And I have come to believe that our intentions and attitude toward life have the extraordinary power of changing our perception of events, people, things. For the first time in years, in fact, the smell of my mom’s food filled my heart with a sense of family, togetherness, ease. For the first time in years, I detached from my family with love; I detached from those unhealthy dynamics that have brought me to seek therapeutic help, and that I used to blame for my suffering. For the first time in years, I could see the beauty, the unconditional love, and the good heart of my mother, father, and brother very distinctively from what did not belong to me any more.
Home Is Wherever We Feel At Home
I am always ambivalent about going back to Italy, where I was born and raised. And now that these three weeks of Italian Christmas vacation have come to an end, it’s time to look back and sum up all that has happened.
First of all, Pilaz, a little mountain town in the Aosta Valley that I also call ‘my little heaven on earth’, and where I spent some of the most beautiful years of my childhood: how reassuring it was to witness that things up there haven’t changed! People still say ‘Salve’ (or ‘Hello’) when crossing paths, churches and cemeteries are open, people are not afraid. You can smell the crisp Alpine air, the freshly baked grissini, the wood burning in the fireplace, fontina, and cows, of course, my beloved cows.
“I would live here, this is home,” I say every time that I return.
But then I also ask myself: “Would I?” When I am in Italy I can’t help but meditate on what home means.
I left seven years ago; is it still home? Was it ever?
Such questions have always prevented me from facing my past without judgment and fear, but with curiosity instead, compassion, and also pride. For example, during my past visits, I never really enjoyed the food that my mom cooked; I never looked at old slides and photographs, and neither did I go through my old clothes or diaries.
I never walked about town by myself: I felt ashamed, shy, too self-conscious to be outside alone. But when I’d go grocery shopping with my mother (possibly the most social thing I’d do) I’d raise a barrier around me, so that people couldn’t come close and interact. I wanted to feel different from others, better than others that had stayed, because it was through outside validation and admiration that, I believed, I would affirm my place in the world.
But during this vacation something was different. I went there with a mission: to bring to America my grandmother’s diaries, that she kept diligently until 2001, when she died, and when my grandfather wrote FINE, or ‘THE END,’ on the day of July 31st.
Through her words, I was ready to discover my past.
During these three weeks of Italian holiday, I spent precious time with my friend Barbara, I ‘learned’ how to knit, I began to write my own diary, I ate my favorite dishes, and I tried new ones that my mom was excited to share with me and Ben. Her lasagna with romanesco broccoli was divine, and so were the linguine with squid ink, the gnocchi alla romana, her lentils, her biscotti and cakes, and even her broth when I got sick. I ate all the cheese my stomach could take, and plenty of pizza, bread, and other local specialties. Every flavor tasted at once familiar and new.
My brother made taralli and baci di dama (a little round butter biscotti sandwich with Gianduia chocolate) for Christmas, and they were so good that they barely made it to New Year’s Eve.
While searching for the diaries, I stumbled upon some old photos of myself, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t ashamed of the young girl I was — overweight, perhaps too passionate about things, and so hungry for life — who always got hurt. I even posted a photo on Instagram of me as a teenager, and instead of feeling disgust I felt love, compassion, and pride for that girl.
When Ben and I visited Torino I was at once a tourist and his docent, so passionate about the Italian language, the art, and the history that the city holds. We ate farinata from a food stand, enjoyed the coffee ritual at Caffe Torino, and had gelato. We also walked around the lake of Avigliana, and in the woods where, in 2010, before moving to Los Angeles, I ran in the freezing weather, anesthetized by too much Xanax, trying to stay off cocaine, desperate to lose more weight, disappear, die. I would run in the snow at twilight listening to Nathan Barr’s score for True Blood and dreaming I could be a vampire.
I walked alone in those woods, too, this time. And I walked by myself about town. I looked at all the houses as it were my first time there, and together with things that have stayed the same, I also saw things that — always there — I had never noticed.
And it was in these woods, where seven years ago I dreamed of being a vampire, that I drafted this blog, on my last day in Italy. And even though I am still very much into vampires, on January 9th, 2017, I was able to write about a journey of change, of struggle, and ultimately of return.
Today, the obstacles I encounter are different, and so are the difficulties, fears, preoccupations; but today I face them with trust. I love, I live, I cook, I eat, and I write about it all.
Home is wherever we feel at home, this is what I learned in these three weeks of Italian Christmas vacation.