The urge has finally come upon me to write about my return to Italy. I came back to the US about 2 weeks ago, and only now have I begun to feel any kind of clarity about my days in Italy. Not because they were tumultuous, but instead because they were complacent, and flew by quickly. I suffered jet lag even as a twenty year old. Now I have learned to give in to it, and plan my trips with a couple days cushion on each end, days in which I wander around wondering what language I am speaking, and why I am so hungry at 6am. This trip was no different, except for the fact that it was painfully short, only 12 days, so I spent a good fraction of my time stupid.
I traveled separately from my husband and sons. They had already been there for several days when I arrived. I had not been in Italy for 2 years, and after 15 years living there, it was once again the small things that struck me. I live in a very peaceful, civilized place in the US. Quiet to the point of meditative. The noise struck me first as we travelled the infamous A4 highway from Milan. It was everywhere. And dusty hot. We stopped at an Autogrill off the highway, a fancy Italian rest stop that has absolutely nothing to do with American rest stops. Gorgeous food and trinkets and the BAR... the Italian bar. Oh how I miss real coffee. I have yet to find it anywhere in the US, except in my own kitchen. As I stepped out of the car and into the crosswalk of the parking lot to make my way to the entrance, I was floored by a blaring horn and my husband yanking me backwards. People don't stop for pedestrians in Italy. They even honk at you to get the hell out of the way. I had forgotten all of my hard earned Italian driving etiquette. What was I thinking stepping into that crosswalk? That I could actually walk across it? I live in a town where drivers stop for everyone and everything, deer and foxes included. I've become such a bumpkin.
I came home to find my boys nowhere to be seen. They are immediately taken away by the throng of friends they left behind when we moved. They live like rock stars now in Italy. They are famous because they live in America and go to American schools, and are drilled about girls and sports and getting their driver's licenses at 16. Do they really have lockers? Do they really not have to go to school on Saturdays?
I saw many of the fellow parents I knew while sending my children through elementary school there, and most are in a panic about what to do next for their children. After three years of middle school, Italian students must essentially choose what they want to do with their future at the ripe old age of 14. There are several different types of high schools, from classic preparatory schools for university bound students to trade schools, and a myriad of choices in between. Many of the parents I know who have a child that has already finished the first year of high school as my older son has feel like they made the wrong decision. Can you imagine trying to figure out what a child wants to do with the rest of his life at 14? My own son was so awash in hormones and angst last year that the thought gives me a headache! And in Italy, such a decision bears much more cultural weight than it does in the United States. There is a prevailing idea that young people will enter into one line of work and stay in it for the rest of their working lives... even the same job. That would have meant that I would have spent my own life doing what?? Making sandwiches? Being a florist? A student counselor? A gallery assistant? A restaurateur? One of my husband's cousins came to dinner, and when I asked her how her son is (he is 14 and heading to high school this fall), she said that he had decided to go to a trade school in Brescia. Fiat was implementing a new numerically controlled machine into its production line, and this was one of the first schools training students to use the new technology. When I asked her if her son liked mechanical engineering, she said, "Well, I hope so. He'll be working on that machine for the next 40 years." Enough said.
One of the other things I brought back with me from Italy was 5 pounds. The amount of Gorgonzola I managed to eat coupled with my favorite wines and pizza every night was inhumane. How we miss the food. How we miss the wine. There's just no getting around it. We eat well and cook like masters, but there's just nothing like the real thing. American food just plain sucks.
My father in law's passing just after we left has remained a subtle pang. I missed him at the head of table as we ate. He was such a presence, such a pillar, that things feel almost too fluffy without him. It was never easy prying a smile or compliment from his stern mouth, but oh, when you got a smile or laugh, it was like winning the lottery. A real joy.
My sweet house is lived in by someone else. And while I thought I would feel nostalgia seeing it again, I felt nothing. Only a memory, like a chapter of book that you read once. The mountain refuge we managed for the first 9 years of our marriage, where we raised our children and became a family, has gone from being a centuries old, crumbling stone dairy to a fancy, newly renovated alpine hotel and restaurant. It made me slightly sick to see our old castle that way. My youngest son was quite angry that the chicken coop was no more. It was his favorite place of all, and where he spent hours on end chasing the rooster, collecting eggs and watching out for the weasels. He wanted to leave.
When I packed to come home, finally retrieving some of my favorite things left behind, I was relieved to feel happy that I was coming home. Home here. I felt trepidation returning to Italy. Would I have regrets? But now I am lucky enough to say that I can visit that most beautiful of places as a tourist of sorts. I no longer have to fight the traffic or pay the taxes. I can just enjoy all the bounty.
I have been making that transatlantic flight for over twenty years now, and I must say that on this trip I was finally, finally blessed with that gift of all gifts... I was bumped up to business class!
A perfect ending.