It’s like coming out of hibernation. After months of life in the States, I come back to Perugia for a few weeks and…whoosh! I’m pulled back in. The Italian portal opens up and I tumble through, hurrying to awake my idle roots.
There’s no time for negotiation. I cannot show up a foreigner back home. Awaiting me are my Umbrian parents, ensconced in the sameness of their cherished rituals: the daily cooking, home tending, growing organic vegetables, marking the calendar when to buy wine and olive oil from their trusted local farmer.
I look forward to finding respite in my old home, the white house with brown shutters where we moved when I was in fifth grade. My mother will make her fragrant garden soup, a remedy that we’re convinced settles the stomach after a long trip.
It’s important for me to return in peak Tiziana form, to reassure my family and myself that life abroad didn’t alter the memories or dull my appreciation of where I come from. Honoring my origins is a duty I’ve embraced with diligence over the years, no matter how fatiguing it’s been to practice. I’m engrossed by the experience of how I can be different people at once, and embody the appropriate persona in the appointed culture.
Interactions with family, friends or my fellow Perugini are guided by old family roles and code, that complex embroidery of expectations and norms that rule one’s social connections. For example, my parents will set the daily menu while I will mostly help out, and occasionally cook one of the dishes I prepare in New York. My sister, for her part, sets aside a busy law practice to share lunch and dinner together, the way we used to do when I lived here. We recompose the family an ocean now separates.
Outings are planned to avoid disrupting the foundational Italian dynamic of togetherness: what if my mother were to prepare a big meal, but only some of us showed up at the table? Santo cielo!
In Perugia I dress up even if I go to the grocery store, since aesthetics play a larger role in Italian culture than in the American one. I kiss people on both cheeks (right first), I use a formal way of address with older generations and new acquaintances, I do not tip (service is included), and I remind myself that friends and neighbors are prone to stop by unannounced.
The truth is, I love all that and to call home more than one country. Plus, coming back to Perugia and reversing the perspective – Italian outside with an American lining – has the benefit of reminding me how to enjoy, rather than judge, what makes each of my countries so different and irreplaceable.