“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.