There was no reason to be outside after work on Friday. Leaving late, sufficiently warmed up from my office’s weekly Beer:Thirty, I made it to the bus stop just in time for the rain to begin—Juneuary has given way to Julember.
With my evening plans scrapped post-haste, I decided that there was no better spot to light than with my posse at The Sitting Room. The crew was different this week than most—Philipp and Brian had traded bartending shifts, for starters—and some of my favorite barflies had been replaced by an expletive-spewing, counter-slamming troglodyte who got lost on his way to Ozzie’s.
Fellow fly, Steve, and I were about to abandon our posts just as this unwelcome brute downed his last of beer and dragged himself outside moaning, “Yeeeeeeeeeeeah, man! Rock onnnnn!” as he shuffled to the exit.
As if on cue, Brian asked if I’d like another drink, which I accepted immediately.
Likewise, Steve ordered another Guinness to dull the mania from the first day of the annual Nordstrom sale (their busiest day of the year, it even outpaces Black Thursday, apparently.) From there, our conversation quickly turned to other forms of escape. Starry-eyed, we shared our favorite memories of far-flung places, returning again and again to Paris, which inspired me to add “Paris Je T’Aime” to my Netflix queue.
Walking home, it felt a bit like Paris: a gentle sprinkle of cool water showering pleasantly on my nose under temperate gray skies that encouraged me to ascend the hill climb in slow motion to stretch out the journey. Typically, my climb home is like an assignment; I intently power up as the grade rises, overtaking slower walkers, always a bit relieved when I slide the key into the front door.
Moments when the climb feels truly delicious are few.
I dallied with a song in my head as I took it step by step, enjoying what was left of the Malbec on my tongue. It made me think that, in a month, I’ll be climbing the bridge at Civita. Step by step, I will linger on the journey home to Il Nuovo, perhaps even in the rain, which will be welcome, since it’ll be in the mid-90s when I arrive.
This return journey is a reunion of sorts, certainly with the people I met last year—Josè, Maria, Gaia, Bernardo, Ilaria, Marcella—but not only with them, or even with Civita itself, though my fingertips long to feel her porous stone. It’s not simply the much-anticipated second chapter with Klevis and Denis, the Biennale, or the film festival in Venice, either.
As I took those last steps, which feel easier these days after so much practice, I acknowledged that this will be a long-awaited reunion with the part of myself that I left behind in Civita. I can’t foretell what I’ll find; I only know that whatever was planted there has been growing since my departure and it’s ready to be harvested.
This realization has been brewing since I picked up Italian again, listening to Marc Mariani talk with dizzying speed in his Three Things Italian conversation classes. The effect is similar to being in Italy, with certain phrases bandied about that I’m able to absorb only a full minute after they’re uttered. Like in Italy, speaking in English is not so much discouraged as talking through something in Italian, even if clumsily, is supported.
The struggle is better, though frustrating. It forces us to break down complex thoughts into simple words and phrases, using a part of our brains that we often leave turned off. (Spegnere, pronounced spen-yair-ay, is Italian for, to turn off; there’s a completely different verb—accendere—for to turn on.)
There’s no point in trying to be perfect about learning this language. The Italians often have an idiom for what you’re trying to say that you could never guess at, so it’s better to move slowly (piano, piano) and speak plainly until you are understood. When this happens, the listener’s face eventually lights up, and she or he says, “Ah!” then supplies you with the correct verbal nuance, which you are then encouraged to repeat, not only to fully deliver your message but also to confirm that you understand what you intended to say in the first place.
In this tradition, our class of eight is reading Marcovaldo. Every Thursday night, we read aloud to each other and discuss the story for several hours with a welcome break of Marc’s homemade Italian food in between. Being thrust into lively conversation again reminds me of dinner at Gaia and Bernardo’s, where sometimes I just sat back and listened, enjoying the melody and rhythm of their voices even if I didn’t understand every word.
As I daydream about what I’ll find upon my return—the state of that piece of myself which I’m about to rediscover—I’m considering how to talk about it and what to share. Upon reading Dani Shapiro’s essay in the New York Times Book Review this morning, I felt like she hit my dilemma exactly:
…while certainly some memoirs might whitewash the past, and others might omit unsavory details, the kind of memoir I wanted to write required being hard on myself publicly. I lifted up rocks and peered into the darkness. …one can’t write with abandon if one is worrying about the consequences.
In my case, it isn’t so much about being hard on myself, but about the degree to which I daylight myself through my observations. How much can I share—how deep can I go—so that my essays ring true without violating my (or anyone else’s) privacy? I sense that my next challenge as a writer is to forge farther into that state of self-analysis, which is not so much about me personally, but about expressing that which is common to all of us, but not always easily known or comfortably shared.
In exploring this, I will continue to observe people—their accents, stories, quotes, actions, and conversations. I will always use the city as a backdrop and a metaphor. I will always delight in speaking through far-flung adventures that require resourcefulness, hope, and a sense of discovery.
While these avenues help me analyze and process my own life, what I really hope to leave behind is something that others can use—laughter, delight, and a trail of breadcrumbs that signals understanding between those of us who share a common path, if silently. As Ms. Shapiro notes,
…as a writer, my inner life is my only instrument. I understand the world only by my attempts to shape my experience on the page. Then, and only then, do I know what I think, feel, believe. Without these attempts (the word essay derives from “attempt”) I am lost.