Moving To Italy: Three Months In

Here I am, sitting on a bus, heading to the mountains, for a weekend of skiing with friends. And I’m super excited.

But I’m also excited about life, in general. Life in Italy is good. It may sound like a rather obvious statement from a girl who’s lucky enough to have both mountains and sea on her doorstep and be living out her dreams,  but favourable external circumstances do not always indicate inner happiness, as I found out when I first arrived and everything sort of overwhelmed me. I was intimidated by how much I didn’t yet know but wanted  to know and didn’t have the patience to recognise that it would all take a while.

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Thankfully, however, my brain seems to have pulled itself together and things are flowing much easier (talking of flow, I am reading a book right now, which is called Flow, about the science behind how and why we are able to find happiness, I can’t recommend it enough!). The language struggles I had before Christmas are not bothering me so much anymore. I’m not fluent by any stretch of the imagination but I’m less stressed about it now. I study every day, I talk to people, I ask questions – all without the frantically nervous edge of desperation that tinged everything before, thankfully.

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Sometimes I tell myself I have successfully passed for a local eg by giving directions correctly or completing a transaction in the focacceria without having to ask for something to be repeated. I had one of these occasions yesterday while waiting at a bus stop. A lady approached and asked if I knew whether the number 44 bus stopped here. The young man next to me said he wasn’t sure but I, in an impressive display of local knowledge said that the 39 and 40 stopped here but I didn’t think the 44 stopped here. She thanked me and walked away.

“My goodness, Laura,” I thought to myself, “you handled that like a pro! Your Italian was on point, your local knowledge was expert. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve got this living-in-Italy thing nailed.”

What’s that saying? About how pride comes before a fall?

It must have been ten minutes later, when the number 16 bus arrived, that I realised my mistake. The numbers 39 and 40 serve the other side of town. The stop that I was at was for the numbers 16 and 17….. O well. Such is life.

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Another exciting thing happened this month. I decided it was time to have some friends! After a chance encounter in the mountains a few weeks ago, I went to an event organised by an online community called InterNations. It was a meet up at a bar near my flat so I pottered along, said hi to a few people then, sure enough, the guys I had met in the mountains were there.

This turned into a whole evening of blabbing, exchanging phone numbers and promises to meet again. This then led to sharing my Sunday walk in the mountains with new friends, which led to a gig on Wednesday evening with said friends, which has led to a lot of loveliness and the reminder that life is better when there’s people in it. Because I enjoy my own company and would happily spend days running and walking alone when I was on my run in 2016, I sometimes forget how freaking much I like people. This month has been an excellent reminder of how much better a person I am when my life is full of other people. This reminder has since become the early rumblings of The YesTribe Italia! Watch this space – we’ll hopefully be up and running by the time I write my next update!

To conclude, Italy is everything I hoped it would be and right now, I couldn’t be more happy with my decision to move here.

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How Andrea Bocelli Helped Me Fall Back In Love

I don’t know if any of you picked up the vibe in some of my posts, but I wasn’t progressing very well with my Italian. Not through lack of effort, not through lack of knowledge but due to fear and nerves. People would speak to me, the words would float into and around my face but the forcefield of nerves surrounding it wouldn’t let anything penetrate. I heard words I knew in rapid succession – “stata, subito, sotto, fu, neanche, comunque, finche, cinquanta…” – and I wouldn’t, for the life of me, be able to piece together any meaning from what I was hearing nor translate the words quickly enough to then formulate responses. Beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings, I had been struck dumb. I found I was just watching people’s faces silently, hoping I could get away soon. I had turned into a right scaredy cat, often just burrowing down at home, madly trying to study and thinking that more knowledge was the key to success.

I liked the Italian language, I had moved to Italy to improve it so of course I knew I liked it. But I wanted to do so well that my frustrations at not being completely fluent yet had rendered me speechless and annoyed. I wasn’t allowing for the inbetween period, where you have to spend a fair amount of time trying, getting things wrong and learning.

Then, a few days before Christmas, I stumbled across a song called Perfect, by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. Now I’m a bit of an Ed fan and hadn’t really paid attention to what was playing so I was singing along because I know the version with just Ed, when this beautiful, authoritative voice burst onto the scene, declaring that I was his woman.

“Sei la mia donna!”

If you haven’t already, go and listen to the song and brace yourself for the point, mid-song, when everything changes to Italian and Andrea Bocelli sings this first line. It is stirring. It makes me want to stand up and sing on a stage.

On he goes, “La forza delle onde del mare” – the strength of the waves of the sea.

“Cogli i miei sogni, i miei segreti, molto di piu” – take my dreams, my secrets and more.

I was in my room, getting ready to go somewhere and I just sat on the bed and let these beautiful words float over me. One of my favourite words in the Italian language was discovered in this moment – “sussurando” – which means, whispering. All plans went out of the window as I googled the lyrics and played the song over and over again, trying to learn the words. For the next 24 hours, I listened to it whenever I could. In the shower, in the morning, while walking somewhere, before bed and by the time two days had passed, I knew all the words, was obsessed with the song, was in love with Andrea Bocelli and was learning new Italian words.

I realised that this is how it had felt when I first holidayed in Italy and overheard Italians speaking. I loved the obsessive use of vowels, how 99% of words end in an ‘o’ or an ‘a’ or an ‘i’, I loved the musicality of the language, how it rose and fell, how some words were clipped, creating a sort of mid-word pause with the double letters, as in, ‘capello’ and some were no-nonsense and commanding, as in ‘cio’. I love the immediacy of the language, how two of the most common ways to greet another person are with ‘pronto’ on the phone, which literally means ‘ready’, and with ‘dimmi’ in a shop, which means ‘tell me’. I love how the ‘ci’ sound is like an English ‘ch’ and how it gives such character to a word when it makes an appearance – in ‘cucina’ (kitchen), for example, or ‘decidere’ (to decide). I love learning how to roll an ‘r’, such an alien concept for an English speaker and a bit of a tongue twister when faced with two, as in ‘correre’ (to run). I love how the ‘g’ sometimes takes centre stage, as in Caravaggio, but sometimes hides away, distorting other letters near it. When a ‘g’ comes before an ‘n’ or an ‘l’ it is silent, but it is not actually silent. It gives the other letter a sort of ‘y’ sound to it that I am yet to master. I’m always wandering around the house muttering the words ‘gli’ and ‘li’ to myself and trying to make them sound different.

I loved all of those things when I first listened dreamily to Italian speakers and I held onto it until I got here in November. Six weeks after arriving, however, after finally living out my dream, I was silent. I wasn’t speaking, I wasn’t practising, I was annoyed at myself.

Then Andrea Bocelli played and I remembered those things. I remembered how even the simplest ordinary word can have an inherent beauty to it (‘cetriolo’ is one of my favourite words to say and simply means, cucumber). I remembered how certain ideas expressed in Italian lose their magic when translated – ‘inside our music’ is a woefully inadequate way to communicate the loveliness of ‘dentro la nostra musica’.

In essence, I remembered why I had moved to Italy. Thanks, Andrea.

Moving To Italy: Two Months In

There’s been a bit of everything in the last month – some ups, a down, lots of uphills, one fall downhill and a lot in between.

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My little Monday and Thursday routine of walking along this pathway on my way to a little pebbly beach called Boccadasse is now well established. I work about an hour’s walk out from the centre, so on my way back, instead of going directly to the centre, I walk down to the waterfront, down little alleys and side streets, always hugging the water’s edge as closely as possible, until I arrive at Boccadasse, where I sit down with a good book and my lunch and just enjoy the moment and consider how lucky I am to live next to the sea. If I’m feeling flash, I’ll also get some gelato from the ice cream shop next to the beach to start my walk home with. My current favourite flavours are panna cotta and marron glacé.

I then potter along the Corso Italia, a lovely spacious path alongside the water, back into town.

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My weekends usually look like this – on Saturday I go to one of the museums in town where I can use my annual pass and on Sunday I walk either up into the mountains or down to the sea.

I’ll say this much, if there’s one thing Italians do well, it’s a museum! They know what they’re doing, trust me. I always want the museums and galleries to be packed because there’s so much great stuff there, I want more people to be seeing it. But at the same time, one of the things I enjoy is the utter peace and tranquility I often find in these places, only disturbed every so often by a few others. My latest great find in Genova is the Galata Museo, the museum of the sea. It was seriously fascinating. On two of the floors, they have built full size ships which are representative of the period in history that that floor deals with. It is fantastic. I was able to go on board both boats and have a really good poke around. On one of them, a guy on a recording was “talking” to me and, although I knew it was for kids and he couldn’t see me, I still felt sort of like I should answer him and so did! I was in the museum for over three hours and only got around half of it! I then rushed the end as they were closing but really should visit soon to do the last half properly.

Two big things have featured in my life in Italy in the last month. The first is my ability to wind myself into a frenzy by my frustrations about not being fluent immediately upon arrival. I recognise that I haven’t been there long and I should go easy on myself but it’s easier said than done. Sometimes I’m fairly at ease when talking to someone and then my words will just eat each other up and I end saying something jibberish then fleeing in horror. Let me explain.

I went for a run down to the sea the other day. I was on my way back after about an hour. I was running up the final set of steps before arriving home. An older couple were walking down the stairs past me.

“Complimenti!” they said, applauding my audacity in running the stairs.

“Sono stanca! Ma ho finito adesso. Il mio appartamento è qui!” – I’m tired but I’ve finished now. My apartment is here – as I indicted just up the road to where I live. Now, I know that’s probably a bit off, I will have conjugated the verb ‘finire’ incorrectly, I’m sure. But my basic meaning was communicated to them.

They said I must be very strong and fast to run in Genova. I guffawed at the “fast” and assured them that no, “non sono veloce,” I am not fast. It was all going swimmingly.

Then as they started to move off, I wanted to say ‘have a good day’ – buona giornata – but realised it was late afternoon so ‘have a good evening’ – buona serata – would be more appropriate but at this moment they were just wishing me good luck – buona fortuna – for the rest of my run. So the thoughts and words got jumbled up and I opened my mouth and came out with “buona ferata” which means….. nothing. It means nothing. A ferata is not a thing. Certainly not a “good” ferata. Silence fell momentarily. Our eyes caught. We immediately looked away, saving the embarrassment for everyone, and I fled up the stairs at a speed I would never have thought possible. “Buona ferata,” I spent the next few hours muttering confusedly to myself. “It doesn’t even bloody mean anything.”

At the moment, language-wise, there is still a disconnect between my brain and my mouth when conversing with Italians. They speak Italian to me. My brain madly sorts through possible replies, limpingly says something which is inevitably wrong then backs out fearfully and leaves my mouth, abandoned and empty of content, fear in my eyes as the silence falls and I know, somewhere, that I have the words I need, they just refuse to enter my mouth. As I depart from the conversation, I will be able to conjure up exactly what I should have said in reply, just not at the time when I needed it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a meltdown, along the lines of “how can I ever survive here if I can’t even make my brain tell my mouth what to say in real basic conversations?!”

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The day after this meltdown, in which I had convinced myself that I was cursed to a life of silent nodding so long as I stayed in Italy, I woke up and just didn’t feel that way anymore. I’ve never been that worried about meltdown days as I know they serve a purpose. Every meaningful positive change I’ve ever made in my life has consisted of a turning point, which was usually a meltdown day. So even while feeling down, I knew I had to go through that phase, to push me to change things. Since then, I’ve made a few language exchange links with other Italians and started doing Skype calls which are half conducted in English, to help them, and half in Italian, to help me. It is helping to build my confidence with speaking.

It’s still very early days and learning a language does things to you that are unexpected. For example, as a generally chatty confident person, to have that natural instinct whipped out from under your feet is strange. There are words flying all around your head, everyone is smiling, laughing, raising voices, disagreeing in a friendly way, discussing something interesting…. and you can do nothing. You can’t join in as you’re not completely confident what is even being discussed, even if you do know what everyone’s talking about, you can’t formulate answers in your head to contribute, you can’t do a witty joke because a) you can’t think of the words fast enough and b) even if you could, would the humour translate well? Thus, the completely alien situation of being a rather shy, quiet figure in a crowd, with the very real possibility of being considered boring. This was unexpected, this new facet of my being, the boring wordless version of me. Hopefully, when I write a month three update for you, I will no longer be boring.

The second thing has, thankfully, been more upbeat. I was finding that the downtime I first loved when initially leaving London, had started to stagnate a little. I wanted to move again. Sitting around for hours on end with nothing to show at the end of the day wore thin and I decided that the hills would no longer scare me and I would get back to running.

After a few brief excursions out, just little runs of twenty minutes, I have started in for some longer routes. Down to the sea and back takes about an hour, depending on my route. Up into the hills and around can be anything from thirty minutes to an hour. I am running every other day and discovering new places with each run so it is also nice for exploration of my new home. I did, however, recently, fall victim to the uneven surfaces that are all over Genova and about which I am constantly conscious.

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Sure enough, they claimed me on my last run before returning to England for Christmas. I lost skin, dignity and part of my knuckle in the fall but I am recovering well and have barely told anyone about it nor expected sympathy or kept showing off my wounds. Honest.

Christmas and New Year in England have been lovely and very mince pie filled, given that mince pies aren’t sold in Italy so I’ve had to get my fill while here. It was awesome seeing my nephew, easily the best conversation being the following:

My sister-in-law: “What’s the largest planet?”

Nephew: “Jupiter.”

Sister-in-law: “And what’s the hottest?”

Nephew: “Mercury.”

Sister-in-law: “And what’s the smallest?”

Nephew: “Mars.”

Sister-in-law: “And what planet do we live on?”

Nephew *thinks for a moment*: “London.”

All in all, month two has been shakier than month one, less of an exhilarating high because I live in Italy now and more of a realisation that if I want to say more than ‘hello, how are you’, I’m going to need to really put in some hard work and effort.

The Tobacco Man

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A couple of times every week, I go to one of the shops, known as ‘tabacchi’ to buy stamps to send letters or postcards. I like to write letters. Moving to Italy has allowed me to indulge in this now-quaint pastime of laboriously writing down on paper what I could send easily in a text (which would take less half the time to write), then digging out the address of the person I am sending it to, then walking down to the tabacchi, purchasing a stamp, then finding a letterbox and posting it. It then takes between one and three weeks to arrive at its destination, where the information is now far outdated, as I have continuous daily contact with the recipient or, if not, they have probably seen something on social media, so are informed about how life here is going for me. It’s all a bit of an unnecessarily large rigmarole.

Nevertheless, I love it. I love applying my thoughts to one task. One cannot be doing a million other things when one is writing a letter. One can easily text whilst also making a cup of tea, putting the pasta on to cook, talking to one’s flatmate and listening to an audio book. A letter, though, refuses to take a backseat. It will have centre stage or nothing. If your flatmate wants to talk to you, you must stop writing until silence again reigns and you can return to the letter. I like the totality of the experience. I also like the routine of buying the stamp and posting the letter then waiting excitedly to hear that it has been received.

Going to the tabacchi to get a stamp has almost become the part I love the most, though. I always go to the same place. It’s between Piazza Marsala and Piazza Corvetto, on the right, near the roundabout.

I go in, holding my letter, rehearsing in my head the Italian words for what I want. I see the man, who I refer to in my mind as the tobacco man, although a tabacchi sells way more than just cigarettes. They are more like English convenience stores, but smaller. The tobacco man is sometimes at the back of the shop, but usually behind the till on the left, often hidden away, kneeling down, unpacking something, doing something important.

“Buongiorno,” I greet him.

“Buongiorno.”

He smiles, imperceptibly. On my first visits to this tabacchi, he stayed straight faced. he was polite but not friendly, as such. He was helpful but not demonstrative. Yet something about him made me smile, made me want to get my stamps from him only. Over the weeks, as I visit every few days, his manner has shifted ever so slightly, from politeness to recognition, from helpfulness to friendliness.

“Avete il francobollo, per favore?” I ask – do you have a stamp, please.

He asks me where the letter is going to, even now, when for seven weeks I have only ever asked for a stamp for the same place.

“È per Europa,” I say.

He asks me for the letter, while getting the stamps and asking for “zero, novantacinque,” 95 cents. He peels the stamp off the sheet then sticks it in place for me. He always does it himself. He never hands the stamp to me to do.

I hand him a one euro coin and he gets me 5 cents change.

“Grazie,” I say warmly. “Buona giornata.”

“Anche tu,” he says, politely, as I smile over my shoulder, thinking, one day we’ll have a chat about the weather or something, just you wait and see.

Not yet, of course, that would be far too much now. I mean, it’s taken seven weeks to get that slight smile from him and something resembling familiarity. One can’t rush these things, you know.

But sometimes I think about the tobacco man and I think about how it is when you move to a new country and have to learn a new language and make new friends etc. It comes slowly, very slowly. The new place has to get used to you, to the fact that you gave it no choice but are now existing in its midst, demanding it’s time and attention, poking your face into it’s museums, fancy churches, cafes, shops, demanding that it allow you to make a life here.

Sometimes it feels like Genova has chosen to say no, you may not just blend seamlessly in here, you must struggle, you must feel intimidated, afraid to even conduct basic conversations due to the certainty that you’ll get it all wrong. And then sometimes, it smiles a little, makes room for me, engineers a chance encounter that will lead me to new opportunities, help me see the beauty and wildness of this country, with it’s unforgiving mountains which turn you around, get you lost, throw brambles at you, and it’s unevenly surfaced hills and steps, which trip you up and throw you, sprawling, to the ground, to remember that, just because you are living out your dreams, does not mean it will be easy.

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Moving to Italy: One Month In

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The sea

One month ago today, on 2nd November 2017, I moved out of the flat where I lived in East London, packed a select few belongings, and moved to Genova, in Italy.

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On one of my many walks by the sea

This was easy and difficult in equal measures. Easy, because I had been mulling the idea over for years, wanting to do it, wondering if I would actually ever do it, preparing myself mentally for it. Difficult, because my whole life was in the UK, and more precisely, in London. Everyone I loved the most was there, my job was there, my life was there. It was what I knew and what I enjoyed.

I knew, however, that this itch, the desire to live in Italy, would bug me until I scratched it. When I imagined getting to age 70 or 80 and talking to people about what I’d done in my life, I hated the idea of being the person who said, “Yeh, I’d always loved Italy, I spent lots of holidays there, I even attempted to learn the language using apps and what have you. And I always thought about having a go at living there. But I never did. O well. Never mind.” And the person I was talking to would perhaps say, “O, so, why did you never go and live there?” Then I’d go, “Um, because, um, I just didn’t. I don’t know why.”

How idiotic would that be? To not go for any valid reason other than I “just didn’t”.

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Looking down over Genova from the mountains

Earlier this year, I decided that I was not going to be that person. I had been on holiday to the coast in Northern Italy and liked it and I had a friend with a flat in Genova where I could live and, despite having then met a lovely man who I want to spend the rest of my life with, it still seemed like time for me to finally do it.

The preparation was minimal, primarily because, still being in the EU for now, there’s not really a lot that needs doing. You have the good fortune to be able to make a decision, buy a one way flight and just arrive.

My first week here was whirlwind of fun. Nine of us from the group I worked out with in London every week flew out together for a birthday party in a beautiful house in a small town called Celle (cheh-leh, for non-Italian speakers) and ate our body weight in chocolate, gelato, lasagna, pesto (more of this to come), focaccia (will also reappear) and pizza. We also went for a swim in the cold cold sea and might I add that despite flying out as a rather multicultural group, the Armenian, the Italian and the German all found other things to do, leaving us six Brits (idiots) to take on this task alone!

Almost everyone else departed, leaving myself and my other half in Genova for the next four days until he, too, had to leave and then that was it. I was here alone. Things had got serious. I had to work out how to survive alone.

When I said I hadn’t done any prep, perhaps that’s not completely true. I have spent the past few years ploughing away on language learning apps on my phone, attempting to build up my vocabulary. When I started having private Italian lessons with a teacher in London, I was equipped with a fair amount of vocabulary but my grammar was all over the place. She helped to pin that down, so that I could attempt to build sentences that might even make sense, if I was lucky.

One of my first tasks, however, was to find a job, thus making my life here sustainable. To get a job, one needs a CV, which I realised was more than just running my English CV through a translate app. Firstly, CVs are usually formatted differently in different countries. Then yes, I had to translate the actual words. Getting a severe case of cabin fever, I stayed inside for the whole weekend, undertaking this mammoth job and kicking myself for not having done it before I left the UK.

As I was sending out my CV, I knew it was likely that it was littered with mistakes that might technically be fine but that you’d never actually say, as a native speaker. I longed to already be fluent with Italian.

As it happened, I found a job not even using the Italian CV I had slaved over for so long. I used my English CV because the job uses la mia madrelingua (me trying to sound fancy while saying ‘native language’).

I also found the job in a surprisingly short amount of time. On the Sunday, I was despairing that I’d never get hired. By the Tuesday, I had something in place. I have a lot to thank the world for. No matter what situations I throw myself into – under-prepared, naive, hopeful – it seems to sort things out for me.

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The view from Righi

 

 

Work was sorted, then. The basic admin stuff like getting a tax code and a bank account have been successful to different degrees. Tax code was fine. Bank account creating seems to be dragging a bit. First I set up most things but needed to bring in my passport and tax code certificate, which required a second appointment. Then I was told I would receive a code on an email and another by text. Then I would be able to open the online banking. Then I would need another appointment for finalising it and putting some money in to open the account. I’m about half way down that road so far.

Now for the big meaty questions. The first is about company and socialising. In London my life was packed to the brim with people – friends, family, colleagues. There were always people to chat to, to go for coffee with, or for dinner, or a workout, or a campout. Here, I obviously don’t have that same network. The friend who’s apartment I live in is absolutely one of the best friends anyone could have and his family have welcomed me with open arms. His two brothers and his sister in law involve me in dinners or parties they are having, or drinks they are going for. His parents have had me round for dinner so I could meet all of his cousins. I had my hair cut by one of his cousins yesterday. That is lovely and comforting and I am so grateful to have those people there.

When your social network reduces to a much smaller number, however, something happens. Your time suddenly is more free. I can look at a weekend and have no plans for it and that prospect is exciting. It’s like taking a massive time-detox, a huge step down from the fast pace of London life. If I’m honest, I think I was sort of ready to take a step back from the hectic schedules and packed days, just for a bit, just to return to myself, have time to think, have space in my brain to find silence and calm.

After my pilgrimage last year, I have better understood my desire to return to that calm every so often. In London, I found almost no time to do that. Here, I am bingeing on it. I love it. I walk for hours alone, in the mountains or next to the sea or just home from work. I take a bus perhaps twice a week and I walk everywhere else. I live simply. I have an annual museums pass, which is another ticket to calm and peace. I go into a museum or an art gallery and I look at beautiful images and I move slowly around, spending hours in each museum, totally immersed in art and beauty. It feels almost although I am only able to do that because my brain has begun to learn how to think slowly and calmly. I’m not sure that my busy London brain was ever so overwhelmed by art and sculpture and beautiful buildings the way my Genova brain has been. With a minimum of effort, one can also find really interesting free or cheap events happening around town. For example, last weekend I went to an opera for €6, on Wednesday I went to a free concert of 15th century songs, sung beautifully in a capella, this morning I went on a free tour of the oldest chocolate and sweet factory in Italy.

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Amazing Caravaggio painting. Look at those hands!

Just a side note on the name – I am living in Genova in Italy, not Geneva in Switzerland. Genova is the Italian name, Genoa is the English name.

On that note, the biggest challenge of moving here, and my main driving force for coming, is the language. Now, I had some level of knowledge before coming away but I don’t think any level of learning compares with being in the country, day in day out. Before arriving, I thought, I have enough to get by, I can make myself understood, I’ll stumble by and improve really quickly when I get there.

Lets talk about the reality now. Language learning is tough. It’s enjoyable, it’s interesting, it’s mesmerising but it is a fact that it is tough. I can sometimes see the same word ten times before I start to remember what it means (fuga, meaning escape, has taken me weeks to nail down). Today, I suddenly realised that the Italian for “I like the trains,” conjugates the verb “to like” in a totally different way than I had thought they would. Here I am, six months of Italian lessons under my belt, years of fiddling about on phone apps, one month of living in Italy, and a simple sentence such as, “I like the trains” – mi piacciono i treni – has boggled my mind. What hope can there be, then, for me to conduct any type of meaningful conversation with people I meet?

Well, fear not. Since arriving, I would say that my comprehension levels have gone up by about 60%. I am mostly aware of what’s being said to me and, of course, context helps, so I can make decent guesses too. My ability to respond has gone up by 25% so it’s the speaking that is coming slower, but it is coming.

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Discovering a painting by my favourite artist

Honestly, the majority of conversations I have are when buying things in shops, where I am now well versed in what I am being asked – “porta via?” for takeaway, “un sacchetto?” for a plastic bag, et cetera. If I sit at home alone, I can construct appropriate sentences. It’s just when I get outside and am faced with questions, that all these ready answers disappear and I’m flailing around, going “oh, uh, sì, uh, sono…. uh…”

Now, for a side note, pesto is the pride and joy of the Genovese, having been invented here, so I find that many of my snacks or meals are pesto based and, as yet, I’ve not grown tired of it, nor can I imagine doing so. Good pesto is not a thing to be underestimated. Focaccia also, should not be taken lightly. At least twice or three times a week, I will discover a couple of coins hanging around in a pocket and find myself holding them aloft and entering a bakery, to request my new favourite food, focaccia con cipolla (with onion). As soon as I get out, I have to walk far away before I can begin eating because once I have finished, I need another immediately, urgently. The only way to save myself from exchanging all my worldly goods for another one is to flee the scene at high speed.

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On the factory tour

And so there you have it. The first month of living in foreign lands.

 

Campout Fun In The Park

We gathered outside Richmond station in the evening light and after quick hellos, started to make our way up the hill to watch the beautiful red sunset over the river before making our way into the park and finding a little copse of trees with a small clearing, the perfect place for 10+ people to share.

Out came the ground sheet and on went the snacks. There were homemade flapjacks, a loaf of bread to tear and share (a trademark of Laura-led YesTribe campouts), delicious chocolates, crisps and, pleasingly, some freshly-mulled wine. We got underway with introductions.

“How did you hear about the YesTribe? What does it offer you (or mean to you)?”
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“I met Dave at Explorer’s Connect.”
“I was on the Mississippi with Dave.”
“I heard about it through Project Awesome.”

“I have been living abroad for twelve years and the YesTribe offers me a way to find like-minded people in this country.”

“My job is stressful and it feels good to get outside for a night.”

“It’s nice to spend an evening with people who don’t think I’m crazy just because I want to sleep outside.”

“I don’t have to explain myself to my fellow YesTribers.”

“It’s a way to reset my batteries in the midst of manic London life.”

“It is exciting to be around like-minded people.”

“Tell us something interesting you did recently.”

“I ran a vertical mile.”

“My work agreed that I can go down to a four day week.”

“I had a go on Dave’s half-bike in the park.”

“I just got back from travelling around the Balkans.”

“I learned how to ski.”

“I signed up to the Sierra Leone marathon.”

“I decided to make proper steps towards moving to Italy.”

As we shared our stories, more and more common ground was found. The phrase “like-minded people” came up again and again. It was a few people’s first campout. Others had done plenty. Someone wanted advice about how to carry camera equipment while running a marathon. Someone else had a contact in Italy. Someone else wanted to learn how to stand-up paddleboard. One of the group was fresh back from a three month stand-up paddleboarding trip. Someone wanted to cycle through South America on a homemade bamboo bike. Someone else knew someone who had built their own bamboo bike. One person is forging their way ahead to a zero waste life. The rest of us marvelled and asked for tips.
This is what campouts are about. Learning from each other. Feeling our hearts warm as they fill with inspiration.
YT campout happyface
A few late stragglers joined us as we put out tarps to protect us from the rain we knew was coming in the early hours and got into our sleeping bags.

We awoke to a scream from eight-year-old Emily (“Aaah! There’s a slug!”) and the smell of coffee being brewed. One of our number is an expedition leader and, like a boy scout, he had come prepared. The cool factor sky-rocketed as he whipped up bacon sandwiches (with ketchup!) and freshly made coffee. We then slowly packed up our stuff, gave goodbye hugs to early leavers and configured our brains for re-entry into the ‘normal world’.
YT campout bacon sandwich
In fact, the more nights I spend outside, as nature intended, the more I think that this is what normal is supposed to be.
(Thanks to the gorgeous Anna for the amazing images! Find more of her stuff here.)

Thank You, Italy

I wrote this the day before leaving Italy, on my run from Rome to London:

I held the scrunched up napkin in my hands and told my two fellow pilgrims, “This napkin is the pilgrims and my hands are Italy.” Then I wrapped my hands gently around the napkin and held it to my heart.

“This is what it feels like to be a pilgrim here.”

I have spent the last forty days in Italy, traversing its length from Rome right up north to the base of the Alps, where I sit now whilst writing.

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It has been the most incredible forty days. I have run through Tuscany’s rolling hills, I have clamoured alongside Lazio’s motorway, I have plodded through Lombardy’s endlessly flat rice fields and I have limped my way through more hours than I care to count. Through it all, the ever-present warmth and care of Italy for it’s pilgrims has nudged me on when I felt I had no more to give.

Here I have lost my heart and I am not sure I will quite feel complete ever again until I return. The joy of bathing in Italy’s musical language has been a rollercoaster ride of fun, confusion and education. I am now fairly fluent in the essentials of saying no but ‘grazie‘ to the constant lifts I am offered, explaining that ‘si,’ I am travelling ‘a piedi‘ and have done all, ‘tutti,’ by foot from Roma and will ‘finisce a Londra‘. To their shocked faces I explain that I am a pilgrim, ‘sono una pellegrina‘ and as their faces show recognition, ‘ah, la Via Francigena?’ and I nod, they wish me luck, ‘buona fortuna‘ or ‘in bocca al lupo‘ and drive off. It is a conversation I have at least five times a day.

Italy’s stunning landscapes have surprised me time and again. From crossing streams in thick forests to climbing mountain passes, every day brings with it a new terrain and a new challenge for me to encounter. I love just trusting myself to the route waymarkers and seeing what will happen. The route, the Via Francigena, does occasionally spit me out in a field someplace with no indication of what to do next and no clue where I might have gone wrong, but on the whole, I can trust it to get me to my end destination for the day. Every time I pass a marker, I say a little “grazie” to whoever took the time out of their day to put it there.

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The red and white stripe on that tree is waymarker for the route

I also say a “grazie” to all the people in towns on the route who put water or food out for pilgrims to take, for the people who keep a room in their house for passing pilgrims to stay in overnight, for the people who’s religion leads them to show kindness to the pilgrims who come asking for a place to stay. I have stayed with nuns, monks, priests. I have stayed in convents, monasteries, churches and a 1000 year old Cistercian abbey.

To be a pilgrim in Italy is to feel a whole country take you into its arms and guide you gently through.

I am now halfway through my run home from Rome. Tomorrow I will go to Switzerland and leave this wonderful country behind. I have no idea what awaits me in Switzerland or France but I already feel a deep sadness about leaving Italy that will take a while to overcome.