Southern Charm

After my first weekend trip to southern Italy during Easter weekend, I quickly realized I had the South all wrong. I associated it with the mafia, warmer weather, and cannolis, but any expectations stopped there.

In class, we discuss the southern small businesses that are forced to pay allowances to mafia members each month, just to insure the safety of their families and business.

The documentary Italy: Love It or Leave It showcased one Sicilian farmer who denied the mafia’s demands, suggesting there’s no progress in giving them what they want. As a result, the mafia burned his tractors and he was ostracized by his family and friends. It’s something few Americans are aware of; and no, watching The Godfather or Jersey Shore doesn’t count.

The beautiful Aeolian Islands
The beautiful Aeolian Islands

To our pleasant surprise, the Aeolian Islands welcomed us with warm weather Easter weekend, a post-hike picnic on a volcano, and a spontaneous Vespa cruise. We enjoyed cannolis courtesy of Alzo, the generous and chatty Sicilian fisherman, who only spoke Italian. He force fed us homemade cheese, poured us wine we didn’t request, and called his friend in Naples for me to talk to, also in Italian. So we got two out of three, but I’ll take wonderful people in lieu of the mafia any day.

This past weekend, my family ventured south to the small city of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Just like Alzo, what stands out the most for me is the people. They had days spent on the beach, amazing local seafood and a sunset private boat cruise to compete with, yet somehow that southern charm trumps all.

At breakfast one morning in Positano, we met thee Teresa, of our Bed and Breakfast, Casa Teresa. Thrilled to find out I speak un puo Italian, she quickly jumped into stories of her family and expressed genuine interest in our travels. Sure enough her daughter and son-in-law live in Wisconsin, which prompted her to get her iPad (tech savviness I underestimated of Teresa) and show us pictures of her granddaughter’s first communion.

Positano
Positano

This semester, we realized the Italians have a forceful approach to hospitality, which rang true here too. It’s not a matter of if you want to sit down, have more coffee or take their recommendations; before long you find yourself at a table with the best view, on your fourth caffé, and eating a meal the waiter ordered for you.

It brings a charming, although confusing, sense of security. Somehow in Italy, you’re always at home.

Once our time in Positano came to an end, we moved north to Naples to train further north to Cinque Terre. After rude encounters at dinner, a canceled train, and conniving taxi drivers, you could say Naples wasn’t the best experience. The details of this story could be a blog post of its own, but I think that’s the issue with vacations, or maybe humans in general. We allow one bad experience, one story of misfortune to overshadow all the beauty, adventure and laughter of our other experiences we are fortunate enough to have.

My biggest fear is coming to someone’s mind and having their last memory of me being a negative one. Similarly, I fear when my family returns to the US, the first story they will tell is that of their disastrous time in Naples- despite the historical tours of Rome, the stunning scenery of Positano and the delightfully tiring hikes in Cinque Terre.

Things can’t always go as we expect, and if they did I’m not sure we would appreciate the reliability life offered. However, recognizing and valuing the wonderful aspects of any day, vacation or life in general, takes the edge off surprises. In my case, the greatest photo-ops tend to not work out- but to be in Italy with my family, have gelato two blocks away and getting to laugh together over all my awkward photos, is something that makes this day, vacation and life, one I wouldn’t change for the world.

My gelato action shot...
My attempt at a gelato action shot…
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Finisco Finals

One of the least popular things you can say, as a college student in May, is “I’m done!”

I apologize in advance. With some finals scattered through the end of April, presentations instead of exams and a movie viewing, you could say this was one of my more enjoyable exam seasons.

Instead, I tested my emotional stability as I had many “lasts” with my wonderful abroad group of friends and prepared to say goodbye to my favorite city. I brainstormed which stories I’ll tell first, and recalled historical facts while showing my family the city. Exams are meant to see what you’ve learned throughout the semester; since Italy skipped most of those, here’s what I’m walking away with-

1. There’s always more to see: In my neighborhood, in Rome, in Italy, in Europe, in the world, this rings true. You won’t ever be able to visit or do all of it, but what would be the appeal if you could? Traveling should be a life long hobby and value, not something you do for one semester in college. There’s always something to go back for, and wherever you are, there’s always something to be discovered.

2. “Bar” refers to coffee: Classic mixup. However, my discovered love for cappuccinos made the abundance of “bars” exciting in it’s own way.

family trevi3. I’m no stranger to being wrong: I originally thought I shouldn’t go to Rome since I had been there (for two days). That was funny. I couldn’t be more pleased with my last minute decision to study abroad, or coming back to Italy. Although it wasn’t the first time I threw a coin in the Trevi, walked through the colosseum, or tasted gelato; I’m no longer the soon to be senior in high school who did all those things. I’ve retained more knowledge, appreciated more beauty and laughed with purer happiness than I could have ever imagined, especially in two days.

4. Or to being right: Noticing that I can correctly remember directions, silently say the correct answer or accurately predict friendship potential; I found how to trust my instincts and myself. Welcoming independence and confidence, this semester has continued the process of coming into my own, one I had forgot should always be in progress. Experiences like being the most trusted translator at my internship, learning the Italian language, and showing my family around this wonderful city have only magnified this.

5. Blame it on the a-a-a-alcohol: Even giving up sweets for lent can’t save you from the calories of red wine. Who knew? But  at 3 euro a bottle, I don’t think anyone is surprised.

6. How to dive deep: Whether it’s taking the time to learn about what I am seeing rather than just snapping a picture, or taking the time to correct first impressions, this semester taught me to look beneath the surface. This applies to people as well, baccina famas many of my favorite memories took place with my roommates, that started as strangers and became family.

7I’m such a mom: That wasn’t just a cliche comparison, our apartment’s family dynamics consisted of a grandma, aunt,
mom (yours truly), angsty teen and baby. From approving outfits as we left for class to internship searching for everyone, my mother goose nickname surfaced once again. Although it’s not surprising, this strong characteristic allowed me to see that regardless of the city I’m in, the friends I make or the routines I fall into, my personality will always be distinctly me.

8. Ti amo, Roma: More than anything, all of these things have made me realize that Rome will always be home. This city went from being the short term back drop of my first trip to Europe as a 17 year old to the city that celebrated my 21st birthday with me, showed me the value of history, and gave me a greater appreciation for perspectives different than my own. Although I could skip minor details like political corruption and a lack of feminism, I will always adore Rome and Italy as a whole.

Although my time is nearing an undeniable end, my experiences, appreciation for cultures and languages, along with my adoration for traveling, have made Rome a part of who I am. This semester has taught me more than any stack of notecards, bubble sheet or strict professor ever could. For this reason, I am unable to be a college student boasting that “I’m done!” because this semester, this growth, will always be with me.