As you probably know, Italians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I really felt its absence at last weekend’s farmers market here in the Garbatella. I bought pancetta and fresh pecorino to make carbonara for the first time for a friend (with great success), stocked up on local apples, pears and clementines, and had an amusing conversation in Italian with a farmer while buying squash. I walked out with a bounty too heavy to carry, but it didn’t include a sack of potatoes, cranberries, or a turkey. I can’t help but think back to just one year ago, as I entered Trader Joe’s on Masonic at Geary in San Francisco. Bouquets of red, orange and yellow flowers at the entrance, the bright lights raining down on stacked boxes of stuffing and cornbread mix, pyramids of canned pumpkin, aisles of local pinots and chardonnays. What a contrast.
I do love to eat. But the food isn’t my favorite part of Thanksgiving. In fact, this week I felt relieved that today wouldn’t be spent piling mounds of food onto a plate and unbuttoning my pants to make room for dessert. Instead, I spent the day at work, where our manager (an American) brought us some crostata and a delicious apple cake, which I enjoyed with a caffè americano. I ate lunch with a coworker, complete with roasted chicken and potatoes, a glass of red wine, and carrot cake and espresso (yes, drinking during the work day is acceptable). Dinner was a simple meal of rice, local squash, and chard sauteed with pancetta and garlic (photo above-excuse the sloppy presentation). Now that’s a rather healthy, balanced, non-gluttonous Thanksgiving.
But as I ended my work day, I started to feel really unsatisfied. Thanksgiving for me is all about friends, and I am really missing everyone back in the States. I trudged over to the Monteverde district for my weekly Italian lesson and another painful hour fumbling over verb tenses and pronunciation. I bought an Italian newspaper on my way home, frustrated by my lack of progress and fueled by determination to improve. As I walked home I read a “Happy Thanksgiving” email from one of my best friends back in San Francisco, and a wave of loneliness and homesickness came over me.
How I wished to be there.
These feelings are only natural to someone like myself who is thousands of miles away from home. I recognize that.
But I also recognize that this strange, challenging and overwhelming city is home too.
I laugh everyday. And I mean that. Everyday. Romans love to joke, and you get extra points if you know how to laugh at yourself.
While it’s rare to hug, the kissing on each cheek when you greet someone is a warm embrace in itself. I cherish it.
I have a small group of friends here. And today, each one of them contacted me. I am grateful for their friendship and the connection we have with one another.
Although I struggle with the language, I feel like I understand myself better than I have in a long time. And that’s a good place to start.
No matter where I am in the world, there’s a lot to be thankful for. Here’s a few examples.
- I am thankful that my father is recovering well from double knee surgery, and is getting stronger every day.
- I am thankful to be here in Rome and to have a dream become a reality.
- I am thankful for my mother. She is one of the strongest people that I know.
- I am thankful to work for an organization that is helping people in West Africa affected by the Ebola virus.
- I am thankful that my younger sister found her life partner.
- I am thankful for tonnarelli cacio e pepe.
- I am thankful for my older sister, who is providing love and care to my cat as he recovers from an accident. He could not be in better hands.