Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Italy in an Instant

As I drove to It's a Grind this afternoon, still smelling the shampoo on my wet hair and feeling the rawness of my callused, cut hands from digging out a few feet of grass for our garden in the back of the house this morning, I started to think of the six months I lived in Italy. I thought of this while driving, not while gardening. While gardening, I thought of the loose leaf lettuce I'm growing, the spinach and sweet peas, the surprising unlikelihood of my successful pepper seeds that have sprouted and are thriving. I fretted over the worms I stole from the soil and expatriated to the composter, though I've read this will not work, and felt vindicated by this action when I checked to see if the worms were attempting an escape and found that, indeed, they were not. But while I drove, serenaded by NPR's classical musical choices, I thought of Italy.

Italy comes to me in gusts, sometimes. Today it was the sweet powdered scent of chocolate filled croissants at 5:30am, before the sun came up as we strolled the cobblestone streets back to our green-shuddered apartment with its white facade always glowing in the night like the moon. Today it was how those croissants melted like sugar in hot water on our tongues as we exchanged lire for them at the backdoor of the unopened bakery, spitting out what little Italian we had mastered in the early morning darkness to a face that never came to us in clarity.

Today I thought of the cobblestones we treaded both at night, in the morning and in the afternoon. How we carved our way through Florence, past the Duomo and Santa Croce, across the Ponte Vecchio and through the San Lorenzo de Medici market cluttered with wares and vegetables, leather and eggs. Always heading somewhere, to see something, following the cobblestones, dodging traffic, gazing into windows filled with rich chocolate sachertorte gazing back at us through a glaze of glossy, smooth frosting.

I can hear Italy, if I think hard enough. I can remember my innocent mistakes as I ordered an expresso when I really wanted a coffee or my surprise when I found a sandwich spot hidden beneath an arch with a woman who spoke every language we threw at her. I felt safe in her company, her voice as confident as an American's and her command of the language even better.

I remember my shock of blonde hair against the black of my clothes as I attempted to hide myself and blend into the atmosphere, always noticing my foreignness in the reflection of the endless windows I passed.

But what struck me most about Italy today was how everything I saw there, everything I did, every day for months it lured me, entranced me like a siren into forgetting to look for the sky. it's easy to forget the sky in Italy when surrounded by so much artistic and architectural beauty, when watching the ground to be sure I didn't step in dog excrement. How easy it was to forget that slice of blue hidden away behind the shining buildings and sidewalk vendors with their renditions of the art hidden away in the buildings as their wares.

It was on a walk to school one afternoon that I suddenly felt lost and empty in the middle of living my dream existence in Italy. The feeling came over me like homesickness and my heart pounded in my chest, begging me to take notice and remember. "Remember!" It seemed to say with each thump. "REMEMBER!" And, believe it or not, I felt frantic, panicked, as if I'd lost something I couldn't name or even seek. I tilted my head back to take a deep breath and spotted blue space high above the buildings and people, high above the sponge of culture and art I'd become. And in the time it took me to inhale, relief swept over me, calm soothed me and I felt like I was home.

Missouri has so much sky I never feel lost, though I sometimes long for Italy in my daydreams. As long as there is space above me, as long as I take notice of its existence, I will always be home.



  1. Great post girl!! I've never been... but so many things resonated with how I felt/probably looked when traveling - especially overseas. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. I was in Italy for a week. It was home to me in an instant. Munich was also home to me in an instant. And Greece is always home to me.

    And I know about being brought back places. I know about finding hope in "so much sky." I know about that glorious, star-belted blanket covering everything and reminding even those things and people that seem furthest away that they really aren't out of reach.

    I relate to this so so so much...