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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


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dépaysé: a great French word that means disoriented from being out of your own country, or perhaps more simply put, homesick. However, when literally translated to English, you get something like un-countried. At this moment when I have left Italy and have not settled in any new one, uncountried feels like exactly the right word to describe my status.

I guess I am also experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock, but it is not really a shock anymore. I know this about coming back to North America. Whereas Rome was always a little too rude, too chaotic, too illogical for me, North America is too commercial, too fear-driven, too entertainment brainwashed. I have always sought the seemingly unattainable middle ground between these cultures: a place like the US that lets you go to the gym at midnight, drink cappuccino at any hour and makes errands so easy that you have time for other things, but a place like Italy where the other things include 4 hour meals, taking the time to make yourself presentable and walking around the city for the famous passeggiate. I love that Americans greet you with a super energetic and friendly hello in stores compared to the standard Roman scowl. But I hate that the US believes you have the right to a gun but not to healthcare.

I remember a few years back my dad, who was constantly checking the temperature of my wanderlust, asked me once, “So do you use the bidet now?” He jokingly followed up saying, “Because once you use the bidet, there is no coming back.” It was a funny theory, but one that stuck in my head.

I do indeed use the bidet... have I have passed the point of no return? Maybe after these 15 years, I am now more willing to get scolded for wanting a dinner reservation at 7 pm and having coffee with milk after 10 am than I am to being scolded for not knowing who Lindsay Lohan is and for hating American football.

I am not sure what to do with that information now that I have left Italy, land of espresso and bidets and I have not settled in North America, land of efficiency, GMOs and Trump. At this moment, I am without country. I am un-countried.

I don’t know if I am still seeking that fabled promise land in my head or if I will just learn to accept one as is. Maybe it is like any other relationship: you can’t keep seeking the perfect one. You have to just accept the one whose flaws are the best match to your own, whose imperfections are the most in line with your own worldview.

For the next couple of months, we will live in blissful ignorance, ignoring these thoughts to travel for awhile and let the dust settle in our minds. Allow the puzzle pieces to fall and then figure out what picture we are making, but when that time comes, I may have to re-examine my values, my desires and my habits and if not cater to them in our decision of where to live, then carve them out wherever we are. Perhaps I need to price out bidets.