Italy has been on my mind. The other night, as I was trying to sleep, I thought about my relationship with my Italian host mom, Paola. Here are a few episodes about our relationship, my Italian experience, and a few lessons I learned.
I’m reading “Sogno Romano” to Paola in the kitchen while she makes lunch. She stands at the stove. Water boils. The sun streams in. Her cigarette sighs smoke on the counter.
She turns her head gently to correct my mistakes. Her nods tell me she likes the story. I read and try to speak clearly, roll my rs, say a question with the right intonation. My tongue stumbles over words and I feel my cheeks turn red. The phrases would sound much more beautiful if she was reading them.
But she isn’t. And I am. Her nods push me to say another word. She makes lunch, I read her a story. Together, we show one another we care.
It’s 11 o’clock. Paola comes in. In her hand is an espresso cup. The espresso I drink every morning because she insists. I’m confused because it is night now. But she’s insisting.
Her response: “Mirto.”
With a grin she hands me it. I take the small cup and take a small sip. Like espresso it’s strong. And it’s good. It’s alcohol.
I tell her I like it. She tells me she would give me more, but I would fall asleep. I laugh because she’s serving me alcohol in my pajamas, while I do my homework, and I laugh because she is right.
Many nights I will fall asleep with the lights on and a book in my hand because my feet have walked to places I have never been and my mind is constantly trying to comprehend conversations or formulate responses that I often solve too late.
I am already so tired. But I take a sip. It’s good. I’m experiencing and learning. I’m happy that she wants to share her Mirto with me.
A week and a half. That’s how long it took me to show Paola that I care.
It isn’t because I didn’t appreciate her good cooking, her comforting hand on my shoulder, her singing with the TV. It’s because I didn’t know how to appreciate her.
But tonight I figured it out. All it took was: “Grazie per cena.” And then I saw it, a big, kind smile. And then I heard it: “Grazie per la tua compagnia.”
It’s a routine we will create every time we eat. She prepares the meal, I set the table, then, we eat together.
After I see her face light up I make sure to tell her every time. I fly the table cloth out of the window, like a banner, and our bread crumbs fall onto the street like rain. I fold the cloth, step beside her and place it in the drawer. Before I leave I say it. My voice is gentle and genuine. I say it from the heart; “Thank you for dinner.”
Smiling big, she thanks me for sitting and eating beside her. I tip toe to my room with a joyful heart. It’s my favourite thing to hear and my favourite part of our dinner.
When I first arrived to Italia, I was continually confused by one word: Insomma. While one of its meanings is “in conclusion,” or “in short” (and how fitting for my final post about my experience in Roma this summer) another of its meanings is no meaning at all.
After hearing insomma used over and over, I finally asked my host mom, “che significa insomma?” to which she replied, more or less, it doesn’t. The word insomma, or at least in the context that she was using it, meant nothing. It was simply a filler.
But oh how I had searched my brain to find some significance for this word! What could be its purpose? It must have a purpose. Everything must have a purpose — its place can’t be just to take up space.
And how fitting, yet again, that this is where I find myself now: at the end of my journey in Italia and at the beginning of taking up space and time without a definite purpose or means. I am the end and beginning of insomma.
My viaggio in Italia this summer was meraviglioso. From the beginning, Italia felt like it was my home. And it still is. My host mom Paola taught me pazienza, and once I began to take breaths in that were deep and wide, I no longer had to come up to the surface for air; I was immersed (as much as I could be) in the Italian culture. And how beautiful is the view from within!
I learned a grocery list of things: how to hang up clothes, how to survive the metro, how to twirl spaghetti the Italian way, how to order gelato flawlessly (well one time I was given a copetta (cup) instead of a cono (cone,)) and how to have conversations about politics in Italian. I also learned the hard and important things that surpass culture like; how to speak words of hope, how to find joy when life becomes mundane, how to go on adventures alone, how to remain true to self, how to show thanks and gratitude when feeling disappointment, and how build quick friendships that are deep and meaningful.
A Roma I had an adventure every day. And so, here are some of my favorite adventures/memories that I had while in Italy:
1. Renting a bike and riding it down Via Appia. As pleasant as this sounds it is a little more complex: my ride down the ancient road was only after I had accidentally took the wrong street and road down a windy and tight street accompanied by many Italian fiats and motociclette. Oh, and a carabinieri honked at me because I was happily peddling the wrong way down a street. Nevertheless, it was full of giggles.
2. My bus breaking down halfway in route at Circo Massimo. While at first I felt like crying (I was on my way to my program’s final dinner and two miles away from my destination) I decided that instead of pitying myself about being lost, I would choose joy. I took out my camera, took a few random buses and trams, and passed all of the beautiful sights of Roma that I never stopped to admire. It was a sweet goodbye; walking down the streets of Roma alone for the last time. I walked at a slow pace and enjoyed the Roman Forum, Colosseo, and Piazza Venezia as the architects that designed them meant for them to be — with wonder.
3. Snorkeling in one of the caves between Sorrento e l’isola di Capri. I’ve chosen this memory less because of the magnificence of the cave that we snorkeled through and more because of what happened in the water. Instead of enjoying the clarity of the water and the grandeur of the grotto, our adventure was more about getting out of the water and back into the boat. In less than two minutes of being in the water, the water became swift and rocky and in the midst of chaos, Paul was stung by a jellyfish. What an experience! Afterwards it made for many laughs and jokes to be made on the boat at the expense of Paul’s pain.
4. Traveling to Bologna. I met Irene at the train station and afterwards she showed me the splendor of Bologna. She taught me that the bellezza is often times hidden behind medieval exteriors that mask the lush and fecund courtyards on the inside. Diligently she showed me the jewels of Bologna, inviting me into the her hometown: where she had went to college, the ceiling that her grandfather had painted, the mercati she would shop at as a kid. Soon, Bologna became like an old friend. It was sweet for a city that I had just met to become one that I knew so well.
5. My last night and morning in Roma. After Paola had prepared dinner, she looked at me and told me “metto la mia anima in questo” (I put my soul into this). Our dinner was happy and I told her about what I had learned in Italia and what I looked forward to having in America. But my last morning, as I sat at the dinner table eating the sweetest melone and the panino Paola had made me, tears welled in my eyes. I couldn’t express how thankful I was for all of the dinners she made me, the conversations we had about culture and being a single woman, the smile and “oi!” she would greet me with when she came home in the evening. Instead, I showed her by being vulnerable. She showered me with kisses (really, I don’t think I have ever had so many kisses on my face at one time) and we laughed. It was special.
Insomma, I grew so much in Italia. It is an experience I would do again, again, and again. (Which is saying something because I ate a lot of pasta while I was there. I am willing to triple that amount!)
But now I am at the other end of insomma. I don’t have a job or a specific purpose while I am back at home. And so the question becomes; what will I do as I fill this space in this new season of my life? How will I take the experiences I learned in Italy and apply them here, at home?
I think it is by making every day and adventure: reading, writing, cooking, and sometimes, being still. I can’t wait to see what the “in conclusion” is for the insomma that I am in right now. I imagine, despite how it sometimes feels, it has a purpose. Actually, I know it.
Dal Texas, Hannah
P.S. I thought I was completely tired of pasta until I realized I was craving it the other night. It took me less than a week to be ready to eat pasta again. Can you believe it?!