Greetings from my parents’ house in the leafy suburbs. Their adorable backyard feels like vacation. I have a new apartment in a quaint neighborhood of the Bronx, but my movers aren’t coming until the 18th. Now I just chill and reflect as I get settled back into the USA.
There are so many stories to tell — I’m only in January and might jump around, focusing on whatever I’m in the mood for that particularly day. My head is spinning, my brain buzzing with so many experiences that I didn’t allow to resonate and soak in before jumping into the next amazing adventure. Sometimes I worry it’s like dipping a white t-shirt into too many tye dye colors, turning the shirt into a murky brown, over-saturated. But I think with space and reflection, the stories can shine through.
Sunrise Swim at my local beach. And even though it was the closest, it was also my favorite place to swim in Genoa.
I took my last swim and scooter ride at sunrise on July 31st, did the final check of my apartment, called a cab and boarded the plane on a gorgeous day for a tearful farewell to one of the most beautiful places in the world. And I was lucky enough to call it home. Just because a decision is hard or painful, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I know it’s time to move on, and I’m already planning to spend most of the summer back in Liguria and Europe, but there is nothing like living there. When I was interviewing for international jobs, one director said, “It’s like taking a cold shower every day.”
It really was. I have been shocked by how easy it is to communicate and get things done here back at home. How boring and normal it all seems, but also how comfortable. Like a warm shower or bath. Now the challenge is to keep Italian Kristin alive in NYC. Part of that will be sharing my stories here, and hopefully one day turning them into something more polished.
“Do not cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”-Dr. Seuss
Yesterday, I walked out of the building for the last time as a teacher. Saying goodbyes to colleagues I wouldn’t see this summer, I eventually choked up on my way out the door, overwhelmed that I was leaving my favorite job, my favorite apartment, and my beautiful home in Europe, walking distance to the sea.
This was a dream I had for many, many years – probably since I took my first trip to Europe in 1997: Paris, the Riviera and Rome. The tour also included Florence and Assisi — and I realized I loved Europe, loved the way I felt in Europe, and wanted more. I studied abroad in England in 2001. I backpacked alone for the first time that summer. I came back the following summer for more. I kept coming back. I remember telling a close friend,”When I close my eyes, I see Europe. It’s all I want.” I dreamed, and schemed, and then in January 2012 I accepted my job, in a story as told here when I celebrated 6 months in Europe. I almost chickened out, but I knew in my gut it was the right step, a necessary check on my timeline. And when it was time to decide whether to stay in this beautiful, peaceful, comfortable life or move on to my next adventures, I waffled and struggled, but for many reasons, I knew that it was time for NY. Maybe not forever, maybe just for a year or two, but for some reason, it’s time to be in NY. When confronted with the easy path or the hard one, I know I will grow from the challenging path. As weird as it sounds, the challenge at this point is to move home. I have enjoyed every moment of my time here, and rather than stay and resent certain things or wonder what if, I am leaving at my peak of enjoyment, preserving the memory. But before I tie the bow on this experience, I have a Grand European Farewell Tour!
I remember my New York Grand Farewell Tour. From February until my August departure, I savored every moment of my life in New York, visiting things like a tourist, going out with my friends as much as possible, and realizing how great things were at home. With this new trajectory, I scraped off my barnacles and felt revitalized and full of energy. Of course, none of this was easy. The emotions of leaving my job, friends, family, car and familiarity; the bureaucratic paperwork that took until just days before I hopped onto my plane–my friends wondering if I’d even be able to go when I was at my farewell party; packing my apartment for storage and shipping some belongings overseas; completing the days of paperwork and office visits upon arrival; figuring out how to get a cell phone and internet, how to ask for things at the grocery store, how to call a taxi, where to find tacos, where to buy cheddar (not in Italy!), where to get deodorant with antiperspirant; cooking daily; purchasing and riding a scooter; retrieving contacts stuck in customs; changing that strange fluorescent light bulb; getting the guy to get the geckos out of your water heater; getting stuck places because of delays or train strikes; dealing with Italy in general. But it was all worth it, and it was all possible thanks to the kindness of my colleagues and the patience of my friends and family who listened to my homesick gripes as they faded. Genoa became my home.
They say you can’t go home again, so I know I’ll have to reacclimatize to New York City, finding my more relaxed Mediterranean ways might not suit me well in the frenzied city. Yet I will have friends, family, and all the things I’ve been missing. I am setting new goals, treating my time back in NY as possibly temporary, so I need to enjoy it while I can. I want a nice apartment (no downgrades since I love what I have now); I have my leased car and I’m going to get a scooter there as well! I’m going to try out more adventure activities (rock climbing, kayaking, whatever comes my way). I’m going to do more US travel on the weekend. Friends in Cali and Chicago, I’ve never been to Colorado, Skiing in Vermont — so much to see! I’m going out in the city as much as possible mixed with many chill dinners at home with my closest friends. I’m also looking forward to my cats; I’ve been known to Skype them.
The job search from abroad was certainly tricky. I had resigned from the NY City public schools, so I wasn’t guaranteed a job in the system. I had to apply to even be considered as a candidate. Then I had to find the right fit. All through email or skype and with a time difference. Yet it worked out!
I absolutely love where I work now. I’m happy to say that my new school is also an excellent match for me: internationally minded,with coworkers who have worked abroad and/or traveled extensively like me, IB-inspired, semi-selective and serving a community of students who want a rigorous curriculum despite their incoming scores (except for the honors classes–which are selected). I will only be teaching 11th grade plus one elective (currently I teach 8,9,10,11,12). I enjoyed the variety of 5 grades, although it will be nice to just have one preparation so I can focus. I really liked what I saw when I flew in last month for both the school visit and a wedding, Just before I received the official job offer, my boss told me that my job opened up again here. I had agonized over the decision, spent a long time preparing for my job search, and ended up with something special and rare. I knew I couldn’t second guess. I just had to go, so I accepted the offer and am on my way.
A few days here to enjoy the gorgeous weather of June in Genoa. Days at beach, nights at beachside bars, perhaps dancing. Riding my scooter all around. Then next week, I fly to Belgium to visit my friends in Ghent and enjoy a charming canal view hotel room in Bruges. Upon my return, I have some time in Genoa again before Krakow with a friend for 4th of July weekend. I fly back, then that evening, two great friends from NY will be staying with me to explore the region. After they leave, I have a day to pack for my big adventure and pack up my apartment for the big move. I head to Interlaken, Switzerland in the Alps for a charming 2 nights on Lake Brienz, one of my favorite spots in the world. Peaceful reflection, hiking, biking, swimming. . . ahh! Next, I take a train to Constance, Germany where I meet up with my father. We will visit spas, museums, and explore with a car. Next, we take a train to Merano in the Dolomites, for hiking and fresh air, followed by Trieste where we meet a family friend, then a drive to Lake Bled, Slovenia (new country for me!), then to Rimini for a night, a quick peek at San Marino, then finally a couple of nights in the Cinque Terre before my shippers come. Dad and I enjoy a couple of days in Genoa, he leaves, then I have a few final days before back to the USA. It’s been great, and there are great things ahead.
My 10th grade students were so sad I was leaving. They wrote a sweet card, thanking me for “Being the Best English Teacher We Ever Had” and gave me this gorgeous Murano Glass Heart necklace. So touched!
I was wearing the perfect outfit for this sweet gift. That evening, I went to Milan for the evening to meet up with my brother and his girlfriend who just arrived from NY. This is in my hotel room there. I spent a lot of time in Milan hotel rooms coming and going somewhere special or meeting with friends and family.
For our last Italian class, we walked down to the sea for aperitivo and Italian conversation. Our colleague/teacher gave us these wonderful gifts so we can take a bit of Genoa with us!
I’m enjoying every moment. Right now, I’m enjoying a lazy day in bed, the door open to my terrace as the sunshine spills in, birds singing sweet melodies that are the soundtrack to my life here along with the occasional scooter. I have the peace and time to reflect. Content. Filled with gratitude. I have been truly blessed.
When I first accepted my job offer in Genoa, I knew very little about the city other than salami and her seaside location near the 5 terre. A NYC colleague told me, “You have to see the movie with Colin Firth . . . it’s filmed in Genoa.”
Luckily, that movie happened to be streaming on Netflix, and I watched it over and over and over as I prepared for my departure. I was mesmerized by the medieval center, the stunning coastline, the scooters, and other aspects of the city. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in La Superba!
Before my departure (as well as several times after) family and friends have shared this great NY Times Travel Article: 36 Hours in Genoa. I have hit many of these items, but a few remain (including the aquarium).
Anyways, with all of my crazy travels, weekends in Genoa are actually quite rare. I love exploring with a visitor, and this time it was with my Dad. Dad celebrated his 60th birthday just a couple of days after I left NY this summer. I was so sad to miss it, and I wanted to make it special. This visit was about seeing me, but also about seeing Europe and celebrating this milestone.
[important note: My parents are happily married of 37 years, but they do not travel together because of the cats. Ask me later . . .]
So, I came home from work and began preparing a special birthday dinner for Dad. I wrote a letter of recommendation for Fordham University for a student / daughter of my colleague. As a thank you, the mother gave me a jar of delicious homemade sauce.
I used that sauce to make some fresh pasta, and I whipped up one of my favorite treats: I take round focaccia (oily, crispy yum found only in Liguria . . . well, it’s only good here), and spread it with pesto (again, only good here). I slice tomatoes and bufala mozzarella (sometimes just regular fresh mozzarella), and spread on the focaccia followed by garlic powder and fresh ground pepper. I bake in the oven until it smells amazing and serve. It’s absolutely delicious.
I served these things for Dad along with salad and some beer. Then off to the city center for drinks with a bunch of my coworkers. Yet another fun al fresco night in Piazza del Erbe, the social center of Genoa.
The next morning, I made Dad coffee and French toast, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon (can’t find maple syrup here). I finished the recommendation process for the student while Dad took a stroll down to the sea. Upon his return, we took the bus to the train station then transferred to the metro to the port. Genoa’s metro only has a few stops, but it’s convenient even if it doesn’t have any maps at the stations! Once down there, we visited the resident submarine at the sea museum.
Watch your head!
The museum was such a surprise. After a visit to the sub, we had an hour and a half to explore. We didn’t realize that we spent almost an hour on the first floor at the Columbus exhibit; as we finished that first floor, two workers came to tell us that we had to hurry as there were only 45 minutes left and 3 more floors to see.
Replicas of Columbus’s ships
It was well-layed out, interesting, engaging, and fun. The top floor featured a replica of a ship that immigrants would have taken to the USA and Ellis Island. I was retracing the steps of my great Grandfather who came from Podenzano (near Piacenza). He left the port of Genoa for Ellis Island!
My great grandparents came over in similar quarters
The museum closed before we got to finish, rushing a bit at the end, so I will certainly be back. What a wonderful suprrise!
Then to dinner along the port, in one of the most stunning settings — something I will miss dearly whenever I decide to move on from my life here in Genoa. We enjoyed absolutely fantastic appetizers (fried vegetables), a great meal and ambience.
We had great conversation, and then dessert. I had pernod flambet — it was like absinthe and I couldn’t feel my lips. I was perfectly content as was Dad. What a nice life.
Back to my apartment and to sleep.
The next morning, we had cereal and coffee, then out for a scooter ride. I took Dad onto Corso Europa, the fastest highway I can go on with my 125 — then we wound our way up a local mountain before heading back. It was exhilarating. Come along for a ride with us:
Then back for our bags and to the Genoa airport for a quick flight on Volotea to Palermo, Sicily — where Dad’s maternal grandparents emigrated from!
In Italy, I watch Hulu over a NYC VPN, which gives me local commercials and subsequently helps me feel connected while getting my American TV fix. In the months before I left Genoa, I kept seeing one commercial over and over. An ad for the Jersey Shore: Stronger than the Storm. The commercial aims to let people know that although Superstorm Sandy devastated the area, much money and time has been invested to clean up beaches, rebuild boardwalks, and reopen businesses to lure tourists again to one of our favorite vacation meccas.
It’s kind of cheesy but super catchy, and the commercial fills me with pride for home. And now that I am home, I am happy when the commercial comes on. I’ve even wondered if there is a full-length version of the song. I am kind of embarrassed to admit it because I know it may annoy many, but for me I love the message. I was born in Yonkers, NY and didn’t move to NJ until I was 9, but I lived there long enough to get that Jersey pride, long enough to know that the show Jersey Shore might be representative of a small group of folks who get a house in Seaside (or Slea Side) but that is not what it really is. It’s families and friends. Something so simple and pure.
“Do they really have to advertise they are open?” critics ask. “Are they really afraid they are going to be impaled on a carnival ride or something?” Well, that might be part of it, but the other part is to let people know that while yes, there is much work to be done, the beaches and boardwalks are there for us to enjoy once again. Coming to the shore again is step 1 in the healing process. Other critics say, “Why would they focus on the boardwalks when people are homeless?” The truth is that they must invest in tourism to bring more money and life back to the shore points. If people stop visiting, the economic damage will be even worse and the recovery even slower. I am horrified and upset at how long it is taking to rebuild after Sandy, and I speak from a personal standpoint because my brother’s two businesses suffered severe flood damage and he was denied FEMA loans for both. But I am happy that Jersey is moving forward.
This past Sunday, I went to the Jersey Shore for the first time since Sandy. I drove down with my friend Brendan who you may recall from my Spring Break posts in Italy and Switzerland. We headed for Point Pleasant, excited for a beautiful beachy day reliving fun memories from past summers down the shore. While talking in the car, we overshot Point Pleasant Beach, though, and ended up in Mantoloking where I gasped. There was clear devastation. Houses in ruins, the beach in various stages of cleanup, piles of debris everywhere. I was saddened and apologized for taking us to something we didn’t want to see, but Brendan said, “This is history. It’s important to see it. And also, this is a boom for the economy. Look at all the construction business.” That is true, but I hope people are ok.
Then eventually to Point Pleasant, with the boardwalk vibrant, filled with happy vacationers. There were many houses in various states of repair, but they had clearly worked hard to open shops. It felt right.
We darted straight into the waves, tumbling and laughing in the water. And when a wave would throw us into a pebbly mess, Brendan would say, “Perhaps we are not stronger than the storm. But you know what is? The shore.”
I took a relaxing nap on the beach and awoke, sifting seashells and pebbles through my fingers, wondering where these grains of sand were in October. Children laughed, families bickered, music blasted from the Jenkinson’s rebuilt Tiki bar. I was just so glad to be there. And afterwards, we had some homemade ice cream from Hoffman’s, which was the perfect end to a gorgeous and relaxing day. And we didn’t hit any traffic on the way home! The first of many Jersey Shore days this summer. Grateful.
It was super wonderful to be back in America for the 4th of July, which is both the birthday of America and my baby brother Rich. When he was very little, he used to think the fireworks were for him. And for many, many years, the entire family gathered at my parents’ house for a massive yet chill backyard BBQ / birthday celebration. After a day of silly conversations, lots of amazing food, and chillaxin’ or napping in the grass with grill-scented dreams, we’d convene around a Carvel ice cream cake to sing Happy Birthday. Everyone in Red, White, and Blue. Family. Friends. Joy. At night, I’d head off for some excitement with friends – fireworks, another BBQ or party. I love this quintessentially American holiday – patriotism, a whole summer of memories awaiting us. The anticipation of many good days. The epitome of why I wanted to be home now.
When I get nostalgic for the way 4th of July used to be, I think of the last episode of The Wonder Years, as they celebrated Independence Day . . . one last time the way it was.
The next day Winnie and I came home. Back to where we’d started. It was the fourth of July in that little suburban town. Somehow, though, things were different. Our past was here, but our future was somewhere else, and we both knew sooner or later we had to go. It was the last July I ever spent in that town. The next year after graduation I was on my way [. . . ]Like I said things never turn out exactly the way you’d planned. Growing up happens in a heartbeat; one day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets, and the thing is after all these years I still look back with wonder.
I grew up in Yonkers, NY on the border of the Bronx from 1980 to 1989 when I moved to a town much like that portrayed in Wonder Years, one of the Post-War suburban ideals where kids could be kids, biking to their friends, enjoying and exploring with wonder. Waldwick in Bergen County, NJ. I love my Yonkers experience, and it played a huge role in shaping my early years, especially with visits to Grandma in Innwood, Manhattan–sometimes feeling like a NYC kid. But I’m so grateful to my parents for choosing this beautiful, simple, peaceful town where I finished growing up and now stay when I return “home.”
Of course, just like for Kevin Arnold, home has changed.
After my grandparents passed away, as we all grew up and a bit more distant without the strong lure of the matriarch’s wings pulling us together, the giant family BBQ was canceled. Instead, now it’s just my parents hosting their kids, who have returned to the nest for the day or the summer. Yet while this year it was a bit quieter, with slightly less food and missing the laughter of my young cousins and the humor of my grandparents, it was a lovely day.
A friend visited me from the city, and we went swimming at Brookside, the lake where I used to lifeguard for many years. We enjoyed excellent food at my parents’ house, including the Carvel cake, and then drove into the city for a rooftop BBQ with some of my best friends from Fordham. Plenty of laughs, smiles, sunshine and relaxation as locals set off fireworks. I spent much of that party sharing stories and ideas from my time in Genoa, feeling completely grateful that, at least for now, I have the best of both worlds. I live a blessed life.
With my friend Denis who hosted a fabulous rooftop BBQ with his wife Natalie.
With my friend Kat, as you may remember from Whirlwind Weekend
So here I am home again after 10 months away, with just a 2 week interlude at Christmas time. Coming to America then after 4 months abroad, it was nice to be home; it was such a whirlwind that I didn’t have too much time to notice differences. But now after 6 straight months, after Liguria started to feel like home, after I’ve gone through all the phases of culture shock and adjusted to life in Italy . . . coming home has been . . .surreal.
Back in my city with my Starbucks Iced Coffee and the Empire State Building in the background
Of course home is comfortable. And it’s wonderful not to work, focusing on traveling, seeing friends, and just curling up on a couch with a book or my computer and this blog. 🙂 But it has definitely been a kind of reverse culture shock that has had me feeling weird and sometimes overwhelmed.
They say, “Leave New York before you get too hard; leave Los Angeles before you get too soft.” I chose Italy instead of Cali, I guess. Same idea. But while I’m still known around the school and the hood for my “tough, no nonsense, get it done and get it done now style” I have learned to relax and slow down more. I have that side of me that loves “Il dolce far niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing, as the Italians like to say. In New York, that is viewed as time wasted, and we’d be criticized for being unproductive. Let me tell you, I love to chillax’ and I brought that peace right here to my couch and the local beaches.
Jones Beach Field 6 in Long Island — where I went Saturday (not my own photo)
A local swimming hole by my parents’ house. I used to be the head lifeguard here for many years. Now I just enjoy the sand and fresh water swimming.
Before boarding the plane, I had a strange thought. “I’m heading back to a gun culture.” A thought that never really crossed my mind until I had so much time away from it. I could walk around Genoa at 3am, and often did. Even in the “bad” neighborhoods, you wouldn’t have to worry about guns, and shootings were not really in the news. I lived in a neighborhood in the Bronx where I used to hear gunshots periodically, sometimes once or twice a month or more. I got used to it, and I knew how to protect myself and avoid dangerous situations. But now that I’ve . . .softened . . . I’m wondering if I let my guard down too much. I have to remind myself to watch my back but to avoid fear. My coworker Paul said it best: “Genoa is so peaceful and passive. We really don’t have much to worry about here, do we?” And that has been nice.
There have been other moments of reverse culture shock that I will list. Not necessarily bad, just clearly different.
Driving my car, I realized I didn’t have those smooth, sharp skills and couldn’t just parallel park her like a thoughtless breeze. I did, however, improve my scooter skills during the past few months.
In the grocery store, I was overwhelmed and almost didn’t know how to handle it. All the variety of foods that I couldn’t find for months. Cheddar, all kinds of cheddar all over the place. Mexican, Thai, all kinds of options. Yum! And then aisles and aisles of pre-packaged, processed or frozen foods — foods that taste great but are filled with things that poison us. I learned really quickly once I moved to Italy that my health, fitness, weight and general well being improved in days just by eating fresh food. I missed a lot of these foods, but I knew that I couldn’t just dive in and gorge because my body is not used to it. How do I shop now? And oh wow, that blood orange juice from Italy is $7, where I could get it for 2 euros in Italy.
In Duane Reed, waiting for a train, I spent the time walking up and down the aisles at the absolute variety of products. Dozens and dozens of options for shampoo, deodorant, even 5 types of nail scissors. In Italy, you got the few items (or item) that the store chose. And I saw Opi nail polish for $9. It’s 17 euros in Genoa! I just walked up and down, and left without anything. I have trained myself that I don’t need that much stuff, and ultimately can’t afford it. But I was just mesmerized by the variety.
Walking through the streets of Manhattan, I heard English everywhere and felt comfortable. And the streets were wide, big. Manhattan is cramped and overbuilt, but there was space. Genoa consists of tiny streets, alleys, roads where you have to squish up against a wall to avoid being slammed by a passing car’s mirror.
Lying in the sand at the beach. It was powdery, soft, take it home with you type sand. So different from my pebbles or the trucked-in “tiny pebbles” that some beaches have.
Lawns and trees. I’m staying at my parents’ house in the leafy suburbs in NJ, 25 minutes from Manhattan. There are green, landscaped lawns everywhere. Tall trees, pine trees, so many different types of vegetation. I was worried how I’d react after leaving so much sublime and stunning beauty, but I have come to realize that it’s still beautiful here, just a different type of beauty. And I’m enjoying it.
Tipping. As I purchased my Starbucks Iced Coffee from a drive through — how American!– I saw the tip jar and remembered to throw in a buck before grabbing my marshmallow dream bar. I have to remind myself I’m back in a tipping culture. In Genoa, you don’t really tip at all, except maybe a euro or two at the hair salon. When I went out to eat, I had to remind myself that the bill was more than I thought. I’m afraid I’ve turned so European that I’d accidentally leave without tipping — but luckily, I’ve been with others so far. I did have that mistake in Ireland after a haircut when I walked out without tipping more than a couple of euros, then went back to be sure they got their 10 percent. oops! And as we know, the US is a 20 percent culture. It’s so weird to me after so much time in Europe where it’s included. But I know all too well that servers don’t get paid much. When I worked at Chili’s after college before my Australian jaunt and then eventually grad school, I only made 2 bucks an hour on the clock! Then I had to report my tips. I needed those tips, and what I actually made wasn’t mine because I had to tip out to the bartender, the expeditor, the food runners, etc. Whew. Anyways, differences.
This is all that’s on my mind for now. I’ll continue to post as they come to me. It’s fun to drive the same roads and bridges, sit in the same diners and cafes, and visit the beaches and city streets that I missed so dearly during my time away almost as much as the faces of those I love. But I’m not the me of Summer 2012 . . . I’m slightly European and it’s all slightly foreign. Very interesting.
I can’t even imagine how comedy author Bill Bryson felt after moving back to the USA after living in England with his wife and children for 20 years. Upon his return, he published the book I’m A Stranger Here Myself, which I have chosen as the title of this post.
Today’s a special post. Live from my office at my school on the last day of work. 10 months to the day since I boarded the plane in a whirlwind of emotions, leaving for my new life in Italy. The amazing, challenging, fun and incredible year has come to a close. My 9th year as a teacher. 6th year as a high school teacher. 2nd year teaching middle school. And my first year in Italy! It was a huge and exciting decision, and I can’t imagine if I had not accepted this amazing offer which has changed my life so positively. So much joy, beauty, adventure, some loss and lots of reflection. I spent much time thinking about NYC and my family, missing home and the familiar comforts. I spent much time getting excited about my travels and exploring the gorgeous landscape and culture of Liguria, but I was also always counting back hours to see what time it was in NY, looking at the weather, and messaging friends at home. Yet over all that time, Liguria became home. Tomorrow, I have a ticket to fly home. Where is home?
When I purchased this ticket — Thanks Dad! — my father then said, “You should have stayed a week or so to enjoy Italy and your scooter . . . or even to travel.” To be honest, I’m low on my travel budget, everyone’s heading off, and I just was really looking forward to a long, relaxing, extended time in NYC and Jersey with family and friends I have missed so much. And my cats! But now the weather is absolutely stunning, day after day. The turquoise blue waters call, and I dive in after work, then bask in the warm glow of sunshine sprawled on warm, smooth rocks and pebbles. I head to my friend’s house for vino on her balcony, which faces a castle, as we watch the sky turn pink then an inky indigo, long after 9:30pm before walking home under the stars. I stroll uphill to my apartment, past balconies strewn with beach towels, couples walking dogs (everyone has a dog here in Genoa), and smell the flowers in full, lush bloom. Genoa is at her finest right now, and I have chosen to leave her. And that hurts.
One of the many beautiful beaches along Genova’s coast.
Genoa will be stunning when I return in August, as I have learned from last year’s arrival. I was able to swim well into October. It was sunny almost every day in those months, and it will still be lovely. I have so many adventures, good times, wonderful conversations, beaches, lakes, mountains, hikes, fire pits, great food and smiles waiting for me at home. I guess I’m just really realizing the huge effect of a transatlantic move. My heart belongs here as well as there. I’m very grateful that I have another year to return and enjoy, and now that I am settled, the lessons are planned, the books read, and the details sorted — I can enjoy it all even more!
I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Last night, I just said goodbye to a choir friend who is moving back to Lithuania. (A great excuse to travel one weekend in the fall!). We had an excellent sushi meal followed by Neopolitan pastries, and then stood in the parking lot, lingering, delaying the inevitable. Now, my classrooms are cleaned, posters torn off the wall, drawers emptied, my office tidied, papers purged . . . and it was all a crazy trip down memory lane with flashes from the past school year. It really was wonderful and joyful. This is a special school.
At graduation, we said farewell to our seniors. Administration prepared a special slide show, showing pictures of the kids through the years. 3 of them started at age 3! I managed to hold back the tears until that rolled across the screen to one of my favorite songs “Send Me on my Way.” A few days later, the seniors returned to our farewell ceremony, to give some more speeches, lots of hugs, and then . . . on to their lives. It was an honor to be their teacher, to get to know them, and to be part of their lives. They have touched my heart, and while we had so much work to do, I always looked forward to class.
It is my last day of work with my colleagues, friendly faces I met on an August day before sharing focaccia formaggio by the sea, sharing aperitivi in Piazza del Erbe, dancing till early morning, laughing in the office during stressful times, and over time, becoming cherished friends. Off to lunch, one final meal for the school year.
The article brought the comments section together in love and tearful unity, where even the crankiest trolls were misting. A Cracked.com member created a petition to make his birthday a national holiday: March 20th – Rogers Day. Celebrities such as Alyssa Milano retweeted the article. Milano actually has the whole show on DVD for her son.
I read the piece a few times, with tears in my eyes, watching the embedded media that brought me back to my earliest memories, to the years that shaped me, and I realized I’m so much of who I am because he was my neighbor. I was filled with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and that night I had sweet dreams, taken back my childhood. My childhood was love. I need to make sure that my adulthood is love as well, even when in a world where hate is often revered.
I grew up on Mr. Rogers in the early 80s. Sure, I liked Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact and My Magic Garden along with a handful of other classic educational kids’ shows, but my favorite was Mr. Rogers. My mom even used to explain time to me in terms of episodes. “Your nap will be two Mr. Rogers.” “We are only going to be here for one Mr. Rogers.”
I didn’t realize why at the time, just that I looked forward to his changing his shoes and cardigan, seeing King Friday and Lady Lane, and learning about the world through his helpful videos. Although I hadn’t seen it in decades, I remembered this crayon video with almost total recall:
‘Hi Neighbor!” It felt like he was talking to me. He was my friend. And I had a sad feeling when he dressed to leave, but I knew I was loved and I would see him later. Luckily, I was raised in a family overflowing with love, and I had the added bonus of growing up in a time where there was at least one show on TV that made sure I knew I was special, with no gimmicks, no merchandise, no ulterior motive other than to love. Like Morrie says in Tuesdays with Morrie:
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levin said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.'”
I try to live a life of love, following the Jesuit motto of “men and women for others.” This is a wonderful reminder to make love a priority.
Reflecting on Mr. Rogers as an adult, I can see the dichotomy between the way I was raised and the way society tells me to live now. The media and our peer groups often want us to harden, to be sarcastic and tough and snarky. We are taught to be selfish, not in the “you are special” way of Mr. Rogers, but in the “I will get mine or else” way. Relationships are disposable. If a friend or lover doesn’t do what you want, give ’em hell. We are criticized for giving selflessly, for forgiving too quickly, for being too “soft” and devoting our lives to others — and for loving everyone for exactly who they are, not trying to make them who we want them to be. In our age of self-help books and photoshopped models, of people who are told they must go to college in order to be anything, that they must earn this amount of money, buy this house, live here, wear that, find this funny, get this hairstyle and this surgery, be this sexy, do this and that . . . how nice to think that someone might actually like you for you. Just as you are.
Bridget Jones’s Diary gave it a go:
Remember, love is all you need.
We all know the original, right? Well, I think this version is lovely as well. The whole movie was made with so much love from the cinematography to the music and voices — it really moved me. I like to be moved. In a world where we are all “too cool” to feel, I’m proud to be a feeler. And from reading the comments section on Brendan’s article, I am not alone. Mister Rogers was a role model in the formative years for generations of children. Somewhere inside, after years in the neighborhood, we were cultivated with loving, caring, empathetic hearts. We can be helpers.
After the Newtown shooting, like many others, I was seeking some kind of solace in a dark, bleak word. Shuffling through the facebook statuses and updates, the one that really spoke to me was a quote from Mr. Rogers along with a touching photo. I blogged this back in December.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers
His love was so genuine – just look at the beauty of that photo. Everyone reacted to him, even Koko. Watch the clip in Brendan’s article. I don’t want to spend time here rephrasing or repeating what Brendan compiled so eloquently. I’m just reacting to it, because I have been overflowing with emotions in a very good way.
When I was telling Brendan how much I loved his article, he said that the response has been overwhelming and he just wants to “stay out of the way and let his accolades flow.” Fred did all the work. “Fred is love,” he said.
I was lucky to grow up in a family that, flaws and all, was also love. I try to pass that love on to my students, to my friends and family, and hopefully will be able to share that love with my own children one day.
I conclude this rumination with gratitude. Gratitude for Mister Rogers’ ministry, gratitude for all of the wonderful people in my life in the states, here in Italy, and all over the world. I’m grateful for the amazing and happy childhood I had, where I could play with my dolls, color, run outside with my brother, and then back into the loving arms of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who made sure I knew I was loved. I am flooded with memories of Yahtzee and Boggle on a porch of a New Hampshire cabin, of baking with Grandma and licking the icing, of her holding my hand at night when I was afraid of the big bad wolf in Granny’s country house. Memories of walking to the newsstand with Grandpa for a pack of m&ms each day, even though there was half a bag sitting in the fridge from yesterday’s walk. Memories of Mom reading to me and Rich, both curled up on her lap. Memories of nightmares and tears, soothing songs, cuts and scrapes, band aids and ice cream cones. I remember Dad following us around with the movie camera, trying to document everything, and Mom making sure that — no matter what — we sat together around the kitchen table for dinner. I grew up with everything I ever needed because I was loved, and somewhere there is always a part of me sitting in front of the TV singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Even though I’m in Italy now, I’m still in the neighborhood. 143.
I love my life in Italy; it’s a magical adventure filled with wonder, many discoveries, and lots of beauty. School is a full and fantastic busy, and I have fabulous colleagues. Yet . . . my home will always be NYC.
Getting here was quite an adventure. I departed on the morning of December 20th, eager for an evening arrival home. Mamma’s cooking, cuddling with my cats, and seeing friends — a cozy, chill welcome. Instead, my flight from Genoa was cancelled. I was at the airport with several colleagues who were taking the same connecting flight to Munich before departing for our various destinations across the US. As we waited, we saw one of my students, his sister and father. They were on their way to LA.
DELAYED. We stared at the board and I grew more and more nervous as my connection in Munich was just over an hour. First a half hour delay, then an hour delay. Then it disappeared off the monitor. This was how they informed us that our flight was cancelled. We followed my students’ father outside security as he explained that this happened last week with the same flight. Mechanical difficulties. My student said, ‘They were spinning the propellar for an hour, then gave up.”
After an hour online to rebook our tickets, wondering if they could find us seats during the Christmas rush, we finally had our new connections. I was going to Munich at 5, then to Frankfurt where I’d sleep in a hotel and fly out the next morning. 17 hour delay. During this process, several other coworkers popped into the airport for Ryan Air flights to England. When Ryan Air is the reliable flight, you know you’re in trouble.
I was sad because I was supposed to land in NYC at 6pm that night, and possibly go out to meet some friends. But instead, I passed out exhausted in a really nice hotel room with light snow outside in Munich. It looked like the bed was comfortable until I went onto it and almost bounced off a la Clark Griswold in European Vacation.
To the airport early in the AM. Lufthansa was full so they rebooked me on United and the woman was kind and upgraded me to premium economy extra legroom seat. I didn’t realize until I boarded the plane and learned that these seats usually cost an extra $179 each way. Finally a break. I slept most of the flight, read a bit, and then flew over Brookside Swim Club, my old summer hangout where I worked, taught swim lessons, and was head lifeguard for many years. Now I go as a patron. My parents live very close, so I tried to spot the house, but couldn’t find it. I did see my high school, then the NYC skyline. Oh, how could I ever leave this great city? Only for a place as magnificent as Italy. I swear, New Yorkers have to be darned choosy when we take a post overseas. And there’s no where else I’d rather live in the states.
Groggy and sleepy, I showered for a tea party with family friends, then showered again to go to a dinner party. Halfway through the appetizers, it was 3:45am on my clock. I didn’t make it to dinner and was in bed soon after. On my way out of the city, I met up with a friend for quick drink and a fun reunion. I mentioned something about going home on January 5th, and he said, “This is home. You are going to Italy on January 5th.” Ahh, yes.
The following day, I chilled, went for a haircut and enjoyed my cats. On the 23rd, my parents and I took a train into Manhattan to see the decorations, the windows, and go to the Bryan Park Christmas Markets, a tradition my mom and I have done since 2007. This year, Dad joined. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it hurt my heart to see places that were so everday to me, so splendid . . .and knowing that soon I have to leave again until the summer.
Christmas Eve, I met up with two great friends for lunch in Ho-Ho-Kus. Turkey and Brie. mmm. Turkey! My brother joined the fam for dinner that night, and then it began snowing! Soon after, I drove to Fordham to sing with choir alumni in the beautiful Midnight Mass, a tradition that I have been doing since 2002 after I graduated.
Christmas Day, I woke up to a sunny, cozy morning, nursed a big coffee (can’t do that in Italy, although the flavor is much better) and opened a handful of gifts. It was a modest Christmas, but that is good because how much can I carry back anyway? And I got some nice things, including a Chi flat iron to play with. Also, I have a nice check which I decided to use for Spring Break. I’m taking suggestions. Where shall I go? So exciting.
It was so wonderful to be with the family, with everyone I love. It is very strange to live abroad, with people who are fast acquaintances and buddies, but you are away from your true friends and family. Your coworkers become your surrogate family — but it’s just not the same. Permanent expat life is so tempting, but this is the hard side. Being away. I don’t think I can stay forever. But the reunion was so nice and filled me with a warm glow. Content. I am blessed.
Merry Christmas. Buon Natale a tutti!
Here is a slideshow of my pictures in America so far.
Flying over Brookside. By the time I got my camera out, a cloud was in the way, but it’s the oval below with the docks. Cute.
A friend told me that when he found out his girlfriend was in the hospital, he jumped into a state of panic and would do anything to help, to ease her suffering. But he was far away at the time, and explained it was one of the most awful and terrifying feelings. He said, “You never went through that, so you don’t know how it was.” Well, I do now. The love of my life is the NYC metro area. But here in Genoa, there’s nothing I can really do but read and show my support.
It was a difficult decision to leave all my friends and family, and one of the greatest cities in the world with one of the nicest stretch of sandy beaches — the CT sound, Long Island, Queens, and my beloved Jersey shore. In the months leading up to my departure, I embarked on a “Grand Farewell Tour,” where I road-tripped to favorite spots — hiking in the mountains, visiting friends, and heading downtown to enjoy all the beautiful and wonderful things in my city. And my favorite part of the Grand Farewell Tour were all my weekend visits to beaches with one of my best friends. We went everywhere.
When we were at Point Pleasant, we gorged on greasy shore food from fried oysters to jalepeno poppers, washed it down with a cherry ice water, followed it up with an ice cream, then worked it all off in the waves for hours, bodysurfing and boogie boarding and feeling childlike bliss. Lying in the sand at the end of the day, salty and sun-kissed, we knew we had to hit the road for the traffic back home — otherwise, we would have stayed until the sun sank into the horizon and the stars appeared.
Point Pleasant Beach Boardwalk – memories from age 9 to today.
The day after my birthday in August, we went to Belmar, with a smaller more residential boardwalk and a more intimate beach setting. The waves were rough, tumbling us around like clothes in a washing machine, tossing me into the sandshell-strewn beach several times: the power of the ocean, of nature. It was another one of the best days of summer, followed by ice cream at what was probably the best place in Jersey. Chocolate peanut butter in a sugar cone. We were surrounded by kids and families and friends and everyone with that Jersey Shore smile. A day of beauty, of simple pleasures– holding on to the summer that was slipping away.
Homemade delicious ice cream and memories.
That was my last beach day this year. The next time I hit the salt water, it was on a pebbly “beach” here in Genoa, with calm blue waters, surrounded by dramatic cliffs and Italian bars. Different. I am so happy to live by the sea now; it’s always been a dream. Yet I miss the sandy beaches and quaint seaside neighborhoods of the Jersey Shore. I was looking forward to another beachy summer next year, visiting my favorite places and exploring new ones. Braving hours of traffic along with other beach-goers and only half minding because it’s so special and everyone’s so happy. It is the playground for the NY / NJ metro area.
Well, here are scenes from the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy hit. 25 heartbreaking pictures. The shore was pummeled, with images that reminded me of Hurricane Katrina. I was so moved and horrified by the scenes of Katrina that I signed up for a Global Outreach alumni volunteer trip with Fordham University. I wrote the following article about my experience — even 6 months later, it was so devastated and heartbreaking. I open, saying: “I was expecting tears. Instead, I was numb.” That’s how I feel right now — always on the verge of tears, but just in shock. Bearing Witness in New Orleans The tears will surface soon, I’m sure . . . once I can fully absorb and comprehend what has happened.
So much of NYC area was damaged as well. My brother has a music studio in Jersey City that was flooded with a few feet of water mixed with sewage and diesel. It took years to build everything and now they must rebuild. But they are ok. Those same guys also are part owners of a Brooklyn Liquor Company (Jack from Brooklyn) located in Red Hook. They produce Sorel, an awesome liqueur infused with hibiscus, Brazilian clove, Nigerian ginger among other special flavors. I crave it here in Genoa and can’t wait for a sip when I return at Christmas. Red Hook was severely flooded, and I don’t know how bad the headquarters was hit, but the guys tried to prep it as much as possible. 2012 was the Summer of Sorel, as this small company released their delicious hand-crafted product. I went to so many Sorel events, and spent so many lazy backyard days, sipping Sorel on ice and enjoying the Good Life. Savor every moment because things can change in a flash.
Without a TV in Genoa or access to the news reports, I get so much of my news from facebook statuses and links. Each revelation turns my stomach: Breezy Point, Queens – flooded then burned to the ground. Body count rising everywhere. People all over killed in their sleep by fallen trees. People dying from carbon monoxide poisoning due to their generators. Survivors who have lost their homes, their cars, their communities. Families cold and in the dark without power. My parents in the leafy suburbs might not get power back for 10 more days or so. Dad has to keep going to work in Secaucus, with a view of the broken crane in midtown. Mom tries to stay warm. Everyone must wait in line for hours to get gas — pumps at most stations not working due to electricity. It sounds like it’s from some kind of disaster or horror movie. But it’s real. “You don’t want to be here,” said Dad. “Be glad you are in Europe now. It’s terrible here.” He’s at work, panicked with stress — distanced. “Enjoy Belgium.”
I am. There is a magic, peaceful beauty here — a timeless fairytale break from reality. Bruges has a special power to soothe. It’s raining today — and I really need a break. As it’s my 9th visit to this gorgeous city, I’ve seen much of it. I’m here to enjoy and rest. Food, relaxation, contemplation. Perhaps some Flemish art.
Tonight, I stay in Ghent with a great friend I met here in Bruges over 11 years ago. Tomorrow we will meet up with the other friend before heading back to Bruges. Two guys I ran into all those years ago who have become lifelong friends and confidantes. The wonder of travel and the wonder of modern communication, first via email, scrawled on a bar coaster. And now facebook. The world is small. And I am looking forward to good conversations, laughter, and connection. Just as E.M. Forester says in Howard’s End “Only Connect.” And while I enjoy traveling on my own quite frequently, I just want to reach out and connect. We get through tragedies through the triumph of the human spirit. My dear New York area, I can’t be with you physically but I am there in spirit, loving you and thinking about you and wishing you well.