Reflecting on Five Years in Rome

“Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in…”  

Mamma mia, I’ve been living in Italy for five years now.  That’s a spicy meat-a-ball!

Along with the start of a new year, I suppose it’s as good an opportunity as any to pause and reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

A lot has happened in five years: I moved across the world, changed jobs/apartments/cars more than once, gained friends, got married, bought a home, lost friends, perfected my Italian, became a dual citizen, totally assimilated into another culture, made at least a dozen trips over the ocean, and – oh, yeah – had a baby.  Phew!  It’s almost dizzying when I break it down into a list like that.  It’s pretty amazing what you can do in five years.

I made my move to Rome in late fall of 2008, fresh from three and a half years of a blissful, care-free existence of beach volleyball, industry parties, and lychee martinis in Los Angeles.  For in the great battle of long distance relationships, I ultimately “lost” and accepted the role of the person who would make the move to allow the relationship to continue to exist and ultimately flourish.

Carrie Bradshaw had New York City; I have Rome.  Although I’ll never underestimate the power of Los Angeles, Rome has been my life-changing city.  As trite as it may sound, I do believe in the concept of falling in love with a place.  That head over heels, knock you on your ass feeling is the only thing that could actually push a person beyond a pipe dream and into a move as bold as mine.  I had made the decision to move for purely personal reasons, but in truth had fallen in love with Rome long before falling in love with my husband.  So the change intrigued and excited me, regardless of my relationship.

However, unlike my first experience with Rome as an inexperienced undergrad, this time there was a lot more already on the table after those amazing years in LA: a great start to an exciting career; a circle of bright, dynamic friends I adored; and a life I had built on my own that I was very proud of.  My standards and expectations for a new beginning in Rome were about, oh, the size of the Hollywood sign.

That first year is a bit of a blur of a lot of work, gelato, and an endless amount of calls to the Italian consulate.  I had spent my last year in LA networking with anyone and everyone who had any business in Rome, and I had some great job leads – but they all said the same thing: “We can’t hire you until you have a work permit and/or citizenship.”  ”My dual citizenship will be coming through any day now,” I’d say confidently, since I already knew I was eligible through my blood line.

It was all just a matter of paperwork being processed, which I had already gathered and delivered almost a year before moving (I’ll save the details of what a rottura di palle that was).  I was sure the bureaucratic bull was over, but I was wrong.  In reality, my dual citizenship wouldn’t be official until almost two long years later, just a couple months before I was to be married and receive it by legal right anyway.  Talk about a calcio in culo (kick in the ass).

Anyway, because of all the effort I put into networking, I did manage to hook myself up with a pretty fantastic freelance gig, and walked into a job a week after I arrived in Rome.  I became Associate Producer of two international film festivals, one on the island of Capri and the other back in Los Angeles.  It was a dream job: I dined with Heather Grahm, had drinks with Baz Luhrman, and hung out with Samuel L. Jackson and his family [sidenote: when he unexpectedly called my cell phone the first time asking who would pick him up at the port in Capri I almost peed my pants, seriously.  The last thing you ever expect to hear when you answer your phone is:  ”Andrea?  Hi, this is Samuel L. Jackson…”].

Too bad the whole shebang was headed by a coked-up crazy man who slowly stressed me into oblivion.  I lasted for two festivals, then had to get out.  By the end of it all, the stress of the job and the move had aggravated an underlying thyroid problem which developed into a full-fledged disease, sending my TSH levels through the roof.  It took many sleepless nights and a dizzy spell before I finally took a blood test and realized what the problem was.  Thankfully, I then found a much more relaxed freelance opportunity with a private luxury events company before the stars aligned and I joined the multi-national media company I now call home.  Once I finally got my career back on track, Rome and I began to get along much better.

On a trip to the States a family friend once told me: “You can live in the most beautiful place in the world, but it’s not worth much if you can’t share it with your loved ones.”  As I nodded my head and said, “You’re right,” I realized that as much as that statement may have been true, part of me disagreed wholeheartedly.

I’ve been blessed to have directly shared this experience numerous times with my parents and visiting family members and friends.  We’ve had repeated vacations and adventures in countless beautiful places many only get to see once in their lives, if lucky.  And I’ve treasured each and every one of those times, since I know all too well they don’t last forever.  People pack their bags and leave, and I stay.  Or I pack my bags and leave, and they stay.  It never gets any easier when we have to say goodbye.

Even when my family hasn’t been physically present, I feel I’ve shared this experience in my heart and mind with them all the time.  All the beauty reminds me of them.  They are a part of me, and have therefore also been present for every amazing sight, sound, and taste.

But most importantly, I’ve shared this experience with myself, which may be the most important thing a person can do.  Nothing will teach you more about the world and about yourself than travel.  Years ago I listened to the little voice in my head telling me to go beyond my comfort zone, and it has made all the difference.  I’ve found that once you listen to that voice, it gets louder, and eventually it’s all you hear.

Of course, a decision of this magnitude has had its drawbacks.  Living abroad can be lonely, polarizing, even depressing, at times.  It’s about living two parallel lives, and juggling them can be exhausting.  Striving to simultaneously enjoy your own reality while being present in another can sometimes feel like an endless whirlwind of translations, time zones, and choppy video calls.  Plus, Italy is really, really freaking far from home.  And the older I get and the more children and stuff I eventually accumulate, the harder the trip becomes.  Rather than a jet-setting adventure, it’s now a process.  And there’s nothing sexy about a process.

All the while in this adventure though, there has been one constant: the joy in finally being together with the man I love, which has managed to balance out all the hardships and has gotten me through it all.

Although it already feels like a lifetime ago, that chance meeting on a train in 2004 began to take on its own life once I made my move to Rome.  I love a good story, and ours has all the makings of a great one: drama, adventure, irrational romantic escapades – the stuff Hollywood writers sweat to dream up.

It may sound like some kind of scripted fairytale, but the reality of that particular day was just a random encounter with a kind (and very handsome) stranger on a train.  Fairytale?  Pssh.  Who needed it?  What I was searching for at the time was clarity, and I had left for Europe with what seemed to be my last chance to find it.  The last thing I needed was some Italian fling that would leave me even more confused.  I was twenty-three years old and wanted to feel certain about something – and I got exactly what I wished for.

Since we met, indecision and indifference have been inexistent.  I knew within the first couple of months: it was him, it is him, it will always be him.  It was the kind of love I had always hoped for, and miraculously, it came when I was convinced I may never find it – a perfect combination of luck, destiny, and an open heart.  That random encounter wasn’t about a romanticized, exotic love story; it was merely an appointment with destiny.  It was one day that would set the wheels of a lengthy process of change in motion, and be the catalyst for a new future that awaited long in the distance.

Do I wish my husband would have been the one to move to Los Angeles back in 2008? Sometimes, yes.  But it makes no sense to look back, especially since this is the city that brought me my life’s greatest gifts: my husband, my son, and a chance to grow and mature as a person in a way I never imagined.  Rome is as much a part of me as I am of it.  The challenge of the whole experience has changed me.  It’s molded me.  It has made me who I am, and I embrace that.

It all reminds me of a recent article about marriage circulating the internet lately, essentially communicating the notion that people don’t actually get married for themselves, but rather for the person they love; the idea that marriage is a selfless act, since you do it more for your spouse than for yourself.

What if the key to true happiness is occasionally sacrificing our own desires for the will of those we love – in both large and small ways – whether life-changing, or habitually insignificant?

In many ways, I feel my decision to move here was a major sacrifice I made for the person I loved.  But, in five years, it has evolved into much more: a new life and a new existence, both literally and figuratively.

Brings to mind one of my favorite old Jimmy Durante songs:

It’s so important to make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy.

Make just one heart to heart you, you sing to.

One smile that cheers you,

One face that lights when it nears you,

One girl you’re – you’re everything to.

Fame, if you win it,

Comes and goes in a minute.

Where’s the real stuff in life, to cling to?

Love is the answer.

Someone to love is the answer.

Once you’ve found her,

Build your world around her.

Make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy.

And you will be happy too.

Indeed, I am.

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25 (Universal) New Parenting Truths

All of life’s greatest milestones involve embracing change and accepting a new reality. One of the most earth-shattering of all new realities, in my opinion, is the birth of a child and his/her first few months of existence in our world.

So, in this spirit, I offer my personal new parenting truths. I refer to them as universal because whether you’re in Italy, Iowa, or Indonesia, the shock of those first few months can be pretty intense. Parenthood may perhaps be the most translatable of all life’s experiences – one that transcends borders, cultures, and language.

Anyway, I know it’s just the beginning and I haven’t even gotten through the first year, but I’ve learned a lot so far. I figured I’d better get this stuff down before moving on and putting that entire period of time in the archived file of my burned-out baby brain.

(Sidenote: I’m convinced the ability to mysteriously “forget” what it was like to be pregnant or have a newborn in the house is yet another one of nature’s greatest tricks: one that allows people to even consider putting themselves through the experience more than once, which in turn allows for the continuation the human race. Because, God knows, if our memories weren’t so romanticized, we’d all opt to go back to a life of margaritas, lazy Sunday mornings, and freedom in general as soon as possible.)

Let’s begin with the obvious:

1. Everyone tried to tell you you’d never have a night of uninterrupted sleep again. You thought they were exaggerating. They were not. Wow, were they not.

2. In fact, everything any other parent told you while you were pregnant was completely true, but it didn’t make any sense at the time. Before you have kids, they all sound like they’re members of some secret society, speaking in code. ”Pampers have better leak control than Huggies? These people seriously don’t have a life anymore – who gives a f***?” You will, that’s who. You’ll become more fluent in their language than you ever cared to be.

3. You’ll spend the first few days just trying to wrap your head around the fact that the hospital staff actually let you take the baby home with you.

4. You’ve never touched so much poop with your bare hands and you stopped giving a shit (excuse the pun) after the first week.

5. Silence will never be the same again, because it’s been filled with the incessant, soft lull of ocean waves and babbling brooks. Your life will start to feel like it has its own soundtrack of white noise – and oddly enough, you’ll be fine with that, since it most likely means your child is sleeping. And that is always a good thing.

6. Anything you need while you’re holding/feeding/burping/changing will inevitably be two centimeters out of your reach – or just enough to put you on the verge of a mini psychological breakdown (which is essentially two centimeters away at any given moment).

7. Nothing will humble you more than having someone vomit on your face/in your mouth for the first time – even if it is your own child.

8. Just when you think you have it all under control, your baby keeps your ego in check. And, ironically, nighttime seems to be when all smooth daytime tasks take on a nightmarish domino effect. Example: the baby wakes at 1am, so you decide to give him a quick snack, thinking it’ll buy you some sleep later. Of course, he poops just as you’re finishing the feeding, forcing you to change him. Then, he gets an interminable case of the hiccups from being on his back. Just as he begins to finally doze-off again, you notice his nose is stuffy. You’re scared he won’t be able to breathe, so you decide to use one of those insane contraptions to suck the snot out, which scares and/or completely pisses him off. He’s now wide awake and ready to start the day – at 3am. And you? You, my friend, are screwed.

9. You thought you knew what it meant to be tired. You didn’t. Your body has reached a level of constant exhaustion beyond your wildest imagination. Yet, you’re learning to be a functioning member of society and perhaps even work in this semi-conscious state. If you’re a typical member of the coddled and pampered Generation Y, you’ll almost certainly never have worked so physically hard in your entire life.

10. You used to spend hours getting ready to go out; now, just leaving the house with your hair and teeth brushed makes you feel “glam.”

11. Emphasis on big ambitions and grandiose plans has been temporarily put on hold to celebrate small daily successes – like actually finding time to shower. You are now enrolled in Priorities 101, and your baby is the professor. The self-centered bubble you may have been living in bursts the moment your little one arrives, like it or not.

12. Anyone who’s hitting thirty or older is especially at high risk of shock, since they’ve most likely spent so much time worrying about themselves, their futures, and personal successes. Me, me, and more me. Let me say this: your baby certainly doesn’t care about your success. He will take your ambition and aspirations, and literally poo all over them. And if you happen to have a career you care about, you’ll have to fight hard to rise from the fumes of that diaper genie and back into the mindset of a person who used to have dreams. It all takes more guts, courage, and stamina than you’ve ever had to muster.

13. Relationships will change, and friends who are single and/or without children will not understand (although they may try). You didn’t, either, before it happened to you. Maybe they choose the restaurant with a huge flight of stairs and no parking, or forget to say you have a stroller when making reservations, causing a scene when you arrive. It’s not worth fighting with them – just participate when it’s comfortable for you. You can still go out, but it has to be on your terms. Whoever doesn’t like it, can deal with it.

14. Just when you think you can’t take anymore, even more is thrown (up) at you. You no longer have command over your own life (especially if you breastfeed). Feel like dropping over and giving up? Too bad. There are no breaks until the baby decides to give you one. But something inside you gives you the strength to go on. Xanax? No, hormones, glorious hormones. Your body is designed to withstand the emotional bombardment as well as the physical. And as cliché as it is, that first loving coo or smile sans teeth does rejuvenate you, at least for a little while.

15. Vulnerability is a new and unexpected sensation. Even if you’ve been independent and fearless with your own existence, you care so much about this new one that it’s downright frightening. You’re now very careful, always.

16. You have developed a superhero-quality protection instinct, and are constantly prepared to defuse any and all potential threats to your child. You’re like a secret service agent on Inauguration Day: whether it’s the shady character walking toward you on the sidewalk, or that picture frame sitting a tad too close to the crib, you’ve become hyper-aware of your surroundings at all times and are always ready to go all chop-suey on someone’s ass, whenever necessary.

17. You thought you knew your spouse, but you’ve been introduced to a new side of him/her. If you’re lucky, you’ll be infinitely surprised and blessed by more sensitivity, care, love, and pride than you ever knew he/she could possess.

18. Your thoughts become more philosophical – but however profound they may be, the conversations with your spouse usually end up sounding like a scene from ”Dazed and Confused.” They go something like: “Can you believe he was inside you – just inside you, like, living in your belly, for nine months? And now, he’s just, like, here right in front of us?”

19. You’ve gained a new appreciation for anatomy and biology, and realize the full potential and magnificence of the human body – essentially that the entire process of conception, pregnancy, and birth is nothing short of, well, magnificent.

20. Patience. Dear, sweet patience. It will need to be infinite. You learn to surrender to it, and once you do, everything gets easier.

21. You find yourself reflecting on the fact that everyone you know who has children – even strangers on the street – has actually been through this experience and survived. Suddenly, you respect them (and your own parents) so much more.

22. You realize life truly is a miracle, and that each child who comes into this world is as important as the next and should be treated as such.

23. Birth is just as mysterious and confounding as death: one moment a living being is here; the next, it’s not (or vice versa). This concept will completely overwhelm you every time you sit and stare at your child while he sleeps, repeatedly pondering how he came into your lives. Mind, officially blown.

24. You thought you knew what love felt like. You’ve never experienced a love stronger than when you see your child. And you never get tired of looking at that face – studying each feature, swearing you’ve seen it somewhere before. This little person is so new, yet seems so familiar to you. The amount of love actually is indescribable and unquantifiable.

25. Your previous existence is a blur – not because it was at all a waste of time, but because you simply can no longer imagine what your life would be like without him.

Love Letter to my Nonna

Written a week before her passing…

Not many people have a best friend who’s sixty years older than they are.  I do – but devastatingly, her health has taken a turn for the worst and she’s about to leave us.

It’s certainly not to be taken for granted that she’s blessed to have lived almost ninety-three years, but to me, she’s my Noni Netta, and she will forever be ageless.  She’s the backbone of our family, and has been a constant in my life I honestly can’t imagine being without.

The thought of this happening during a rare moment when I’m not able to travel is disappointing and extremely upsetting.  I want to be there, holding her hand as she did mine whenever I was scared, or unwell.  The only solace I have is the certainty that I couldn’t have been any closer to her than I have been throughout my life.  I know she can feel me there with her.  Our relationship has been incredibly special and I believe it transcends any limitations of space and time.

At this point, Alzheimer’s has cheated her out of all the magnificent memories of an incredibly full lifetime.  She’s frail and has stopped eating.  She doesn’t remember being abnormally healthy her entire life.  She doesn’t remember the exceptional ability to cook and the amazing appetite she had until a short time ago.  She doesn’t remember never resting until every guest was stuffed and had been offered every possible form of food available in the house.

She has forgotten that I’m married, pregnant, and living in Rome.  But I’ll never forget some years ago, when my husband and I were courting each other from across the world and the distance was taking its toll on our relationship, she comforted me and offered to buy me an emergency ticket to Rome to come see him.  What was important to us was always important to her, and our happiness was her priority.

She doesn’t realize that she and her broken Italian accent taught me what true culture was all about; that there was an entire world outside of my small town to discover.  She held her native country close to her heart all these years, and in doing so contributed to an upbringing unique to that of so many around us.

She inadvertently infused in me a passion and respect for our heritage and tradition so great that it has changed the course of my own life.  By directly experiencing her country and way of life, I’ve felt closer to her than ever before.  Her culture has enriched me and continues to do so every day.  And now I have a husband with the same adorable accent, and I love hearing it.

She doesn’t know she was the quintessential definition of strength: one of the first women in a small Italian town to ever give birth via c-section; taking shelter in caves while bombs dropped down from above during WWII; having the courage to leave her war-torn home and embark on a new life in a foreign country, never to see her own parents again; feeling completely lost and out of place and stuck in what she referred to as “Siberia”; learning a new language with only the help of the newspaper and television; creating a respected reputation and a beautiful home in a community far from her own reality; then, much later, carrying on for the sake of her family after losing the love of her life.

She doesn’t remember all the wonderful years of memories we created together at 931 Myrtle Ave: all the times we laughed, sang, and danced around the living room to “Peppino the Italian Mouse” on repeat on the turn-style; the hidden jar of biscotti that was never hard to find; the incredible smells coming from the basement filled with fresh pasta, salami hanging from the ceiling, and barrels of Papa’s best dago red.  When I think of my happy place, to this day, it’s Christmas Eve at Noni and Papa’s house, or any other after-school visit, for that matter.

She’s forgotten how obsessed she was with cleanliness, following us around with a moppina attached to her hand,making any mess disappear in seconds while never getting in our way of having fun.  She would eat over the sink to catch runaway crumbs, sleep on a tiny pillow (which she made herself) so her hair wouldn’t get messed up, and would never leave the house without a layer of Oil of Olay and some makeup on.  She was an expert at taking care of herself and others.

She doesn’t recall reading every health-related book she could get her hands on, mastering symptoms and illnesses all in a second language, and with a 5th grade education.  She had a sharper mind and keener intuition than so many well-educated people I know.

She’s forgotten how she’d repeatedly make the sign of the cross every time a thunderstorm would roll in – or how she prayed incessantly for our well-being at all times, rosary after rosary, blessing after blessing.  Her faith has been an unwavering constant her entire life, despite so many obstacles and strife.

She’s no longer able to repeat all the hilarious sayings and quotes that have become scripted staples to us over the years, and will undoubtedly keep us laughing for many more to come.  All the stories we shared, plans we discussed, and great advice she always gave…  I could talk to her about anything, and she always had a wise, pertinent, and optimistic viewpoint.

She has no idea how popular she was with everyone she met.  All of our friends loved Noni Netta.  Everyone recognized her kind, gentile spirit, sweet disposition, and the light of goodness that surrounded her.  Her calming presence has meant so much to our family in the past, once struggling with serious illness and the simultaneous loss of its most beloved members.  Little does she know that – even as an adult – her smile, warm embrace, and the smell of her skin could always set my world right.

All of this, and so much more, she no longer remembers – but we can certainly never forget.  We will remember it all for her.  What she has built will last in eternity because she is the foundation of who we are, and who we want our children to become.

The only real peace I’ve found in these difficult days has been when I sit and listen to our son kicking around in my belly, and imagine how well he will know her through me.  As I prepare to raise him, she will be there in my words and my actions, as there could be no better mother to emulate.  She is my definition of honor, integrity, strength, and love.

Now, as she struggles with her last breaths, I continue to reflect on how a life, just one life, can have such an incredible effect on the development of each of us.  Any success we have is owed partially to her, for the bold choices she’s made for our well-being, and the unconditional support and abundant self-sacrificing love she’s always given us.  Her idea of a punishment was always, “I kissa you two time”; I never needed to learn how to love or be affectionate because people like her showed me what it meant from the beginning…

We’ve been blessed by her presence for so long, and we’ve needed her.  But her destiny will soon be calling – and as she would say: “se è destino non manca.”  It was her destiny to be our Nonna, and very soon, it will be our destiny to miss her terribly.

Ti voglio un bene immenso,

Andrea

 

Italian Nirvana

I remember the first time my (then-future) husband led me down a tight staircase into a tiny underground bakery near St. Peter’s. It was there I tasted the most fantastic cornetto (the quintessential Italian pastry) ever. I could hardly believe my mouth. Who knew this apparent hole in the wall could produce the king of all cornetti?  It wouldn’t be the last time appearances would deceive me in Italy – and little did I know how many more occasions of total culinary shock and amazement were to follow.

Friends and family who see this blog will probably say, “Wow, she’s seriously been in Italy too long; all she can think about is food.” To which I will respond, “You’re right – how could I not?”  The culture I now find myself living, working, socializing, and dreaming in is completely out of its mind fixated with food.  What it took me a while to realize is this: Italians aren’t so concerned with food as sustenance, but rather with the entire lifestyle it represents – one that is unique, and nothing less than bewitching for everyone who experiences it. It’s pure intoxication for the senses, every last one of them.

I’ve been trying to discipline myself to document my experience here for a long time, but haven’t been inspired to do so until recently.  It’s been hard to find the words to properly describe the experience of these last couple years of transition.  When I thought about starting a blog, for some reason the title, “Sex, Lies, & Nutella” popped into my mind, and I liked it.  Not only is it amusing, but actually sums up some main themes of what life in Italy means to me:

Sex,” because it’s literally everywhere: from the moms who bust out the breasts in the middle of the mall, to the prostitutes working rush hour – in Italy, sex is a fact of life you can’t forget about, even if you try.  The human body in general is seen as normal and natural; it’s rarely, if ever, referred to with shame or embarrassment.  After all, this is Europe, not some red state. Feeling comfortable with the naked body simply comes with the territory, and that’s not a bad thing. Only problem is this intense “appreciation” is often exaggerated and almost totally one-sided.  Watch any evening variety show for five minutes, and the degraded role of women in general is painfully clear.  Sexism still runs rampant, and it’s evident the effects of the feminist movement are yet to be felt in their entirety.

The “Lies” part is a little harsh, since it would be wrong to say everything I thought I knew about Italy is a lie.  The vision I had while growing up is quite different from the reality, but this inconsistency can be better described as the normal evolution of a culture. For years, my immigrant grandparents were the only point of reference I had when it came to knowing anything about Italy.  Their memories and experiences shaped my perception of this country and affinity for its culture.  The truth is though, most Italian-Americans are stuck in the past, and those memories have very little to do with the reality of modern Italian society today.  This has been a consistent smack in the face during my time here, and has also made for some interesting introspection.

And now, for the best part: “Nutella,” which is certainly the most significant portion of the title.  Not only because it is, in fact, the hazelnut cream of the gods – but more importantly, because of what it represents almost four years into my residency in Italy.

To me, Nutella is the X-factor – that something special that makes people literally fall in love with this enchanting corner of the world, and leaves them wanting more and more.

In my business, this is the kind of brand loyalty we would kill for.  At its core, Nutella is an iconic brand built on the basic human sense of taste.  Its principle is clear: people appreciate things of good taste, and the easiest product to sell is one of true quality.  We, for example, can promote a television show to high heaven, but if it’s terrible people will eventually tune out, plain and simple.

Unlike many TV shows (but much like Nutella), Italy delivers on all its promises.  That’s why the world flocks to this country: all the wonderful things said about it turn out to be true, and then some.  You don’t have to work in marketing to know this place is arguably even easier to sell than sex.  Italy, just like Nutella, sells itself; all it needs is its own fantastic qualities to survive.

However, although its merits may seem endless, this country is far from flawless.  Similar to Nutella, Italy should be indulged in with discipline and moderation, or it can be overwhelming.  After all, you wouldn’t eat the entire jar at once. It could practically kill you.

People always tell me how lucky I am to be here, and on many levels, they’re right.  I’m fortunate to live this incredible place every day, and for that I’m very blessed.  It’s been an amazing time of personal and professional growth.  Many people though, tend to think of Italy as some kind of paradise where the wine flows like water (true) and life is always picture perfect (not true).

In reality, my transition here was quite challenging and is occasionally still a struggle.  Daily life isn’t always like some clichéd scene from “Under the Tuscan Sun” (although we do have a fantastic view of a vineyard from our balcony, but I digress).  As a residing citizen, Italy can be an extremely challenging place to live, and its frustrations can be endless.  The excessive bureaucracy, laughable politics, and general disorganization can at times be maddening – especially for an ultra-organized American.  These are aspects everyone on “vacation high” never gets the chance to notice (rightfully so – lucky them).

Not to mention the occasional nostalgia that creeps in at the oddest moments, provoking a sense of detachment that makes you miss your country, culture, and simply speaking your own language.  At its most severe, it can literally mess with your head and make you yearn for things you’d otherwise totally avoid in your home country – like WalMart, or a heart-to-heart with a member of the Tea Party, for example.

Then, without a doubt, there’s the worst pain of all: missing out on time with family and friends.  In fact, I’m convinced my three-year-old niece thinks I live in the Skype browser somewhere on the internet.  In my early transitional days, this brought me to the brink of anxiety and depression – sensations I wasn’t at all used to feeling.  For a while, I was desperately trying to locate the life I had created in America in a place where it just didn’t exist, and the more I stressed about it, the worse it was.

When I finally learned to grasp the reality of the present and accept that there was a new life waiting for me to create, things started to fall into place.  I overcame the initial shock of having thrown my life as I knew it into a blender, and crossed the threshold from bitterness to hope.  Instead of seeing everything as a negative obstacle, I started to imagine and welcome the possibilities.  I reminded myself that not only was I extremely blessed to be able to be with the love of my life (who I randomly met on a train), but also that having the chance to live abroad is a once in a lifetime, soul-enriching experience.

Sometimes when life throws you a surprise, rather than fighting it, it’s best to embrace it and live it to the fullest.  After years of meticulously planning my every move, I’ve learned it’s the unexpected things can have the biggest impact on your life, if you’re open to accepting them.  This experience has taught me the true value of patience, persistence, and determination – but it’s also taught me to relax and let go of the need to control everything.  Because the truth is, no matter where you are, the world always looks better through the eyes of a calm spirit.

And so, life and love have brought me here to the land of my ancestors, where my grandparents were married and my mother took her first steps; the place I heard story after story about as a child, and grew to be a part of in my heart before I had ever arrived.  I thought I knew something about this way of life, but I had really only scratched the surface.  Now, it’s all being revealed to me and I’ve been taking it in slowly, savoring each taste. I don’t know how long it will last, but this unique experience is meant to be cherished, appreciated, and most of all, shared.

Maybe it was destiny that I ended up here.  Or, maybe the secret is in the Nutella… After all, at this point Nutella is no longer just Nutella.  Nutella has become a sort of personal Italian Nirvana.

Nutella is taste, beauty, and inspiration.  Nutella is an art form.  It’s about life, and it is bellissima.

Nutella is my reality – and I’m going to scoop out all I can while the jar is still open.  Would you like a taste?