Something about this blog—my blog—has been bothering me for a while. I attempted to address it months ago, but had technical difficulties pulling off what I had in mind. What irritated me was this: by focusing only on those things that I love about France and Italy (and the list is long), I was somehow laying a facade, or a sheen—a sort of perfectly smiling mask—over what is often a deeply flawed and comical existence. Like any human existence. You can’t be the “foreigner” in a situation without being simultaneously the one who doesn’t get it or the one who says the wrong thing at the wrong time or, simply and most painfully, the one who sometimes doesn’t belong.
There are also, despite the countless reasons to feel that your soul has literally been saved by shifting continents, many things about your adopted country that drive you virtually mad. Sometimes, you can’t stand it. You can’t help it. You are what you are, and in some very surreal ways, you become more deeply what you are as time goes by in a strange and foreign land—no matter how much you love it, and no matter how much you feel that it is where you belong.
No honest ex-pat story is complete without this side of the affair. No rollicking tale of paté and open-air markets, Alessi design and French wines, can go for long without the—let’s be honest here—more interesting human underpinnings: confusion, alienation, fear, hilarity, and the pharmaceutical cocktail that makes it all okay in the end. One part patience/one part persistence, shaken, on the rocks.
The fairy tale has two protagonists—a fair princess named Sometimes and her awkward, pimply twin, Reality. “The Daily Cure” is my way of giving thanks for those Sometimes moments that make life amazing. “Confessions of an Ex-Patriot” is my way of putting those thanks in a context that helps them make sense. There’s a reason I love trams and bicycles so passionately, and it’s not just environmental conscientiousness. It has as much to do with never having grown comfortable navigating Italian streets in a motorized hunk of metal. I drive, yes, but I’m not a native behind the wheel. I sweat. I panic. I lose my sense of direction. I stall, freeze, break laws flagrantly. Voilà—the seeds of a story, the beginnings of a confession yet to be told in its entirety.
Some confessions will be memories of things past. Others will be “live.” In any case, I hope you’ll hang in there with me through these unavoidable aspects of Life Abroad that most certainly were not, are not, and will never be ready for their close-ups but which are nonetheless a part of this struggle called happiness.
My thanks to Ann Moore for copy-editing this post.
A lot of my friends assume that because we have a house in Italy we will eventually live there full time. As much as I love my time there, this will never happen. Like you, I find driving a difficult business, I like to watch movies in their original language, I expect reasonable TV, I like to be able to go to an office and expect the person who works there to do his/her job etc. We know what to do in a country where we grew up. Everything is different in a foreign country – not worse, not better, just different – and therefore not always easy. Sometimes you just need something familiar.
I notice that flights, taking off and landing, are a big deal for me. They are always laden with meaning and emotion. I’m almost always leaving one home, only to fly toward another. I don’t breathe the same here as I do in the US. The air is different. The buzz is different. I am happy going in both directions, and find that each has become a sort of “home” base, a safe place, from the other, though having children here has tipped my personal scale towards Italy/Europe as home. But that’s another story.
sometimes i feel like an ex-pat in my own country: the language sounds like mumbledy desperate, chaotic “i’m right and it’s just not fair!”-ish bleating — which, when my mind goes fuzzy and indifferent, is actually a relief, cuz then i don’t/can’t pay attention to the literalness of the words; the urban design an inexplicable, irrational paving of cowpaths and disappointing aesthetic choices without any regard to history, human scale or feeling; systems and infrastructure an archaic tangle of ivy, spit and dang ol’ “cuz we wanna do it this-away”-ness.
my reaction: what the –?
I totally understand this. Let enough time pass, and anything, any place we think we’ve known will change in weird unfamiliar ways. It’s one of the themes that interests me, if I ever get around to writing about it…that one becomes an expat in one’s own life. I think, in a weird say, that’s why I like being one literally. It’s like living in the metaphor that stands for the way life is anyway. Eventually, at some point, you’re on the outside looking in. And you move in and out of belonging as you go. Into relationships that work, then don’t. Jobs that are great, then suddenly aren’t. Economies. Geographies. The list is endless. Thanks for pitching this in. Much food for thought.
I really appreciate the vulnerability in your writing.
Thanks, Shannon. Sometimes it’s hard to get there, but I think it’s really important to the honesty of the thing, so I have to keep trying.
Now you’re really writing. Wow.
just barely but you can’t blame a girl for trying. thanks for the encouragement. Wine glass in hand, Charlotte
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