I’ve written and deleted at least five blog posts trying to get here and this is not the one I thought I’d be writing.
I am completely stupidly obsessed and profoundly grateful for every single beautiful thing about this country. I cannot stop looking up at the piercing blu skies. I love the coffee and the wine and the ancient hill-top towns and the piazzas. I love that the Milanese seem to eat chocolate-filled croissants (which go by the name of brioche here) for breakfast every single morning and teetering towers of gelato every afternoon. I love walking through the park at 7pm and seeing families out playing before dinner because why put the kids to bed at 7:30 when it’s still light out? I love the friendly helpful people and the fact that the Italian language actually has a whole separate verb for the action of walking through a particularly beautiful place in nature. I have a feeling Chris is going to have to drag me kicking and screaming to the airport when it’s time for us to leave three years from now.
And that’s the thing that fills me with both a sort of manic urgency and a kind of melancholy I have no right to feel in a place as beautiful as this. I’ve seen so very little of Milan and Italy so far but what I’ve seen is enough to know that three years will not be long enough.
I’m tired, all the way down to my bones, of this international moving thing. At least for now. I’m tired of knowing that as much as we like it here, it’s only temporary. Next time could be somewhere we like so much less. I’m tired of the unpacking, of the faux pas I don’t realize I’m committing until after the fact. The need to decipher a foreign language with two whimpering children in my arms in order to figure out how to get across town, get a working cell phone, and obtain the all-important grocery store cards that magically make everything from groceries to dry-cleaning more affordable. I’m drained from 6 weeks of getting my toddler acclimated enough so that we can tackle multiple outings in one day without risking epic public meltdown. No matter how amazing his Dad and I might think this place is, Will is still adjusting. It’s not home yet and, for now, it’s still a far cry right now from the constant companionship and cozy community he enjoyed back in Delhi.
I was making the bed the other morning and for a few minutes I got lost in a fantasy of what it would be like to live somewhere for more than 2-3 years. I romanticize settling down and belonging to a place the way some people probably romanticize our lives overseas. I dream of friendships without expiration dates and visiting the same coffee shops and bakeries for years on end without having to leave just when we’re finally becoming “the regulars.” I wonder what it would be like to look for a job I could stay in for longer than 18 months at a time. I wonder what it would be like to own a home and actually live in it.
6 weeks from now, I’ll be over this phase, for now we still getting settled. Hell, we are still all sleeping in one bed while we wait for the last of our furniture to arrive from the States. I’d be crazy to think we should have everything all figured out already, but sometimes I’m a little crazy I guess.
My sweet and sensitive little boy is trying so damn hard to do all of the new things we ask of him here. Like responding “Ciao” and “Buongiorno” to people on the street who, for the first time in his life, look a lot like mommy and daddy but who don’t necessarily speak a language he can understand. Difficult things like walking 2 miles to the grocery store without running into the street. As he said to me today “Mommy, I stop at all the red lights now!” He does and that’s something and we can work on everything else. Kids are resilient sure, but I can’t imagine what must go through the head of a little person who’s already lived in four countries in his first three years of life.
The long lonely August holiday is nearly over and shops are opening for business again. Kids are returning to the playgrounds. The city no longer feels as deserted as it did. Today as I was bagging our groceries at the Esselunga grocery store the cashier asked me in English why I didn’t have an Esselunga card. “Points! Sales! You need one!” he said.
“I know!” I said, “but I don’t know how to get one.”
“Here, I do it for you right now,” he said and, astonishingly, with three people waiting in line behind me, he did. It was as if the clouds above suddenly cleared and all of the beatific angels in all of the church murals across town suddenly burst into hymns of rejoicing. I nearly wept with gratitude.
I haven’t gotten to go out shooting around town yet. Every film developer in town has been closed since the first week of August. I haven’t found the best little salumeria or bakery or paninoteca. I’ve had at least ten mediocre pizzas since we’ve arrived from the very appropriately named “Pizza Ok” pizzeria near our house–but not a single one from the best pizzeria in town. In fact, aside from our weekend trips, I haven’t made it more than a few metro stops away from our house.
But I’ve got my grocery store card now. My kid stops at all of the red lights. That’s really all I can ask for at the moment. We are going to be just fine.
Shiloh’s first appertivo
For the past two weeks I’ve spent my days acquainting the kids with the five block radius around our house and my nights doing battle with moving boxes and dirty kitchen corners. Unless you count the pediatrician, the market, the grocery store or the endless visits to the park where I look longingly at two and threesomes of fashionably-dressed Milanese mothers wishing I spoke Italian, I have not explored one iota of Milan.
But the house is nearly all put away and the kids seem reasonably well-adjusted now for three weeks in and so when Chris pulled me out from under a heap of laundry on Thursday night to ask if I wanted to take a day trip somewhere this weekend I must have said something like “yes, please, anywhere” and the train tickets were booked and purchased before either of us could stop to think “what about the weather?”
Thank goodness we didn’t though, for had we seen the forecast calling for a 90% chance of thunderstorms over Varenna, I doubt we would have made the trip. And while I’m sure Varenna, on the shores of Lake Como is a stunning place in the sunshine, I have a feeling we liked it better today for all of the mist and moss and quiet deserted cobblestone alleys devoid of all tourists and vacationers except those with either non-refundable plane tickets or possibly a few bad planners like ourselves.
Our excursion started out unpromisingly. We got off the train in a drenching hour-long downpour with two sleeping–the only reason I hope we ever have to pay 8 euro for the privilege of a 750 meter taxi ride. After which we promptly spent 10 euro on a cheap umbrella and nearly twice as much for some bad coffee and bad pizza (in Italy, yes, it’s true) at the closest place we could run to with two wet, disgruntled children. When cajoled into deploying the iPad not even thirty minutes into the trip, I secretly thought we were doomed.
But, buoyed by bad pizza and a little caffeine, we rallied. The rain never really let up completely, but we had miles (ok, maybe a mile) of winding cobblestone alleys to ourselves on which our little race car was free to zoom along as fast as he liked, free from the “slow down! Stop, stop, STOP! STOP RIGHT NOW!” mantra he hears so often in the city.
Gosh you guys, Italy is beautiful. All of it, even in the rain. I get it now. I know I’m still very much in the honeymoon phase here but after the places we’ve been the last four years (places I’ve loved wholeheartedly–it should be noted) this kind of cobblestones and courtyard beauty is thrilling in a way I hadn’t counted on.
Also, I have a new drink of choice for those rare moments when I have time to do more than slam an espresso standing up at the counter: the marocchino. Chocolate and coffee in perfectly bitter and just barely sweet proportion.
I brought three cameras with me to Varenna, including my phone, so eager was I to take photos after my self-imposed moving and two-children-plus-3-grocery-bags-in-my-arms related hiatus. I can’t wait to see what Varenna will look like on the roll of black and white film I shot, but for now the instant gratification of digital feels particularly soothing to my cooped-up heart.
Finding a place to get film developed is high on my list of priorities for the next week, but still competing with getting a cell-phone contract, a metro card and finding some merciful person to teach me Italian. Also figuring out how to sort the recycling without incurring a fine in the process. Oh and telling you all about Chinatown and the Italian recipe for a 7 month old’s first food and that one time we got caught in a downpour and a group of kind, wonderful nonnas fashioned a hat for Shiloh out of a plastic lingerie bag.
If I sound a bit flip or giddy it’s a bit of defense mechanism kicking in. Having done this new-country-new-city-new-language thing three times now, I wonder if I can write a single thing right now that will resonate with either you or me three months or three years from now. What feels like a revelation right now will be taken for granted in a few months. The road we took from the airport to reach our apartment already looks different to me than it did on that very first day. I don’t speak the language or have pictures on the walls, I don’t have any friends right now or even enough beds for everyone in our house, but of course, in a few months, with some effort, hopefully those things that will change too.
I feel a little extra…guilty, yes that is exactly the right word for it, this time around for having landed in a place that is so often romanticized–especially by so many of our colleagues out in less hospitable places. We are so very fortunate to be here and I think in some ways I’m struggling to accept that it’s ok to live in a place with clean air and beautiful produce and a recycling system that does not presuppose a class of poor scavenger families eeking out their living by sorting trash for valuable cast-offs. For the last two years we lived in relatively close proximity to hardship and suffering in a way that is mostly unfathomable here. Now it’s hard to reconcile what I saw everyday out my windows there with what I see outside my windows here. I’m working on it and in the meantime just so speechlessly grateful for this opportunity we have to live and travel here.
It’s been one week and two days since we touched down in Milan or Milano as it’s called here. I haven’t figured out which one sounds less presumptuous for me to use seeing as how my working Italian tops out somewhere shortly after “my kids are three and six months old” and “I’d like an espresso please”
The other night we pulled into a hotel parking lot across the river from Washington D.C. Chris ran inside to check us in, while the kids and I stretched and squirmed in the backseat.
“Mommy, where is home?” Will asked. Continue Reading
When people ask me how our time in America this summer, I hope I tell them about the lilacs. Continue Reading
Two weeks ago a professional photographer and a fellow FS spouse based in Chennai came to Delhi for a scheduled portrait shoot. She needed a photo assistant and I realized that I badly needed to get out of the house to capture on film all of my favorite details about Delhi–unencumbered by irresistibly kissable baby limbs and funny, if distracting, toddler antics. Continue Reading
I’d always aspired to do a ‘day in the life” post here in Delhi to record for the kids the banal, everyday details that really defined our lives here but that we might otherwise forget. With only 5 days until movers show up at our front door though, I think I’ve finally procrastinated past the possibility of recording a “typical” day for us here. Our friends keep texting with increasing urgency, our tough, no-nonsense housekeeper burst into tears last week when we tried to talk about pack-out, and our house looks like two years worth of living abruptly flew out of the closets and landed in haphazard piles across our family room. Nothing feels ordinary here anymore.
But if I had to aggregate two years worth of quiet little rituals and experiences into a single day, we’d have a day like the one I describe below.
I bought an old film camera in Old Delhi a few weeks ago. It’s a Minolta with some spots on the lens and more light leaks than I know what to do with right now. But the way it makes my fingers hum with every click of the shutter and the way India looks through its anachronistic little viewfinder make me feel like I’m seeing the world here around me in a different light.
And I am seeing the world around me differently. Cameras aside, there’s a countdown now, a date on the calendar after which we will no longer be residents of Delhi and we’ll be applying for residency cards in Milan, Italy instead.
It’s not hard to conceptualize that we are leaving India, but it’s difficult for me to picture in my head what life in a country with potable water might look like. It’s not hard to understand that my dearest friends here will keep having new babies and healing from surgeries whether we are in Delhi or Millan, but it’s hard to imagine starting over in Italy without having all of them just a text message and a 15 minute drive away from me.
I’m not particularly self-aware. It’s taken me nearly a month to realize that the real beauty of my new little camera is the fantastic amount of distraction it provides from the more life-changing matters at hand. There’s a distinct appeal to not knowing how a shot really turned out until I get it back from the neighborhood dry-cleaner cum photo lab. Each roll is a series of 36 mini unknowns to distract me from all of the bigger unknowns we are facing.
We’re in that strange transition period between feeling at home in one place and soon being compelled to make a new place feel like home. I feel like I won’t know which stories or emotions or experiences will really define our last few months in Delhi until we’ve already unpacked and resettled in Italy. And until I do, the world just makes more sense when I’m looking at it through my cloudy new viewfinder.
I’m on a vision quest these days. In between potty seats and the 3am feedings. In between the markets and the playdates and the emails about Italian preschools and the need to get dinner on the table and the need to pour a glass of wine after the kids finally go to bed. In between failed 5am attempts to exercise and failed 10pm attempts at Italian lessons. In between giving in to chocolate-for-breakfast requests and saying no to watching TV. In between telling my husband to get out of my shower and wanting to do nothing more badly than run away together for 24 hours. In between trying and failing and sometimes succeeding at being a good mother, a good wife, a good friend, a good person, I wonder why fate dealt me this weird, wonderful life of ours and what I’m exactly supposed to be doing with the gift.
How very millennial of me it must seem to assume a higher calling beyond motherhood, housekeeping and helping to pay the bills. But I live in a country where I am surrounded by women raising children, keeping house and making money with far, far fewer resources and far, far greater hardships than I have ever born. If they can do it all so capably with so much less, surely I should be making use of my privilege to do so much more.
A thousand times since the day he asked me to marry him, Chris has asked me whether I ever regret my decision. I tell him and myself that I don’t.
I chose love and adventure over everything I had thought I wanted up until the point right before Chris asked me to marry him. Two roads diverged and all of that.
And someday it will all make sense. I don’t think it will be photography or cooking and maybe not even writing that will fill my days with purpose and clarity the way motherhood and moving preparations fill my days now. But as we count our days left here in India and look forward to a new adventure and new possibilities in Italy, I find myself impatient once again to know for what purpose could all of these wonderful adventures be for.
Our friends and family in America celebrated the arrival of the spring equinox last week, but here in Delhi we are slowly resigning ourselves to the beginning of our hot dry summer season. In Delhi they say that the heat arrives with Holi and so it has. Continue ReadingOlder Posts >>>