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.