In case you were wondering:
It’s been over a month now that I’ve been back from my latest trip to Italy and have yet to recap my amazing winter holiday. Well, the truth is, once I got back to the U.S. it was already two days into the new year and things were…changing. I sat down several times to pen some thoughts so I could remember them while they were fresh with the intention to come back to them as soon as possible. As January crept on, I knew my mind was becoming occupied by what was happening on my home front, in my home nation I decided to take step away from magical thinking so I could wrap my head around everything American Carrie was about to face. Well, things have gotten rather ugly here in the Red, White, and Blue(s) with a major shift in the White House and my thinking has been almost solely focused how the heck we’re going to survive this guy. And no, this not American Exaggeration, but a very genuine fear echoed throughout the globe. So, after a pause, I decided now is the time to let my heart drift back to a period of ten days spent with my beloved and dear ones and, well, here you have it, my beautiful last days of 2016
Okay, I did it…finally. After all these years of thinking about it and pondering it, I finally went to Italy for Christmas and New Years Eve and it was, in a word, magical.
I had been considering this for a long time and after some thought, some daydreaming, and some conversations with Filippo, I decided, “perche no? VACANZA” and booked a flight. I didn’t tell Claudio, only hinted that I’d be coming…probably. I soon began working on how I was going to surprise my best friend for the holidays until the moment finally happened. I arrived in Rome on the 23rd of December and hid under the careful watch of Valeria. She and I arranged how and when the big reveal would happen later that night and I had my directions and timeline and all I had to do was wait…anxiously. Around 8pm, that evening, I was in place at this little bar call Il Palchetto. I sat there wringing my hands and avoiding direct light so that I wouldn’t be seen until it was time. Some friends of his, individuals I knew, others I didn’t know well or at all, began streaming in one by one. Finally, I heard his laughter as he entered and I strategically situated myself in a corner. At this point I really didn’t know what to do. Should I spring up and shout “SURPRISE” or just wait? At the end I just sat there with my chin in my hands until finally he saw me. His mouth dropped open and we both immediately started to shake with a nervous, happy energy until finally we were hugging and jumping and probably mumbling a language spoken by only those who know what it’s like to live an ocean apart from loved ones . It was one of those “never forget this” moments and his surprised face is a permanent photo in my mind’s eye. Most of those who were present knew our dynamic and were pleased to see this happy reunion. Others were a bit confused and had a “what in the hell is happening” look on their faces, but over all it truly felt like the magic of Christmas fluttered my heart as if I were a little kid once again.
After the shock of surprise eased up, we found ourselves sliding right back into our usual behavior; laughing inappropriately and retelling famous stories of our life together to those new to the Carrie and Claudio show. There were many moments when we just looked at one another and smiled ear to ear and let the pure joy of this delicate moment of life take over. Of course we stayed out way too late on my first night, but anything else would be wasted shame. When I woke the next morning, I found myself in a panicked sweat, wondering where in the heck I was and who was lying next to me. This always happens to me on Night One as my body attempts to adjusts to the different sounds, lack of sleep, and the surroundings which have become a dreamlike familiarity. When I come to my senses and realize who that full head of bouncy hair belongs to, I just smile and go back to sleep. I’m home.
The following afternoon we took the train to Civitavecchia where we spent the next three days celebrating Christmas in a traditional, Italian family way. This translates to – we spent three days eating as if it truly were the final days of our time on earth. Anyone who knows how a real Italian dining experience shakes down will know that you must pace yourself and at the holidays, oh lord! Just wear yoga pants or, as we call them in my family, “buffet pants”. The majority of our time was spent surrounding the table, stuffing our faces and drinking wine. With the amount of food consumed and the naturally funny disposition of the family, my pant situation became quite troublesome as each laugh caused me to feel as if I were literally about to burst apart and leave my American remains strewn across this lovely family’s home. My face was puffy and red, my eyes were constantly wet with tears from laughing, and everything hurt! But, this was all a small price for the overwhelming happiness I felt being present with these people for Christmas.
Once the dinner finally dwindled down, Claudio and I took a walk and met our friend Alberto, as their family homes are both in this small port city about 40 minutes north of Rome. It had been at least two years since I had last seen Albe but, as per usual, nothing had changed and we eased back into conversations and laughter as if only a week had passed. As the three of us walked down by the water, Alberto’s body language stiffened a bit as her turned directly toward me, squinted his eyes and tilted his head slightly. “I can’t believe you are here with us again. Every time I see you in my home town it’s just…it’s beautiful” he said as his face and eyes softened to a smile. I couldn’t bear my emotions and I had to reach out and hug my funny, beautiful, stupid, clever friends. These boys, I tell ya! Just looking at them and sharing space with them melts my heart. A moment taken, and then back to laughing at old stories and enjoying the cold, damp air of the little town by the sea.
The next few days were spent like any other family; eating, drinking, napping and laughing. It was quiet and very relaxing, keeping my mind light and happy and I felt as familiar with these people as I do my own family. They are, after all, in my heart and a portion of my personal story now. Eventually Claudio and I headed back to Rome and stopped for a few beers and a few laughs in bar located in my favorite piazza in the Monti neighborhood. So far, everything was indicating that this holiday for the holidays was exactly the right choice.
For Claudio and other friends it was back to work as usual while I took my time sleeping in and sipping my coffee slowly each morning until venturing out for shopping or my usual gazing up, down, and side to side and generally just wandering around without an agenda or timeline. In the evenings, when everyone was getting off work, we’d meet for a drink and then have dinner. Aside from clocking in at a job, everything else on those days felt very domestic, as if I were a resident.
One Thursday evening I headed to the Piazza di Spangna for a walk and to visit Filippo. He works for a fashion retailer in a posh location filled with Italians and tourists alike. I felt a bit under dressed, in jeans in a sweater, to walk into such a fancy place, but after all I was on holiday and had my American charm working in m favor…right? As soon as I entered the store I was greeted by smiling Italians and told my friend was on the second level. I sauntered upstairs, gazing at the beautifully sculpted clothing which were displayed like art along the walls. Once I was all the way up, I was greeted again and told I could wait for Fili there, seated on a comfy sofa. A nice gentleman named Alessandro I had met a few days prior, a friend of Fili’s and also a coworker, emerged and we exchanged a double kiss and again, was welcomed as if I were special or able to spend the kind of money needed for such a place. “Would you like some champagne or coffee?” he asked with a charming smile. I rarely turn down coffee when I’m in Rome. That’s like the crack head denying a hit. He quickly disappeared to the back somewhere and I made myself comfortable, looking around at the artfulness of the boutique and felt that I must look like a character from a Julia Roberts movie as I continued studying the way clothes were arranged and lit. Oddly enough I didn’t feel uncomfortable or unwelcome as everyone I had encountered had made me feel as of they were all happy to meet me. Alessandro reappeared holding a tray topped with a steaming espresso and a bottle of sparkling water wearing a huge smile on his face. And, as if from a Mr. Bean movie, he moved in closer and, what felt like slow motion, his hand tripped and the tiny mug of espresso leaped from the tray and on to my lap, giving my jeans a new, deep, brown color. Mortified, Alessandro began to excessively apologize. “Oh, Carrie. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” he repeated as he shook his head and attempted to help me clean up. I immediately started to giggle, trying to assure him that I was fine. I smiled at him and said, “Perche no? Vacanza!” He smiled back with a look of defeat but muttered back, “perched no…vacanza”. When Filippo came into the room, it seemed only appropriate to add insult to injury and poke fun of the situation. I stood up to hug him and said, “I came to visit you at your fancy shop and they threw coffee on me.” We all began to laugh more and the other staff shook their heads. I’m not sure what was funnier – the fact that Alessandro spilled coffee on someone or the fact that he spilled coffee on Filippo’s American friend who showed up to a designer clothing shop in jeans and a stupid sweater. Nevertheless, it made a great story to tell later that evening. Fili showed me around the shop and explained to me how he spends most of his days. It was lovely to see this side of him and brought me closer into his daily life in Rome. I loved seeing this side of him, of his professional personality. It’s these tiny things that give you more insight into your friend’s lives, to see how they operate when they are auditing. It was beautiful.
Soaked in coffee and snaking through the evening crowd, I hopped back on the tube and met up with Claudio as he was finishing up work. Everyone seemed a bit tired and instead of going out that night we decided to go back the the flat and order in – pizza, of course! It was Holy Thursday after all. Since it felt like one of those cozy nights, we crawled into comfy clothes and went up to Giovanni’s, a friend and coworker of Claudio and Valeria, in the same building. It was a cold night so after dinner we watched a movie in our jammies. It was quiet and comfortable, just the way Thursdays were meant to be.
My last few days were quick. On New Year’s Eve we all went to the little coffee bar Il Palchetto, where I started this holiday. It was a fun night with typical toasts and cheers, awkward dancing and everything else one would expect from the night. However, what made this one special was that I turned over into 2017 with these individuals. I hugged each of them long and tightly, wishing only for one thing; that they know how much I love them. We stayed up well into the wee hours and slept in the next day. It was my last day in Rome with no time for dressing up or caring about how I looked. It was, however, suited for spending my final hours laughing and feeling cozy. Claudio and I went to Fili’s for lunch in our sweats, creeping through the city like mice and out of sight to many. And on that final day I let them wait on me, serving food, wine, and coffee. I accepted everything offered and, as I always do in my last day, reminded myself of how lovely this simple scene is and that it is part of my life now, part of my Italian life.
The day became the night and dinner was another quiet event with good friends and of course, the dreaded farewell hugs and kisses. I will always have at least one tear when I give my friends one last kiss. it is what It is until it’s time to reunite again
It was getting very late, close to 1:00 a.m., and I had to be up to catch an early flight in just a few hours. But, as we were so tired, a couple of hours of sleep came easy and before the sun rose Claudio and I were up, headed to the airport.
“We aren’t going to cry because we will see each other in a few months” Claudio said as we kissed and hugged and waved, “see you soon”.
Ciao, Italia. You know I’ll be back.
So, that is the very edited down version, leaving out some private moments to keep them sacred. I’m glad I took a pause before making it public because, as stated earlier, recalling these times helps to ease the anxiety of dealing with every day American life, this shit show of a melt down happening in my country. Thinking on the smiles, laughs, and profoundly truthful moments was like a mini mind vacation. Because…#perchenovacanza.