deciding what stays


These are our last days in Italy. I would be leaving tomorrow, except I’ve suddenly come down with a terrible case of sinusitis, and am waiting for results on a Covid 19 test. So all the packing has been delayed, and the flights and travel plans have been pushed out indefinitely, but slowly I am working through the flotsam of our year and deciding what goes home and what just stays. The couch, for which we waited a full month, definitely stays; hopefully we will recover some of its cost and pass it on to someone else who will appreciate the convenience of a “now” couch. The spatula and cheese slicers, which we brought with us, will return with us as well. Surprisingly, the 5-liter tin of olive oil may also be able to come with us, which would really be fantastic because it was made by a friend of a friend whose family happens to have a small olive farm, and if there is one thing from Italy that I wish I could keep with me forever, it is the food.

Inevitably I also will start to sort through the memories of this year. What will stay with me, and what will be left behind? For example, I barely remember the three weeks last September when I got shingles and couldn’t even touch Amadeo, for whom I was also primary caregiver while Prema was in school. In the midst of all the other scrambles, we dropped everything to find a preschool in Bergamo that would take him, and then that little preschool turned out to be the #1 best thing about Italy for the entire year. So here, I think, is an initial list of memories that will stay with me:

What it is or what happened Good Bad Stress[1]
Having to wait a month to get a couch 4
The imperious shrieking of the doorbell whether packages are being delivered or not: subsequent screams of woken baby 7
Shingles 2
Gioiosa preschool ⭐️
The lovely parks near our home: Suardi, Caprotti -1
All Italian food, but especially the buffalo milk store around the corner[2] 🇮🇹
Natalie, and the Montessori class for our kids — and hosting the school in our apartment 1
The wonderful people who have watched our children during the year — and having to make new childcare arrangements every month or two because our world kept falling apart 7
Lecco, our good friends, and hot chocolate from Cafe Marchioni -2 !
Italian health care 3
The consideration afforded me on two occasions by Italian police or guards when I did something wrong out of ignorance — and the question inside me: Do the Africans here receive the same consideration? 4
Taking my kids to school via public transportation, 2+ hrs per direction, from October to November, whilst trying to work 50
Trying so many ways to work with the school, the Italian consulate, and the local Police, and finding that there was absolutely no legal way for our family to stay together while Prema was in school 8
Having to live apart from my family for months because of visa impossibilities -5 !
The unexpected and rather sudden death of my mother, and the fact that owing to Italian visa problems I was back home at the time, and so got to spend one last week with her 7
The sudden and contentious breakup of the Montessori school that our children attended for the first half of the year 😡 50
Covid-19 5
Family togetherness during lockdown: the screaming 50
Watching Amadeo learn to walk, speak, and take breakable things off the table 4
The generally sober and courteous response of the people of Bergamo to the tragedy of Covid-19 2
Trying to finagle Zoom to host an Open Mic[3] during Covid-19 2
Making the local newspaper[4] for singing Cohen’s Hallelujah from the balcony during Covid-19 3
The constant ambulance sirens in March, and driving past a convoy of army trucks near my home, that may have been the ones used to transport the dead out of Bergamo for lack of space in morgues 😢 5
Empty streets and the sounds of birdsong in the city because of Covid-19 2
Helping Mrs. Grazzini to hold online classes for Prema’s course because of Covid-19 3
Pizza and Gelato can both be delivered: the resulting weight gain
Watching my home country sink deeper into violence and brutality, selfishness, contention, willful ignorance and horrific cruelty ⬛️ 9
Ditching Facebook -1 !

Thank you Italy, for this year, for the good and the bad. I must go, but you will always stay a part of my heart.

  1. The stress scale I’ve used here is kinda like the one for earthquakes: it goes from not really feeling anything at 1 through maybe feeling something at 5 to near total destruction at 9, but then there’s also a 50 like from the Princess Bride “Not to 50!” for things that are quite stressful but also so ludicrous that you have to laugh at least a little. —Oh, my scale also has negative numbers for things that reduce stress! ↩︎

  2. It’s called “bufalapiú”, which literally means “buffalomore”, and advertises 0km (i.e. produced on-site) buffalo milk products like the most fantastic Mozzerella and smoked Scamorza, buffalo milk, and eggs (not from buffalo). However, I have never seen any buffalo hanging around the area, so I suspect that their hyperlocal production model relies on either magic, or some advanced extra-dimensional technology, or a slightly liberal interpretation of “0km”. Whatever the case, it is absolutely fantastic. ↩︎

  3. It sorta worked. The videos are still up on my YouTube account. ↩︎

  4. A neighbor across the courtyard took a video of me singing, and for a couple of days it was a hot item on social media. The video and story made the online edition of the newspaper, and a few people in my neighborhood greeted me as I was walking to and from the store. A small print story was also run in l’Eco di Bergamo for 24 March 2020: