I want to be fake, Italian-like-in-the-movies Italian. I know very little about really being an Italian citizen.
One of my high school best friends and I were obsessed with the movie Under The Tuscan Sun. It wasn’t a basic girl OMG, watched a few times craze either. We loved it. We watched it while newly in love, watched it on summer nights with all the windows open, laying half way off the couch like only a teenage girl can do and still look in control of her faculties (if I did it now it’d just look like I’d been run over by the truck named Motherhood), and watched it when we needed to wallow in tears after particularly nasty or painful breakups. We watched it sitting next to each other, while dipping our hands into overlarge popcorn bowls, and even separately but while glued to our phones. We watched it a lot.
There’s something about the movie which speaks to my soul. It did then at 16 and 17 years old and continues to now. It has it all: the clumsily out of luck American woman who was willing to take a ridiculous, ill informed chance; the young lovers caught up in the whirlwind of new romance and previously unknown physical rapture; the older, wiser, incredibly experienced and glamorous Italian bella who seems to be an angel of hope on torn, fraying nerves. She, I think, is the embodiment of everything good in that movie and so many other Italians do it better type films. She has it all. A sense of who she is in the world, an unshakable sense. An ability to find humor where others may despair. A bomb ass wardrobe. The opportunities and taking of those opportunities for love and romance with the full acceptance it probably won’t work out. She’s brave. She’s bold. She’s soft. She’s 100% herself. She feels so liberal but, in fact, she’s not. Liberal isn’t the right word. No, she’s liberated and she’s achieved it herself.
Actually it’s every Italian woman in the movie that seems to have that elusive inner joy to some degree. Even the youngest woman, ready to marry the forbidden man that has swept her off her feet, stands so tall in who she is, in her decisions. She is a modern day Juliet who, with the help of the main character, convinces her parents that she’ll be in control of her destiny. She’s a Juliet who doesn’t do harm to herself at her beloved’s feet. Nope, she just throws caution the wind, marries him, and has the gall to live happily at his side.
I had a pen pal all throughout my teenage years who was Italian. He, a year or two older than me, lived in Milan with his family. He drove a zippy little European car, was able to club with his friends on the weekends due to their less stringent drinking ages, and took holidays in the other countries on the continent. I’ll never forget opening a letter from him and pictures of him and his friends in Greece falling out.
Yet, it’s not as though he lived the perfect life. In those chaotic, emotional teenage years we were able to find so much in common. He got into a car accident once. He disagreed with his dad about career paths he could take. He had girlfriends and went through losing them in ways I could relate to.
A few years after exchanging regular letters we swapped phone numbers. Every Friday I could count on an international call, count on hearing an accent I did my best not to get weak kneed over. We talked about everything; music, movies, world affairs. I’ll never forget the conversation we once had on race, casually, as only the young can without getting political or angry. I’d gotten in a fight that day because someone had made racial jokes at the expense of a friend. That friend knew better than to cause a stir. I, always a bit too fiery for my own good, was therefore the one who threw a chair across the room at the offender. So it wasn’t my most well thought out reaction. I’m still not sorry. Confused why I didn’t act more subtly, yes. Sorry I stood up to a lackwit bully, not a bit.
When I told my Italian friend this he was stunned. This behavior, the name calling, was of course something he knew happened. He claimed, however, to never have been around it. He said people where he was just were, and whatever they were that was okay. I was shocked. I, on the other hand, knew some people lived that way but had never experienced this wide ranging acceptance for myself. But I wanted to. Oh, I wanted to.
This did nothing to cure me of my wanting to be a character in an Italian movie.
My pen pal and I followed each other through moves and schools and jobs for about another decade. We never were able to meet. Like many relationships, we lost touch. Last I heard he was applying to schools in the United States, hoping to put his fantastic second language English to use. He was in a committed relationship with a beautiful girl. He was travel hungry.
I emailed him when I published my first novel. In the intervening years I’ve published much more. I’ve met and married the sweet love of my life who has helped me build a home around us where we are inclusive, where we do stick up for others in the right, non-chair-throwing way. We have had two beautiful babies who are my reason, who are my light. I wish my pen pal could see all I’ve done. I think he’d be happy for me.
I realized while writing this that I’ve also fallen out of touch with two other characters from my past. The best friend and I who binge watched Under The Tuscan Sun had words, stupid ones really, in college and stopped speaking. I miss her. She has had two beauties of her own since then, and I bet she’s a wonderful mommy to them. The friend that was the brunt of the joke, the one who was called that terribly racist name, moved away to be with the girl he was in love with in another state. We haven’t talked since. I hope someday we reconnect.
I guess, those fantasy ladies in the movies and I do have something in common. I have a past filled with interesting characters and even some regrets. Yet, inspired by them, I’m trying hard (though sometimes admittedly failing rather spectacularly) to be 100% committed to the here and now, to loving those that love me with a strength and abandon that doesn’t leave me constantly contemplating what happened before. I accept the path of my life. I’m sorry for the things I need to be sorry for but, most importantly, I’m so, so grateful for what I have. Here’s to even more Italian like in the movies years to come.