This is the sixth installment of a series of #content meant to illuminate the first study abroad trip for UConn student Sten Spinella.
I sat down on a nice bench and it started to rain. Across from me was d’Arno, the iconic river running through the center of Florence. I was in a park, protected from the rain by tall trees, while the statues next to me had some type of overhanging structure shielding them. I think that sometimes it’s hard to remember that you’re alive, especially when you’re staring at a screen all day, or you try to make sense of what is going on around you by looking at a screen. It’s also hard to do when you don’t have somebody there to remind you that you’re alive. Most likely that will be a close friend or someone you’re in love with. The rain is another reminder of life. When it comes down, you have to react to it; it forces you to think, it forces you to move.
I still have this desire to be a real Italian. I’m not sure how one does that. I think I have certain Italian “traits,” but of course that line of thought comes from stereotypes. I’m accommodating to those who don’t deserve accommodation, like the Italian service people who don’t know my language. I’m passionate, I mean, that’s an Italian trait, right? I like being loud and social with the right people, I’m not a fan of being alone most days, another one. But being alone is essential to the professional path I’ve chosen to pursue.
My friends have convinced me to go out and drink tonight, so that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll need a few shots of espresso come morning, but that’s okay, it should be a fun night. It’s hard not to spend money when you’re living like this. Money has become an issue. My mom found the recent importance I’ve placed on it uncharacteristic of me. That’s because it’s gone now. I know I have a job waiting for me when I get back home, but that’s more a source of unease than one of comfort.
I had a choice to make between going to the Amalfi Coast and visiting my Italian cousin/family friend. My choice was to be applauded as more cultural by some of my professors at the International Studies Institute. I’ll be living with Valerio and his grandmother and grandfather for the weekend up in La Spezia, near Portovenere. He’s going to take me around. I’m nervous, I have to say. Hopefully his parents speak some English, are welcoming to me and don’t view me as the idiot I am. I think all Italians, to a degree, view foreigners as idiots. All people do. Some are just better at masking this attitude than others. I don’t want them to necessarily pull out all the stops for me, I’d rather eat whatever it is they usually eat, even if it’s some quick thing. I want to know what it is Italians do. I want to know the average meal, or even below average, if that is the average. I want to know what Valerio does with his time. He doesn’t have to show me the flyest stuff, I want him to show me how he lives. The reason I want his parents to speak English is because I want to glean some insight from them on what it means to be an Italian in 2016. Does it always mean tourism? Does it mean old art? I don’t know what it is yet. There is a deeper meaning, there’s more to it. I feel there’s resentment from modern Italians that they weren’t around when their ancestors were. My European Union professor, who is very slick and smart, probably doesn’t like the fact that he has to teach Americans, or foreigners. He’d probably rather mold the minds of his own countrymen and women.
Valerio seems excited to see me. I’m not sure why. There are things we can give to each other as far as cultural communication and exchange goes, true, but I’m just excited to see what real Italian life is like for a real Italian family, instead of seeing what it’s like to have the best party as a study abroad student.
I took the train from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station, which was constructed during Mussolini’s reign and is strikingly Fascist in style. I was confused as to where my train to La Spezia would be until I saw the platform number staring at me from the electronic schedule.
I was tired from the night before but didn’t manage to sleep because of the Italian scenes I saw through the window. Little makeshift houses with ragtag gardens, great mansions in the middle of expansive fields, apartment buildings clumped together with laundry hanging from the outside, and large looming mountains, seemingly unpopulated, bathed in sunlight, sometimes with yellow and red-roofed settlements hanging from their sides like laundry.
Vale met me at the front of the station as if I were a brother he hadn’t seen in years. “Man! It’s good to see you again!” We clapped each other’s backs. The last time I had seen him was two years ago when he visited my dad’s side in Connecticut, at a family party.
He took me to his Volkswagen and we were on our way to his grandparents’ home in Lerici.