After so long abroad, I think I expected to be more affected by culture shock than this. Instead, I’m so happy to be home, that it doesn’t bother me very much.
To tell you the truth, it’s the fact that my family and relatives are here that makes this place “home” for me. I have spent so many years overseas, that I actually feel a bit of a foreigner here in the U.S. As I said to my Roman friends, before leaving the Eternal City for the New World, “I feel more like an immigrant going to seek her fortune in the land of the American dream than like a U.S. citizen coming home.”
Well, after having spent a full 16 years in Italy, including those all-important years of high school and college, how could I expect it to be any different? I spent my adolescence listening to Italian pop music and hanging out in the piazza drinking spuma (if Italians had root beer, that would be it). When I moved back to New York at the age of 23, I realized I dressed like an Italian and talked like a foreigner, (I got kind of tired of hearing, “Where did you learn your English? It’s so good!”). I did make a go of it, for a good six years, between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that was the first time I’d lived in America since the tender age of 8.
Eventually, though, the travel-bug came back, and I headed back to Europe to make a go of it again. My most recent stop was Rome, where I lived for nearly seven years – until the 1st of July, 2013, to be precise, on which date I closed up my suitcases and got on a plane to come home, determined that this time, finally, I would make America my home. I intend to explore it and experience it, live it and record it, see all those magnificent places that Europeans dream of when they envision America – the great national parks and forests (and the little ones, too), those endless expanses of desert, of prairie, of sky, of hills and mountains, rolling green farmlands and those wild places where you can still feel the awe of standing in a place where man does not hold sway, where people have not tilled and tamed the land for so many thousands of years as to have left an indelible mark upon it.
I do admit, one thing I will miss about Europe, something that was especially evident in a city such as Rome, is that feeling of being in constant touch with millennia of history, of having thousands of years of it beneath your feet – and I don’t mean a dry kind of history. Think for a minute of walking on stones where men and women have been placing their feet for countless generations, and the dramas that played out every day – the sacking of cities, the rise and fall of empires and republics, the deaths of loved ones, the birth of children, shops opened, houses built, loves and victories won and lost… the tragedies and triumphs of their lives, both the large and the small, which became the stuff of scholars and chroniclers, but to them were as real and poignant as our own. Think not of the Emperor walking to the Coliseum, but of the mother pulling her child by the hand alongside it so she can get to the nearby market before all the best produce is gone. How did she live? What was her daily life like? What did she think of the politics of her day? Did she go to see the Orators speak in the Forum? Begin thinking like this, and history becomes real, becomes fathomable, tangible.
For many years, I made the mistake that many foreigners make: I thought that, because America is young, its history could not be as rich as that of the Old World. Not so. Let us leave aside, for a moment, the fact that Christopher Columbus discovered this New World in the same year that Lorenzo the Magnificent of the Medici family died, at a moment when Michelangelo had yet to conceive of his greatest creations. These American continents were already being put on the maps and the Renaissance was only just beginning. Do not think we are so young, not really.
Humanity has not had the time to leave such a visible impression here as in Europe, but we have been striving to build something marvelous and unique for over 200 years, and that which we have built, as well as the beauty of those places where nature still prevails, is as thrilling and wondrous as standing in the Roman Forum, walking along Hadrian’s Wall or stepping into the Chartres Cathedral. It is not antiquity in and of itself which makes history fascinating and worthy of interest, but the greatness of human achievements, and in our relatively short history, we have dreamed and built, done and created things which no nation had dreamed were possible before we proved they could be built, could be done.
Part of my personal fascination, I realize, is knowing that I have a real connection to the history here, blood I can trace that lets me know that my family has contributed to shaping this nation since before the time of the Civil War. It is one thing to love a place, as I have loved, and with all my heart, Italy and other places in Europe where I have lived or which I have visited. It is an entirely different feeling to know that I have roots somewhere, bonds that I have not created myself, but ties which are mine by birth, by family. And that place is here, in the United States of America.
So, after so many years on the other side of the ocean, where do I go? How do I begin to understand and decide which is the place where I will finally set down my suitcase?
The Adventures of an Expat Returned will document my search for that place.
I hope you’ll enjoy exploring with me.