Seven years in

Today (today being the 3rd of June) marks my seventh anniversary of landing in Italy. And my, how those years have alternated between flying and dragging! When I think back about the various escapades and hi jinx that have happened, some feel like they were only yesterday (admittedly, mostly only the things that happened yesterday), while others seem to have happened years ago. Time isn’t linear, which makes more sense to me in this case than if I try to understand the actual nature of time, and so as a result, or not, some things stand out brighter in my mind than others. 

The things that stick out often don’t have any particularly importance. The old woman who looked at me seven years ago as I was standing in a bus stop in Molassana and shouted ‘sciopero, sciopero’ could be my landlady for all I know, but I remember that episode quite clearly. It was, after all, the first time someone here had fixed me with a look and shouted at me, though not the last time. That was the day I learned a) what ‘sciopero’ meant (strike), and b) just how far Molassana is away from the centre of Genoa when you have to walk under a baking June sun.

I could recite to you word for word the passive aggressive bitchy note that my upstairs neighbour left stuck to my door a couple of years ago, as well as the day and the meal (February 14th, a red-peppery pasta sauce) I was cooking that prompted her to suspect I was cooking unnecessarily smelly food. 

Neither of these things have any great relevance to today; I don’t go to Molassana anymore, and the neighbour upstairs is still an arse and basically an unhappy person, but I don’t speak to her so that’s ok. 

I’ve tried to veer away from the old format of my blog, which was mostly pish and the gibberish wanderings of my brain. This new blog has mostly been slightly more controlled wanderings of my brain, which hopefully haven’t been pish. I know, I know - plus ça change! Today though, given the anniversary, I figured I’d see if I can’t find some kind of character development through my time here.

So, after seven years in the bel paese, what have I learned?

I’m both proud and embarrassed to say that my English has both improved, and at least recently, started to atrophy. I know that that isn’t maybe a glowing endorsement of my language skills, considering that English teaching keeps me in the caviar, cocaine and champagne to which I’ve become accustomed, but it is true.

When I first arrived, I could speak English of course, but why I said ‘I went’ rather than ‘I have gone’ wasn’t crystal clear in my mind. Now it absolutely is, and I switch into auto-pilot when a student makes a mistake and I have to explain where they went wrong, and how to avoid similar mistakes in future. In this sense my English has improved, to the extent that I now notice mistakes that friends back in Scotland make. It didn’t take long for me to understand that they don’t appreciate the (free, I should add!!) error identification and correction I offered them in the pub, but I guess some people are never happy.

On the other hand though, my English is contemporaneously slipping away like so many few girls. Since before Christmas the group of native English speaking people who I see regularly has contracted to the extent that, excluding myself (and a little too frequently at that), I don’t speak English to anyone (students don’t count), and even though I can regale myself with fantastical stories, I have the nagging feeling that I’ve heard them all before. I’m quite happy to speak to folk in Italian, so this isn’t intended to be a long-winded cry for help and friendship, but sometimes, and particularly since the turn of the year, it would have been nice to speak to an empathetic mother tongue English speaker - some things are just better explained in your native language. 

This has had the effect that under the heading of ‘things I’ve learned’, I can confidently put ‘words in Italian’. When I arrived, I knew not a jot, where as now I know quite a lot. I arrived maybe knowing three simple things, whereas now I even understand when a singer sings. I could barely string together a rhyme, but now I find myself doing it, well, quite a lot, really. Without wanting to show off (although given that you’re reading my blog on my website which I made primarily to poorly publicise my book, it’d seem that I want people to be aware of me), I reckon my Italian’s not too bad. To give an indication of the gazelle-sized leap I’ve made: when I first arrived, I thought ‘ciao’ only meant goodbye. How wrong I was - it also means hello! OMG. This didn’t save me from the first few demoralising days when I thought that everyone spontaneously and immediately decided to head off after being introduced to me. Sad face.

That’s quite a simple thing to have developed in seven years, of course. Really, the biggest change I’ve noticed in myself is that I’ve grown up. I now think that the seven-year-ago-me probably wouldn’t be very engaging company anymore. Not that I’m particularly captivating now, it’s just that back then my brain was full of cotton wool and I didn’t really think about stuff. I knew what I knew and didn’t understand most things, and ambled along in that way for a good few years. I fear I hurt a couple of people, and generally played the textbook mid-twenties boy.

A few years ago, however, perhaps brought on by co-habitation with a human female, I started to grow up and become an adult rather than the photocopy of a person that I had been before. Like an immature, awkward chrysalis bursting free from the protective elongated embrace of adolescence, I turned into a slightly more mature, awkward adult human. Finally, I think about things in a reflective rather than instinctive way, though with dismay I realise the kicker that now the mistakes I make are adult-sized rather than kid-sized. It may be the case that I think about some things too much, but while I try to whittle this down into the Goldilocks zone of churning over things, I think it’s better to think too much rather than too little. This is the principal change I see in myself.

I’m not going to bore you with any mistakes I’ve made here and now, but suffice to say that the last year erred on the shite side of things. However, through its shiteness, I hope I’ve learned an important lesson. It’s true, it’d be nice for important lessons to be visible before the mistakes that spawn them are made, but that doesn’t seem to be how life works out. Therefore, and despite being warned about it beforehand, I needed my mistake to simultaneously slap me in the face and kick me up the arse for me to appreciate it and take it on board. A good kick up the arse can be a helpful thing every so often, and so while it was, and at times continues to be, hard to see the silver lining, it is there - it just takes a bit of mental squinting to find it.

While I’m happy to give well-meaning advice, I’m not one for accepting it. After all, no one else can be right when I’m a genius and know everything! In that respect I haven’t changed one iota, but hopefully I will, though time will tell if I develop a receptivity in that regard. Fingers crossed, eh.

I have of course also written a book, which I’m rather pleased with, even if I’m sick of the sight and sound of it now. I’m sure that in five years or so I’ll look back on the whole process fondly, but just now it’s still a bit too recent to be anything more than a reminder of a massive amount of work (not my favourite thing, that) and a monopolisation of my brain when I could really have been thinking about other stuff.

To bring this crashing towards something that resembles a conclusion, these years have unoriginally been the best of times and the worst of times. I’m dead happy that I came here, even if I feel like it’s maybe drawing to a close. I don’t have any plan for what’s next, but the itch to spread my wings a bit more is getting stronger. Hopefully I can keep on growing as a person, and as a person who knows what a mistake looks like as it appears on the horizon. Even then, the experiences, for good or bad, that I’ve had here have made me the person I am today, and so - to (almost) quote Galway Kinnell - the only thing I can trust in is time. After all, hasn’t it carried me everywhere, up to now?