2 Years Gone

“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.

But first:

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!

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!

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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!

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.

Without Reservations: Travels of an Independent Woman

Back in Italy for year 2.   Three weeks after landing, I’m getting settled back into my routine, learning to let go of home again, and moving forward.   I had such a relaxing, restful summer with the people I love most, so it broke my heart to leave again.  Yet Genoa welcomed me with sunshine and stunning views, and along with some wonderful people, she reminded me that this is home too.

My flight landed on the 25th of August, and I began work on Monday the 26th — a week preparing for our students with evenings swimming in the Mediterranean or scooting about with Stella.   The next weekend, I was lucky enough to return to Venice as one of my best Fordham friends and her boyfriend were about to depart for a 2 week Adriatic cruise.  We shared an apartment one vaporetto stop away from the train station, and enjoyed a delightful Friday night strolling the streets, searching for the most perfect restaurant while catching up.  I was jealous of their upcoming cruise, but Kristen reminded me that I live in Italy.  Even if I had to go to work on Monday, it was the start of a new school year at a job I love, a far cry from the chaos and stress of the life I left behind in the overcrowded schools as one of many frazzled and under appreciated NYC teachers.   On Saturday the 31st, before they boarded the “People Mover” to their cruise, Kristen handed me her copy of Without Reservations, a book she mentioned over dinner in the US this summer.  A woman leaves her job for about 9 months, to follow her dream of immersing in several European locales without reservations.  She was going to avoid planning and to see what happens.

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I began the book yesterday.  The best and worst aspect of living alone far from home is Saturday morning.  I wake up in my cozy, renovated apartment with its terra cotta and marble floors, exposed brick, and garden views.  I wake up too early due to the ever present bells, birds, and scooters.  I make some coffee.  Maybe turn on Netflix or Apple TV.  I check to see if I got any iMessages or texts on WhatsApp.  Scroll through email.  Scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds.  And it’s only been 15 minutes.  The weekend looms before me, all mine for whatever I want to do, whether that is nap on the couch, stare at the wall, or travel somewhere.  But as exciting as independence is, it’s also lonely.  We are wired for family.  And I left mine in the States.

I went to move my scooter, but it was so beautiful and sunny that I couldn’t just go back inside after circling the block, so I rode along the coast.  I hit a snag of traffic and tried something new . . . passing the huge line of cars, crossing into oncoming traffic cautiously, and relishing the true pure joy of owning a scooter.   Winding high in the Ligurian Hills, with the Mediterranean to my right, glittering in the sun, I could smell flowers and fireplaces.  I saw my reflection in the rearview mirror, and I was smiling.  I paid a price for this, but what bliss!  As I reached Recco, known for inventing delectable focaccia formaggio with its flaky crust and liquidy stracchino, I climbed high into the hills on unexplored little roads, treating myself to sublime views.  I stopped Stella and was about to reach under the seat for my iPhone but realized I didn’t have it.  I just stepped out for a minute . . . didn’t plan this.  So, free from social networks, free from sharing the experience, I was able to fully immerse myself in it and enjoy in the moment.  It felt more special and pure as a result.

I wound my way down the hill, past super fit bikers challenging their lycra-clad quads, and headed back home where I changed into a swimsuit to hit the beach before the good sun was gone.  The pebbles were strewn with seaweed, providing a softer than usual bed.  I fell asleep to the cadence of Italian voices.  When I awoke, I practiced deciphering the sounds, realizing that I understand more than just snippets of conversation these days.  “Watch me, watch me uncle!”  “I can’t believe what she said.”  “We had ravioli and prosciutto and [kisses fingers] it was delicious.”  “Children, it’s time to go.” Real conversations.

I waded into the choppy water for a good workout.  Instead of just swimming, I have been using the aqua-size skills I learned from Mom’s class at the Y.  And since the salt water makes us more buoyant, I can do these exercises without the flotation belt.  It’s fun, and I can do both cardio and strength training while enjoying the stunning scenery all around me.  After a half hour of cross country skiing, reverse jacks, hamstring curls, etc . . .I swam back and towel dried.  When I reached into my bag, I saw the book from Kristen, and as the sun turned into the Golden Hour, I began.  Over a year later, I’m still in awe at where I am and what I am doing.  The old me would have read this book with complete longing, traveling vicariously through the author.  Now I read it as a companion to my own journeys.

I was drawn in right from the opening inscription:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.  -Zora Neal Hurston

This is my time for answering, I suppose.  While I am temporarily rooted in Italy, I have the freedom to wander on weekends and breaks, or even after work.  I have the mental space to reflect and allow my mind to wander.  And after all the hard work of settling in last year and prepping for 5 different classes while learning the IB and catching up students who were behind . . . ahh . . . I have space and free time this year.  It is wonderful, and I have earned it.

When Alice Steinbach left for Paris, a friend said “Cheers to a successful trip.”

What I didn’t say was that “success” was not something I was seeking from this venture.  In fact, I was determined not to judge this trip, or its outcome, in terms of success or failure.

As I noted in previous posts, expectations breed disappointment.  I am trying to take this adventure as it comes: the good and bad, the wild and relaxing, the painful pining and euphoric awe . . . filling my days with wonder and writing my story.  I’m writing some of it here as I reflect along the way.  But my mother reminded me, “Your story is not yet written.”  Who knows what is next?  All I know are my plans for class and the trips that I have booked.  Sitting here on my couch, shipped from NYC, with my cozy favorite blanket and a bottle of Barbera del Monferrato vino . . . I relish my freedom and independence.  I don’t want to live like this forever, and I won’t, so cogliere l’attimo.  Back to my book.

Send me on my way

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.

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.

Send me on my way now, but just for the summer.