Notes from the Field: the comings and goings of a transplanted life

Notes from the Field: the comings and goings of a transplanted life

In a few days I’ll be back in Perugia, my hometown, at my parents’ place. As departure approaches, I ready myself for a rite of passage with a 22-year-old history.

I will reimmerse myself in dear relationships and known daily rhythms, landscapes, smells, and sounds. I’ll return to my father’s odorous garden, my mother’s Umbrian cooking, my sister’s hugs, their Italian voices, the neighbors Lidia, Elena, who’ll stop by to welcome me home.

Part of me never left. I could’t take it with me. Only its impressions, its sensitivity and the cyclical homesickness they ignite followed me here.

I cannot recreate, relive or reenact those emotions, those sensorial experiences in New York, because they didn’t originate here. Proust’s magnificent “In Search of Lost Time” wouldn’t work. I could dunk as many Madeleine cookies as I wanted in my tea, but when I tried they didn’t trigger memories. I was disappointed.

With my sister Simona walking around Perugia’s historic center

Let’s face it. The water is different, the madeleines and the tea are too, and even if they weren’t, I am not in Umbria, in my parent’s kitchen fresh with cooking, savoring that tea, dipping that biscuit. The essence of that day dwells there and there alone.

After more than two decades in the States, where I feel I belong just as much, crossing the ocean is like stepping through the portal into a parallel reality. An alternate cultural universe defined by a different idiom, customs, food traditions, personal grooming, family dynamics, currency, rhythm of life, rule of government – you name it. Italy and the United States may share the same hemisphere and Western civilization, but moving to and from the countries hardly feels like that.

Yet, I am both, and both are home. However not in equal measure. I am much more present here – I write in English, not Italian. Thus, I need to adjust as I prepare to resume one identity over the other. Even for the short span of a few weeks vacation.

To help with the transition, I ease my daily pace and consciously make room for Italy.

I write less, for a lot of my American self goes into it. I cook a little less too, I focus on remembering the part, as if I’m entering a character. I organize the final details of the trip, leave a to-do list for the super who’ll look after my apartment, make a round of phone calls to family and friends here to say goodbye, I’ll be away and I will see them when I return. “Can I bring you back anything?” I occasionally ask.

I always bring a few presents anyway, Deruta pottery, my father’s jams, or whatever tickles my fancy. They all love it!

By the time I have to leave, I’m ready. Both my American and Italian personas are at my fingertips. I’ll be American all the way to Rome, then switch to the Italian side as I get off the flight and reach the European passport line at Fiumicino airport.

I’m home, sono a casa.

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