School is out, the rains have gone, and once again, the beach umbrellas are up along the curving beach. It’s officially my third summer on the Italian seashore. Lather up the sunscreen. Rinse off the sand. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I’m a pro at this Terracina beach life by now. The tourists are back, just as I knew they’d be. They are clogging up my parking spots and making noise at night once again. I’m not white like mozzarella anymore, but toasty beige like scamorza, yet the villagers continue to ask me: Aren’t you going to the beach? I no longer get annoyed; by now, I know it’s just Terracina small talk.
We have, once again, the weekend dithering: Which city? Which outdoor concert? Which English-themed pub? Which summery dress? and the boys are back to their Uh oh, here she comes – the foreigner with her foreigner hat! Seriously, you can just tell she’s a foreigner when she wears that hat. Could you BE any more American right now? Followed swiftly by – wait for it – Come on, let me try your hat on.
There’s a rhythm in this town and you’d think that after nearly almost 2 years here, I’d be integrated. You wouldn’t be wrong. There are lots of things I’ve gotten used to living away from the United States; living in Southern Italy. Celsius is slowly beginning to make sense – heck, I even voluntarily switched my Google weather reading from Fahrenheit the other day. I’m used to the bacetto. I’m used to the hand gestures (love it). Used to people crossing the street any time they damn well please, and I’m used to the fact that the police are useless and I’m not to count on them for anything. Ever.
I now have a guy for everything – my frizzed out hair, my worn down heels, my persico fillets, my spicy local sausage, my rattly alternator, my leaky washing machine, my spotty polyester dresses.
I now can direct tourists on where to go (the Temple of Jove), what to see (the ancient quarter), and what to eat (bombe, boar sausage, muscatel grapes).
I now plan my meals based on what foodstuffs I am gifted on any particular week: eggs from Piero’s neighbor, a foil-wrapped wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano from Old Man Angelo, lemons or avocados from Flora’s garden, a surprise kilo of mussels from Maria.
I no longer have a problem with the “pausa di pranzo” – those 3 or 4 hours that Italians take for lunch. Plan around it, that’s all. Enjoy.
I now often think and dream in Italian.
I’m accustomed to the fact that if I turn on the radio, there is a 90% chance that I will encounter a Police song.
I’ve made peace with the existence of Fabri Fibra.
I agree that Terracina should be named a UNESCO heritage site and will be indeed signing that petition!
But even with all this assimilation goin’ on, there are some things I still cannot, simply cannot, get used to about life in Southern Italy. Namely:
- Speedos. I know I’m just a prudish American, I know this is Europe and y’all are happy and free with what nature gave you but I’m sorry; you men look ridiculous. Even when your bodies are perfect, even if I derive great pleasure from watching you frolic on the seashore looking like glistening Greek deities or muscly ponies, you still look ridiculous.
But apart from that, as soon as you come within five feet of me, I can barely look you in the eye. Perhaps this is because
your secret plan is to have me look you in the dong. That’s why you put on a spandex garment that clearly shows its shape, isn’t it? You could have just asked me out, you know. You didn’t have to resort to witchcraft. Maybe I don’t want to know that you wear it to the left, ANDREA. Maybe I don’t want to know that you’re hung like an elephant, GIORGIO.
Seriously. I don’t.
- Sharing the club scene with young children. Maybe this is just something that happens in my small town. Maybe I should, instead, applaud “cool” parents who don’t want to sacrifice a night out just because they got knocked up 7 years ago. I mean, why shouldn’t people have it all? After all the effort one puts into feeding their children soda and candy and taking them barefoot through the streets, why shouldn’t they get to sit back and relax with a plastic cup of Peroni while their spawn races around the bar and does cartwheels through the reggae concert? Timekeeping is clearly for the antediluvian killjoys, like myself, who believe in bedtimes and think it’s just plain weird to share a dance floor with a child who’s up past midnight. A child who will go home reeking of cigarette smoke; visions of tequila and desperation in his head.
- Adults living at home. I’m sort of used to this. My brain accepts that it’s a reality and that it’s a cultural thing I just have to get over… the same way my Italian friends have to get over the fact that I wear a hat and that I, conversely, live “all alone” – like a prostitute, like a freak. But I can’t. It is literally impossible for me to wrap my brain around the idea that my 40 year-old friends have never paid a bill and need to check in with their mothers if they’re coming home late. I might be a prostitute, but at least I am the captain of my own ship. My own filthy, filthy ship.
- Nothing and nobody freaking work. This is another one that I understand in my head, but not in my heart. I park and go to the parking meter – broken. I go to the information desk at the hospital – no one’s there. There is a near total lack of street lights on most roads, which makes driving the winding, mountainous Via Appia at night a special treat. Of the five stoplights in my town, two of them currently work; the others have been broken for months. The police refuse to come to the scene of a fender bender, even though you tell them that the jackhole who hit your car is drunk. The gas company says: We’ll process your information by Monday; you can come and make the appointment for your gas hookup then. But on Monday they say, It’s not done. Come back tomorrow. And on Tuesday they say, It’s not done. Come back tomorrow. They tell you to keep coming back until Friday, at which point they say, It’s still not done, and after today, we’re closing the office for a month so we can all go on vacation. Deep breath. Count slowly backwards from ten. Ten… nine… eight… does… anything… fucking… work… in… this…. country…?!
I can’t even count on the fact that the Maga Circe will be on the sea: sometimes heavy fogs wipe her and the other islands out. Therefore, there is no greater joy in my Italian life than when I find I can count on something; the generosity of my friends, the kindness of strangers, Old Man Angelo’s rants, the technicolor sunsets, the brilliance of the full moon, the madness of the Thursday market, and by golly, the fact that when I head to the beach, I will be staring into the vortex of some dude’s spandex-wrapped cock.
- Laughter in the face of seat belts. Seat belts, in case you didn’t know, are only necessary when you’re driving. SCIENTIFIC FACT: Because the steering wheel is a powerful magnet, it is literally impossible to be injured while sitting anywhere besides the drivers’ seat in a car. I am routinely laughed at when I buckle up, and have suffered agonizing car rides during which my friends’ young nieces and nephews bounced around free and loose in the back seat. Sweat dripping down my cheeks. Hands clenched on my knees. Forced to tattle: Flora, the kids don’t have their seat belts on. Hearty chuckles. Oh, they’re fine. The seat belts hurt them.
When I think about all the things I’ve had to get used to in all of the years I’ve lived away from my home country, I wonder if my brain hasn’t become a twisted patchwork of right and wrong; the eternal sunshine of Opposite Day. At what point does one’s cultural bias give way to acceptance of foreign ways? I ask myself why some things that were extremely foreign to begin with – pointing to my nose to mean I, spelling center C-E-N-T-R-E – are now ingrained, and why others that should be simple to accept – I mean, what do I really care if parents bring their kids to nightclubs – set off a frantic alarm each time I encounter them. Why I still make mistakes when using essere and avere. Why I’ve adopted the lolling cadence of the Southern Central Italian dialects, but continually mess up the double consonants.
It took five years to get used to Celsius; three years to add grand and brilliant to my lexicon; six months to get used to bowing and leaving my shoes at the door. A year to get used to giving the bacetto. One fender bender to realize how worthless are the Italian police. Mere weeks to forget Memorial Day and Superbowl Weekend, but never the Fourth of July.
Sooner or later, something has to give.
I have a feeling it will be my hatred of Speedos.