flying out

I’m sitting in a gray Milano airport.

They’ve tucked this flight at the very end of the corridor, B41 of 44. I’ve halfheartedly followed hallway after hallway, conceding to the passages and the paths that force me farther, farther from Florence. The lines drag me forward; the signs push me onward; the conveyor belts lift my lingering feet ahead. I’ve been inspected and approved and stamped and signed off on. Now I’m wrapped up in my pilly Italian sweater, set for seat 30H to New York City.

I’m shipping out of this country.

I have one more hour with my feet on definitively Italian ground. But this airport isn’t Italy, or at least my Italy. People greet me with a polite Buongiornohello. Automated voices announce that “the door closes; the elevator goes up.” My beloved shots of caffé are listed on bar menus as espresso. At some point, I’ve left my adopted language behind to be replaced with something that isn’t quite English. Italian can only be found in the margins for me now, as I hover in the fringes of conversations between attendants and aides. When they turn to me, we’ve switched to a new dialect that doesn’t exist in Italy or at home: “Prego, buongiornohello.”

This little corner of the corridor is set in some space between here and there. It’s not Italy, and it’s not America; either way, it isn’t home. For now, I sit in this little corner in a hollow gray inbetween.

I’m watching out the window, staring at the snow-scribbled Alps. There’s an endless void between them and me, the interminable stretch of ashy concrete where my airplane waits. In one hour, it will lift these lingering feet off of not-quite Italian ground, carrying me for arrival elsewhere.


ciao, ciao: one last letter to my host parents

Ale e Super Mitch,

Sono una scrittrice – ma questa volta non posso trovare le parole che descrivono i miei sentimenti di vivere con voi questa primavera.

Per tutta la mia vita sognavo d’Italia, romantica e misteriosa, il paese dei miei origini. Sognavo di camminare nelle strade, di apprendere la lingua, di conoscere la gente. Ma non ho capito che troverei qualcosa migliore dei miei sogni. Vi ho trovato.

Non posso dimenticare mai le nostre risate alla nostra cucina gialla durante la cena. Non posso dimenticare mai le nostre danze a Michael Jackson o Sister Sledge. Non posso dimenticare mai i nostri amici Mitch the Fish, Doctor Mitch (and Mr. Fuck), Mitch the Revenge, Mitch Bastianich, o Mitch DeNiro. Soprattutto non posso dimenticare mai i vostri sorrisi e la vostra generosità. Italia mi ha dato molto, ma voi mi avete dato il regalo più prezioso: il vostro amore.

Sarete una gran parte del mio cuore per sempre. Siete già una gran parte della mia vita. Questa è la cosa più bella di famiglia: possiamo essere separati, nonostante saremo vicini per sempre nei cuori.

Grazie per tutti, i miei genitori. Era un sogno.

Tanti baci, o “big kiss,”



whirlwinds and other clichés

My friend at home, before I left for Italy: “Enjoy every moment of this semester! It really goes so fast.”

My classmate in Florence, before I headed out for spring break: “It’ll be gone all too soon.”

My professor at SUF, before I handed in my completed final exam: “I can’t think of a semester that has passed by quite so quickly.”

And here we are, my final stretch of days living in Italy. When did the days leave me? Did they slip out my sliding door while I was asleep? Or was I looking the other way when they waved goodbye?

I’ll be retroactively adding and bits and pieces of things I’ve written and photographed in these last few weeks so I can complete this little scrapbook of my journey. It’s got a bittersweet ending.

In the City

1001 things to do instead of midterm studying, or how i’ve been spending my weekend

1. Excavate dead Etruscans with my anthropology class for a day.

2. Sit outside at the young, relaxed bar down the street and have an authentic Bellini.

3. Wake up and stroll down the city center and over the river in my street-sale black dress, black tights and booties. Totally pass for a local until I open my mouth and start stuttering in Italian.

4. Find an edgy artist’s workshop, buy a keychain made from a cork stamped with the word VINO.

5. Gape at the handmade shoes in the window of a leather bottega artigianale.

6. Accidentally get wine-drunk over the course of a two hour lunch in Santo Spirito, accompanied by the best baked truffle gnocchi I’ll ever see in the rest of my years.

7. Hatch a plan to work at an Italian magazine so I can have more baked truffle gnocchi for the rest of my years.

8. Wander into the Boboli Gardens, lie wine-drunkenly in the grass pretending I’m a Capulet.

9. Sigh at the dream that is this city.

In the City

la mia famiglia italiana

“Never, please never, walk home by yourself at night. Do not take the bus after nine o’clock. Get into a taxi if you are alone. And if there is an emergency, please, please, call us.”

My host mother, Alessandra, has turned out to be much more of a mother than I thought she would.

“You call, I will be, I am…” My host father pauses dramatically, or maybe he’s grasping for a word. While Alessandra spent five years studying in England, Michele is still working on his English.

Michele seizes the lapels of his stylish button-front shirt and tugs them towards his shoulders.

“Soo-pehr Meetch!” he declares, assuming a heroic pose. The four of us – Mich, Alessandra, my roommate Chiara, and I – melt into squeals of laughter over our gnocchi pomodoro at the tiny yellow kitchen table.

What a few DAYS it has been. One diverted arrival from Zurich (into Bologna rather than Firenze), two bus rides between airports, four hauls of my overstuffed luggage in and out of truck beds and hotel rooms and storage compartments, seven orientation meetings to acquaint us with the program and the city, and a final welcome from my new host family later, I am finally sitting in my own Florentine bedroom.

Alessandra and Mich were the mamma e papa italiani of my friend Marcia this past summer, but I hadn’t remembered much that she had said about them. Here’s what I knew: a grown-up daughter in Bologna, two cats, a house in the Tuscan countryside. I could plug in the wi-fi to use in the apartment and wouldn’t have to take a city bus to campus. It seemed enough to me.

But as I entered the classroom where we were supposed to meet our Italian families at 5:00 on Wednesday, a tremor of nausea rolled through me. Among the pairs of married couples, a father with young girls, a brother with a leather jacket and ponytail, somewhere, anywhere, my family sat. I gripped the small gift I had brought them, black and white dish towels wrapped in crumpled paper and squashed flat by that overstuffed baggage. I didn’t know if they’d like the towels. How could I guess if they’d like me?

Names started to be called: first those of a student or pair of students in the SU Florence program, then that of the host family they had been matched with. I had to smile as the Johnsons and Goldbergs were introduced to the Rossis, the Caponigros, the Buonotempos. Cheeks bumped as students awkwardly leaned in to kiss hello; bags rumbled as they rolled out the door. At least I was a little prepared, I remember thinking to myself. I could kiss hello and throw in a “piacere” (“nice to meet you”) on the side. I could speak some Italian after two years of study. I had been to Florence before. But I had never lived with a family other than my own, Italian or not.

My roommate was suddenly standing up.

“Riccardi, Gabriela,” said the woman at the front of the room, the r’s in my name vibrating through the empty chairs. “E famiglia Sanminiatelli.”

Hoisting my bag on my shoulder, I made my way down the center aisle to the couple who had stood up: a woman with ash-blonde hair gathered in a white scrunchie, a man with thick black glasses, both my parents’ age. I kissed them hello and quietly handed my gift to Mich. “Ho un regalino per Lei.”

He looked down at the sadly smashed wrapping paper, smiled widely, and reached out to squeeze my shoulder. “Grazie mille. It’s wonderful.”

I’ve settled into the little apartment crammed with bright rooms so quickly already. Alessandra’s already given me my own bedroom and a bathroom to share with Chiara, an invitation to raid the refrigerator at any time, and a promise to show me the best places in the neighborhood. “I want you to feel like this is your home,” she tells us. “You are my girls.”

Mich touches our heads affectionately when he passes us in the hall. Alessandra pats my cheek when she asks how I slept. From our first dinner seated around the tiny yellow kitchen table, we’ve laughed and laughed. There’s nothing more I could ask for in a family.

I was attached to the idea of Florence before I even arrived. Now with a family to claim as my own, I have two real reasons to love this city. Their names are Alessandra and Super Mich.