Could that title be any more depressing? I almost cried just typing it. What happened?! Our “year-long sabbatical” in Italy came and went in a flash. But that shouldn’t matter… we extended our overseas adventure another six months. Wasn’t that just a few weeks ago?! How is it that our return airline tickets have today’s date on it? We still haven’t seen the trulli huts in Puglia. We never got the chance to visit Jen’s nonno’s town in Calabria. I never proved my “Italianness” by grilling a branzino on our BBQ. Heck, we never ate at that joint down the road that I’ve always wanted try!
Truthfully, I have been aware of the impending move back to America and it turns out… I am a guy capable of emotions. Expressing them is something else altogether; but perhaps I’ll try. Here it is – I am excited to move home. I am eager to spend time with my friends and family. I am anxious to begin working again (and especially eager to earn a paycheck). I am pleased at the thought of a bit of “normal”. At the same time I am also exceptionally sad to leave. I am sorry to abandon our friends and family here in Italy. I am mournful at the thought of missing the food and wine. I become melancholy when I think about the mountains and the lakes I won’t see daily. Perhaps most of all, I am heartbroken that I won’t spend every day/all day with Jennifer and Julia and that I’ll never have the same uninterrupted bonding experience with my second daughter (who will be arriving this September). I’m more mixed up inside than a perfectly stirred risotto.
Before I continue with this post, I feel that it’s important to comment on the status of the blog. Sipping Espresso will continue publishing posts about travel, food, and of course, a little more nonsense (at least for a period of time). In an ideal world, I would have published a post every couple of days and been completely caught-up, allowing for this to be the final post. Of course, I’m nowhere near finished blogging about our recent adventures. I have a good twenty posts in the pipeline and I won’t let myself or my three loyal readers down by cutting our stories short. Sadly, this will be my last post written from the comfort of my “Italian blogging chair”.
I think that the only appropriate content for this final Italian post is to remark on the top ten things that I’ll miss most about Italy. So without further adieu…
10) “I’m in the mood for a brioche”
We have a pasticceria (pastry shop) right next door. Literally, right next door. Many of our guests have enjoyed waking up to a breakfast table full of brioche (the Italian version of croissant). It’s a major convenience to be able to enjoy fresh-baked goods by merely walking a couple dozen meters…wait, feet. Gotta remember, I’m moving back to the US. Jen actually sent me over this morning for a few of the delectable treats. I will miss being sent on these little errands by my wife so that we may enjoy freshly baked goods for breakfast.
9) Ding dong does the bell
Like most people, I’m not particularly fond of being woken up prematurely. But man, do I love hearing church bells any time of day. Here in Italy, the oversized chimes are in no short supply. I would venture to guess that we have more Catholic churches than the US has Starbucks… each town has one or more churches. The spires and bell towers can be seen (and heard) from far away. I have a feeling the sound of church bells will forever be a sound that will whisk me back to my time here in Italy. I will miss lying in bed and hearing the church bells early in the morning.
8) Little shops and friendly merchants
When I lived in the Maryland suburbs, I shopped at the big box stores. I selected my electronics from Best Buy, picked up my groceries from Whole Foods and chose my clothes in the mall. When I lived in DC, I still found myself driving into Maryland to do my shopping because it was easier. In Italy, “supporting your local merchants” isn’t a thing – it’s just what you do. If you want a good piece of meat, you visit Marco, our butcher. When Jen sends me to pick up flowers, I see Chiara and let her suggest the correct bouquet for me. I know the baristas in the coffee bars and the panettiere (bakers) in the bread shops. I will miss knowing my merchants, where my products came from and the conversations we have while exchange goods for money.
7) “I could run 5,000 miles and I could run 5,000 more…”
I have been running off and on since high school. Unfortunately, I’ve never stayed with it beyond the spring/summer season. But for the entire eighteen months I’ve lived in Italy – I have been running. I started jogging a one mile lap around our neighborhood, discovered my favorite 5k loop and eventually started building toward regular 10+ mile runs. I ran in the cold, in the rain, in the snow and also in the best conditions imaginable. What kept me going all this time? I think it was the feeling I got to be outside, surrounded by nature. On any given day, I would jog past scenery that included villas and castles, lakes and vineyards, animals and tractors and so much more. Since running once again became a part of my life, I would continue logging miles on our road trips, which meant I could explore the trails and scenery from Tuscany to Scotland. I will miss the feeling I got as air filled my lungs and my feet pounded the pavement, consumed by some of the most beautiful scenery Europe has to offer.
6) A passion for local products
Short of buying New England Clam Chowder or Virginia Ham, most products that you buy in the US seem come from an unknown place. It is almost as if they materialize in your local Walmart from a faceless factory somewhere far away… whether that means food produced “somewhere” in the midwest or clothes produced in another country altogether. Here in Italy, if you’re buying food – you not only know that it is locally raised and produced, you’ll most likely know the specific town of its origin. You can choose to consume prosciutto from either Parma or from San Daniele, depending on your preference. If you want a new suit, you can opt to get something pre-made in Milan with silks from Como or perhaps you want to get a custom suit hand-made in Naples. I will miss knowing where almost all of my products come from and being able to select which I want based on that information.
5) Salami and prosciutto that cannot be replicated or replaced
You can’t talk about buying local products without expanding on the food itself. My jaw nearly hit the floor the first time I saw the cured meat section of our grocery store. Legs of prosciutto that stretched for miles. A section of the store reserved just for its cured meats (salami, prosciutto, lardo, capicola, bresaola, mortadella, etc.) that was twice as large as most butcheries in an American grocery store! And the butchery itself is equally as impressive here. A massive section of the grocery store reserved for high quality products, from veal to rabbit. The food in Italy is fresh, delicious and life-changing. I’m not exaggerating… I know that my palate has forever been altered. I don’t quite think I’ll reach the level of critique a real Italian can dish out when eating a meal, but I will certainly miss the food (specifically the cured meats) here in Italy.
4) “Barolo, Amarone and Brunello…oh my”!
I knew that wine was a large part of the culture before moving here, but I didn’t quite understand its significance to the Italian experience. Like most things here that are rooted in tradition, winemaking and wine drinking hasn’t changed much in the past few centuries. The perfection that took hundreds of years to develop now yields a harvest that includes access to delicious and affordable wines. After our first few months here, we had to make the conscious decision to slow down our wine consumption – the internal pressure to try all the Italian wine possible in less than two years would have put me in an early grave. I will miss the open access to such wonderful wine… and I will certainly miss paying less than €10 for a great bottle.
3) “Let’s go to… hmm… Tuscany today”!
A few weeks ago, we were on a road trip when I saw the exit for Venice. We were driving east, toward Trieste and I knew we would be passing nearby Venice – but I hadn’t consulted a map prior to our drive, so I was surprised when I saw signs that told me I was only about 20 km from Venice. The significance struck me that without even trying, we can stop by many of the world’s most important cities (Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan). Within a three-hour drive, we can visit the rolling hills of Tuscany, the ample vineyards of Piedmont, or the pristine beaches of the Italian Riviera. Inside of a four-hour radius, we can find ourselves in France, Switzerland, Austria or Slovenia. We could literally dine on escargot in Chamonix, France for breakfast, have fondue in Geneva, Switzerland for lunch and eat sausage in Innsbruck, Austria for dinner (if we were crazy enough to do that drive… or eat snails for breakfast, for that matter). I will miss easy access to the best that Italy has to offer and a gateway to much of the rest of Europe.
2) They grow up so fast!
Before you have kids, everyone tells you, “you’ll only know this specific type of joy when you have your own” (of course, they don’t tell you about the late nights and the “time-outs”). When you do have kids of your own – you finally understand what they mean. When your kids are young, everyone tells you “you won’t believe how fast they grow up”. They’re right about that one too. I blinked and suddenly we were celebrating Julia’s third birthday. I’m afraid to blink again, because then we’ll be packing her up for college. One thing that I will forever be thankful for is that I got to spend a full year and a half with my little Julia (and her mother, for that matter). I didn’t have to go to work for 8-10 hours a day, or miss her while I was on road trips. I spent every single day, watching her develop. I got to witness her form her words, first in English and then in Italian. I got to see her become more adept at using an iPad than her parents. I got to be her “horsey” and her “best friend”. I got to hold her when she was sad and toss her in the air when she was happy. I will always miss the uninterrupted time that I got to spend with my daughter, Julia.
1) I will miss sipping the espresso with you!
That says it all. I will miss living our adventures and I will miss sharing them with you. I am thankful that we had any readers at all and I am glad that we got to share a part of our lives with you. I made friends and contacts through the blog and I will be forever grateful that I had a place to go and “chat” with people from all over the globe! Thank you, thank you, thank you!