Once Upon a (Longer) Time

A lazy rain falls outside — slow, fat drops, spaced out, polite. Upstairs, the neighbor is deep in his rotation of questionable, loud music — an odd mix of Grease, overly cheesy Italian ballads and obscure 90s rock.

#1: The neighbor’s weird-ass cat.

The neighbor to the right has a young female cat and she’s climbing up the cast iron bars behind the closed window again like it’s a jungle gym. What she doesn’t realize is the pigeons she so desperately wants to nibble will always be out of reach. The pigeons know she can’t reach them, unless propelled by a rocket; but they’re birds and she’s a cat and neither of them has access to a rocket.

It’s Wednesday evening and it’s viciously humid. A peal of thunder arrives hand in clammy hand with a timid breeze; it barely stirs the air which is thick like soup. When I ride to work at the Farm near the hamlet of Cosina — or ride anywhere at all — the tepid air is a soup flavored with ripe apricots, damp grass and a ribbon of jasmine so thick you’re suddenly drunk on it. Then, passing rows of adolescent kiwis the soup becomes sulfuric, like — fortunately — a fart. Straight in the mouth.

#2: Most of the fresh fruit…

Yep, it’s a weird point to admit it but I love it here, in Italy, in Emilia-Romagna, in Faenza. Many of you are aware of my extensive love affair with Italy; I shimmied through a corner of it in 1997 on a bus tour with my French class. In 2005, I haunted Rome for a week with a couple of college friends. I haunted the whole country more seriously for much of 2009 with the ex. Not once have I ever said, “Oh man… I wish I could get out of this stupid country, and fast!” Note: if any more proof is needed, read the photo captions.

#3: The Apennine foothills by bike.

So now — free as admission to the glorious Pantheon and open as a 24/7 Seven Eleven in Thailand — I began to knead the thought into something more concrete. Working with the owners of ExperiencePlus! — on whose mileage points I’d arrived to these pungent soils — I checked on moving my flight on June 6th back. For only $51 I could swap to a later date; sounds simple enough…

Ever since I arrived on April 24, I’d been telling the Universe, the Divine, the Clouds, the Powers That Be: look, don’t make me leave. Suddenly — as the yeast in bread causes it rise —ย  the concept took. The main dilemma of staying on of course was that little tease, money. In Oregon, I also had a free place to stay with Kelly and Jacbo and their restaurant connections to lean on like an employment crutch. Here I’d have to design something new…

#4: Castles.

Around June 1, as Lavazza (#5) rejuvenated my synapses, I remembered Lisa’s downstairs neighbors, Matteo and Alice, casually mentioning in April need of an au pair in June and July. I marched downstairs, knocked on the door and produced my best Italian. Yes, Alice said, they still needed help — and me speaking English to her kids was a ciliegia (cherry) on the torta (cake). Could we talk after the weekend when they returned from Paris?

Upstairs, I smiled: au pair didn’t equal lucrative, but — as the bread continued to rise — it was something.

Over the next couple days I talked to a British lady at a language school off the main square in Faenza, expansive Piazza del Popolo, in Faenza. She offered me a job teaching kids starting in September. Again, not millionaire status, but another monetary morsel to sprinkle on this new idea. Monica had also unearthed more work for me with Experience Plus! and her friend’s kids needed watching; Lisa’s friend Coral (from Glenwood Springs, Colorado) had two munchkins, too.

#6: A challenge ๐Ÿ™‚

Three days out, I found myself wallowing around in a pool of work without the most important floatie: a visa. Incidentally, Lisa’s friend Giovanna (we shared aperitivo back when it was rather cold and rainy) literally handles immigrant visas in Faenza. And she’s cool. Che fortuna! I went to see her that evening and she straightened the corners on my predicament sandwich: basically, American me couldn’t acquire a work visa because a key law — allowing non-EU citizens to receive visas when sponsored by an employer –w vanished like a salsiccia, friarielli pizza before a hungry road biker. Ah, bureaucracy.

Now — aside from procuring a husband or a close Italian relative — my only option was a student visa. For that, I must acquire an acceptance letter from a University and apply for the visa in person in the US. Back in Italia, I can convert the student visa into its elusive cousin, The Work Visa, which is apparently on the list of Italy’s endangered species, next to the Apennine Chamois (not just for your bum) and Ambrosi’s Cave Salmander, among others.

#7: Mules: not endangered, but still…

Speaking of returning to the US, however, changing my flight didn’t exactly turn out to be a walk in il parco. I spoke to a whole fleet of airline agents who reminded me we’d forgotten — amidst talk of the apparent ease of changing the ticket on a whim if I wished, which I suddenly did — about high season. The tickets used to carry my American butt over here were purchased in low season. In other words, more miles for ExPlus and more money for my broke @$$ to pay.

#8: Sunflowers (girasoli).

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Kelly’s niece Bailey — originally slated to arrive in September, when college commenced — contacted Kelly to say she’d nailed a job and could she show up earlier? The same hour, apparently I sent Kelly a text divulging my tenacious new developments and the possibility to go broke in Italy ๐Ÿ™‚ Clearly more highly evolved than your Plebian wordsmith, Kelly read it as the Universe saying “stay” and said yes to Bailey. Suddenly, my free place to crash in Southern Oregon disappeared the world’s respect after Trump was sworn in. Oh no, I thought, what have I done?

But Lisa, queen of the glorious castle (long may she rule) said post up in the crow’s nest as long as you like, dear serf. I called for the trillionth time and pulled a flight at the beginning of September — same mileage, no extra coin — out of thick, humid air. Eccola: the idea hot on the table. I was staying in Italy for three more months!!!!

#9: The full moon over Piazza del Popolo.

I woke up the next morning ecstatic and not in Lisa’s castle… but that’s between me, and the Universe :). That evening, to celebrate, Lisa and I spontaneously bought tickets to see Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead’s guitarist) play with enchanting Indian Junun in Ravenna. Then we proceeded to the coast and danced our faces off at Boca Barranca until 3:30 in the morning. Our ears rang for days after we shimmied to so much horribly obscure nearly un-danceable 90s “Indie” rock — with transitions between songs clunkier than a whole box of wooden clogs — that only her upstairs neighbor could appreciate.

#10: Gelato!

Lisa drove like a blind, paranoid grandmother all the way back to Faenza. She was, by all accounts fine after sucking down her last mojito (mixed by one of the sexiest bartenders in recent memory with chiseled arms and mischievous eyes) at least two hours prior. In Faenza… eventually… we made a pit stop at a 24-7 pasticceria. As industrious employees shuttled boxes of pastries bigger than our stomachs (Lisa and I are eaters) to vans outside, we tried discussing pastry options over the church bells in our ears.

Of course, we forgot we had to exchange Lisa’s grandparents’ Fiat Panda for our bikes… by then it was after 4 a.m. We ravished the savory half of our pasticceria bounty and snuck away like polite bandits who took nothing except their own bicycles. As we made our way through the sleepy streets, we watched the vegetable man with the vegetable van arriving at the corner store on Corso Garibaldi.

“No wonder he’s so grumpy all the time…” Lisa said as the clock registered 4:15.

#11: New friends.

Those were the most docile words to come out of her mouth for the rest of our journey; Lisa has taken to serving me the most important morsels in the Italian language: slang, particularly of the Romangolo bent. None of it bears repeating in this very classy forum but let it suffice to say it involved razors, opinions and certain sensitive areas of the male body. And a lot of giggling. I now plead the 5th.

#12: Medieval traditions like the Palio. As long as it doesn’t keep you up at 1 a.m…

Around 4:30, we had breakfast (the latter half of our bounty: the donut-esque, crema-loaded, sugar-encrusted bombolone). Before 5, we were in the same bed, sisters from another mister, sawing away on twin longs like cross-cut sawyers during the hay-day of the Pacific Northwest logging industry. Long story short, I’d started the day at a bed and breakfast and ended with breakfast and bed. And finally, for now, everything was right in the world.

#12 Summer! Aka NO MORE COLD ๐Ÿ™‚

On the next Sylva Lining… Venice? I won’t promise anything just yet. Let’s just let the mystery unfold!

2 Replies to “Once Upon a (Longer) Time”

  1. All the humidity would certainly agree with me! Lucky you.

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