I have a friend who perches on top of a mountain in glorious Vermont. Her yard is carpeted in clover and there have been many times I have bathed myself in green among them, rolling like a lizard in wonderland. Stooped over, I would search endlessly for that 4 leaf luck, only to come up empty handed again and again. Then one day my dear friend said, “You know, the four leaf clover is a common mutation.” I looked back down at the ground and saw not one, but two, then three. Four. I found six that day, one after the other and then actually found a five leaf clover, as if the leaves themselves were multiplying in front of me. I have them still; I look at them often. My friend laminated them for me, to remind me of the day when luck wasn’t so hard to find, when I simply shifted my perspective and instead of expecting difficulty, I said to myself over and over, “It’s a common mutation.”
I think of those clovers now as we plot our next move. I’ve been silent here, quiet while growing and birthing an amazing new addition to our family. The world seems so big now, too big, dangerous with such a small treasure in my hand. Nairobi, Kenya seems a great possibility for us. Africa is calling us back. But I feel my breath get caught in my throat now and my knees fall weak at the unknown. I still ache for the red dirt, the warm sun, the stunning smiles. So I have to shift my perspective. If I expect to find difficulty, I will. If I expect it to be hard, it will. Perhaps instead I should just trust that there are clovers hidden in all that dust and that if I just look the right way that is all I will see.
I keep thinking of Hilary Mantel, winner of the Booker Prize, twice. The New Yorker did a wonderful article on her in which she referenced an old belief that one must return to one’s own country within 10 years of leaving or risk never fitting in again (she lived abroad for 9 years before returning to England). We’ve been out five years now but I already feel that old adage wrapping me up in string. I feel a part of Rome; I am becoming etched in its stone. Perhaps it is in my blood, my grandmother being Sicilian, or perhaps I have simply fallen in love with the Italian way of life; I have.
Halloween just passed. I think of the holiday back home, the costumes, candy, fright. To what end? Halloween is All Saints Day here in Italy. It is a day to remember those who have passed, to be with family, feast in honor of the dead. Everything has weight here; everything rests here.
When I returned to the States earlier this year it was like walking into an old closet and putting on your favorite sweater. I felt warm, at ease, comfortable. But then I started to notice how some buttons were missing, a tear where I had not known there to be one, fabric scratching my skin. When I caught my reflection in a mirror I realized the sweater no longer fit me.
I’ve met many ex-pats here, there, around who move like currents over the earth or find new shells to grow old in far away from where they were born and raised. When you no longer see through your culture’s eyes can it still be called home?
I want to catch time, bottle it, take it out when I need it, inhale it slowly, sip it, devour it, but it runs from me, and although I sometimes see it just within my reach, it quickly disappears behind a tree, or I lose it in shadows. I haven’t forgotten about this space, place, to share and record. I just need to catch that time.
The nice thing about waiting is I’ve been collecting some more facts, observations about Rome, the Romans, life here in Italy:
If you have to park your car, you cannot slow down to try and find a spot. Nothing will annoy a Roman more. You must slam on your breaks and turn sharply, never missing a beat in your speed.
You cannot get blood taken at a doctor’s office. You must go to an official lab, which will then contact you with the results, which you must come and pick up yourself, and then deliver them back to your doctor.
Old Italians (or at least my friend’s grandmother) believe(s) that baring your stomach is why you get sick. You must protect the belly with wool at all times.
Italians are terrified of breezes. You will be on a bus, melting, but do not even think of opening a window or you will be scolded.
The mosquitoes are worse here than in Africa. It’s October and they are still swarming, eating.
Restaurants do not cut your pizza for you. If you order a pie, you must carve it up yourself.
Oranges ripen in winter, so as the city falls into a deep chill, the grey skies are dotted with orange balls.
Garbage is not picked up at your residence. You must take it to the communal trash cans scattered about the neighborhood.
The electricity is fragile. You must pick one appliance to use at a time or risk blowing a circuit.
Romans like their red meat raw. And I mean raw, not rare, raw.
Sometimes, after it rains, there will be a slight red dusting on everything. This is from the winds that come from Africa, dropping red dirt from the Sahara desert that it’s picked up along its way.
There are quite a few things that have surprised me here in Rome. Of course I come from a bias of NY Italians and the Sopranos, but I think the stereotypes throw a wide net.
Here are some of my observations:
I see more Romans drinking white wine, not red, even in the cold of winter. I wonder if this is partly because there is so much bad red wine here. I cannot tell you how many bottles I have had that have sat in the heat too long and turned. Most wine stores are not air-conditioned, and with a summer of 35+ temperatures (95+) going into a store in the fall for a nice bottle is a bit like playing the lottery. I never win.
There is not a lot of garlic used.
Red pepper flakes are put on everything.
Vegetables are merely a vehicle to get olive oil into your mouth. Everyone of them tastes exactly the same as you spoon them into your mouth, oil dripping down your chin. Of course the ones smothered in pepper flakes also leave a nice burn.
The bread–and I am going to offend some with this one–is not very good.
The pizza–and this one will really hurt–is better in NY. (The pasta however is amazing.)
Coffee is simply to get the caffeine in. The idea of lingering over a coffee enjoying the “roast” as Americans like to do is funny to some of my Roman friends.
Romans do not open their windows at night. Not only are they shut tight, but shutters are locked and metal grates are pulled down so nighttime feels like lock-down in a prison. As an American I love my fresh air, so insisted we not follow this cultural trend. We were robbed.
It is not uncommon to see a pregnant women smoking.
More to come…..
It’s hot. Really hot. 98 (37) in the shade hot. Pure skin to liquid in the sun hot. It’s been this way for weeks, will be this way for weeks. On either end of the weather graph that I stare at endlessly the number refuses to move, as if they’ve fallen there with glue on their ends, forever fastening us to burn.
I am from Florida. We moved here from Uganda. And I have never seen anything like it. No rain, no breeze, each day bleeding into the next with such exact precision that if you laid each day on top of the other you would see not even the slightest variation, so exact in fact that I no longer believe anymore time is passing.
Rome is empty in this August heat. Either away on holiday or locked up in their homes until September brings relief, the Italians shut down this month. In my entire neighborhood there is one restaurant open for lunch. I see tourists, the few who did not read that this was perhaps the very worst time you could visit this city, walking past gated, boarded up shops, maps in hand, circling a maze of nothingness.
Perhaps some young American boys said it best. Passing my husband after an early jog, looking for something to drink in their desperate fight against quick-coming dehydration, and of course coming up empty, one turned to the other and said, “This is where you come to die.”
Or you can just let the mosquitoes eat you piece by piece, which believe me, they try.