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Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie

Screw you, I'm growing basil

I bought seeds, dirt and pots and planted basil, oregano, mint, rosemary and tomatoes in two sun boxes on my small balcony. There's nothing to it really. Just pouring some seeds out of a little pouch, into an average amount of dirt, patting it down and adding some water. Pre-fabricated cake mixes are more difficult. But I stood back and looked at them with immense pride, like I had just built a house.

A second later, looking at those dirt-filled boxes, it dawned on me how strange that was. Why? Why was this significant? Why, I wondered was I even compelled to write about it.

The answer is because in its small way, it is a significant moment in my life. I have lived in Rome on and off for the last 12 years, for a cumulative total of about 6. In that time, I have lived in 11 different apartments in pretty much all of the major neighborhoods of central Rome. And in those 12 years between the ages of 21 and 33, this is the first time here that I have my own sun boxes. This is the first time that I have my own curtains, my own cushions, my own rugs, picture frames, tablecloths. This is the first time in essence that I have allowed myself to buy non-essentials.

Every time that I have lived in Rome, I have lived like a tourist. Not only in the good way of keeping the awe and the intrigue in day-to-day life, but in the bad way of staying transient. Of feeling here but not here. This is the first time that I am putting down roots.

It is not that I have a longer contract or that I have even decided to make Rome my home. In fact, now more than ever, it is clear that Rome will likely never be my permanent home. But there is a part of me that can’t wait any longer. I am tired of waiting to know whether Rome will be home or not. I am tired of waiting to see how long I will live here based on work available. I am tired of waiting to see what relationships might forever bind me to this city or take me away from it.

I hadn’t realized this before: that I was waiting. I thought I was being pragmatic. I thought I was being realistic about short contracts, family ties in other places, fleeting friendships and long distance relationships. How could I be blind to these major facts and claim Rome as my home? So I was waiting. I was waiting to know. And in the meantime, 11 years have gone by with many big and small decisions in the wrinkles. And Rome, during that time, has been my home only by default.

It is only now striking me how one of life’s truths was staring at me in the face: you can’t wait for things to happen. Rome had been home without my choosing. It had happened in spite of my waiting to declare it.

So now I am choosing to make Rome my home. Honestly, I haven't had a home for so long that I don't really know what that means. But I know that one thing it means is that I am planting my own herbs.

Five months from now, my contact will end, and I will leave Rome, maybe even for good this time. But if I leave, I leave; that is what yard sales and shipping services are for. Now is now.

The essential status of my life may not have changed much in the last 12 years in terms of career, love life, family or property, but to me this is a big change. So while seemingly everyone around me is making what looks like much major life decisions, engagements, marriages, pregnancies, buying property, taking up permanent positions, I am on my own path. And on my path, this was a major milestone. So whenever I feel like the world is mocking my little steps forward, I have to just remember: “Screw you: I’m growing basil.”


  1. Congrats on the garden, there is nothing better using what you grow in a recipe. While Rome may not be your permanent home it's good to see that you're embracing where you currently are. Many times we wait for the next move and in turn miss out on what's going around us. Great post.


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