Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mal di Maine - Mal du Pays

A friend told me it exists. Yes, there is such a thing. It is called "Mal di Maine" (Mal Du Pays). It hits you if you are longing to go back to Maine every summer.

I wanted to go back and we did. Same town, same beach, same experience. We went to Ogunquit, for the second time, for a week. And now I am wondering why I did not grow tired of it, why I love this place so much and want to go back next year.

Could it be the lobster seafood extravaganza dinners? Could it be the smell of the pine trees mixed with the scent of the North Atlantic Ocean? The weathered cedar shingles and climbing flowers framing the windows of the old cottages sitting on Maine's rugged seacoast? The optical illusions in the art galleries? The European looking swimming costumes on the beach? Or perhaps the French language sounding in the background? It is hard to believe but at the local pizzeria the waiter talked to me in French. I also had detailed conversations in French about how to catch crabs with the kids Tronk was playing with. Funny. I was having those same conversations on a French beach thirty five years ago. Tronk was surprised to hear me speak French. He was smiling, almost enchanted, and was trying to repeat a few words, just like he recently started doing with John in English. There was magic in it.

There are a few other things I don't understand. How is it possible that we were walking, along nice paths, marked by beautiful houses, perfumed flowers and scenic views of the ocean, from our place to the beach, every day, instead of driving? How is it possible that there was no smell of burgers, Dunkin Donuts and chips, that the nearby markets were mostly selling salads, fruits and bread, that sandwiches were simple, that gelato was not an exotic thing from Italy and that the barista at the coffee shop knew all about macchiato? How can be possible that there were very few obese people, that the women were wearing dresses, instead of shorts and sweats, and that there were tanned men in white buttoned shirts and khaki pants looking at the ocean? And how come there were old-fashioned cute little stores (the corrispondent of the petits magasins in France) always open until late? Was I still in America?

Last year I wrote a posting on how much this place reminded me of the French village my parents used to take me to when I was a child. This year, going to Maine not only reminded me of my childhood in France but it also felt a bit as if we were able to come out of America and take a breath of fresh air. My father used to say: andiamo in Francia in vacanza perche' abbiamo bisogno di una vacanza fuori dall'Italia e senza italiani (we are going to France on vacation because we need to take a vacation outside Italy and without the Italians). Funny how perspectives are passed from parent to child. 

Now Tronk is jumping up and down, while looking at the photos below and he is asking me when we are going back to Maine.

 So tell me, what is it? Mal di Maine?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ti racconto una storia - I'll tell you a story

This morning, Tronk came up with a story. He asked me to write it down. I did. These are the exact words he used. 

C'era una volta Principessa Enrica. Poi c'era un bimbo che si chiamava Mogli nella foresta. Viveva con gli animali. Enrica era con la sua amica Lisa. Andavano a fare tutte le cose che volevano. Mogli ando' ad abitare con loro in una casa con tante cose da fare. C'erano dei vestiti ed un potty per fare la pipi'. Volelano fare le cose che volevano, le cose piu' belle del mondo. Ed il mondo si muoveva e loro andavano in tutte le regioni dell'Italia e cosi' vissero felici e contenti.


In English:

Once Upon a Time there was Princess Enrica. Then there was a child who was called Mogli, who was living in the forest. He was living together with the animals. Enrica was there with her friend Lisa. They were doing all the things they wanted. Mogli went to live with them in a house with so many things to do. There were clothes and a potty to pee. They wanted to do many things, the most beautiful in the world. And the world was moving with them and they went to all the regions of Italy and they lived happily ever after.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Torn Between Two Worlds - Divisa Tra Due Mondi

Spending a week with Adelina, who came to visit me straight from Italy, has made me realize that, no matter what I say or do, on the one hand, I am and will always be Italian, but on the other I wonder if they should take away my Italian passport. Let me explain.

My friend, who lived both in London and in the US for a few years, last night, made it all clear to me. Enough with bad food, enough with badly dressed people, enough with friends who cannot cook, and the people who cannot sit down and enjoy the beauty of what is in front of them. Enough trying to teach Americans how to live. Our five hour chat, which started at dinner and ended at 2 am, did not change either of our minds. She has made her decision. She will go back to Italy. For good. 

We talked about the booming job market in San Francisco, about the never ending unemployment in Italy, and about the Italian "vasca" (the catwalk in the piazza in the city center, where one shows off one's designer clothes. Sadly, this is still one of the most common pastimes among friends in Italy.) We talked about the never ending lunches and dinners and the inability to get anything done in between them in Italy. We talked about the superficiality, inefficiency and unreliability of people in all aspects of life in our country. We talked about the vague and melodramatic promises of love and affection, about the childish Italian men, who force women in Italy to take all the responsibilities in the house, in addition to working outside the house - the dolce vita is not for women! - She agreed that the amount she gets from one job in America, she would probably have to earn it from two or three jobs in Italy. We talked about the handmade goods made by the Italian artisans and about the likelihood that their children will decide to do something else (or emigrate) and that Italy, as a result, will lose the quality of life is known for. We talked about all this. At the end, Adelina said, loud and clear, that she feels there is no better way then the Italian lifestyle and that she will leave her job in the US at the end of the year to go back to Italy. To make her reasons clearer, she showed me the latest Fiat 500 commercial. 

Watch it, if you haven't done it already. It will make you realize what is missing here in the US.

The truth is that the revolution of hedonism, sense of style, good food and beauty, has never arrived here in the US. And probably this is not a bad thing. I am starting to think that this is why there is a sense of morality here instead (respect, responsibility, family, commitment and willingness to work hard without complaining). Here in the US, people who are past the age of twenty-five, who are still at home being pampered by their parents, are hard to find. As a result, life is better. Yet most Italians I know who live in the US have an infinite nostalgia for the dolce vita and they are not happy here. They are not happy here because life is harder. The average American wakes up at 5:00 am, goes to the gymn and then to work, then back home, to put their children to bed. Everyday. With an average of two weeks of holiday per year, which most people use to go see their families.

Imagine how much harder is life here for an expat. We are far away from home, friends and family. We lose our holiday traditions. There is nothing close to the Italian and English Christmas here in Boston (who is talking about Christmas? and where is the smell of the panettone, minced pies and mulled wine filling the air?) The traditions we are so fond of suddenly fall into oblivion. Then we have cultural misunderstandings. The things we love the most about one culture can cause us the most frustration when things get difficult. Then there is the language. In order to understand the nuances of the language in the country where we live and not feel like outsiders, we throw ourselves in the other language and forget our own. Then we have children.

We struggle to only speak our language to them although we  are told, on a daily basis, that as soon as our children will enter kindergarten, then will quickly abandon our language. It is not encouraging. We never feel at home, we are not comfortable with many decisions we are forced to make on a daily basis and we end up missing home, which always feels far away. So our vacations take a whole new meaning: visiting family and teaching our children a second language. Since we live so far from my family, I can't remember the last time we took a long vacation without having to spend time with my parents. I love visiting them, but it can put a big strain on our marriage since we never really get a "true" vacation to places we would like to visit and know nothing about. No matter how much you love your spouse or the job that keeps you in a foreign country, you still have to come to term with all this.

I wish I could live in Italy but without the Italians, I once said to John. Can you imagine? Who would do the cooking in Italy if the Italians weren't there? Who would wax the marble floors in the houses? Who would clean the shop windows, iron the bed sheets leaving that divine smell in the air? Who would struggle to be outside, in winter, in all weather conditions, selling vegetables at the local market? Who would obsessively continue to pursue the style of the famous designers while they are having their long lunches with their friends? Who would continue to portray the image of the Italian dolce vita? What would Italy turn into without the Italians, their passions, bad vices and weaknesses?

So here I am, in America, surrounded by a bunch of Italians who are forced to choose between two opposite worlds and who, at the end, are neither Italian, nor American and who struggle to choose the best from both worlds for their children.

How easy is for a child to grow among two (or more) cultures? I am off to buying this book. Hopefully, it will have a few positive answers.