Eighteen years ago today I stepped through those sliding doors at Peretola airport (even then, I kind of sensed that no self-respecting Florentine called it Vespucci...), into the fullness of my hare-brained, five-year-fermented, stubborn-as-a-cork-in-Chianti scheme to live in Italy. I was sans luggage, because I’d missed my connection at Charles De Gaulle earlier that morning (these were the days of SARS—remember that?—and so when my Toronto-stained plane landed in Paris, they kept us on the tarmac for an hour while they decided whether or not we were infectious...). But it was fine—I wasn’t missing much. My luggage consisted anyway, in its entirety, of a single full-sized suitcase (the only thing I had ever bought, in my life until then, from a Walmart), and a blissfully bright red duffle bag. Eighteen years on, there are many things that confound me. But how I was able then—and for so many years after too—to fit all of my life into the standard two suitcases that a transatlantic flight allows... That is perhaps most confounding of all.
I don’t remember all of that first day in minute-by-minute clarity. I remember living it that way though. In minute-by-minute clarity. For example the smells of Federiga’s house on Via Carducci. That mix of Tuscan floor wax and Tuscan terra cotta tile. For example, touching the side of the Duomo with the palm of my hand. The feel of the grain in the green-white-and-pink. For example deciding that at some point in the day, I must buy a gelato, in a cone (if you have known me since I was little you will know this was a big deal for me), and I must eat it, while walking (ditto) the Lungarno. I remember I got cocco for sure, and maybe fragola too... I remember the sky over the river had just begun to soften, into the lights in the water. And I remember above all, being more terrified than I had ever been in my life: it felt like being a very small-and-teetering someone, on the very edge of the very top of a large and creakily unstable piece of furniture.
(Not the best metaphor, I know. I blame the jetlag.)
I remember someone in my head saying to me (of course it must have been me, one of my selves, but she sounded like a self who did not speak up often, a self who spoke only in secrets)—she said, “Look. Here is the dream. Here is what you wanted with a wanting even you, for these past five years, could not understand. All of it now, is yours to make or to break. All of it now, is up to you. Now if you fuck it up, you have nothing and no one to blame. No one but you.”
Of course I was a kind of wrong, a very big kind of wrong, in at least one way. Because the dream—Italy, all of it—did not end up being entirely mine in the way I thought of it that day. I did not understand this at the time—and even now I am still figuring some of it out—but it was never a thing that was completely, or even mostly, within my control. Not ever and not even then. Because from the very first unforeseen circumstance (later that same month, when I became suddenly both unemployed and homeless, because—silly me!—I told Federiga’s boyfriend that no, actually, even if I wanted to, I could not build CRM databases for him for the Euro 1.25 an hour that he had finally worked up the nerve to tell me was the rate he was prepared to pay me...), my mother was insisting on every phonecall that I “give up this nonsense.” And even before all of that, my brother was calling me “a failure.” Later, in less than two years, they—along with my father, meaning the entirety of my immediate family—would go on to
pressure bully me into leaving the life that I had built in a country that I loved, in order to move to Montreal and begin an eight-to-ten-year-long process toward sponsoring my parents for Canadian immigration. Never mind that in those two years I had in fact done more “making” than “breaking,” when it came to the dream. I had gone from being homeless and jobless to living by the Pope and working for the United Nations. I had become fluent in Italian, I had a strong and supportive group of friends, and I was in a healthy relationship with someone I loved and got along with, who loved and got along with me. Never mind that I did not want to live in Canada. Never mind that I did not want to, and that I told them, in every way I could.
I made it back to Italy eventually. I lost some things along the way, and I found some others. I do not mean that in the sense that suggests equivalence—a squaring up of accounts. Or in that way that so many people love to offer, like a cup of uncooked rice for when you are thirsty — “Look! Everything worked out for the best...!” Because the best has nothing to do with what my family did all those years ago. There was nothing good in that.
I do not forgive my parents and my brother (or for that matter most everyone else in my extended family who stood by in silence and did not even so much as say to me sotto voce, so my mother would not hear, that “Hey, this is wrong. And I feel for you.”). But that’s mostly because my parents and my brother never indicated that they wanted or needed forgiveness. And who knows? Maybe they don’t.
It occurs to me for the first time, in the moment of writing this, that maybe I might like my own forgiveness.
(Maybe too, another gelato.)
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 27 aprile 2021 ore 15:05:08] [¶]
In the morning Andrew brings lilacs home from the fioraia down the street. At lunchtime I walk over to Simone’s stand at the mercato centrale, and buy another two armloads for myself. I know this is more than I need. I know that I want, much more than I need. But it’s a small window that I get in the Italian year, for lilla.
(And what, anyway, do flowers have to do with need?)
I get a few looks from people as I walk, softly-laden, through Piazza Santa Maria Novella, then over the bridge and home, dropping blossoms in the stairwell of our building as I climb.
I listen to the Graffiti Bridge album for much of the way, then some stuff from Sign of the Times. “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “Thieves in the Temple,” and “Joy in Repetition.”
Tomorrow another, differently purple day.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 20 aprile 2021 ore 17:05:08] [¶]