Un Viaggio in Italia

By the lake

This is the first real entry I’ve made since arriving in Italy over a month ago. It’s seven o’clock (or 19.00, as they would write it here) and I’m sitting by the lake, writing until it grows too dark to see, or until I get restless enough to hop on my bicycle and ride back home. I saw a boat on the lake—two men fishing. An occasional dog comes walking by, and there’s a full moon out tonight. (If crazy things begin to happen this week, we can blame it on the moon.) I’ve just come from Mass at the church near my apartment (the church is called Gradaro) and in a little bit I will prepare some dinner (maybe rice with vegetables and meat I bought from the farmers’ market—mercato contadino—in the town center). It’s a peaceful evening and I feel calm and content.

Since I’ve not been writing, there’s much to record and keep up with. But it’s overwhelming to think about getting it all down on paper! So I will just write what comes to mind, and take it slowly—piano, piano—bit by bit. Perhaps I will write one section at a time, accumulating several small entries over the next few days.

The Basics

I suppose I should begin by saying that I took a position teaching English in a small city in northern Italy called Mantova (Mantua in English). It’s a charming city with a population of about 50,000 people. It’s partially surrounded by three lakes (one of which, of course, I’m sitting next to right now) and the city was chosen to be this year’s Italian Capital of Culture. There are some beautiful historic buildings which tourists come to see, and which I might get around to describing in a future entry. We’re situated about halfway between Milano (Milan) and Venezia (Venice), and Verona (the famous backdrop of Romeo and Juliet) is a stone’s throw away. (Actually, Romeo spends his period of exile in Mantova.) Most people here speak very little English, although you’ll find the odd person who speaks quite well. This should mean that I have ample opportunity to practice my Italian (which I only began learning in February), but since my roommate speaks English, and I speak English at work, I don’t find myself practicing nearly as much as I’d like. Che peccato! What a shame. Ah, well!

I arrived in Italy in mid-February—just before Valentine’s Day—and spent a few days in Milano before taking a train here to Mantova. I live in a student apartment (studentato) with a very nice girl from Ghana named Grace (who also teaches English). I work Monday through Friday in a pair of kindergartens (scuole d’infanzia); one is 10 minutes’ walking distance from my place, while the other is about 20 minutes away by bicycle. In total, I teach six different classes of about 25 students each—that’s nearly 150 students to keep track of! I know most of their names by now (Italian names are often quite pretty: Anastasia, Sofia, Anna, Giulia, Alessandro, Tommaso…) and most of them know mine (although sometimes they have trouble pronouncing Elizabeth and end up calling me Elisabetta or Isabella; it’s rather sweet). My teaching contract continues through the end of May, so I have two-and-a-half months left to wander around Italy… but perhaps I’ll find a reason to stay longer. In fact, I just got off the phone with my mom and she told me the University of Bologna has a well respected medical school…. One never knows what surprises life might bring….

Ah, alas, the night is growing dark and I shouldn’t stay awake too late, since I work in the morning. (I am back at my apartment now; I left the lake some time ago.) Perhaps I will study a little Italian grammar before bed. I will try to continue to write scraps here and there, to form into a series of “D’Italia” entries. Some topics I would like to reflect on:

  • The language
  • The food
  • The people
  • My daily life
  • Things I like about Italy
  • Things I don’t like about Italy
  • Differences I’ve noticed between Italy and America
  • My trip to Verona
  • Things I’d like to do or accomplish before I leave.

Let’s hope I keep up the motivation to keep writing. Of course I will also try to drop in a few pictures along the way. For now, I’ll leave you with a handful of snapshots gathered from the scenes of my little life here in Italy. Until next time, buona notte! Ci vediamo!