How to Return Without Living in the Past
By Mia Maggiacomo
“Quando sono ritornata in Italia…”, has been the phrase I’ve used most often when describing to my Roman-born grandfather what I will do when I return to Italy to study abroad in Florence in the fall. The list has become endless, describing different places, food, and moments I want to revisit. I want to go to the All’ Antico Viniano Ristorante and once again taste the best sandwich and antipasto in the world.
I want to go to back to the Almafi Coast and swim in the salty Adriatic waters of Capri. I want to go back to Milan and see my friends that I made so long ago. With every new task added to the itinerary for the three months, I found myself adding the places in Italy where I’d had the most fond and distinct memories of my time there.
The first time I went to Italy was in high school with my Italian class as a two week exchange where we lived with a host family in the city of Novara, an hour west of Milan. We traveled along side our host student and visited their high school, neighboring cities and towns, and traveled on longer excursions to the iconic places northern Italy has to offer. Lago di Garda, where I learned about the historical influences of Italian culture and where I felt less like a stranger in my host family.
Milan, the fashion capital of Italy where me and my best friend, Alex, splurged at a Prada outlet only to find out later that our bags were fake. Finally, Venice, where during the day we’d gondola through the city and at night we danced until my heels broke on the cobblestone streets. During the days in Novara when we were at school, Alex and I would leave the classrooms to find each other in the hallways and wonder around the building until our host students would have their lunch break. I was young and I thought I was living in moments that would never happen again. That’s what made me want to go back.
Two years later I returned with the same excitement and expectations I’d acquired from my previous travels. Only this time, I was with my family. My grandfather’s eightieth birthday brought all his children and his grandchildren to his mother country. The two weeks I spent there was a continuous celebration. In Rome, my cousins and I would run through the streets to each gelato shop and become friends with the workers so when we returned we’d get two gelato’s each instead of one.
In Positano, we hopped on a boat and traveled to Capri and saw the Blue, Green, and Orange Grotto’s and stole some coral from the underwater cave wall chasms we swam through. In Arezzo, we all stayed together in a villa where we biked every morning to the local vineyard and did wine tastings where I had my first taste of good wine. My family and I would sit under our sundeck that looked over the great Tuscan wine hills and play cards, make jokes, and silently be thankful for this experience. In those places I grew closer to my family and to the country I’d considered my second home.
Now, I stand at the edge of a precipice hoping to jump off and revive these experiences. My suitcase is close to being full and I’m preparing myself for the future three months that lie in front of me. I know that things will change and that so much is different from that last time I was in Italy. My optimism is without bounds, but, I’m still nervous to take the big step of letting myself go without the restrictions of the past. My memories are daunting and stare back at me sharply with strict expectations. I hope I live up to them. Until then, the only thing that I know for certain is that when I return to Italy, I’ll be ready.