giovedì 15 aprile 2010

all downhill from here

I'm beginning to realize just how little time I have left here. Six weeks. Six weeks is nothing...and the sun has just started to come out! Che sfigata.
I spent a lovely Easter break in Avignon and Paris with my close friend from Smith. We took the train from Milan, something I've always wanted to do, and ended up in a 17th century studio by the house of an old friend of my mom's in Saint-Hilaire-d'Ozilhan. Chuck was a grandfatherly Brazilian-American who regaled us of his human rights efforts during the Dirty Wars in South America. I felt I had arrived during the idyllic and beautiful conclusion of a film, just after the dramatic action.
Paris was also beautiful, full of the street performers I miss in Milan. I think at the end, however, Emily and I were sick of butchering the French language and both ready to get back to countries where we could be understood...
In other news, I've begun a new round of classes (my last), which means a new round of students to meet. Yesterday, I introduced myself to a 3rd year class at Cremona. When I said I was from the United States, a boy up front said he liked South Africa better.
"South Africa?" I asked, thinking maybe he meant South America, as opposed to North America, a preference I've heard before.
"Yes, South Africa."
"Well, they're very different places. What do you like about South Africa?"
"I like the Negro Woman," he said with a grin, waiting for me to be shocked.
This took me aback, I have to say, which is rare. I have become relatively accustomed to the politically incorrect (at best) and blatantly racist comments that pepper conversation here.* I raised my eyebrows and said, "Ah, well we all have our preferences. Does anyone else have a favorite country?"
A boy in the back said, "USA!" but the others remained silent. I asked, "Maybe Italy?"
"No," several kids said, others shook their heads. The first boy said, "I hate it here. When I wake up in the morning, non riesco a respirare, cioè I can't breathe."
He was Albanian, and he first immigrated to Puglia before moving up the peninsula to Milan. And he did not like Milan, for sure. I found myself defending our strange smoggy city. Look on the bright side, I said, thinking in my head that, with more knowledge of English, he might have replied, "There's no bright side, it's cloudy all the time."
In a way I understand him. Milan has offered me its share of challenges and smog. But there is much here that I don't want to leave, and sometimes I forget what a pleasure it is just to interact with strangers in Italian. To be missed when I don't go to my favorite bar, wave to the workers at my neighborhood gelateria, go on long bike rides in the sun, to be close to someone I love.
The time is creeping up when I will have to decide whether to come back for another year or not. I told my mentor that I have applied to return, and we have already made a toast to it over Cola in a fifth year class. But I am not so decided. I will have to think about what I should do, the best idea for my career and my personal development, and perhaps most of all what I want. Non lo so. We will see.

*Another example: At a world sustainability fair here Milan full of green products and charities, Fa la cosa giusta, a charity had made posters expressing solidarity for Africa. Their solidarity took the form of white Italians in blackface with wide grins. I did a double take. F called it a cagata.

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