My relocation to Italy begins like any other move: accompanied by feelings of disorientation and laden with tasks designed to establish some kind of new normalcy.
If you thought you would be dazzled by tales of sumptuous Italian food and exotic beaches in this entry, dear Reader, you will be disappointed. Those things will come, I assure you, but first things first: I need to get my life in order! Indeed, much of my first week or so in Italy is spent unpacking boxes, sifting through a record-breaking amount of registry gifts (according to the post office), and getting my paperwork in order.
Billy and I live on the fourth floor of an apartment complex in Pozzuoli – I guess that would be the fifth floor according to you Americans back home. The place is old, like most everything else in Italy, but the floor-to-ceiling french doors in each room open out onto a wraparound balcony that lends our home an undeniable charm. From the vantage point of the balcony, I can see the waters of the bay to my left and the ancient Flavian Amphitheater (the third largest in all of Italy) to my right. Perhaps most notably, I am able to peek at the neighbors from up here. A quick scan of the surrounding balconies suggests I need to step up my gardening game. Right now the only thing sprucing up our balcony is Arturo, our lemon plant. We call him Art for short.
Checking Out The ‘Hood
With Billy back at work during the day, I am somewhat housebound until I get my driver’s license next week. I make good use of the time, unpacking and reorganizing every little nook and cranny until even his sock drawer is equipped with a pear-scented liner. When the heat – my GOD, the heat! – forces me out of the apartment, I venture downstairs to the fruit and vegetable store. The woman inside seems a tad skeptical of me and, much to my grave disappointment, is not terribly impressed with the measly bits of Italian I’m spitting. “Voglio una mela… due banane… una cipolla rossa…” I’m seriously killing it over here and homegirl couldn’t care less!
On my way back into the apartment I pass Pepe and his crew. Pepe lives here with his wife and is the property manager for our apartment complex. As a result, he’s always just… around. He spends the days on the corner with his Dad and another friend of his who lives in the apartment building behind ours. The men chat, watch people come and go, and occasionally run an errand or two. It’s tough to tell how Pepe feels about Billy and I. We’re always asking questions, seeking more clarification, and, often enough, probably doing the wrong thing anyway.
“Ciao!” they greet me warmly as I pass. Ciao! I can feel them readjust their positions, allowing them to watch me walk away – perhaps because I’m a peculiar American spectacle, perhaps because my squats are finally paying off… I guess I’ll never know.
Little Ears, Big Smile
One of the most important elements I need to sort out is my visa. No, not the long-term stay visa I already possess – the super-extra-really-long-term stay visa I now need. A tall, middle-aged Italian man with a bushy mustache assists me with the process. He speaks only a few words of English but is friendly as he fills out the necessary documents. From across the desk I can see he is answering questions about my appearance: orecchie – piccole (ears – small). He smiles at me and I smile back. He checks another box and explains, “you have little ears, big smile.” Yes. It’s true.
Next he asks me to hold both palms out and paints ink all over them with a rolling brush. He takes a print of each finger and both hands. I feel a little overexposed; I mean, the Italian government already knows about my tiny ears and now this?! “No problem,” he assures me. Now that the gentleman has everything he needs, the visa should be ready in… one month. One month?! I realize we’re on “Italian time” now and a month would have to suit me just fine.
Overall, things are great. In the evenings Billy and I make dinner together. He assembles IKEA furniture in our “activity room” (you can’t really call it a spare bedroom at this point) and complies when I ask him to identify which t-shirts he wears regularly and, more importantly, which ones he has irrational yet unassailable attachments to; these shirts are non-negotiable and must be kept ad infinitum. This may not be the travelogue you were hoping for, dear Reader, but piecing together my “new normal” is an important part of a major transition to life abroad. Thanks for listening!