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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

A quintessential expat moment

Quick note: I wrote this post back in July right after we gave notice to work and to our friends that we are leaving Rome. Four months later, I have a little more courage to publish it. I hope it speaks to some of you who have felt the same.

We have set the date for our move. It is a quintessential expat moment... but I am not feeling very expat-y at the moment.

It is not that I am not ready to leave in a way. Some really close friends have left and Rome feels smaller than it used to: more restrictive, more predictable...  but knowing that it might be time to leave has not stopped me from getting sad and wistful. Already nostalgic though our departure is 4 months away. A pre-nostalgia.

I am getting sad about leaving the Ikea shelf that we slivered a piece off to fit next to the sink, sad about my fancy hair dryer that I bought only last year after 8 years of my sucky one, sad that my kitty growing more and more blind can still find his way because he now knows the height of the couch, the spot in the kitchen where his food goes and the two spots around the apartment where his water glasses are. (He is a fancy cat).

I am even sad about the plant I got as a gift from a friend who housesat in my first apartment to myself in Rome. The plant and the memory have grown and blossomed every year for 4 years.

An expat is not supposed to feel this way. Expats, or at least our variety - the rotational expats - never seem sad about leaving. Excited yes, busy yes, boasty yes. Some tempered nostalgia is also permissible, but usually only at the goodbye party, most of the time within in the "thank you, it's been great" speech. All of these are valid expat emotions to convey. But sad, hesitant, uncertain, no.

As someone who is always ready for a new assignment, a new country, a new adventure, you as an expat are not supposed to be sad about the end of an old one. Explicitly or implicitly, you subscribed to this life of rotation; you are not supposed to be unsure of it.

So I betray my true nature with this sentiment and with this post. But I have never claimed to be 100% expat. I have never been 100% anything.The fact that I even have a cat betrays this side of me the side that will miss her plants, her matching rug, her tea kettle, blender and all the other frivolous appliances we finally allowed ourselves to buy, the side of me who will miss her spot for everything.

"You can't take it with you." In these moments, I remind myself of this wisdom.

It is a good life lesson, a mantra that expats live and breathe instinctively. But for me is not the items themselves, it is the emotion behind the stuff, the stories of buying them. Those items, but more importantly, those stories are my world, my transportable abode.

Reflecting on Rome I realize that for a little while I had a place, a country, a home. It was lent to me, never mine to keep but it was a nice sentiment. It may take years before the next city hands me its keys or before I ask for them. Then again, now that I am more of a professional in this moving business, perhaps it will only take a few days. I really don’t know what to expect. But I have latched up the suitcases and I am ready to face the landscape wherever I debark.

A reluctant expat. A reluctant citizen. I don't really know how to be either and I will probably never be fully one or the other. I don't know how to stay in one place; I don't know how to say goodbye.

In any case, I hope that one day I can carry my stories around in a smaller bag. That I can extract the story of the Mexican mirror and the gifted apron and the leftover wedding vases from the physical reminder of them and instead carry around the pure memories on their own. That the physical items and places won't constitute my feeling of home; that my stories and relationships will. I would certainly become a lighter traveler even if I remain a reluctant expat.

A fitting sign: hanging at Ca'Paravento Agriturismo