My Week in Italy

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I’ll admit I was worried.  The whole driving in Italy thing had me so preoccupied before I left on my trip that I scarcely had time for my usual panic about my plane crashing.  I landed in Roma last Saturday to the tune of Slip Sliding Away playing on the American Airlines speakers and all of a sudden my fears about the drive were renewed with vigor.

In the end, it was fine.  I didn’t stall the car once and I made it out of Rome without getting lost.  By the end of my week, I wasn’t exactly driving like an Italian–in other words crazily like my friend Laura–but I was able to take the winding roads with a respectable amount of speed.  This was of course helped because the weather turned out to be sunny and wonderful.

I knew going into this trip that I would either be moving to Italy when I came back, or I would be giving in to my fears and staying put in New York.  The first day pretty much made the decision for me.

I went into Montepulciano to walk around and get my bearings.  I’d forgotten just how steep the climb through the town was.  The old stone streets worn smooth by hundreds of years of use beckoned me higher and higher as I tried to reconnect with the town.  Unfortunately, it was Sunday and everything was closed.  The streets were barren and except for a tasting of the first Vino Nobile of the season going on in Piazza Grande, it felt like a ghost town.  I walked by my favorite restaurant and noticed it had gone out of business.  In fact, there seemed to be quite a few stores no longer there.  I began to panic.  What was I thinking?  Could I really make a living in this country with my limited Italian.  Knowing my resources were even more limited than my speech, I felt a weight descending upon me.  The few Italians who passed me looked at the strange American without returning my smiles.  By the time I made it back to Laura’s agriturismo, I was talking myself out of moving.  I wouldn’t have friends, it was too big a step, etc…

I went to my room and the quiet loneliness of traveling by myself, no doubt exacerbated by jet lag, made me feel quite sad, so I decided to go down to the agriturismo’s kitchen and ask Laura’s mom, Marisa, if I could watch her cook.  Marisa doesn’t speak a word of English, but she took one look at my face when I came in and asked me what was wrong.  I began to cry.  And then I told her in my halting Italian about my fears and my doubts.  Within fifteen minutes she had me cooking.  It was almost as if she’d intuited that cooking is the one task that always makes me feel at peace.  She gave me porcini mushrooms to chop (frozen because they weren’t in season) and by the end of the afternoon, I was at home.  I helped cook the meal for the party that was planned for that evening.  Laura is getting married this week and so I wanted to help with all of the preparations for the wedding.  And I did.  I cooked, cleaned, made favors for the rice to be thrown, and ate with the family.  Marisa took me under her wing and within a day, I was over my fears and certain I was making the right decision.

I met the entire family, and was happy to learn that my sense of humor translated into Italian.  Of course, I did have my moments of Italian embarrassments, but I was growing more confident with my speech so I didn’t care.  We ordered flowers for the church, the weddding cake, organized the table seating–basically all of the wedding things that would take a year in the US, Laura was attempting to do in a week.  The stress was palpable and I was glad I was there to lend a hand.  In between lots of cries of “Maddona Mia” and “Porca Miseria” and my favorite “Vaffanculo,”  everything was getting accomplished.  I was in charge of the list to keep us on track, and we happily ticked things off as the week went on.  On Wednesday, after Laura had had her own breakdown because she hadn’t liked the way the gifts for the guests had turned out, Marisa got involved and we all trouped over to speak to the owner of the shop where the bomboniere were made.  While we waiting, Laura’s mom commented that the favors with the candied almonds were moscia.  I’d never heard that word before so I looked it up.  It meant limp.  Laura whose English is good, but also wants to improve, added limp to her vocabulary.  Then I said, “Non bene per il uomo.” (limp isn’t good for the man).  Laura and her mom cracked up and we had another nice bonding moment.  Unfortunately to my utter mortification, Laura regaled her father and brother with my comment over dinner that evening.  And that was how the week went.  I was treated as part of the family.  Laura delighted in repeating my comments in a nightly wrap up for everyone’s enjoyment, sometimes because the comments themselves were funny, or because the way I expressed myself in Italian was.  I felt comfortable and at home.

With the help of Laura and Marisa, I was able to open a bank account, find an apartment to rent, buy an Italian cell phone, and have several leads on employment to follow up on when I return.  Marisa has decided that she will work on finding me a husband, a job and a car in the intervening months.  Apparently my husband is a man named Lucca whom I haven’t met!

The week was wonderful.  Not a vacation for sure as I think I worked harder there than I do here in New York, but I realized that with a little support, it is possible to take those big leaps forward.  When I left on Saturday, laden with olive oil from the recent harvest, Marisa, Laura and I all cried.  I will see Laura in New York while she’s here on her honeymoon, and I’ve promised Marisa that I will text her regularly.  I will see her in a few months.  Laura’s dad joked that they’ll be waiting for me at the airport upon my return.

I have a lot to accomplish in the next couple of months, but I feel confident that I’m heading down the right path…up the mountain to Montepulciano.

the view from my new apartment

the view from my new apartment

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