The year that I studied abroad in Italy, was pivotal for me in many ways. I was a young woman of 21 years old, impressionable, adventurous and seeking answers to things. The summer before I left for my year long program in Padova, I lived in a treehouse in Isla Vista, CA. I was a student at UC Santa Barbara, and rather than find an apartment for the summer months, I thought it would be fun (and cheaper) to sleep in a tree. I actually did have to pay $50/month rent for the tree, but that was considerably less than the norm for Isla Vista housing. I worked at a food co-op in the small beachside town, and would swim in the ocean almost every morning or afternoon. On a whim, when my boyfriend was shaving his head, I also decided to shave mine. When I told my Mom, she responded with, “You can’t go to Italy with a shaved head!” Oh, and I was vegan at that time. I’ve always had an open mind, and have liked to have new experiences, and so with this attitude I prepared to depart to Italy by myself for the year-a country/continent I had never been to nor had my parents. I’ve always been a spontaneous person, not loving to overly analyze things before I make decisions, so when I left I didn’t know much about the city that I would be living in for a year, or even where I was going to stay the first night I arrived in Padova. A friend that I met that year would later write a song about me called, ‘Flying by the seat of her pants’.. I said goodbye to my family, boarded the plane and luckily had a seat next to a really nice guy who was going to a wedding in Switzerland. We stayed up all night drinking wine and talking and the fun flight literally and figuratively flew by.. When we arrived in Zurich, my friend said goodbye and I had to find the train station. When I got there, I was sort of lost and confused and had this enormous suitcase with all of my belongings for the year. I wasn’t sure how to buy a ticket and I guess luck was still on my side, because another very nice (Swiss) guy approached me and asked if I needed help. I said, “Yes please!” He then proceeded to buy me a beer and a sandwich and after we ate he helped me buy a train ticket and then carried my suitcase to the train for me. Once I got on the train from Zurich to Milan, I was in a car with a few people; some younger guys and a very nice older Italian woman. She looked me up and down, shaved head and all, and then pointed to her bag and to me. (I think she could tell that I wasn’t Italian by my birkenstocks, and used, baggy clothing). I also forgot to mention that during my Isla Vista summer, I had gotten rid of all of my nice clothes, and would only wear used clothing, some purchased from thrift stores and others that I grabbed out of the free clothing box in the middle of the town. This kind Italian woman pulled out a sandwich and gave it to me. I wasn’t even hungry but felt like I should eat it because she was so nice. It contained meat, and even though my vegan self who hadn’t eaten meat in awhile didn’t quite approve, my flexible self said thank you and accepted the gift. When we arrived in Milan, I had to change trains to get to Padova. I ended up in a car with another older Italian woman. Even though I had taken 6 quarters of Italian at UC Santa Barbara I could barely speak the language. So she spoke and I listened. She talked about her son who was an ear doctor in Padova and had a yellow Mercedes. She told me that she took piano lessons and guitar lessons and liked to go to the movies. She told me her age, which was 65, and totally shocked me because she looked about 45. And then she stood up in front of me, telling me how she always exercised, was in good shape, and asked me if I liked her very form fitting jeans. Inside, I was dying of giddiness. I absolutely loved her confidence and self assuredness-even when she looked at my birkenstocks and proclaimed that they were very ugly. The 2 hour train ride passed quickly, and we arrived in Padova. She asked me where I was staying for the night and I said that I didn’t know. She then told me that I was going to come with her and she would help me find lodging. Her son picked us up at the train station (in his yellow Mercedes), and they drove me over to a little ‘pensione’ right around the corner from her house. Then she told me to meet her at a ‘pizzeria’ for dinner, also in the same neighborhood, in a couple of hours. Certain experiences I have had in my life have been particularly poignant and palpable.. And when I arrived at the ‘pensione’ alone and walked around the room filled with antique furniture that was simple and beautiful and all served a specific purpose, and later when I walked out the door onto the streets of Padova, and breathed in the air that also somehow felt antique and special.. I was awakened and exhilarated. We ate a delicious pizza together that night, and then Edda told me the next day she would take me shoe shopping so I could get some nice looking shoes.
To be continued..