Friday, April 20, 2012

Feelings, Travels, The Home Front: My Attempt to Fit My Last Weeks into One Post

            I know. It’s been a while. It’s been more than a while. It’s been like, half my time here. And I could keep spouting the excuse that I just don’t have the time, and blah blah blah etc—but I think now I can go ahead and admit that I was lying about that. That I do have the time, and I have had it. The truth is—and I did tell myself that I was going to be honest here, and not hide what I was feeling from you guys out of reasons of shyness, or embarrassment, or whatever—I just haven’t wanted to write this.
I dunno if it’s always obvious when I’m not writing heartrending posts about my pathetic feelings, but writing about one’s experiences—even in beautiful Italy—requires introspection. And introspection requires examining one’s feelings. And examining one’s feelings means admitting feelings that maybe one just doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the time or the inclination to feel. Are you guys getting this? I’m having a me moment. I’m talking about me.
            So, in the interests of the honesty that I promised myself and—although you guys didn’t know it—you, I’m going to go ahead and lay out all of the feelings that I’ve been feeling, because they’ve been forming a huge part of my experience here, because I’m either spending my time thinking about them or thinking of creative ways to avoid thinking about them, which usually just ends up with my acknowledging that I’ve just been avoiding them. Which makes me think about them. It’s a vicious cycle, one that starts and ends with men.
            I’ve had two big relationships in my life, one right on top of the other. In both, I went exclusive too quickly, I fell in love too quickly, and I let my imagination scurry away with potential futures and eventualities and possibilities and…yeah. Kay. Well, I did that. And just so you know, I wasn’t the only one living in la-la land: in both relationships, my sick, sucker-like tendency to attach much too quickly was supported—nay, encouraged, or even engendered!—by my partner. So, let’s all guess the end here: both relationships were incredible roller coasters with many a twist, turn, sudden drop, gasp-provoking rise, and sickening skid to a halt.
            Real roller coasters, though, have ends. They’re inanimate. But when they’re instead actual men, living, breathing men, sometimes your roller coasters decide to just extend themselves over the deep blue sea, and make your time abroad even more bumpy than the turbulence you drunkenly resisted on your Lufthansa flight. And lemme go ahead and tell you that it sucks.
            It sucks having to think about the mistakes you made, or didn’t make, or what could have been different. Could you have been different? Could he? Are you a better or worse person for having known him? Is he an awful person, or just human? Would you do the same to someone else? Hell, DID you do the same to someone else? And thinking of that someone else….AND ON AND ON AND ON. No end exists to such a thought process, because no answers exist. At least I sure don’t know them. And thus I haven’t been thinking about it, and thus haven’t been writing about it, and thus haven’t been blog posting. But now, I feel like I can, because I have finally come to some concrete conclusions:
1.     I am a silly, silly girl who falls in love too quickly.
2.     This is an awfully hard thing for me to admit, because I am also a smart woman, who prides herself on not being a silly, silly girl.
3.     Sometimes we are wrong about ourselves.
4.     I will probably always be a silly, silly girl, because that also means that I am trusting person, that I want to think the best of people, and that I have a lot of love to give.
5.     That means, unfortunately, that I will be getting hurt many more times in my life.
6.     Thank all the forces in the universe for my friends, my family, and my Little, who will always put my pieces back together—sometimes many, many times.
Beyond these little bits of self-serving triteness, I can’t do much more. But there, now you know. And now I can move on from self-pity to telling you about all the parts of my life that haven’t required deep thought and uncomfortable self-confrontation on my part.
Wow, guys, it really has been a while. My apologies for my shitty, shitty blog. Oh well, I’m just going to try and to a short catch-up via little sketches of the places I’ve been and then try to be better in the future, okay? Maybe someone is still reading this. If not, I’ll just spout it out the atmosphere for purposes of catharsis and memory.
            After Ferrara, we set off to Bologna, where the food is delicious, the prices not awful, and the men think Ariana and I are the dirtiest dancers that I ever existed. I also danced with the little pixie pictured below, who is Ariana’s good friend Kevin! Kevin’s been bumming around—also known as studying his ass off—in Bologna for the past year, and is thus masterful at Italian and what I aspire to be. Also adorable, yet another aspiration of mine.
We're just going to go ahead and agree as a group to ignore my drunk eyes here, and instead focus on the important things: Kevin, and Ariana and my circle of intrigued Italian gentlemen.
            After Bologna came Firenze (or Florence, to you sad little English speakers. Yeah, I’m a snob now, deal with it. It comes with culture). Florence was beautiful and wonderful in every way, including in the way that oh my god every piece of art is there ever and it is all mind-boggling and fabulous and DAVID was there and it was so breathtaking and I have to stop now before I have a cardiac infarction (I started watching Grey’s Anatomy recently, sorry). We also climbed the many, many steps to the top of the Duomo and saw the panoramic view of the city, which was definitely worth the aching thighs that plagued me for the next day or so. It was, however, pathetically tourist-y. I don’t think I spoke a word of Italian the whole time.
            After Florence, I moseyed on down to Rome. Rome has produced in me possibly the most confusing conglomeration of feelings ever. The city was amazing in so many ways, really it was, but the people were just awful and unpleasant. I mean, maybe I would be like that too after living in a giant tourist hub my whole life, but I imagine I’d retain some semblance of humanity. I hope. But whatever, as long as I wasn’t talking to a person, it was a fantastic time. Plus, I met this person, who claims to be the next big star, and also Brett Michaels, and also, perhaps, Lady Gaga. 
He denies the resemblance to Miss Gaga, but he's also clearly slightly deranged, so he's not to be trusted. 
Also, I guess there's a Coloseum or something in Rome?
             After Rome, I went to my second European country ever, Slovenia! It was a moment of quasi-purification, to be honest. It felt amazing to be among hills, mountains, water, just, I dunno, nature after weeks upon weeks of city. We attempted to hike a Julien Alp, and made it a significant distance before realizing that a combination of fatigue and darkness demanded a return to solid ground and thicker air. 
There was also a castle, overlooking this beautiful lake. Here I am seen contemplating life, the universe, everything, and probably a cool boat or something.
             After Slovenia came spring break—finally—and we headed to Sardegna, the little island off of Italy that isn’t Sicily. Yeah, that one. The intention was to beach and lay out while we were there, but the foreboding gray clouds that accompanied us throughout our entire visit had other plans for us. We did, however, see an over 8-million year old cave, called Neptune’s Grotto, that was one of the most awe-inspiring sights I’ve ever witnesses. But really. It was incredible. 
Listen, giant caves are difficult to capture on camera. Just trust me.
 The Home Front           
And now I’ve been back in Padova, and the real work has started. For my University of Padova class, I need to read about 350 pages of the professor’s textbook and two novels, tasks that I realize I have fallen far, far, terrifyingly far behind in. So that’s what I’ll be working on for the next approximately, like, foreverish.
            I’ve further decided to stay on after the program and travel around with Ariana; we’ll be working on a farm in Lazio (Rome’s region) for two weeks, and then traveling to a veritable plethora of cities. As it stands, we should be hitting Palermo, Morocco, Spain, Amsterdam, Berlin, Poland, Croatia, Budapest, and then finally Istanbul before heading to Italy for our flights home, around mid-July. The whole idea of doing all of this is kind of amazing and daunting and fabulous and scary all at once, but it’s going to be hell figuring out all of the details and finances. Whatever, we’re two pretty smart heads, so combined we should be able to do it…Right? Right.
            As for my house itself, it’s gotten quite a bit more active: I have more company than just Cat nowadays! My host brother, Joshua (half-American, ignore the name) has moved back home, providing me with endless distractions if I so choose. Unfortunately for my UniPD class, I often choose distractions. When I fail, it will probably be due to the combined forces of Grey’s Anatomy, Italian crossword puzzles, and his attempts to fill in the gaps of my cinematographic education. I can’t really say that he’s more interesting than Cat, but he tries to attack me with his claws way less, and that’s really all I require nowadays.
            Allright, I’m ending this novel now before it gets really ridiculous. I’m going to Napoli next weekend; I’ll give a real-person, proper, location-based post after that, okay? Don’t hate me forever. I was just teaching you patience.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time, Ferrara, and My Time in Ferrara

     Last week flew by in a weird whirlwind of activity, though to be honest, I'm not sure I was really doing anything different or truly that interesting at all, besides my normal casual living in Italy. But if anything, I think I can take this as a sign: up until this point, days and weeks have sluggishly drooped into each other, to the point where I felt it took severe mental concentration and effort to actually make the seconds pass. Sure, on the one hand, who doesn't want as much time as possible in Italy? But on the other, when every moment out in public is spent living in fear of misunderstandings, faux pas, and even communication, sometimes you just need time to move faster, because you know only time will make you comfortable.
     I'm therefore gonna go ahead and take my return to temporal normalcy as a victory over my own mental misgivings and a sign of assimilation to at least the ebb and flow of Italian life, if not Italy itself. So getting this far feels fabulous, yeah, but now I'm a little horrified in the other direction: I have what--three-ish more months here? That's 12 more weekends. Subtract a couple for weekends I'm too poor/busy/tired to do anything but bum around Padova or the surrounding area. So let's say 9 usable weekends, plus a five day break, in which I can visit at least two locations. Time to visit 11 places outside of the Veneto. Eleven. Hell, that's not even enough to visit every region of Italy. Whatever, now I'm sounding like Goldilocks, so obviously I'm just going to have to make the most of the time I have here, whether it's too much or too little or just right.
      Okay, so that's where I've been mentally--let's move on to more physical discussions, shall we? On Friday, I and my program peaced on out of Padova and visited the city of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. I did not take pictures because I suck, and for this I apologize. Whoops. You're just going to have to trust me and these pictures I jacked from Google that it was a gorgeous city (How unusual for Italy! #sarcasmfont) and a generally lovely day with my classmates.
Yeah, that castle has a moat. Awesome. It was frozen when we went, though, so I dunno how much that really helped defense during the winter months...

The cathedral in the main piazza of Ferrara. Freaking ridiculously beautiful.

     But guys. Really guys. Pay attention to this part. The food. The food was amazing. I would take the hour train ride every day just to eat that food. I mean, yeah, food in Padova is like, you know, good. I enjoy eating it. I don't enjoy paying for it, because it's not as good as its price tag, but whatever. I thought that was the way of the world. NO. INCORRECT. That is the way only of the Veneto, and Padova particularly. This food was delicious, fresh tasting, and cheap. CHEAP, guys. Food. For cheap. Good food. For cheap. It broke my brain, perhaps permanently. My pumpkin gnocchi in Gorgonzola was kind of like biting off a little bit of heaven covered in cheese.
     ANYWAYS MOVING ON (Wait, guys, did I mention I liked the food in Ferrara? Because I did), it would turn out that my Ferrarese weekend was far from over: after touring the second largest church in Italy on the most gorgeous day in Padova yet, Ariana, Mallory, and I returned to Ferrara, having been invited to the going away party of Ariana's host dad's biffle, a guy named Davide. We were promised a place to stay by Davide's fabulously exotic, breathtakingly beautiful half-Egyptian girlfriend, Elena, who I couldn't even hate for her beauty because she also might be the nicest person to ever stroll the streets of Ferrara. Throughout the night--admittedly as we continued to drink, but whatever guys, I know she meant it--she referred to us as her sisters and best American friends, and was generally hugely endearing and fun and did I mention she was pretty?
La Basilica di San Giustina. Wait, so are gorgeous churches like a theme or something here?

     We, a group of twenty that dwindled slowly throughout the night, ended up around 3:00 AM at a discotecha after casually making the rounds of some trendy bars, and stumbled back into Elena's home at 6:00 this morning. The period from 8:00 PM, when the party officially started, to the wee morning hours was perhaps the only time in my life in which I have to admit I succumbed to peer pressure repeatedly. But guys, you don't understand. This wasn't like teen peer pressuring behind the school under the bleachers in the parking lot of our sketchy high school (That's how it happens in normal high schools, right?), this was the pressuring of an experienced forty-something man. Ariana's host dad, Alberto, is perhaps the most slyly manipulative man in the world when it comes to convincing you to drink. He does it without a word, really, steamrolling over your gentle protestations with his strong Italian insisting and insinuations that you might just be a pussy if you don't drink that wine glass full of Grey Goose--and no, guys, that's not an exaggeration. Anyways, he's a great, hilarious guy who showed us a great time and, yeah, hangs out with a group of trendy twenty-somethings, but whatever. He's just a little too young at heart. All the more power to him, I guess.
      Obviously, we struggled our way back into Padova sometime this morning/afternoon/time meant nothing today, I collapsed for half the afternoon, did homework for the other half, went to eat delicious meatballs and potatoes (tres americain), Skyped with family and friends, and now need to finish my freaking homework and collapse until morning. The final week of my intensive language program awaits me bright and early tomorrow morning, and I plan to face it bright eyed and bushy tailed! (Wait, guys, did I just say that? Is that a thing? Whatever, I'm too lazy to erase it and think of something else. I'm tired; sorry I'm not sorry I suck at ending this enormous post.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Italian Improvements

So these days I’m way less homesick, thanks mainly to the beautiful friends I’ve made here. I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted, but so much has happened. To be honest, I just haven’t had time to sit down and adjust to it all. There’s too much to digest—both good and bad—to really realize what my experience has wholly been. Now, though, sitting down and taking a moment to really reflect, I realize these past two weeks have been so very necessary to…like, I dunno… the whole formation of my being.
I’ve discovered so many things about myself in the past few days that I can’t even articulate them all: I know now that I love true intellectuality—I’m so freaking tired of explaining, “Oh hey, I’m American; I study here in Padova through the BU program and the Universita’ degli Studi di Padova, blah blah blah blah blah.” I know even more that I’m meant to challenge myself, day in and day out. Every day I come home tired, frustrated, stressed, and actually furious at the Italian language itself. But every day, I also come home knowing I’ve lived in Italy another day; I know I’ve talked to another Italian; I know I’ve connected with another being in a language utterly unnatural to my own self. I know so many things about myself. I know what I can do.
But to be honest, it’s wearying. Every single night, I don’t know if I can do this for another day, let alone another four months. But every single morning, I also know I’m ready to face the day that I know will end in total collapse; every morning, I’m excited to see who I’ll meet, who I’ll talk to, what I’ll realize that I really can say. The hopeful mornings utterly overwhelm the uncertain evenings. And that’s what matters.

As to practical matters: I’ve made two out-of-town trips since being here, one to Monselice, the walled medieval city, and another to Venice for Carnivale. Monselice was beautiful, overwhelming, amazing, beautiful, and cold. Venice was beautiful, confusing, and cold. Hey, guys, did you know it’s freaking cold here right now? It’s freaking cold.
Monselice was an amazing experience that showed me a “small-town” side of Italy I’ve never seen before: ancient noble families, famous rooks (What the fuck is a rook, guys, besides a chess piece? Don’t answer, I know, I just thought I’d point out the hilarity of actually using such a word), skeleton-lined churches, and hidden bus stations. It was an incredible, beautiful, frigid morning with two women and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 
So there are gondolas here?

Casual palaces.

Dwarves chilling on the walls of defensively fortified cities. Makes sense.

Some lovely ladies strolling to antique mansions.

Oh look! A mansion.

Hi, Italy. You jelly?

Some bop struggling with stairs.

Venice, on the other hand, was another thing entirely: overwhelming in its sheer narrow bigness (I know that seems like it makes no sense, but trust me), overwhelming in its beauty, overwhelming in the number of tourists that pour in every day to get trashed during Carnevale. My trip to Venice—without a doubt—was the most American experience I’ve had abroad. Every person I spoke to was American, from Pittsburgh or New York or whatever, and I have never before in Italy felt so touristic, or hated, or stared at. In Padova, Americans are a rarity, and further a rarity widely known to be attending university—Americans, in short, who care. In Venice, however, there was no such consideration. I was disrespected as an American who was in Italy to party, to get drunk, to get laid, to get whatevered. I wasn’t expected to know Italian, and was talked to in English, and sneered at in Italian. I was degraded, really.
But this very degradation, I think, has led to me to a greater understanding of what it really means to be an American abroad: there is a prejudice, and it is fair. It is rightful. Every American I met or saw from a distance was, in fact, totally intoxicated or grinding shamelessly or eyeing trashy Italian men. We fit our stereotype so shamelessly; how can I expect Italians to respect me and my heritage if my fellow Americans won’t do the same? I was disappointed in America this weekend, and I don’t care how pretentious and fake-Euro that sounds. I really, truly was embarrassed to be an American in Venice.
All right, guys, I’m writing this after two glasses of wine, a beer, and a spritz (Campari and prosecco), so forgive me my errors. I just needed to really share a few quick bullet points:
  • Italy is wonderful—just avoid other Americans.
  • The bond I’ve made with my friends is kind of ridiculous and creepy.
  • Don’t follow random Italian men to discotechs, because they’ll abandon in you the city of Venice, which, guess what, is impossible to navigate. 
  • Every day in Italy reminds me how very stupid I really am, and how very badly I want to be smart.
My next post—I promise—will both be more coherent, sober, and timely. By the way, American friends and sisters, I can't even articulate what your support means to me. Thank you so much to all of you; I couldn't love you more.
I wrote this blog post with a cat on my chest. #getonmylevel

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Homesickness: Why It Sucks and Why It's Necessary

 People told me to watch out for homesickness. I pretty much ignored them, because guess what guys, one, I know everything, duh, and two, I already go to school a ways away from my home. I got used to it; surely I could get used to being a few thousand more miles away with the same ease and finesse. But nothing—no warning, at least—could have prepared for me for what I’ve started to feel.
The thing is: when you go off to college it’s awesome, obviously, and all your friends are doing it and you’re all rebuilding your lives at the same time. You’re not missing out on anything, because all your friends are in the same mental—if not geographical, obviously—place you are. You all, together, are creating new friendships and routines and habits and personality traits at the same time. Despite being physically separate, it’s a communal experience.
 Going abroad, though? You’re missing out on everything. Your friends’ lives are changing and evolving without you, people are moving on and forgetting your formerly integral presence; the time they are doing nothing and winding down happens to be right around the time you’re in the busiest part of your day, and vice versa. You are not part of their world anymore. You’re a hypothetical that occasionally crosses their mind, and it’s a weird feeling to be so nonexistent in a world where you used to exist so fully.
Obviously, you get a whole new everything to participate in, but what if you don’t speak the language of that everything fluently? What if you don’t know how to be who you really are—funny or kind of quirky or whatever that may be—in translation? Your very personality hangs in the balance, and you just cannot express it. And you start to feel collapsed. You don’t exist fully in this new world, and you’ve been necessarily erased in your old one.
Company helps: being with people and doing things and the bustle of the day and the sun on your back and shopping and whatever all is wonderful. And it’s all so hopeful. But when your day is over and you’re in your room and no one is there anymore—when you’re just all alone—where does your mind go but to the person you used to so very fully be? To the life you used to fully live? The kind of weird half-ness you participate in now can’t possibly compete, even if it is beautiful and fascinating. It’s just not yours.  
And thus it starts. Home is better than here. Home you are something, someone, a force, a changer, a doer, soul and a personality and a life. What are you here but a shadow in an absent stranger’s spare room? Here is nothing for you. There is everything. How could you have been so stupid as to think you could just leave it all behind without a thought?  
Duh. It was stupid to think that. But think that I did. I’m not as strong as I thought I was, and I’ve discovered that now. I know myself more fully now. I understand myself on a more real and practical level. I am attached. I am possessive. I am not a powerful lone wolf, but a delicate social butterfly, and I left my fellow winged insects of all kinds—the friend kind, the Little kind, the relationship kind, the family kind—behind me to go bat my wings under the Tuscan sun. (Lies, guys, I’m in the Veneto. Don’t get confused. It just sounded better.)
But I also know that it must mean I am braver than I thought—even if it was bravery borne of ignorance! I mean, hell, I just packed up my life and left everyone I love behind to come to a place where I am forced day in and day out to think in a language utterly unnaturally to own brain; I am a woman of language and words and fast-paced thoughts, and I have purposefully reduced myself to the linguistic level of a five-year-old. I—who prides myself so very much on being quick-witted and funny (let me have my fantasies, okay? This is my blog.)—can’t even make a well-timed joke. And I’m not okay with that, obviously, and I feel that I’m not okay with that the second the world quiets and I’m alone with that thought.
So what to do about it? I’m not going to turn tail and come back to America or something dumbshit like that. Because I’m also stubborn—come on, you knew that. No. Instead, I’m going to say fuck you to homesickness and self-pity and boo-hooing. Here I go: Fuck you, homesickness and self-pity and boo-hooing. I reject you. You are useless to me. Go back to your corner. Instead, I will embrace this language. I will speak this language at every opportunity. I will tell my fellow students to speak this language with me. I will make this language my own, until I can be me in Italian as much as I can be me in English. I will make Italian mine.
And by making this language mine, I will make these people mine. The people here will know me not as that awkward chick who can’t speak the language and just kind of stutters out her cappuccino order and goddamn it can’ t even count out her 2 euro coins fast enough because you know what IN AMURRICA WE DON’T HAVE TWO-DOLLAR COINS, WEIRDOS, and turn into that awkward chick who makes hilarious jokes about how slow she at the cassa. I will become socially capable and make real Italian friends with whom I can fully and wonderfully express myself.
And by making these people my people, I will make this city my city. And hopefully sooner rather than later, this home—this cold Italian home—will be my home.
So yeah, homesickness is awful. Awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Okay, maybe my worst enemy, but no one else. But it’s an awfulness that has a purpose: it’s going to make me stronger. It has already made me stronger. It’s going to me make me realize my own power when I overcome it and stomp it into a dusty powder that just blows away in the wind. It makes me realize how determined I am to do this. To do this right. To do this my way. Yeah, I know it won’t go away overnight, but I will throw off this awful heavy weight and embrace a new feeling—not one of temporary touristic wonderment or transient shock and awe—but one of unshakeable belonging. I know I belong here. And now I’m going to prove it to myself. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Il primo giorno

      My brain is befuddled. I don't think it even knows what it's doing right now. What day is it? What time is it? My internal clock needs a new battery. Despite my temporal trials, however, Padova thus far has proved to be the most unique place I've ever been, and full of so many firsts.

Firsts accomplished today (or yesterday? like I said, time has no meaning):
  • My first transatlantic flight
  • My first steps in a country not contiguous to the US
  • My first time walking in Padova alone
  • My first time walking in Padova alone in the dark
  • My first time walking in Padova alone in the dark without a GPS 
  • My first time getting lost in Padova (WONDER HOW THAT HAPPENED)
  • My first meal in an Italian bistro
  • My first time being confused for a Spaniard
  • My first Italian catcall from a passing car
  • My first time dealing with really complex Italian locks in the dark trying to get back in my apartment
     In short, guys, it's been a really busy day full of firsts. The thing about firsts is--unfortunately, exciting though they are--they are tiring. They are so very very tiring. I am tired. Luckily for me, I'm now cuddled up with a cat in a bed in the same room--my room!--as a small non-poisonous snake. Cat's new favorite perch is the dip in my lower back, which I'm not exactly sure how I feel about, as I mistrust most cats not to extend their sharp little demon kitty claws into my skin. This particular cat is also walking on thin ice with me, having already decided that my foot was a really exciting toy to attack. No, cat, no. That is my foot. Get it right. Cat is also weirdly skilled at avoiding pictures. Cat is an odd one. Also, I'm sure Anna told me Cat's name, but I forgot it, so now it's just Cat. When you type cat too much, it stops looking like a real thing and starts becoming a nonsensical construction of random letters.
      Moving on from Cat, interesting though she is, my room is really big, and has a fabulous view, and kind of a ton of hilarious personality left behind from Anna's son Joshua--who, as it turns out, might be returning to Italy soon. I wasn't sure how I felt about that at first, but now I'm sure it would be fun; Anna's really busy at her bistro, and calls her son "a survivor" for having managed with her long hours. Joshua being back would give me a native to tour me around and such! The rest of Anna's apartment is just as beautiful, and I'll snap pictures of the rest of it during the day when it's charm is really clear.
   Anna herself is really fabulous, intense, and busy. She told me already that she wants to be an entire family for me here in Italy, and I feel she truly means it, despite her time commitment at the restaurant. The employees at her bistro seem great too, which is fortuitous, as any meals I'm meant to eat with Anna (breakfast and three dinners a week) will be eaten there.
  At this moment, it's 8:52 in Padova, Italy, 2:52 in Boston, Massachusetts, and 1:52 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My brain belongs in so many time zones, and there are so many people already in each of them that I want to be with and talk to--it's a little conflicting and confusing, trying to divide oneself like that. My body is quite solidly in Italy, so at least that's taken care of. I can only hope I'll get used to juggling my three separately-timed lives soon enough.    
Not a single Lufthansa employee looked so thrilled to see me. Or was attractive.

Anna's bistro, The Lighthouse Cafe
My first Italian meal, pasta con salsa
My room! Joshua's cartoons.
Little and Big and Grandbig on my bedside table (Thanks, little!)

If snakes can glare, that's what this little guy was doing during this picture.
Cat helps me write blog posts

Cat judges me for my sock choice. Listen, Cat, it helps keeps my jeans tucked into my boots.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Reality Hits

     I've been packing. Hell, I think I'm DONE packing. I have packed every article of clothing fit for layering, mixing and matching, cold weather, and mild weather that I own and like. I have shoes of all requisite types in neutral and black. I have lined my suitcase with my ever-necessary hair supplies, from heavyweight conditioner to John Frieda hair cream. I have armed myself with toiletries of all kind, having been told scary stories of off-brand tampons and thirteen-dollar deodorants. I feel prepared materially. I am prepared materially. It's only too bad I can't pack extra stores of confidence, psychological readiness, and linguistic brilliance.
     My packing has been hyper-organized, revealing either a new kind of obsessiveness for me or--more likely--exactly how mentally unready I feel for this adventure. I think I must be thinking that if I prepare for every physical need, my psyche will just take care of itself. I don't think I realize yet that such a method only weighs down my bags, whilst taking no weight from my mind. I further know that the only thing that will help is to go, to land in Italy and face my fears of not understanding the rapid-fire words of a train porter, of embarrassing myself when I try to sit to down with my coffee (Italians drink it standing, quickly, then move on) without buying something else, of getting myself lost in the twisty streets of Padova without my trusty iPhone to guide me back on track with its comforting, blinking blue dot. I'm afraid, and I know it, and packing the kitchen sink won't help me. I'm going to zip up my suitcases, and hopefully doing so will force me to calm down, to take a deep breath, and realize that I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be.
The biggest of the three suitcases--and still under 50 pounds!

Yes, that is a penguin. Its name is Momo, and it's been with me since I went off to boarding school. It's only fitting that it accompany me to Padova.
And a carry-on, with about a week's worth of clothes in case my bags are lost in transit.
     I've also been checking compulsively for days to see if my homestay assignment had yet landed in my inbox; I knew the news--coming from Italy with quite a time difference--would likely come overnight, but I still checked not only when I woke up, but also after I showered, maybe after I ate, maybe sometime midafternoon, maybe a couple other times... I was maybe a crazy person. I'm not sure why it was so important to me, but I guess nothing felt real until I could pinpoint my home--una casa padovana to go with una vita padovana.
     And today, around 8:00 AM, my freaking dog started barking at the top of its powerful doggy lungs, and I awoke with a start. And rolled over. And checked my email on the laptop I'd fallen asleep next to. Lo and behold, I will not be homeless in Padova. Far from it, it seems: my host is an Italian mother whose son has recently come to America, leaving her with a "spacious and comfortable" vacant room, who owns a bistro in town, and apparently co-habitates with a cat and a "small, non-poisonous snake."
     I'm quite literally thrilled. Giddy. Whatever. Knowing that I have a place to live, a room to call my own, a snake and a cat and a woman to befriend truly comforts me. I feel like I can slow down now. I know that even if I do spill espresso on my coat trying to drink it in a rush, even if I do tip the wrong amount, even if occasionally I just have to nod and smile and pretend I understand when I'm really confused and turned around, I'll have a home to go to. A bed to sleep in. A place to read and study and rest and unwind from the beautiful, stressful excitement that surely awaits me.
     What a day for the news to come, too; I leave tomorrow for Boston, and a week later from Boston to NYC, and from NYC to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Venice, and from Venice to Padova. My trip is long, my way is weary, and my bags are heavy, but on the 26th I will land in Padova, greet my host Anna, move into her house, and begin a whole new life. A life for which I'm ready.