Expatriating to Italy: If You Fall, It’s Nothing A Little DOCG Wine Can’t Fix.
I thought sincerely about hyperventilating before realizing that’s only something that people with legit, diagnosed claustrophobia might do.
Those like me, who just don’t like tight spaces (so basically everyone on the planet who doesn’t have legit, diagnosed claustrophobia), don’t hyperventilate. We just get a little panicky while our minds contemplate the worst: what if those doors never open again, what if this tin can they call an elevator malfunctions and opens between floors, what if Mack has a blow-out and hot-boxes us both, what if — oh my GOD are those scratch marks on the walls?! Those are scratch marks because someone got trapped in here once. I wonder if they were dumb enough to bring a stroller too and they couldn’t sit down or turn or even bend their legs for days until someone rescu– CLUNK.
When the sliding doors opened, I took a moment to wipe the sweat-stache from my upper lip before nonchalantly pushing my way through the other steel door and directly into the doctor’s office-slash-apartment.
This isn’t weird at all.
“You look really tired.”
“Well I’m just saying you look tired. Are you getting enough sleep? Is Makenna sleeping? Is everything okay over there?”
My mom and I were video chatting. It was late for me due to the time difference, but I assured her: “Yes, we’re all sleeping great. Everyone’s been nice. The city is beautiful. It’s just that moving to another country where you don’t speak the language and aren’t used to the customs and are living out of a third floor walk-up hotel room with two large dogs and a baby is, like, mind-blowingly exhausting. I didn’t know this level of exhaustion was possible. And now you’ve completely ruined the false mental body image that was getting me through the days — the one that told me I look as effortlessly chic as the Italian women.”
“Oh, okay… so how’s the food?”
I may have thought I was exhausted then, but this conversation happened before my grandmother died and Justin contracted a horrible stomach virus and Makenna, apparently following suit, started expelling very gross things from various orifices. Which she basically does all of the time anyway because she’s a baby, but today she was doing it with panache.
Until this morning I’ve been doing what I think is a remarkably stellar job of rolling with the punches that naturally arise when moving overseas. Basically everything in my life right now — every mishap, every inconvenience, every mildly embarrassing faux pas — has been laughable because, hey, we’re in Italy!
When we arrived in Naples at a different airport than where they told us we’d be getting in, it was okay because hey, we’re in Italy!
When we had to ditch the dog kennels at the airport because they didn’t fit in the minivan we’d rented, it was okay because hey, we’re in Italy!
When the van’s GPS couldn’t locate the address for our agriturismo and we became lost on pitch dark Italian country roads, it was okay because hey, we’re in Italy!
And when we finally came to our senses and turned our cell phone data so we could enter the proper address and the GPS turned us around and took us to the very center of a picturesque village that had draped itself over a hilltop like chocolate-topped gelato, this was not a problem, we thought, but an adventure. For some reason we decided it would be a good idea to pull in our side mirrors to head down a steep road that looked like it would take us to the right place on the map. Just past the precarious archway, a woman came out of her house and began yelling at us in Italian. I got out of the car and tried to explain with my limited vocabulary, and she laughed because apparently we weren’t the first dumbasses to crest this particular hill. Then half of the village came out to help direct our packed-full van back out of the pedestrian-only street, and the kind woman who didn’t speak a word of English actually had us follow her in her car to the agriturismo where we couldn’t get up the slick gravel driveway and had to back up again, but it was okay because hey, we’re in Italy!
It’s easy to laugh things off when the next morning world looks like this. (Agriturismo Setteventi)
But it’s almost as though life took that challenge and set about trying to break me in one way or another. So today I found myself elbows-deep in putrefying blankets and onesies and apologizing profusely to the housecleaning lady for the pile of sheets and comforter I’d stripped from the bed because my baby’s projectile vomit is astoundingly absorbent, and she — her name is Joy — wasn’t even listening to me because Mack was looking at her and giggling and making the eyes and doing the thing she does to people that makes them melt like the butter the Ferrarese pour all over their pumpkin-filled cappellacci.
And, still, because that sick kid was still smiling and making people laugh, I didn’t break.
I didn’t break when I first couldn’t find the doctor’s office and then couldn’t figure out how to use the elevator and then wasn’t sure whether I could fit inside it. I didn’t break when he told me nothing seemed wrong and it was probably just a bug and we should just wait and see. And I didn’t break when I arrived back at our hotel — we’ve since moved from the 3rd floor walk-up to something slightly more accommodating with a kitchenette and sofa — and realized that much of the day was gone and I hadn’t eaten and I still had to feed a baby who may or may not be able to keep it down.
But she kept it down. So I didn’t break.
And I only feel like breaking a little bit, just now, when it’s quiet and Makenna is sleeping and Justin is at work — not because sometimes life is hard and we still don’t have a home and Italy isn’t what I thought it would be. (It is, in fact, even better.)
But I miss my grandma, you know?
And I can’t go back for her funeral because we’ve only just arrived. And the distance between me and most of the people I love seems unfathomable at this moment, just now, when I know that a hug from my sister and a smile from my niece would make the hurt hurt less.
But still, most things are good. We have a house picked out and a date to move in. It’s set amongst the winding cobblestone streets of the most ancient part of our city.
Checking out the view from what will be our new (very old) home.
The history is palpable. We can walk to the castle and the central piazzas where they’ve set up a market for Christmas beneath tented twinkling lights.
The Christmas market at Piazza Trento.
I’m not inundated with ads for plastic battery operated toys but am surrounded by heartfelt laughter and food and mulled wine and a gypsy-dressed woman who uses ropes to blow giant bubbles that delight the kids and, if I’m completely honest, delight me. The restaurants turned on the space heaters in their tents outside, bicycles clatter across the cobblestones, and already in town I run into people I know.
And this, I think, is how it should be. Bikes and castles and babies who are exhausted from trying to take it all in.
The distance is hard. And sometimes life is hard. But there’s a joy to be found, and it’s not necessarily the one smiling at your baby and cleaning your comforter. Though I’m grateful for that Joy, too.