Not recently. This was awhile ago. Decades.
I’d spent the summer hitchhiking around Sicily with my cousin Giorgio. It was 1975, the middle of the OPEC-sparked recession, and I didn’t have a summer job. My parents, for whatever reason, decided that I’d be better off shipped to Palermo, where my father’s from. I wasn’t going to say no. I’d live with my relatives, and get to know the city and Sicily in a way that only 18-year-old kids can.
I did. I rode a delivery truck with my uncle, hitched to the beach, hung out with Swiss cousins there (speaking a combination of Italian, French, and English), went to a sagra (feast) up in the mountains where a local band shredded the lyrics to “Smoke on the Water,” but did a credible job of playing it. I learned how Palermitan kids my age partied—and had a thing for Tina Turner records. I can hear “Nutbush City Limits” playing in my head even now.
But back to the girl.
I met her in a college Italian class. I understood the language okay, but I didn’t know things like verb conjugations, how to read it, etc. And after a couple of months in Italy, it was frustrating. I’m a language freak anyway, so I thought I’d learn Italian properly. So did this girl named Kathy. (I call her The Spartan Woman on Facebook, which comes from her half-Greek background and the moniker dates back to when I wrote a column for my law school’s newspaper.)
Kathy was in her senior year, and was going to go to veterinary school in Perugia, Italy. So she, too, wanted to pick up the language. We met because she took the seat I wanted in class. It was empty, actually, but her friend saved it for her, and I decided that I didn’t like her because of that.
I changed my mind quickly. We got to be friends, then we got to be a thing. She went away, though. I felt lonely, played a lot of guitar with a degenerate crazy man, and wrote her obsessively. She came back after a year, deciding she liked me more than she liked studying veterinary medicine in Italy for a few years. (Yes, we’re married, had a couple of kids, etc.)
But she couldn’t give up Italy, and neither could I. A couple of things made it easier to go back regularly over the years. We have friends who put us up. And I have relatives. It meant that we didn’t sightsee in the normal tourist way. But it also meant that we lived in Perugia when we were there, and we had the added bonus that our friends were great cooks and didn’t speak English. Total immersion, in other words.
As our friends got older, we didn’t want to be such a burden. So 10 years ago, we bought a little place in their neighborhood, on a narrow street with a long history, up the hill from Perugia’s Univesità per Stranieri, or University for Foreigners, which teaches Italian language and culture.
A cousin called us “complotti”—co-conspirators. I got lucky, in a lot of ways. Like me, Kathy doesn’t care about driving flashy cars, having a posh house, or wearing jewelry. (In fact, I never bought her a diamond ring because, you know, blood diamonds. She would’ve probably thrown it at me.) What she does like is to wander, to hang out, to be somewhere else. We’re basically the same when it comes to politics, food tastes (though she has a thing for okra, which I’m not totally down with), and being smart alecks.
So in the following posts, I’ll tell a little about our past, and we’ll explore what it’s like to get ready to move. We have that little apartment in Perugia, and now, a big house in the countryside outside of Perugia. And for those of you not having a great day today as Orange Man is sworn in, we’ll give you a place to hide out, at least temporarily.