Not a Tourist

I returned to Bologna with Future’s new album rattling through my earbuds, feeling like a boss. The plane made its last decent and I coasted along the city’s red roofs and medieval towers framed by the snow-covered hills to the south. When the wheels touched down my heart was beating fast and I had to laugh with the realization that this is really my life and this once-foreign city really feels like home.

The customs agent looked surprised when I gave him my passport and he asked me why I spoke Italian. I just told him I lived here and he stamped me back onto Italian soil. I walked by the Lamborghinis parked inside the airport, turning up the Atlanta trap to full volume.

I was back.

I don’t count the weeks like I used to. America came and went in a flash and now I’m back in Bolo and have slowed to the pace of Italian life. In the month that I was away the streets changed little, but on my return I felt different, more confident and comfortable in this surprising city.

This semester feels like last semester without the training wheels, and I’ve learned it’s best to pedal hard and fast to keep balance. I spend less time with Americans and more time speaking Italian, many of my American friends went home after a semester so I’ve relied on my Italian connects more than ever before. Last semester I would try to be friends with any random person sitting next to me on the bus, but now I rely more on mutual friends to meet new people. My circle of friends expands on the daily, but never will I have enough.

Going to class is less strange than it was last semester. I sat down in lecture the first day of class and felt like just another student from a corner of the world come to study at Unibo. I can understand what the professor is saying in Italian and can make conversation with my classmates. Like last semester, I am writing this now to further procrastinate my studies.

I am a proud American alien disguised in a foreign land. I speak Italian but my accent drips americano and I don’t hesitate to go off in English once in a while to show these Italians that I’m not as slow as my words. I like to dress Italian but I keep America in my stride and my earbuds as I walk through the hues of the porticoed streets, under the old brick towers that landmark the shortcuts of my daily wander to class.

I have a new apartment and a new roommate, Alessandro. Our two-bedroom pad has a small kitchen with a fridge in the living room that faces south with a balcony that is sunny in the morning when I sit at the table drinking too much espresso until the late afternoon when I return to catch the last rays before my class in the evening

Alessandro comes from Caserta, a small city near Napoli. He speaks Italian and Napoletano and since I’ve moved in has improved in English too. We have become like fratelli from two weeks of walking home late at night and slumping on the futon watching Italian trash TV. I wake late with new words and expressions penned on my arm for remembrance as he is always teaching me something cool to say in his native tongues and I get a deeper and more relevant language lesson than what they teach in class.

There is no limit to what I have still to learn about the language, the more I learn the more I realize there is to know. I practice using different regional slang, the formal tense to give respect, the subjunctive tense to show uncertainty and hand gestures or swear words to express myself as Italians do. I am eager every day to learn more.

When it is warm enough Alessandro and I will ball in the park but now we sit cold beer on the steps of Piazza Maggiore below the towering façade of Basilica San Petronio, waiting for a party at Camilla’s. Usually we get along but tonight we vie for the heart of Elenora, a Sardinian friend who’s got eyes like springtime and a body like summer, but still she is only winter.

I am back and I’m here to stay. Now that I’m resettled I search to find the balance. I need to find the happy medium between speaking English and Italian, between old friends and new friends, between studying it and skipping it, between walking home ears-ringing early in the morning and the quiet walk from the café to church later on. I need to find a job and a girlfriend and a store that sells peanut butter, and I really should stop writing this and study the Italian Constitution for my exam next month, but it’s been a long day and I might as well worry about all that tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Not a Tourist”

  1. I never dreamed of going abroad to study or work. Now it seems to be the thing to do! We visited Bologna and really liked it a lot, but were just there for a short time. We have a granddaughter in Senegal this spring, and she is very happy there. Very interesting to read of your experiences. (Your gammy is my dearest friend.)

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