The Hot Pot Blog


February 21, 2016

A coat rack for fantasy

alpe devero part 1-23

I’ve gotten out of the habit of updating this space with travel photos and “life in Italy” posts. Offline, I make an annual “yearbook” for the kids filled with photos and anecdotes and stories. I fill my free quota on Evernote with different journals for everything from story ideas to travel ideas to a running diary of all the entertaining we do, the people we invite and the meals we serve.

But I feel less inclined as of late to post all of our trips and kids’ photos online and after a few months of occasional reflection on the subject, I’ve realized that the reason for my relative reticence is probably not so much any kind of growing maturity– it might simply be Italy.

Whereas in India I felt the compulsion of a zealot to share everything I found so beautiful about that country, Italy does not suffer from any sort of PR crises among Americans. If anything, this country is romanticized in outsized proportions to it’s merits. Don’t get me wrong, I could write for days about how much I love the wine, the coffee and what constitutes a so-so restaurant meal in this country, but that’s a given. You would know that even if I never wrote home to tell you about it. And of course, the wine, the coffee, the countryside are only part of the whole story.

In the course of research for a contract job I have, I come across dozens of blogs written by American women married to Italian men and the theme which seems to run through them all is “if everyone back home keeps telling me my life is something out of a Diane Lane rom-com, then why am I so miserable?”

I’m acquaintances with a fair number of non-Italian women married to Italian men so I can skim through these blogs with very real and knowing sympathy. I can imagine these bloggers are miserable for very valid reasons, but I can also imagine that they must make their readers back in the States want to throw up in their mouths a little.

And I don’t want to be in their company–obviously for several reasons.

Blogging while living in Italy feels less like travel writing and more like putting out a coatrack for everyone to hang their fantasies on. A picture from a weekend hike in the mountains feels like bragging and yet belies all of the not-so-magazine-spread-worthy details of our lives here. Alluding too regularly to those details or to the darker underbelly of the “bella figura” here feels like petty complaining.

You could say the same thing to a lesser degree about nearly any travel experience, really any lifestyle that is shared on the internet, but in Italy the tension between real and aspirational, good and ugly, feels particularly acute. For people around the world from Chengdu, China to Green Bay, Wisconsin, even the very word “Italy” embodies a wine and olive oil-soaked fantasy of “the good life.”

I’m not entirely sure what the takeaway here should be. I still post photos, I still share our travel experiences, just a little more judiciously than I would if I lived elsewhere maybe. The duality of the beauty and the “learning experiences” we’ve had here may be something I don’t really unpack for myself until I’m literally unpacking again, a year and a half from now, in a place that might feel more or less like home but probably won’t come with wine so good nor mountains so picturesque.

And speaking of unpacking, we’ve actually just finished another round of that after our landlord cancelled our lease at our old apartment. This is the eighth apartment we’ve moved to in the past six years. My 16th apartment in the past 12 years. The great news is that we like our new place even better than the old one. The bad news is that we like it so much we might be very sad to leave it in 18 months’ time. Again, does this admission count as bragging or complaining? I can’t tell anymore.

At least I know what the takeaway on this one should be: there are a number of lovely people who take time to comment here with the best words and kindest encouragement and if you were here in Milan, I’d mention the new apartment only by way of inviting you all round here for tea.

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