Today marks the start of a new era: I have officially been living in Italy for as long as I lived in England. The bizarre London – Lusurasco d’Alseno (for those who aren’t familiar with remote towns in Northern Italian provinces, I would advise they look it up on a detailed map) axis holds strong in its awkward existence: it’s always rather amusing to hear the stories of innocent 11-year-olds who move from a sprawling metropolis to a third world town, relict of the past centuries and the simple life, who go from being surrounded by an anonymous throng of about 8 million people to roving through a town of 16,000 ghastly inhabitants, and then fewer still. I’m currently in an agrestic sort of Hobbiton; documents state the presence of a good 4,770 people living in this confined area. I am, on the other hand, adamant that there be well less than a meagre thousand – in any case, there are more chicken than human beings. So, whilst as listeners of such tales we can have a hearty laugh, it is far more grotesque to see oneself placed in such a torrid situation.
As for myself, I can’t really complain – I’m still alive, so that must mean that it can’t have been all that bad. I did have my fair share of peripeteias (one being the tragic move) and sour, gloomy times… It’s always pleasant to look back in laughter, to take a vicarious look at the dismal vortex of doom I eventually drifted away from.
The beginning of my adventure was a jump with a thump; I was obviously excited about going from rainy London to the sunripe land of pizza and nature, also given the fact that pre-teens are easily prone to psychological conditioning and find their parents’ joy and vim rather contagious. I remember telling my best friend about the imminent move – we were both consternated but sure that we would still have across-the-border adventures to come (they didn’t). On that occasion I managed to get the dratted name of my future home wrong, saying Florence (“Firenze”) instead of “Fiorenzuola”. The latter is far smaller and of less interest in the eyes of just about anybody on the planet. And in the Solar System too, for that matter. Getting to Italy after family pep-talks and the general sparkling enthusiasm that forever effervesced after us having made the Big decision proved to be, for me, a flop. It was almost like starting a race after being cheered on by the brimming stadium, wearing a chest pumped full of pride, and tripping up on a tied-up shoelace on the second step forward, falling down face flat. Grim.
A dramatic fall, lasting several weeks, months, topped off with alienation, loneliness and embarrassment: I had plummeted into the unwelcoming abyss of an Italian small-town middle school, without knowing anyone other than my two brothers (both tucked safely away in the locus amoenus that was their primary school – my brother in the 5th and last year, my youngest one in the 1st, learning how to write after having acquired this skill in reception in London; some guys get all the luck) and my parents, without knowing what I was supposed to do, where I was meant to go, whom I could speak to and how I could have possibly spoken a language I knew like a Kazakh knows Shakespearian English.
Not being able to communicate properly is probably one of the most frustrating things a person could ever experience. It’s already embarrassing on a personal level – having to surrender and give in to admitting that you are effectively not able and cannot even try to do something (even a thing so basic and human such as speaking). But the situation worsens in an interindividual context, where the tongue-tied speaker is exposed to vicious comments, mockery and humiliation. As if I didn’t feel glum enough for knowing things but not having the words to give verbal life to them, other people would opt for derision or condescending tones whilst trying to explain expressions I couldn’t get my head around or burst out laughing for the inevitably egregious mistakes I would make – I was well aware of their funny accents and mistakes they made during English lessons, but I didn’t snigger nor utter a peep. It wouldn’t have been kind of me, and I have most probably come across as arrogant. Some people only grasp the concept of humiliation when they are the victims.
Then again, I sometimes stumble upon exercise books from my first year over here in Italy and I laugh at the innocent blunders that mushroomed in every piece of writing for however careful I would try to be.
Not long ago I collected my first degree with a thesis written entirely in Italian – people can come a long way when they put their heads to it! And what’s more is that last year I had actually thought I would have found myself cemented stuck in the exact same bewildering situation just as I was leaving for an exchange abroad in yeasty Germany. Chapeu to all the people who have the courage to pack their bags and study in a distant land for a few months – it’s not all that easy. The presence of other students that have made the same decision, however, results in a comforting sense of shared misadventure: everyone is more or less on the same boat, and students can all make use of their knowledge of the lingua franca par excellence English, some handling this fragile language better than others. And this time round I could speak and understand German very well, and this blessing made the stay a whole lot easier. In the first year of middle school I couldn’t expect to have a decent conversation in English with anyone, being the only Anglo-Saxon in the building; I just had to make do with the little Italian I had. New boys and girls from Arabic speaking countries could find company, Romanians and Albanians had cousins or linguistically similar buddies in other classes – lucky them.
In the afternoon I’d just resort to playing basketball or football; sport is a universal language. Italy was full of playing fields that were easily reachable on foot or by bike – that was thrilling. I would never have dreamed of stepping outside and pedalling away in the middle of quiet roads in London (in Southgate I had to stay on the pavement and be weary of crossings and other vehicles). I have to admit – there were fewer roads in old Fiorenzuola. During the first week in our first, antediluvian, moth-ridden flat, my mum decided to take me and my brother for a lovely bike ride, so we could get to know the place that was now our home. After about 20 minutes we started heading back home, led by mother Goose. Me and my sibling were both rather perplexed, but my mother’s answer was simply that we had seen everything there was to see.
To be continued