Today marks 10 years to the day since we first met.
I was a reluctant and grumpy teenager then, and although I had heard a lot about you and was curious to meet you, you didn’t make a very good first impression.
I was already unhappy due to having been taken away from my friends for a good portion of the summer, but the burnt and lifeless scene you presented me with on the tarmac of Fiumicino Airport in 2003 didn’t win you any favour in my eyes. Neither did the subsequent hours-long quarantine in a back room in the airport terminal because our plane had come from SARS-infected Toronto, or the heat sickness I suffered on my first trip to Pompei.
Slowly but surely though, Italy, you revealed some of your charms to me. First, through a young, sweet waiter who paid me some attention one evening in an oh-so-Italian way, then with the experience of unearthing some of my familial roots in my Dad’s hometown, then through the discovery of what remains to this day one of my favourite dishes: eggplant parmigiana. Further exploration of your different regions revealed the types of landscapes I had always dreamed of seeing, and it was in Florence with the purchase of a stylish red leather jacket with a turned up collar and cuffs, that you sealed the deal and won me over.
By the end of our first 3-week meeting I was now reluctant to leave you, and you had me curious to know you better. I decided that the best way to do this would be to learn the language of your culture and your citizens, so I vowed to work at learning la bella lingua and then return to immerse myself in your culture and customs.
We had to wait another 7 years to meet again, but during our time apart I learned a lot about you. Armed with a better knowledge of your language, I returned to meet you again, this time for a longer stay. I wanted to know what it felt like to live as Italians do, to speak your language and meet your people.
It was then that my feelings towards you, bella Italia, changed.
Many people claim that they “fell in love” with Italy.
I didn’t fall in love with you.
I simply found a place in you, where I felt as though I belonged. Please don’t think that I had come to you feeling like a displaced person, because Canada is my home and I have always felt as if I belong there. But it was just simply so beautiful to discover another place where I fit so seamlessly into the culture and the rhythms of life.
And while I spent a bit of time marvelling at some of the eccentricities of your rich culture and your vivacious people, I didn’t stumble over the cultural roadblocks my compatriots (even the Italian-Canadian ones) would have. I had no problem eating later, talking louder, forgetting my idea of personal space, and keeping my patience as even the simplest of things became difficult.
When our time was up, I knew I had to return again. I had originally come to you hoping to satisfy my curiosity in 3 months and be done with you, but it wasn’t meant to be. Back I came the next year, for 4 and a half months of getting to know you better. And do you know how much you affected me in that time? You influenced the way I dressed, the way I ate, the way I thought, the way I spoke. My Italian, although already good, became coloured with the accent of the Senese territory, and my taste buds learned to crave things previously unknown to them.
Since then, Italia, although I haven’t spent as much time with you as I would have liked, you’ve influenced my life in innumerable ways. You’ve provided me with mountains of material to write about, countless memories to replay in my mind’s eye, and enough fodder to supply me a lifetime of daydreams. Your landscapes, your language, your culture, and your people have helped me expand my knowledge of the world – of life, of love, of passion, of both the dolce and the amaro that this world has to offer.
So here’s to you Italia, my second home, my wonderland.
To a lifetime of loveliness between us.