Second Impressions of Italy
Dedicated to my mama
It has been five years since my inaugural trip to Italy, and nothing and everything has changed. Orvieto, the Umbrian hill town from where I’m writing, does not seem to have succumbed at all to the passage of time. Then again, does anything in Italy? History breathes along with the people here. The Roman metro is a mere two lines because ruins and artifacts already occupy most of the city’s subterranean land. Orvieto houses twelve hundred caves, most of them privately owned because they happen to exist under family homes. The modern winery where I am staying stores its elegant wines in an Etruscan cellar constructed in 600 BC.
Despite the immutable history of the place, everything has changed because I have changed. I am a different person, five years older and wiser and, to be quite honest, happier. Unselfconscious. When I arrived in this sunlit country in 2012, I was suffering a relapse of my anorexia without even realizing it. I had taken an internship over the summer in a new city, and the stress of the changes triggered, as it still does, anxiety and a subsequent desire for control. Nowadays I have healthy coping mechanisms for stress, but back then my recovery was still fresh and fragile. I’m still startled every time I look back on my photos from that trip; I was so obviously underweight. I was healthy enough, so luckily the relapse didn’t detract from the experience – it was life-changing – but I am delighted to be back as my healthiest self. Now at home in my body, I am free to become blissfully unaware of it and melt into my surroundings. I collect sensory snapshots, flitting like quicksilver from moment to moment:
Creamy and cold melon sorbetto in the evening
Hot, dusty runs through the vines, prickly grasses slapping at my legs
Pulling on tree branches dripping with bright cherries, so abundant that no one bothers picking them
Mingling salty dried tomatoes and sweet dates, from market to hand to mouth
Cool water from public fountains older than my country
Lemon and mint and rum after dinner
Listening to golden barley fields sway in the breeze
Italian tumbling everywhere, arguments and children spilling into the streets
Old men quaffing warm wine in the morning
Olive, salt, grapes, heat.
Sitting on a rooftop terrace with my mom, we smoke cigarettes and drink red wine and talk about Sofia Coppola. Neither of us smokes, but it feels like the Italian thing to do and I love it. I wonder if it’s possible to miss a life I’ve never had. Rome makes me hungry, so hungry, for love and bread and sex and sun. Appetites I didn’t know I had surface in that city. I become obsessed with light. I never want to sleep. I am my favorite self. Perhaps the jolt of recognition I experience there, the vague sense of familiarity, is because I am returning to myself. Like my mother, Roma made me. She always brings me back.