mushy nostalgia I felt as I turned my car onto the peninsula that is Sirmione bowled me over. There was the first Italian supermarket I had ever set foot in, where I bought a fiasco of chianti for the first time. There was the little restaurant, still going strong, where my husband and I had dinner almost every night at midnight. He was working as a chef in those days, and would finish his shift at 11:30 and run back to our rented room to fetch me for dinner. I almost always ordered the same thing- spaghetti allo scoglio.

I parked my car and walked down the same sidewalk that I had walked everyday so many years before. And when I came upon the castle, I could see myself perched on the drawbridge (that's right, there's a real drawbridge and a moat) waiting for my husband to arrive. Our courtship was a scene straight out of a fairytale, mind you, and coming back to this one spot brought it all rushing back.

Back then as I waited, I would usually have a bag of bread or cookies to feed the swans.

As I entered the archway into the old town, I saw the restaurant where my husband was the chef during those years. It's the only restaurant located right in the castle.

My friend and I took a ferry to the far side of the lake. The weather was cloudy and gray, and I could just make out the shores of Gargnano, the so beautiful that you've fallen to sleep and are dreaming that you are walking around in a picturebook town where I spent my wedding night.

Even though I spent the entire day reminiscing my former life as Jennifer with my friend, I came away from that day with the memories of Jenny taking her first steps.

I smiled all the way home, and I am smiling right now as I write this.


sognatrice said...

And I'm smiling after having read it :)

Only now you're getting ME all nostalgic for your move....

Jenn in Holland said...

Smiles here too, dear Jenny!
When we ventured to Milano a few weeks back and of course perused the windows of all the upscale shopping spots, it struck us that this style in the windows was EXACTLY what we were seeing on the streets! Italians really dress that way! I love that you had to throw that in about your italian-ness!
Anyway, you will forever be someone richer and deeper for having all these experiences. Even though you are returning now to the US, you are not "going back". You are moving forward.
How fun for us that we get to be along for the ride.

anno said...

What a lovely essay on the opportunity living in another country gives you to explore & develop your own personal geography. Thanks for taking the time to work this idea out--and thanks for sharing it!

Marloes said...

Ah how well you describe the beauty of Italy. In my youth I spend a few vacations in Torbole, lake Garda. This year my husband and I will venture into the Toscane, Colle di Val d'Elsa to be precise.

Rebecca said...

Sirmione looks absolutely just too stunning to be true! What a lot of fantastic memories you'll be taking with you.

What do your boys feel about going to the States - They were born in Italy, no? America must seem quite exotic and exciting to them??

jennifer said...

Ah... nostalgia! Thanks for reading Sognatrice. I always love reading your descriptions of Calabria.

Hi Jenn- my accessories really do match (pretty scary!)

Anno- I like the idea of a personal geography... may inspire me for another post

Marloes- I know. The beauty of Lake Garda is hard to imagine until you see it

Hi rebecca- yes, my boys were born in Italy, and they are very excited. We're going to a place that definitely rivals Italy as far a beauty goes, just a different kind of beauty. And there are bears!

Jennifer said...

That is a beautiful little town. You are so lucky to have fallen in love there!

Your posts about the move have me both excited for you and dreading it at the same time.

Rebecca said...

Bears?? - scary. Although, cool for boys, I s'pose.

anno said...

You didn't ask for this, but I'm going make a recommendation, anyway: Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman (not at all related to the movie with Scarlett Johansson). Somehow this post is spurring me to search for my copy (buried in the basement).