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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

Living here and there

So many of us are living in more than one place at one time. It is especially pronounced with expats, who on paper already have two addresses, permanent and present. But even for those of us who commute to work (which in North America can easily be 1-2 hours one way) or who work in one city, have a house in another and daycare in a third, our lives can feel split among many locations.

After a year of traveling and moving around, I am working to reestablish a residence somewhere and that somewhere is currently in Rome. We have an apartment in Rome, but I don’t yet have a visa to stay. So I am leaving again next week. I am going back to see family in the US, settle some things in Canada and regroup before probably coming back out again. I am partly living in Rome, but I am partly living in Canada where we have our own apartment and citizenship status. And I am partly still living in the US, where I have a history and an address that is on my driver’s license, credit card, mail etc, but which is only valid until my parent’s sell their house, an imminent occurrence.

It is as if little parts of me are residing in a multitude of cities, as if I am living everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This is the downside of living like a tourist.

I find it great fun to come back to somewhere like Rome, somewhere that I have known for over 15 years and for which in many ways is home, but still do all the touristy things to make me remember what a great city I am in.

Pizza at Cave Canem: Yes, I still take pictures of my food
Each time I come back to Rome, I have to get a coffee at standing at one of the many bars and a biscotto della nonna gelato at La Romana, thick pizza at Da Grottino or La Focaccia and thin pizza at Cave Canem or Baffetto 2, cacio pepe in Testaccio and have at least one plate of cicoria (chicory) wherever. I have to see the Colosseum during the day and Pantheon at night. I have to run along the Tevere (Tiber) river at sunset. And now, just not to tempt fate, I have to throw a coin in the Trevi. If it is summer time, I need to get a granita di caffe (coffee slushie) at Tazza d’Oro, if winter, a zuppa ai ceci (chick pea soup) at Ai Balestrari. And of course, I have to drink as much wine as I can, particularly of Primitivo, Ripasso di Valpolicella, Nobile di Montepulciano or Lacrima di Morro, varieties that are harder to find outside of Italy.

Charming Rue St. Denis, Montreal
Whenever I go back to any city, I have particular habits: get a bagel and half a poutine (I can never finish one) in Montreal, walk around the Old Port and St. Denis, run along the Lachine Canal. In Baltimore, I make it a point to have Old Bay on something and see the Inner Harbor, go to an O’s game and get a local brew in Fells Point. In DC, I get Julia’s empanadas or falafel in Adams Morgan. I go running on Rock Creek Parkway and see one of the many DC museums (most of them for free!). I walk on the Mall to see the Capitol and the Washington Monument. If I go in the spring, I like to see the Cherry Blossoms (with the other two million tourists who come to DC for this as well).

It is nice to be back in these cities and be a local in the sense that I know where everything is, I have friends there, I have memories there, I know all the things I have tried and liked and all the things which I tried and didn’t like. Yet, I still get to be a tourist, visiting everything with new eyes and retrying certain things in case it, or I, have changed (salted caramel ice cream in DC for example… I like it now).

Mandatory Colosseum picture taken in August. Guess I will need another soon.
At the same time, it is a weird predicament. I am always back for a limited period of time; that period of time is sometimes a year or more, but sometimes that period of time is 2 weeks, like it will be now. So am I still a local or am I just a visitor at that point? I am neither living there nor here. Does that make me a tourist everywhere or a local everywhere?

I don't know the real answer to that question, but I try to be both. I try to live everywhere like I am a local, but take advantage of the city like I am a tourist. I try to make the most of my time in any one place because I never know how long I will be there. Like any of life’s dualities, it is both a kind of sad and a kind of great way to live. But I remind myself that it is the lifestyle I have chosen, so I choose to focus on the great.

I'll miss my husband but I will get to see my parents. I will miss my kitty, but I will get to see my cousins. I will miss my Rome-based friends, but will see my Balti-DC ones. Our lives are all split, (yes- some more than others), but you just have to focus on what you have in each place, not what you are missing in it.