A bad American habit resurfaced this morning as I watched Tony catch a lift down to the parking lot with Sandro on his tractor: I gulped my cappuccino quickly to catch up with them, though I know better that there’s time to finish at an appropriate pace and still meet them without delay. Definitely not proprio.

As I tipped back into my seat on Piazza Colesanti, Sandro held up his hand and mouthed the words, “Piano, piano,” encouraging me to slow down and savor it. Without realizing, I’ve become distracted by travel arrangements in Rome and things that await my attention in Seattle. Last night’s insomnia should have been a tip-off, but not until I saw Sandro’s plea against my rushing did I understand what had happened.

In Italia, one learns that there is an appropriate setting for everything; unless it involves driving, time and place typically flow one into another –softly– piano, piano. As in Civita, where soil turns into stone, from which raise tufa walls and buildings, which give rise to gardens, then back to steps and gradually to soil again, one is ensconced in a palimpsest of layered appropriateness and an ease of time.

Ironically, as I considered what to leave here and what to bring back to Seattle, the essence of expanded time was one concept that I had hoped would immigrate. A new definition of home is another that I’ve been kicking around. While I enjoy living in Seattle, I feel like Civita has also become a true home to me, though I am not sure yet how to transform that feeling into the appropriate words or a way to stay here long-term.

Fabrizio came to chat with me on my rock as I wrote about this yesterday, calling to mind that challenge he put forth a month ago, when I said, “Ci vediamo,” and he answered, “Yes, we’ll see each other; I live here. Where do you live?” Even then, I instantly replied, “Abito qua,” and felt a bit insulted when he shot back, “You don’t live here; you live in Seattle.”

Abito qua or not, I’m learning that one’s sense of belonging is directly tied to a feeling of ownership and involvement, not necessarily how long a person lives somewhere. As I walked home from my rock, I heard several Americans capriciously disregard Peppone’s widow, Maria, as if she were unintelligent or invisible. (Indeed, she doesn’t see very well and she is elderly.) They fumbled around for her name and the location of the garden in a way that called to mind someone’s recent dismissal of me when she assumed that I didn’t speak English. I couldn’t help but set them straight as I passed, “Her name isn’t Victoria, it’s Maria, and the entrance to the garden is that way, through the left.”

Seattle is the only other town with which I’ve felt connected enough to spontaneously offer directions to befuddled tourists, who are usually too distracted with their spread-eagle maps to ask for help. It took me years to get that comfortable, and even then, I rarely feel protective of Seattle like I do of Civita.

Spending two months getting to know this place stone by stone (and there are many more to go) has inured a unique sense of devotion in me, and an idea for what is proprio giusto, or “just right.” My experience has also instilled a desire for others to approach Civita with a sense of reverence; I feel compelled to help them get it right when they don’t know better, if only that they might find something meaningful here that they can take away, too.

After wiping the cappuccino foam from my lips, I rode with Tony into Bagnoregio to say goodbye to the Mancini sisters, AnnaRi and Gentelli, and Maria Grazia, all of whom showered me with cheek kisses and dulcet praises of carina and carissima as I bade them farewell until next summer. After shopping several times a week with these ladies, getting to know my fruit and veg vendors at Sozio’s in Pike Place Market is one habit I’ll take back; finding a local butcher and meat and cheese artisans are others.

It should come as no surprise that part of proprio giusto and piano, piano is taking time to make relationships with the people who feed us — not only to learn about where our food comes from, but to create stronger ties within our own community. It’s also about knowing one’s neighborhood and the people who live and work there so that we can be a resource to others who are new or visiting.

Whether it’s knowing the history of a building, the type of fruit hanging on a tree, which alleys interconnect, whose family lives in each house, or the hours that stores are open, learning about a place stone by stone is what makes all the difference in one’s experience and ownership of it. Taking time to be observant of people and language, restoration of the church, seasonal food, and the planning, design, and operation of Civita is what has informed and transformed my life here.

There’s a different experience to be had, for sure. I could live solely by my travel guide, keep a shy distance from the locals, call the place cute, swig my wine, and leave.

But, as I’ve learned during my residency bit by bit, doing so simply wouldn’t be appropriate.