“Travelling opens the mind.” -Blue Is the Warmest Color
I was on the public bus one morning while going to school and a woman yelled, ‘Mamma Mia!’ when the bus stopped suddenly and another woman fell on top of her. I smiled. I didn’t know Italians actually said that.
Italians really do talk with their hands, too. We even learned important hand gestures in class one day. Thanks to this helpful and informative picture my friend Maddy sent me, I learned how to communicate clearly. I laughed out loud whenever my host mom Cristina made this same face and gesture.
And Italians really eat pasta with every meal, but here they do it ‘backwards’: pasta is the appetizer, and the salad is the main course.
Also the mafia still actively exists.
That was news to me.
My host mom, Cristina, and I sat down for a talk before I left Italy.
‘I guess I failed at this semester,’ I said. ‘I’m not Italian.’
When I first arrived in Florence and began to observe the lives around me, I said to myself: ‘If, by the time I leave in December, I don’t nap in a park on warm afternoons, I don’t eat tomatoes with every meal, and walking face-first into someone still makes me cringe, then I will have failed Everyday Life in Tuscany 101.’
There were two ways to mix with the Florentine crowd: act like a local or act like a tourist. Either way you blend in with half of the population. I did both, depending on my mood, but trying to be local as often as possible. I had Italians ask me for directions on a few occasions, so that counted toward big bonus points I think. The tourist population died down by the end of October, then picked up again in early December as Christmas season began to roll around and the blissfully magical Christmas markets rolled out in Piazza Santa Croce.
I waited until that break in tourism to climb the duomo and the bell tower. I stood for a long time at the top, memorizing my beloved and now-familiar city as much as possible. I was able to pick out many of the places I had frequented and explored.
I also saw the city stretching away to the northwest, beyond the Santa Maria Novella train station and the canal that runs from Piazza Liberta to Cascine Park, the area I had sadly left unexplored. I saw thousands of buildings, and treetops scattered here and there like weeds poking up between towers of windows and arches, showing where the numerous city parks were located.
With only two days left in the semester, I finally ventured in that direction. I sat in a park just beyond the extent of my previous wanderings. I looked back towards the city center, the Oltrarno, Gavinana, Bagno a Ripoli, Fiesole, and all of the city which lay between these areas.
‘I need to come back,’ I said to myself. ‘I haven’t seen it all yet.’
Not being able to do everything I wanted to was perhaps the most difficult realization I had to deal with before leaving Italy.
And yet, exploring never ceases. If I’ve been in Florence four months and haven’t ‘seen it all,’ what of the tens of thousands of other cities in the world?
So. The semester is over. Did I fail?
Well, I’m not Italian, and I never will be. If that was my goal, then yes, I flunked study abroad.
But I did nap in a park, and I eat tomatoes all the time now. Slathered in pure olive oil when possible.
Some Americans complain about our country and wish we were more like someone else’s country. I found just as many Italians who wished their country was different as well. And I have found Americans who aren’t fans of Italy and vice versa.
The truth is, whether or not I would like to be Italian, or whether or not I tried to be Italian, I am American. I was born on American soil. I was raised with a certain perspective, with certain freedoms and rights, and with a certain political system. Had I been born somewhere else, I only hope I would still have the opportunity to explore other parts of the earth as I am now.
For the moment, I’m glad to be back on American soil. Today I walked around barefoot all day, I heard a sermon in English, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and the living room, I drove my truck. It’s not better, it’s just what I’m used to. This is America to me. This is where my roots find suitable soil.
That certainly doesn’t mean my travelling days are over. In fact, I have had multiple opportunities open up for the next seven months, so I have decided to keep this blog open in case anyone is curious what the Jarvite Gypsy is going to be up to, Lord willing.
Travelling is broadening perspective, learning empathy and grasping the humanity of mortal life.
Perhaps I didn’t fail too hard.