Monday, February 23, 2009

Roman Holiday

Italy. The hidden half of myself is full of bright colors, frescoes, homemade pasta, kind faces, and family. My homeland considers me a stranger, but I still feel a physical longing for my memories of her hills, the Pianura Padana, the musicality of her language, and my cousins surrounding me. While it is completely possible that I will never belong wholly to the culture that whispers to me in dreams, I feel the need to try to fit myself into the puzzle of Italy’s being. Any glimmer of recognition from the Italian people, the international community, or a personality trait that can be considered Italian, fills me with pride.

I just came back from two weeks in Italy with Michelle. We started in Rome then headed to Bologna, Modena, Parma, and Milano, with a day trip to Verona. It was a great trip… full of old friends and my family. In Rome, we met three guys from Vienna and two guys and a girl from Bilbao. They were all so awesome- we went out together twice, saw the coliseum together, and generally messed around, trying not to get into trouble. We also saw an old friend of mine from my exchange days in Rouen; a really good guy that I’ve kept in contact with on and off since we’ve known each other. Rome is an incredible city, one I might have to live in at some point. It’s chaotic, beautiful, international, and small enough to walk.

I lived in Bologna for a month when I was 18, so I felt the need to show Michelle my old haunts. The food is the main attraction, though the town itself is beautiful and worth seeing on its own. For dinner, we ate at this lovely restaurant where Michelle had pumpkin tortelloni and I had polenta with wild boar. We only spent one night there before going to Modena where a friend of mine from this summer working on the Island of Elba lives. Daniela is a whole person. She knows who she is, but is open to experiencing new things… Her apartment is an expression of herself, filled with her paintings, pagan symbols, wood stove, and two cats. She and her boyfriend (a Moroccan living in Italy) fed us well and we left feeling relaxed and with a bottle of her father’s 15-year-old homemade balsamic vinegar, thick as chocolate sauce and incredibly delicious.

Parma was a whirlwind of family insanity, shopping, and walking. Highlights include spending time with the cousins from my generation and visiting the younger generation’s elementary school to talk about life in the States, education, and Michelle and my life stories. When Manu and Giulia (my cousins, 22 and 18 years old respectively) left the last night when we were together, I nearly cried. The connections I have with my family are the most precious thing I have, and I never feel like there’s enough time to spend with them. Francesco and Alice, the little cousins, were so surprised when we showed up at their school to talk to their classes. I was their nanny for two summers, and they think of me as an older sister/aunt. Michelle dazzled the 10-year-old boys by playing soccer with them and being awesome. Italy is not exactly the most liberal place when it comes to girls playing soccer, so not only were they shocked by her talented playing, but they also had their eyes opened a little to the possibilities of women being independent, strong, and playing sports.

In Milano, Michela and her family were waiting for me. This summer, on Elba, they were my saving graces. I met them around a point when work there was making me really depressed, and they took me into their home as though I were a part of the family. After having dinner there one night, they invited me back again and again. Milan is not my favorite city to say the least, but we saw the cathedral, the galleries, the castle, the Pinacoteca Brera (where my grandmother once studied Belle Arte), Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper, and went to Michela’s littlest cousin’s baptism. Michela’s mother tried unceasingly to interest me in her son or her nephew as possible future husbands. As her son has been dating the same girl for the last three years and as her nephew is 38, these attempts were to come to naught, but I thoroughly enjoyed her trying to make me a member of her family. After the baptism, we ate for three hours. It was awesome. I have cake in my bag.

I got home an hour ago, and I still can’t really believe that I’m back in Paris. I feel like I’ve been gone for months, and I’m decidedly not prepared for school starting up again tomorrow. In the airport in Milan, we ran into my friend Nigel from Ireland, and we traveled back to Paris all together, which helped me from getting too down about leaving Italy. Nigel is hilarious, and we always have a good laugh and our times together are much craic. At the moment, however, I am sitting in my messy apartment, on my bed, contemplating my lack of milk for breakfast tomorrow morning, and feeling quite nostalgic- not just for this time in Italy, but for every time in Italy. For my family, friends, the food, the language, the existence that I have there. It is, after all, a part of me. When I get back from a long stay (or in this case, just a short one), I feel like I have ghost limb syndrome, as if I should be able to walk outside and be there, as if it’s just beyond my grasp, just there, only I can’t touch it or see it.

I wish I could entirely convey how I feel when I think of Italy, but it’s impossible. There’s just too much feeling involved, and emotions have never been easy to describe. I try to ask my other friends who are half and half or even those that are just far from home if they feel the way I do, and most of the time, I just get confused looks or the answer, “no”. Michelle sort of gets it, or at least, even if she doesn’t feel it, she knows how much it means to me. I am a pale, northern-looking, not properly dressed foreigner with an accent in my own country, but I am also a staunch Italian. I know our history, our famous writers, our politics, and I am convinced of the importance of Garibaldi’s legacy and keeping our country whole, despite the Lega Nord, the new divisional parties in the South, the Mafia, racism, xenophobia, and our corrupt political system. We’re a small, imperfect country that is really a gran’ casino more than anything else, but I love it. It is a part of the whole, a piece of my soul, and I cannot deny it.