Ciao Vale: There Are No Strangers Here

Meeting new people is not uncommon to me.  I’ve been a social butterfly as long as I can remember; making friends on vacation, at camp, at the park, wherever I go.  I enjoy talking to people and learning about how others live and what makes smile, sing, dance, and cry.  And when someone opens up and shares these things with me, it’s a privilege.

I met this sweetheart for the first time about three years ago.

Rome – Spring, 2015

Claudio had recently taken on two roommates, one being his long time friend named Valeria.  I had arrived on a spring morning and settled down to nap while everyone else had gone out for afternoon errands.  I heard the door creek open and a voice, familiar to me from Skype, calling out, “Hello?”  I have to admit I was a bit nervous to make the first introduction.  This was someone whom I had never met before and am I going to make a good impression?  Mustering up, I sheepishly made my way out of the bedroom to find this tiny, doe-eyed woman with a bright smile and extended arms. “Ciao, Carrie!” she said walking toward me and embracing me tightly.  My first in-person encounter with Valeria was beautiful and set the tone for our new friendship.

Valeria is a special kind of person, a special kind of woman. While her stature is quite

Catania – Summer 2014

small, her poise and grace gives her a larger presence in a room. Never quick to blurt something out before a moment of pause, she often looks pensive and contemplative when engaging in a conversation of depth, as if she is truly absorbing the words from whomever is speaking. She houses a giant heart inside her chest supported by a warm, welcoming smile. And when she laughs it is a slow, raspy chuckle, which seems suited more for a stereotypical opera singer’s physique than her own. She is somehow simultaneously bashful and candid in her interaction, but always genuine and very patient. When I’m visiting, she welcomes me as if I live there and usually by the end of the first evening of my vacation we congregate in the kitchen to prepare dinner while sipping wine or coffee; everyone always laughing and enjoying the moment.  One summer Claudio and I met up with her in Catania while they were on summer break from work.  Again, never treated like a stranger, Vale introduced me to more people, some whom I later shared an unexpected reunion with in Rome.  Of course being the only American with all of these people was intimidating, but low and behold, I was welcome and included in the conversations, the laughs, and the adventures.  This is how the Italians operate.  The more the merrier!

Over the years we’ve gotten to know one another and shared moments of, what I consider, universal sisterhood; women seeing the value in one another and taking time to learn what makes her uniquely beautiful.   Although neither Valeria nor I have mastered exceptional bilingual talents, the mission to understand and listen to one another is always present and practiced. Professionally, she is a ballet dancer in the same company as Claudio. However, for the last several years while spending her days and evenings in rehearsals and performances, she has also been enrolled in college, fiercely studying, taking exams, and obtaining her Master’s degree. Fortunately I was present in Rome on the day she finished her final exam and was alerted that she hand, in fact, completed the necessary course work and will be granted her advanced degree. It was an honor to be present for this moment as the reality of her hard work and the delicate balance between dance and education was celebrated with a great sigh of release and later, a toast to her.

Valeria and Filippo – Fall, 2016

When I return from my trips to Italy, I share all of the stories of all of the adventures, always starting with the descriptions of the people in these tales so they get a sense of the whole scene, including the “characters”. And now my family and friends (state side) are starting to recognize the names and faces without the long explanation of how I know him or her; living these beautiful moments with these beautiful people with me.

From the first day I met Valerie to now, I’ve never felt like a stranger to her. She has always welcomed me back time and time again and always with that big smile and tight hug.  It feels as if I have been given some amazing script and told to make it my own and live it out with these people. And all I can say to myself is, “How beautiful, Carrie”.




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