About a month into my time in Italy, my host family moved to their house in the country, where they live in the summer with the grandparents. The house was huge, very old, and seemed quite haunted at night. This was, for some reason, the ceiling of my bedroom. It was a tiny little bedroom–white walls and a green carpet that looked like a golf course–and this ornate ceiling. I don’t know who painted it or why it was this elaborate. I tried to ask and got no answers.
Anyway, this was obviously a way of living I was unaccustomed to. I was in a tiny little town, living in a huge house (see, it’s usually large city, tiny house) and NO WIFI! But there were two things that I was accustomed to that translated beautifully– coffee and pasta.
Every morning, I walked Cristina and Francesca to their summer camp whose name just translated to Kid’s Summer. It was close to the town center, as much of a center as the town had. We had to walk down a long, long hill from our house, and near the end of it, it got the kind of steep where the backs of your ankles just ache from the pressure. We would chat and chat. My favorite kind of chat was asking the girls “do you have _____ in Italy?” This could be concepts, TV shows, foods, literally anything that I had not yet noticed in my time. I’m sure they got irritated with it. We would sing our favorite songs. I was (still am) particularly obsessed with Miley Cyrus’ “Malibu,” and the girls got me into an Italian combo rap/ballad song called “Piccole cose” by J-Ax and Fedez and they would also sing Zara Larsson’s “Symphony” but didn’t know any lyrics except “I just wanna be part of your symphony.” I heard that song today and my heart panged for them. Anyway. The walks were tough but we had fun. We always had fun!
When I got back to the house, sweating from the uphill walk which was 9 times worse than the downhill one, I wanted to just chill for hours. AND CHILL I DID. This was where the second part of the morning routine happened. Stovetop espresso, babaaaay. I was taught to make espresso by Cristina. Who is 8. It was one of the first moments I had with her when I got to Turin. It was breakfast time and I asked how to use the espresso maker. Cristina was absolutely thrilled to show me, climbing up on a footstool to grab her materials. If an eight year old could do it, I figured I could as well. So began my routine. I would get back to the house, start my espresso, and put some milk on the stove to heat up. This method of making coffee became ritualistic in the most satisfying way. It didn’t feel as comforting to put ground coffee into my Krups coffee maker at home. I liked hearing it sputter on the stove, watching the liquid pour over the little spout. I loved the smell.
I would froth the milk then. They had a little contraption that you could heat the milk in on the stove and then stick an attachment in that would froth it. This is another thing that I’m sure I could find in America but it just seemed so clever and continental that I could barely stand it. I could make near-perfect cappuccino foam in seconds, foam that I could never manage whenever I had to make espresso drinks at a past job. So I would take it out to the garden, a place that became the embodiment of peace for me. It was perhaps the most singularly peaceful place I’ve ever been. I would park myself on a foldable lawn chair with my handmade cappuccino, my journal, my headphones.
I had no wifi for Spotify so I would listen to music from high school that I had downloaded from my laptop. I would listen to my music and drown in my nostalgia as I am wont to do. I would journal and stare at the sky and land across from me. To me, it was my perfect place. The breeze could get me, it was shady and blue and green in equal amounts. There was endless sky and endless trees and land. It made me feel balanced and completely content. This right above was what I stared at for hours.
Al fresco dinners were another routine. When it wasn’t raining, we would eat dinner outside in the garden, in my peaceful place. I would set the table with their tablecloth and their beautiful china, and we would eat. Me, my host family, and their grandparents. I was around the Badinis’ grandparents for over a month and I just wished I could speak Italian or they could speak English, neither of which were true.
Let’s have a quick aside about the grandparents: Nonna was the kind of old lady queen I aspire to be in fifty years or so. She made things happen, she was in charge, and she was confident. Nonna secured her iconic position in my head when she straight-up wore a crop top at the age of probably 88. AND SHE WAS WORKING IT. OBVIOUSLY. She ruled and made an incredible risotto. Nonno…well, I’ve never wanted anyone else to be my grandfather more than Nonno. I have one wonderful grandfather, but I also have a list of “dream grandpas” on my phone that include Junior Soprano, Joe Biden, Richard Gilmore, and Bernie Sanders. But Nonno TAKES THE CAKE. I knew maybe four words that he ever spoke but I KNEW he was the sweetest man I’d ever met. He had joy radiating around him. Every time I was around him I just wanted to hug him and really wished it wouldn’t have been weird if I had. One day I realized I had no idea what Nonna‘s real name was. Evidently I was not alone. While Francesca and I were setting the table one evening, I asked:
Me: “Francesca, what is your grandmother’s real name?”
Francesca: “Um…….I don’t know.”
I asked Giulia the same question when she arrived at the table, and she notified me that her name was Giuseppina, but everyone called her Giusetta. I thought those were both so beautiful.
I will not lie to you in an appearance to seem perfect: THESE DINNERS WERE STRESSFUL. Every person at the table (eight of them!!!) was speaking rapid Italian and it makes you feel incredibly isolated. I would try and speak to the little girls to try and hear some familiar words. They would speak to me in English for a bit and then revert back to Italian, which I, of course, understand. But at a certain point, I just succumbed to it. I would recognize certain words and try and figure out what everyone was saying. I would try to make it a game with myself. And sometimes I would just eat my dinner and look out at the mountains and continue to be incredulous. My dad says to start every day with a sense of wonder. That was never a problem this summer.