In about 4 hours, a shuttle will pick me up and take me to Fiumicino Airport to catch a flight back to the United States. But the reason is a good one. My hopefully future employer and I concluded salary negotiations on Wednesday, and I’ve signed a contract and other paperwork to get final written approval to be a consultant on a four-month contract. So I’m getting a jump start on obtaining a work visa from the Italian consulate in the US, in time to return to Italy for my first day of work on August 22nd.
While everything is moving in the right direction, I still need to get written confirmation, pending submission and approval of all documentation, including medical and security clearance. So it’s still not quite time to celebrate. Anything could go wrong. A rejection on the security clearance. Work visa application issues. Things have been moving so slowly that the worrying part of my brain thinks the employer will suddenly say that it’s not worth the trouble and back out of the contract.
I thought about this tonight over pizza as I was trying to relax from a frantic day of gift buying, paperwork signing and faxing. In between bites full of prosciutto and mozzarella, my mind considered what this would feel like. For the past month, it became more and more likely that I’d need to return to the States to get a work visa, and I became excited at the prospect of seeing family and friends. In all that time, it never occurred to me to consider what it would feel like to leave Italy after two months, never to return.
The first emotion was immediate sadness. And not in a grateful, nostalgic, “thank you San Francisco, it’s been a great ride” kind of sad. But a “I’m not ready to let go” kind of sad. I felt like crying, but that would ruin my dinner.
But the next emotion was shocking enough to make me put down my pizza.
I came to Italy to avoid this. For the past year, I dreamed of living here, and despite great friends, a job promotion, and a fantastic lifestyle, I knew that regret would move in to my apartment in San Francisco if I didn’t take the plunge. So how in the hell did it follow me to Rome?
Because when I pondered the idea of not returning, my mind immediately thought of all of the things I hadn’t done. I spent the majority of July waiting on next steps for a job. And maybe that’s what I should have been doing, since landing a job is what will allow me to live here. But as a result, I stayed in the city and didn’t travel around as much as I wanted. And honestly, some days in Rome were just hard. I quickly grew tired of sightseeing and the swarms of tourists, and I hated not having someone else’s company when exploring the city. I was also trying to watch my budget, as no job was confirmed (and still isn’t). But why didn’t I make the most of every day here in Rome instead of surfing the internet or reading a book? My mind went over all of the things I failed to do in the past two months.
I never made it to Parco degli Acquedotti.
I never made it to Assisi.
I never had maritozzo, a Lazio specialty.
Why didn’t I try harder at Italian?
I never saw an opera.
I should have gone to the beach!
I never kissed an Italian man.
Ouch. That last one was a “10” on the regret scale.
When I was seeing a life coach, she had me focus on successes. So I picked up my pizza, took a bite, and started to make a mental list of what I accomplished and experienced.
I saw some of Rome’s finest: The Capitoline Museums, the Borghese Gallery, Appia Antica and the Baths of Caracalla.
I explored a lot of neighborhoods, such as Prati, Trastevere, Testaccio, and San Lorenzo.
I ate about 20 different flavors of gelato.
I mastered Italian domesticity – grocery shopping, cooking, and especially laundry.
I took day trips to Napoli, Orvieto and Perugia.
I saw the Rolling Stones, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
I made some really great friends, who made me laugh harder than I’ve laughed in a long time.
I got propositioned for sex in Villa Borghese. Okay, not a plus, but an amusing experience.
I had conversations in Italian. And compliments on my language skills.
So the “what I did” list started to become longer than the “what I didn’t do” list.
I’m not going to say that I’m no longer anxious about leaving Rome tomorrow. But I am grateful for the reminder of how much I wanted this, and not to take it for granted. When I return, I look forward to making the most of every day here. You Italian men have been warned.
As a promise, I stopped for gelato on the way home at Gelateria dei Gracchi, one of my favorite gelaterias in my Prati neighborhood. I always get a cup as opposed to a cone, but tonight I opted for the cone as well as the optional panna, or cream that they put on top of the gelato. As for which two flavors to choose, it was obvious: pistacchio (pistachio), the Italian favorite, and fichi (figs), my personal go-to flavor. I smiled at my cone: the green pistachio on one side, fig on the other. Distinct, yet connected, blending more and more together with every lick.
As I made to leave the gelateria, I was stopped by two nuns, who asked me a question in Italian about the gelato. At first I thought they were asking me what flavors I chose. But then the nun asked in Italian, “how much does the cone cost?”
In Italian, I responded. “Well, for the small cone, it’s 2,50 euros.”
They thanked me as I walked out the door.
I giggled the rest of the way down the street. I just helped two nuns buy ice cream cones.
Another one to add to the “what I did” list.
See you in a few weeks, Rome.