The thing about Italy is that she makes you feel seen. The cafe you've been to three mornings in a row is your cafe, now. They know which pastry you'll order and how you like an aqua frizzante with your cappuccino and after a week you're part of the gang. You’ll know that because the owner’s wife will finally answer when you stumble over asking her, again, come va oggi, signora? How’s it going today, madam? Your caveman Italian comes back to you in rewarding bursts. You’re not as rusty as you think you are.
You’ll email the family who once hosted you, a summer long ago, when you were younger and greener and only just becoming, saying, Hi! Do you remember me? I’m in town until September! and a note will come immediately back insisting that you come to dinner tomorrow night, is 7.45 p.m. okay? You’ll marvel at how they pick up with you. Easy, light, fun. Togetherness for the sake of togetherness. You’ll be flattered when they tell you that you look more like an Italian woman every year, and laugh when they remember how you always leave the tiniest mouthful on your plate, always pushed to one side. They’ll let their touch linger on your forearm after you’ve double-kissed goodbye (right cheek first, always) and it will make you feel loved and valued and treasured and you’ll resolve, right then, to pass that feeling along. To take that Italian-ness with you.
When you pick a neighbourhood to call home for the summer you’ll spend mornings wandering the streets, rolling their names off your tongue in a whisper. You’ll learn that they even have a special word for it: passeggiata. Come Sunday, one week in, you’ll be changed by the pace of the place. Old men, in particular, congregate in the bars on every corner by mid-morning, sipping espresso and eating delicate cornetti with care and precision - holding it with a napkin so as not to get sticky fingers, using the very edge to mop up the last of their coffee. It's slow. There's no rush. There's no "next thing". Nobody looks at their watch or necks their drink before it is ready; it’s the weekend. There is chatter about their weeks, their families, the weather, nothing. An Italian converses for the sake of the vowels in their mouths - thirty minutes on why you must keep the bay tree on your balcony in constant rotation so that it is exposed to the sun equally; the very exact location of the negozi with the best burrata (why do you go to that other hack? He wouldn't know good burrata if it smacked him across the head!); spoken songs about how beautiful you are - more beautiful than the last time they saw you, and the time before that. It's life as art, here, and it will hit you just as the sun does: you’ve been after permission for that. To stop trying so hard. You asked the universe for lessons in how to simply exist. Be. Enjoy.
It’s all there for your pleasure.
We talk about taking it all in, drinking down the good, valuing every last breath. In, in, in. Consume, consume, consume. Italy is the out breath. The letting go of what doesn't matter over and over again; the exhale. We forget that. Forget that there are two parts to breathing - in and out. We get so consumed with more, more, more, that we need to be reminded of less, less, less. You held on to too much when you tried to live here. You fought too hard against yourself. You don't have to lie, in Italy. In Rome. You need only say what is true and what is true will also be beautiful because why focus on anything but this superb pasta al forno or breeze in the shade? Take your time, because that is how you make it yours. Life is moments multiplied so make the moment the loveliest it can be. Piu calma, bella. Fai tranquilla.
Even one week in, your camera will be overloaded with photographs of shadows playing on crumbling brick, cobblestones and shutters and light upon light upon magical goddamn light and it will make you feel like you did something, like you curated an eye for beauty - but you didn't. Rome makes everyone feel like a more colourful, visionary artist than they are, when you're ready for it, but then isn't that the definition of charm? It's the ability to make you both feel your very best. You are breathing deeper, now. That feels good. You feel your best here. It took a while.
Sometimes places fit, sometimes they don't, sometimes it's just not the right time. Sometimes seeing people so in love with their lives will be too much, because you’re just not there. Sometimes, you’ll do the work and learn - commit - to purposefully love your life, too. You’ll see the charm, the importance, of falling in love with the ones who love the world. With Italians. With Rome. With yourself.
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