Tag Archives: italy

Life is Better When You Make the Effort

I just got back from my morning walk, high off the pleasure of witnessing the break of dawn on a clear October day.  I stopped at one point near the apex, struck by the surreality of rows of yellowing grape leaves merging into a new blue sky painted with peach puffs of cotton candy.    And again, I am overwhelmed with the power of this practice.  I wonder how I ever lived without this walk.  I can tell you life is better when I make the effort, when I move toward beauty.

fall-in-cortaccia-2012-5I’ve been quiet these past nine months, but it makes sense now; I’ve been creating and incubating, cocooning.  Now it’s time to emerge.

Life is better when I make the effort.

Nine months ago, I was so concerned about whether or not I would want to return to my expat life, but when I did, it just felt like Life.  Sweet.  Mundane.  Beautiful.  Routine.  I returned at the end of January and jumped right back into my small town, work-from-home mom routines: shuttling my son back and forth to preschool, creating order, stealing time for clients, walking the dog, feeding the cat, the daily habits of being part of a couple again, monthly in-law encounters, my Italian class and, ahhhhhhh, my morning walk.

It was almost as if that other life in Washington with family and childhood friends, familiar hangouts and events, the hustle and bustle of American suburban life, it was like it had all happened in another dimension.  It really felt okay to be back.  It felt natural and right. But then, I returned to Italy a different person than when I’d left it.  It was a great effort for every member of my little family.

Life is better when we make the effort.

Unintentionally, I’d been checking things off my American Bucket List.  All the things I’d been missing (or thought I was missing out on), I was able to reality check.  I could no longer wonder what it would be like to live closer to my family and friends, to work in American schools again, to watch my son hit milestones within the cultural context of my hometown.

I realized that we could be both American and Italian.  I could love Mount Rainier, the Puget Sound and the rolling vineyards of the Veneto and Alto Adige’s rugged, looming mountains and apple-filled valleys.  My loyalties and nationalistic tendencies softened and the inner conflict I’ve so often felt throughout the past thirteen years dissipated.  I feel less torn and more whole.

I’ve been quiet through this transformation because it was just happening, little by little.   It still is.  When you slide into the bath water you don’t usually describe how the water feels touching your skin, not unless it’s something dramatic.  These last several months I’ve been observing my life less and living my life more, taking ownership of “this one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver…again).

Sometimes transformation is loud and sudden and unwanted, like when you are hit with an illness or lose your job, or experience heart break.  But, sometimes you can decide to make the effort to change.  In this case, transformation is not as flashy.  She’s not as fancy or dramatic.  She comes into the room silently, moving slowly, she moves forward and then takes a step back.  Sometimes she goes the long way around the room, wandering through the shadowed corners, but in the end, she pushes out into the sunlight.  She slides into the sea with a smile and jumps out with a splash, telling you all about it.

Life is always better when I make the effort.

I remember that other person; the cynical one, the betrayed and resentful one.  I see her sometimes, in the distance, and I try to catch her eye.  I want her to look up.

I want to tell her all about it.

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Home Again, Home Again

Vacation with Dad and Carol 2013 moon and mountain (73)
Mount Rainier with her moon friend

I have returned…in so many ways.  Back “home” where I no longer live.  You might wonder if it still feels like home after living abroad for 12  years.  I did go through an awkward phase a few years back, but that was more due to the fact that I’d returned home as a new mom with a baby and no longer fit into the places and relationships that I left there.  But now, after a month of salt water, seafood, barnacles, seagulls, and salmon, I’m feeling pretty at home and so is my five year old.  He told me the other day that we “belonged” here because we speak English.  He’s enjoying the bubblegum ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches, and French fries.   I’m cringing at the fast and convenience foods, 24 hour everything, giant food portions, and the abundance of televisions and computer screens.

This is his fifth trip to the US and yet he feels just as much as home here as I.  A month has already passed and we have five more to go.  I am curious how he’ll feel as time goes on.  He says he misses his toys and his dad.  My sweet, supportive husband holds down the fort and awaits our return.  He says he’s happy we’re doing this, but he must be nervous even if he won’t admit it.  Part of me is a little nervous, too.  What if I don’t want to go back?  What if it gets too comfortable here?  Ice coffees, everything open all day, friends and family, thrift shops, creative people selling their wares everywhere you look, the waterfront, the diverse and delicious menu choices, the children’s museums in every city, the array of activities and opportunities for young children, not to mention the employment opportunities and the ease with which I can communicate and connect with others.  What if I don’t want to go back?  What if love isn’t all you need?

My husband and I are GOOD at long distance.  We did it for four years.  Four years of poetry, passion, and pain. It wasn’t easy to be separated then.  What if it’s too easy now?  I’m not alone here.  I have my people.  My son.  My compatriots.  It’s so much easier just to be.  I don’t have to try, I just am.  The possibilities here seem abundant and endless. Just like they did when we were engaged, before we moved to Italy.

So, this is my honeymoon phase.  I know. Talk to me in three months and again in five.  Talk to me when we are on month three of nonstop rain and gray and damp and I’ve gained 15 pounds, my kid is addicted to TV and sugar, and I’m afraid to walk down the street at night (I’m only half kidding.).  Ask me, then, if I feel at home here.

Dear Italy, I like you, but not like THAT

This is my 11th year living in Italy, though several years I was fully immersed in an expat American community which insulated me from feeling most of the discomfort that comes from being a fish out of water.  When I arrived in Italy with my husband, I’d not been part of
the decision-making process to move here. We’d met in the US and been living in England where I was hoping to settle down. I will not bore you with the torrid details of how we got from point A to point B, but rather get to the main event. This may be hard to believe, but when he told me he wanted to finish his professional training Italy, I was angry.  I loved Italy and had been to visit many times.

I loooooved Italy….For vacationing.  For losing myself.  For relaxing. For slowing down.  For indulging.  For disconnecting.  But to live my life there? Day-in, day-out?  Would I be able to learn the language? What kind of work would I be able to do?  How would we live on my husband’s 800 Euro a month stipend? (All very good questions, I would later find out.)

Yes, some of the baggage from that move, I still carry around, especially when it comes to finding (or creating) meaningful work.  I hope you don’t mind if I take a moment to unload this day pack from my back.

10th Anniversary New Year's in Venice (50)


Dear Italy,

Yes, I LIKE you, but not like that.  Not Like-LIKE.  I mean, we’ve been friends for a long time and all, and you were really there for me back in the day.

No…of course I think you’
re sexy.  You smell great. You taste amazing.  You’re bewitching and complicated. You’re passionate and rustic.  You’re totally seductive.  Don’t get me wrong…I’ve been attracted to you since I was fifteen and, I know we’ve crossed the line from time to time, but I never meant for it to go this far.

Yes, yes…I remember that time I me
t you after grad school.  I couldn’t stop thinking about you.  I flew across the ocean to see you.  I arrived on an overnight train from Amsterdam to the sun rising over Venice.  Remember that?  My heart filled up to see you like that…naked and fresh.  I wanted to get lost in you and never leave. God, you were so hot that summer… Remember when 
I nursed my hangover on your hidden beach in Cinqueterre,  your salty sea holding my browned, naked body close to the surface of the Ligurian? I remember how it felt to be suspended, light as a feather, gently rocking, wDSCF5737ith the sun on my face, breathing in your briny warmth.  This will always be a perfect, never-to-be-forgotten, moment in my life.   When I go to my happy place, it’s you, like that, I imagine. The same you I live in day-in and day-out.  

You’re still super hot of course, but it’s different now.  I resent you. You limit me.  (Although, YOU say I limit myself.) Instead of relaxed, I feel increasingly anxious.  I feel small.  Sometimes worthless.  Sometimes unseen. I feel trapped here by you, by the way you are (though you say, it’s the way I am).  We still have our moments, I admit, but I wish we could go back to the way it used to be.

When we were lovers, we never talked about language.  You accepted me just the way I was: monolingual and satisfied.  But now…it seems like that’s ALL we talk about.  My English, your Italian.  Every. Single. Day. We talk about language. English, Italian, German….Bohr-ring (insert sing-songy tone). And though it is necessary and even fascinating at times, there are other things on my mind, other things I want to explore and skills I want to develop. I’m tired.  Stop asking me. There is green vespamore to me than my ability to speak Italian or teach English.  And I know you’re more than good wine, creamy ice cream, pasta and pizza, Vespas, and beaches . You’re more than a vacation.  Can’t we just be friends again?

Sincerely,

Madrelingua Inglese