Ciao, tutti! I’ve been in Italy for about two and a half weeks now, and I figured it was time for an update. I’m hoarding most of my best writing for the book (sorry, but I haven’t yet decided whether to include blog posts in the final product, so the emotionally draining stuff must be withheld for a potentially higher purpose), but I wanted to check in and let you guys know that despite a VERY bumpy start I’m settling in nicely now.
In fact, right now, as I type, I’m sitting on the patio outside my flat in my robe (at 12:30pm – the neighbors must think I am THE LAZIEST, and perhaps they’re correct), drinking a cup of coffee and listening to the wind in the vines above me. When I look up from the computer screen I either see the big marmalade cat that lives here on the property and likes to loll about in my garden as if it were his own – he’s generously allowed me to sit with him this morning – or the rolling hills spread out beyond the garden walls, the dense foliage just beginning to hint at fall colors.
It’s pretty idyllic, today. When I got here, although the weather was perfect and the view just as stunning, I was completely overwhelmed by how far from civilization the apartment is. I’d come over without renting a car, thinking to save myself some money and stress, because driving here is notorious for elevating tourists’ blood pressure, but it became clear while my taxi was trying to find the place, hitting dead end after dead end and backing his car out of winding, narrow roads to nowhere, that I’d made a mistake: avevo sbagliato.
The first week here was almost unbearable. I was so depressed that I wasn’t eating (usually the last stop on my own particular crazy train before Self Harm Junction), and although I managed to get myself into the city to buy a SIM and get a little bit of connection to the rest of the world, I battled with extreme isolation and loneliness, terrible insomnia, the steep, gravelly walk to the train station, the long, dangerous walk to the town square, the vicious mosquitos that left me with Peanut M&M-sized lumps on my flanks, the HUGE spiders that lurked in every corner of the flat, the hot water heater that shut itself off, the gas stove that didn’t seem to want to turn on, and a hundred other tiny disasters that wore me down to a nub of nerves before the final straw: the internet, which had been patchy, went out completely. The router straight up died on me, and I lost it. I spent that whole night and all of the next day in tears, only dragging myself out of bed to call the owner of the apartment* and try to fix the internet. I succeeded – luckily he had another router just lying around and I managed to set it up – but I was still in a fog of depressed lethargy until the next week.
I’d rented a car online once I realized how mistaken I’d been to think I could walk everywhere, and despite multiple setbacks and concerns I headed out on foot to pick it up, six days after my arrival in Italy. I won’t tell the car story, because it’s very long (I know, because I’ve written it down and it came to nearly 2000 words), but the important points are these: it was a saga, an epic journey to the airport, through the city for groceries, and back home, and I reached impasses at every turn, but I MADE IT. I did. I made it home, six hours later, exhausted and starving and dry-mouthed and tense, but with a car and some food and a brand new GPS. And the other exciting news is that on my way to get the car I met an American expat at the train station and he told me he was looking for someone to do a language exchange with a local 28 year old Italian girl – we exchanged numbers and he was true to his word and since that day I’ve spent time with him, with the girl (whom I really like), and with a lovely couple who wanted private English lessons, which I provide for free in exchange for human interaction.
Between the car and the new connections, life got immensely better from that day forward. Driving (and parking!) here was a very steep learning curve, as was picking up my Italian again and getting used to the local dialect, but these days I zip around the narrow, windy roads like an almost-Italian, singing along to Paul Simon and looking out for bicyclists around every bend, and then I go into town and use my much-improved language skills without so much as a blush – I may butcher the grammar and make up more words than I know (hint: just add a ‘zione’), but I communicate, and I’m learning more every day, and I feel capable and strong and independent.
It’s a wild departure from how I felt the first week I was here, but I think it’s going to stick. And thank goodness for that, because I was legitimately considering turning tail and fleeing. But instead I’m having coffee with my new Italian friend, laughing and learning new phrases, and helping my other new friends with their English, and waving ‘ciao’ to the people I recognize in town when I drive by. Oh, and I’m writing too. I haven’t gotten to the bulk of the book yet, because it’s been too painful to poke at, but I’ve written a lot about my time here and I’m almost to 10,000 words of ramblings – if I can just keep going on the quantity front, hopefully I can move on to quality soon.
That’s all, really. Things are good. I want to thank those of you who follow me on Twitter and have been so supportive during my long, sleepless nights (still having those, unfortunately); you are a large part of what has kept me going. And now I need to get dressed (it’s nearly 2pm! Lazy Americans are lazy) and go forth into the world to buy more groceries in my little Fiat.
Ciao ciao! Parleremo presto!
PS More photos here, should you desire them.
* I feel the need to point out that none of the problems I encountered when I got here was the fault of the apartment’s owners, who are good friends of mine and doing me a huge favor by letting me stay here in their beautiful flat on the cheap – I think I was just cursed for the first few days and everything I touched went to merda!