Italy is like a work of art. Oily lemon skins glisten on temporal overcast days in San’t Ambrogio. Sun pours through forest green shutters, bathing ochre walls, entangled within the vines that cascade down to the cobblestone street -- where a woman stands. In weathered maroon tights, she cradles a small leather book with old prints of automobiles, like the Madonna. You can see it in the lines on her face, deep-set as if embedded by the stylus of Donatello – the calm serenity, the silent yet profound psychology. Her people, the reasons they laugh, the reasons they cry, their idioms, voices, and above all their passion are distinctly unique and enigmatic; yet, they have this same quality that painting does to foster universal connection. Her culture is forever changing yet paradoxically impermeable to the passage of time. Thousands of enchanted visitors are drawn to her – like pilgrims they come in supplicating swarms, each armed with their own conceptions, their own judgments, their own hopes, fears, but above all, their own cultures.
No matter how hard we try to become one with “Italian culture,” there is always an impregnable wall that denies our passage. Though I find myself talking more with my hands than with my words, exclaiming mamma mia! in times of distress, and seemingly unable to go an entire day without eating at least one loaf of bread, I know I have only grazed the surface of what being a part of this culture truly means. Drying machines now seem like impossible luxuries. I try to discuss politics, the morning’s La Repubblica, life, and the cinema with my Italian famiglia, who I love deeply and already fear how much I will miss. I harvested olives with the wise and graceful women of Abruzzo, went to the opera in a modest church, shared in a life-changing experience in the Sistine Chapel, and painted Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise -- I even got to experience the Italian healthcare system in ways I never thought I would. My heart swells for the sound of the language, for the feeling of lonesomeness, for the bliss, for the heat, and for the chill. I find myself longing, wishing, and trying so hard to be Italian, but I know that I never truly can be. Inevitably, one realization is certain – I am American, and that’s okay.
To all of the people that I have met here – you have all changed my life in ways I would have never been able to imagine. These have undoubtedly been the most transformative and happiest months of my life. And to all you pilgrims, whose heart cries for Italy and for Florence, our home, our rebirth, our passion -- I part with the wise and comforting words of Dr. Seuss….
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”