I came to Italy in the 1990s with an English degree, a vague desire to travel and a TEFL certificate to get me the job to pay for the travel. I taught business people, kids, reluctant teenagers sent by their parents, and well-dressed and often quite formidable provincial Italian ladies. I revamped my wardrobe with a pair of D&G jeans and a pair of black Moschino (this was the 90s), became well-versed in café culture (thanks, ladies) and ate every form of focaccia, pizza, pasta and polenta I could find.
I set off on my Italian travels, heavily influenced at the time by the Merchant Ivory production of A Room with a View, with Gianni Schicchi’s O mio babbino caro playing in the background. As often happens in these cases, I met an all-Italian boyfriend, who had rented a house in the mountains with friends for the ski season. It was the best thing I could have wished for, and not just because I eventually married him.
I learned to ski, of a fashion, when I wasn’t hitching a ride in a snowcat as you must be mad if you think I’m going down there. I learned far more about mountains and the food you can eat. I sat in mountain refuges and pontificated about it all, and really started to
swear in learn Italian. I then married my Italian boyfriend, and I have enough international girlfriends to prove that this is by no means a singular event. Two kids followed, and navigating the waters of everything that involved.*
I became a feminist, or rather I polished up that sense of justice I’d always had lurking in there. If I said that this was in no way related to my experiences as a wife and mother, well, that would be a lie. I took to the streets and documented marches with my camera and my computer. I got back on trains. And I returned to what I loved: food, travel and culture, only this time the rose-tinted lenses had made way for reality.
In the meantime, I’d made Italy my home. It kind of happened, gradually. There are two versions: the one heavily influenced by Isabella Allende, female genealogies and all, that will be written for my grandkids and begins Our grandmother arrived on a plane. And then there’s the other version, owing far more to Bridget Jones that starts with me in a bright orange puffer jacket roaming around Italy on trains at the end of the 1990s. I got rid of the bright orange puffer jacket. (No one was wearing a bright orange puffer jacket, only me, and at the time that mattered immensely in my new Italian life.) I’m still roaming around on trains, as my kids will testify. “La mamma è sempre in giro,” roughly translated as mum’s always out and about, and often accompanied by eye-rolling.
The shiny patina wore off years ago, but my love for Italy remains. I chose it and in many ways it chose me, and almost like any marriage, it brought its highlights and low points. Possibly everything I write is part of this journey that gave me a life, a family and a job I love.
In any case I’m here, still living and breathing it all, and trying to tell it and show it through my work as best I can.
photo: train in Liguria, Rachael Martin
*That was accompanied by a first attempt at a novel, a thinly-disguised autobiography, sitting in a folder and to be continued. In its other form it became a collection of feminist poetry, sitting in a folder and looking for a home.