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Going home and living in a bubble: when you take a holiday from expatriation

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Everybody needs a holiday once a year. Some need physical rest, some others a change of scenery. Some need time to spend with their loved ones and yet some need space to find their true selves. My expat self (which counts for a shocking percentage of the whole thing) needs its own vacation from time to time. Going to the homeland is not enough, as an expat often goes through a phenotypic transformation that prevents any true relaxation in familiar surroundings. I have to confine myself to my parents’ house, in the middle of a sun-kissed countryside, rich in olive trees and vineyards and cats. And not much else, to be honest. Here I am not an expat, nor a mother and not even an adult. It’s my personal Neverland.

My two decades of expatriation translate to my parents as a series of odd and worrying eating habits (some years I rant about the importance of organic, some others on my new egg-dairy-wheat free regimen, this year I am all into protein and greens powder in my morning smoothie…); a mild weight gain related to growing old, having kids and living in a sun-deprived country and maybe (maybe!) a surge of occasional wisdom. That’s it. They never asked a single question on how life is out of the national borders or who I made friends with or what people say, up there, about us down here. They don’t care. I am just their child and as unnerving as it was in the early expatriation years, when I just wanted to tell them over and over again how cool I was for living abroad my little adventure, I ultimately find it relaxing. The show is over for a few weeks and since none is interested in my personal philosophy I can even take some time off from my usual rantings.

My children are the actual stars of the season and I can’t even compete. Who’d want to spend time with an almost middle-aged and compulsively dieting child when you can hang around with a couple of blondish, angelic-faced little things who will love you more for every candy you hand them? And what child would obey to the same ol’ lady he sees and hears every day when reality suggests she’s not boss anymore?

So that is how I stop being a mother in my little home bubble . My children don’t recognize my authority anymore and deliberately choose to follow the grandparents’ lead. Which is always sugar-coated. Literally.

There was a time when I tried revolution. You know, teenage style. Like telling my parents all the time how child rearing was a different story up north, how they were stuck in pre-liberal era, how we should educate children to become independent individuals and not spoiled pets. How plastic toys were to be banned, as were DVDs and candies. How mine was a sugar free house and how “youknowsugarisreallybad”, how modern people live now and eat healthily and so “no carbs please, what with all that pasta?”. It didn’t work. I didn’t insist.

I now enjoy this magic place where I can retreat to my room as my 16 years old self (minus the oily skin and the perpetual love chagrin) and when I occasionally switch on my hearing to catch my mother telling her grandsons that “there is a big, nasty man going around houses to take away all the naughty children” in the same way her mother used to talk me into eating my lunch I don’t care anymore. I’ll tell them later there is no such thing as the nasty man, in case they’d be actually worried about him. In the meantime I’ll just lie down and savor the free time.

Dinner with an old flame: 5 days in Rome

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Have you ever bumped into an old love? Someone you spent nights talking to and dreaming with but that at some point you had to leave, because he wasn’t right for you? Do you remember the heartbreaking moment when you knew you had to move on and still it felt so good staying still? You picked up all the courage and braveness and strength you had, hidden somewhere between idealized early memories and everyday dullness and left. At first you were relieved, felt safe as you can only feel when you know you did the right thing. You actually moved on, saw people, went places. Then one day, years – centuries! – later you take the trash out and ta-daaaa he’s there. Staring at you. And you can’t remember anymore why he was wrong but just feel the sudden impulse to indulge a little bit longer in that wrongness. 

Well, I have been to Rome these past few days and felt exactly like that. For the first time in almost 20 years I missed it. I couldn’t remember anymore why I hated it or why I was so certain it was all wrong for me. I could only see the overwhelming beauty of every single corner, the utterly simple and delicious food, the yellowish light that warmed up everyone and everything in a couple of minutes. All I wanted was to stay there, indulge in the thousand little pleasures I thought I was immune to and lose myself into the Pantheon, looking at the magic hole in the ceiling, every single day. It was like going to dinner with an old love: time and distance sublimate everything, and you fall in love all over again. 

Had I to live there again, I know I would hate it. But it’s always nice to have an old boyfriend you think you could go back to.