Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Second Winter: Musings about living here for more than a year

I've now been living in Italy for about 14 months... and I have to say that the reality of living here is different than I expected.  Some things are better, some are worse.  Some just, well, different.  I'm finding that I am much more homesick that I expected.  I have lived all over the place, in various parts of the world, but until now there was always an end point, like living in Asheville until I went to college, or living in Greensboro until I graduated college, living in Ireland until my visa expired, or living in Kentucky until I finished grad school.  Now that I am living in Italy and married, there is no 'end point', which I find to be fairly unsettling.  I love my husband and I love Italy, but I still get 'itchy feet'. 

I think I never got very homesick before because in the various places I have lived (or traveled to for extended periods), I always knew that I'd return to my family between each adventure.  Now, home is in the snowy Alps, and I am (probably) permanently on the other side of the globe from my family and lifelong friends.  To cope with this, I'm clinging to my Appalachian roots a lot more than I expected.  I play more Old Time music now than I ever did in the US, I'm always cooking southern food (pies, biscuits, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, roasted squash, etc), just made a patchwork quilt for a friend's baby, we are learning to brew beer at home because Italian beer generally tastes like poo, and I sometimes talk to myself in an empty house in a strong southern accent to keep myself company. 

That's not so say I haven't embraced the local culture, because I have.  I have a much deeper appreciation for wine than I ever did before, am enamored with the local cheeses (and am having some success making them myself), my favorite place in the world is inside the 2000 year old aqueduct up the road from here, and I can chat pretty well in Italian now.  I don't stand out as obviously as I did a year ago, and am learning how to maneuver my way through the Italian way of life. 

Things I like here
-Socializing generally revolves around food and cooking
-There are GIANT snow-capped mountains poking up everywhere.  Seriously, it is crazy.
-I can see glaciers from my kitchen
-Just about everyone can cook and they (nearly) all appreciate good, well made food
-Roman ruins absolutely everywhere, and the 2000 year old town I live outside of has 2000 year old walls surrounding it. 
-The pace of life is slower.  Things happen eventually, and people aren't rushing around like headless chickens
-There are still the small specialty shops.  Bread shops, pastry shops, meat shops, pasta shops, cheese shops, wine shops, chocolate shops...even shops that ONLY carry socks. 
-I can walk 5 minutes to get raw milk from the dairy vending machine.
-I can walk 2 minutes past to a great produce market where they grow much of what they sell. 
-The Italian language is beautiful
-The 'aperitivo'.  It translates as 'appetizer'... but it is so much better. Before dinner, when you go to a bar and get a glass of wine, they have a spread of tasty little appetizers that are included with your drink.  In the US, folks go out for a cup of joe.  Here, folks go out for an aperitivo. 
-FREE (or cheap, in some cases) medical care and medications!
-cheap public transportation exists in multiple forms, even if it isn't always reliable because the drivers are on strike what seems like half the time
-cobblestone pedestrian-only streets
-My giant rabbit, Genepy, who was saved from being cooked in a polenta sauce.  She weighs 6 kilos, and snores very loudly when she's not following me around like an imprinted duckling.

Things I don't like
-The Italian language is hard, especially when people talk fast, in dialect, strange accents, and use funny expressions
- If you have a prescription medicine, you must go every two weeks to the doctor to get a new prescription.  Even if it something you have to take for your whole life.  And then the Pharmacy probably doesn't have it because everyone is always on strike
-Bureaucracy.  I know it sucks everywhere, but here the laws change so often that no one (seriously! no one!) knows them even if it is their job.  Which means nothing ever gets done, and they end up doing funny things.  Like, I couldn't start working until my house was measured. 
-I don't know where to go to buy random things... like stickers, for example. 
-Ingredients are different.  If I want to make foreign food, like Mexican, I need to bring the ingredients from the US.  So I have a freezer full of masa harina, grits, cornmeal, and biscuit flour I hauled over since those things don't exist here. 
-Traveling ain't so easy when you live in a snowy, narrow valley in the middle of no where in the Alps
-I really, really miss my family... thank goodness for Skype, though.
-Most people want to eat my pet rabbit
-I feel like a baby because I don't have an innate knowledge of how to get anything done here, as I would in the US.  I want to sell jam and homemade cosmetics.  What offices do I need to go to so that I can start the process? Who knows!

It's a balance.  I love it here, but sometimes it annoys the living daylights out of me.  Overall, the balance is tipped in the direction of 'yippie, I love it here!', but it isn't always easy.  Life the past few months has been particularly crazy, as I stopped working as a medical physicist after only 6 months (contract issues... I was actually quite good at my job), and we are working towards running a B&B later this year.  It's one that someone we know already started years back, and needs someone to run it (me! me!).  I discovered that I have some kind of crazy natural born talent for jam and cosmetics (lotions, creams, etc) making that I will try to capitalize on.  My language skills are far better than a year ago; now I can talk to most people about most things, even if my grammar is...crappy.  It is dark and gloomy and snowy here, but I think we actually have far less snow than in the US at the moment, and snow is to be expected in the Alps, I suppose.  It's so strange... in the winter, the view literally looks like a black & white photo.  Everything is in shades of gray. 

Another thing...until a couple of years ago, dancing (lindy hop and contra dancing) were my life since about 2001.  I haven't hardly danced a step since I moved here, and it kind of feels like something has died inside of me as a result.  I still feel like a dancer, if though I don't really dance anymore.  However, upon realizing that, I bought myself a ticket to Barcelona for the New Year, so I am rocketing off tomorrow morning to dance for a few days! I also bought a pass for the European Swing Dance Championships in June (also in Barcelona), so that is another thing to look forward to. 

Oh, one thing I didn't mention above, but since it is Italy, it must be said.  The shoes here are gorgeous.