We may be more patriotic than we think, but what good does it do to realize it?
This note, this small reflection, remained silent for a long time among the thousand other notes on my iPhone. As a good Virgo, methodical and fussy, every thought finds a spot among the others. Rambling thoughts, unique moments of daily life, each has its own value. I never know what I may forget, I never know which thought might come in handy.
Without being obtrusive, like that painting in the entryway of your house you look at every day, my eyes got used to seeing the note. Almost as if it had gathered dust, a possibility after all. Meticulous product of my being stubborn and a little proud, I looked at it wondering if it was worth sharing with anyone else, if people would understand me or, on the contrary, criticize me.
So I decided to dust off that painting, dust off that note, remove the layers of confusion, doubt, and insecurity. Because it is necessary to let people know what it means to be Italian; being Italian, young and full of countless dreams. But above all, what it means to leave Italy to then return; at least according to my humble perspective. Sometimes, to appreciate something you have to leave it, look at it from afar, perhaps almost lose it.
Like Jovanotti sings:
“I have to get away from you
To see all of you
I have to pretend you’re not there
To discover you are real”
We young Italians have our own idea of what it means to live in Italy and hope for a career. An idea that is often put to the test. We follow the established path with a bachelor’s, master’s, eventually facing the infamous career ladder.
But wait – it’s not enough. You accumulate internship over unpaid internship, time passes, and mom and dad feel your looming presence that won’t leave as long as you can take advantage of a warm place, a ready meal and a beating heart. True, there are exceptions, sporadic strokes of luck; undoubtedly there are young people who through countless sacrifices reach a sound place in their career before most. Among those people, there is you, who quickly decided this was not going to be your path. You did not want to accept the standard route, and in doing so, you complicated your life.
At age sixteen I left for the United States, at seventeen I returned to Italy. I didn’t understand how my classmates are so stubborn, limiting themselves to think just about dance parties and tests they might not pass. They prioritize Instagram influencers and not real life. They barely know what they want to do at university, and I … well, I want to change the world. What a presumptuous girl, at the ripe old age of seventeen thinking she has seen it all!
Graduation time and the UK awaits.
I begin observing who and what surrounds me, the people seemingly grayed by the city. I relive the same American sensations in reverse. I miss the noisy bars on Sunday mornings, the sea peeking from the end of a long and narrow alley, the blue skies of Rome on summer days and the white caps of our enchanting peaks.
I miss the opportunity to take the car and go for a ride, if only for two songs to help me sort my thoughts. But most of all I miss the people, the spontaneous gestures, the distracted and natural gesticulating as you tell your friends about the night before; and I miss the Italian language, a melody that resonates in the air when spoken. And also the grandmothers who fill you up with delicious food and the magical lazing around in bars and restaurants, simply for the pleasure of spending time with people you love.
So I look for these same signs of melancholy, saudade, or appocundria (call it whatever you like) in others. I wonder if they feel it too, or if I’m complicating my life again.
Initially I convince myself I am a little too difficult, the one who never knows what she wants, and always what she does not have.
But I do not give up. I seek these specific feelings among the people around me, who live in England for some time and who, probably like me, have lived far from our Bel Paese, moving here and there in search of what they’re missing.
I start with the pizza makers, our cliché but also our heritage, observing them for hours, attentive and curious. I become fond of their resilience, always asking them in silence “how is it possible you don’t miss the sea?” They race against time, with resolute passion. And still “doesn’t this hectic pace make you dream of coffee with colleagues at ten in the morning?” And the more I mull this over, the more their speed increases.
I go visit friends, a Pugliese couple. They recently bought a cottage with a garden, south east of London, and with them is their tiny dachshund and his wildly wagging tail. The kitchen smells of freshly baked cakes. Sara never buys them, she prefers making them. She doesn’t think there is anything that tastes quite like her pasticciotti. Damn, she undoubtably misses home too.
The next day Olga arrives skipping to work and showers me with delicious food, her grandmother’s recipes that she keeps secret. She hasn’t been able to see her for months and so she cooks for us, her close friends.
Daniele listens only to Pino Daniele – constantly. His eyes speak volumes, reflecting the Gulf of Naples and Vesuvius. When he speaks he looks like the actor Massimo Troisi, has a modern sense of humor like Allessandro Siani, and a sentimentality specific to himself, reminiscent of De Curtis (Totò).
Lucia instead misses her simple life together with her family in Calabria, where she breathed the sea and freedom.
Greta books flights every day; she already planned her next six trips back to Italy. She won’t miss a weekend or risk the chance to do so.
Then Anna interrupts the conversation with her strong Venetian accent.
My heart fills with joy.
And so I gradually surround myself with “symptomatic” people, who defend Italy in every instance and who, in order not to feel so far from home, do it all, coming up with all sorts of things. Italian restaurants, Italian supermarkets, and even Italian bookshops. All unmistakably tricolored. My head is spinning from so much chaos.
I’m starting to question my choice, did I really do a good thing by leaving everything?
Was it the right thing to do? Have I become a hypocrite?
I promptly call Chiara, finding solace in my inexhaustible reflections. She noticed it too. She also thinks the same things. From her balcony in Chelsea she watches the murky Thames flowing motionless, and thinks of her house with a view of the Arno in Florence. She misses the Accademia gallery and her eyes are tired of modern scenery.
Yet, we decide that by eating a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and spending the afternoon studying the Baroque of Rome, everything will be resolved in no time at all. We could write an advice column for Italians struggling with homesickness.
I get home and, for the record, I realize I miss Italy tremendously. I see it as perfect, I even begin to value its defects. I’m obviously positive for symptoms of nostalgia!
Fast forward four years when the pandemic transformed our reality. We found ourselves forced to suddenly abandon the life we had meticulously built from determination and strong will.
Slowly we must readapt to what we had left behind: Italy. Once again with time and dedication. The strengths and weaknesses seem to rediscover their faded colors, appearing tremendously realistic, no longer idealized.
Months later I meet Chiara again in a café in Bologna, which becomes lunch, which then turns into an afternoon snack. We have recovered our wonderful idleness. To tell the truth, even in London we had never lost it. To hug her again is to reunite our two parallel lives, to put all the pieces back in place. I ask her about London, if she misses it, if she ever thinks about it, if she would go back. I ask her if she noticed any differences once back in Italy, and smiling, she replies that leaving the unforgettable peninsula has done nothing but reinforce her patriotism. She then adds “I never really left Florence.” I feel the lump in my throat.
The phone rings. “Hello, Diego? How are you?” “I wanted to tell you that you are right, it was just like you said, nobody here in Spain drinks wine to savor it like we do. Nobody does it for the pleasure of just drinking.”
Yes, the symptoms always start like this. A mild cold from a chill and details that turn into a melancholy fever for your roots.
And it is precisely there that all roads seem to lead back home, to Italy.
Milan Central Station.
Now I am here, one foot still on the ground, and the other on the next flight that will once again take me away from you, Italy.
I scroll through this note that has become infinite and the fateful question comes to me in the blink of an eye.
Will I return?
Yes, I will return.
All roads lead back to you, my beloved Italy.
Coming back isn’t simple. Living with her (Italy) is sometimes almost impossible, but after being away for a long time, you realize you can’t even live without “her” – it’s a choice, a choice of love. You have to accept her for what she is, with her imperfections and contradictions. Choose her anyway, because even with her defects it is better to have her than not have her at all.