Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ritorno a Esenta

With my host parents
What a fantastic weekend.  I traveled to Italy and back in time this weekend, returning to my tiny Italian hometown of Esenta di Lonato.  I began this crazy lifestyle of living abroad fourteen years ago as a high school exchange student.  This weekend, I returned to Esenta to visit my host family for the first time in seven years. Esenta is a time warp where very little has changed in the past decade and a half.  There are a few more grey hairs; an extra wrinkle; new children, spouses and girlfriends; and in the case of my little host brother Marco all of puberty.  But the basic outline of life remains the same - people live in the same houses, have the same friends, and still derive the most enjoyment from simply being around each other.  It was utterly fantastic.  (I realized on the flight home that Esenta is the only place that I can still sleep in my childhood bed.  There is comfort being in a place that was once yours long ago and still feels the same a decade and a half later).

 I couldn't have accidentally picked a better weekend.  My best friend from Esenta, Alberto, lives in Mozambique.  He, along with his wife and child, were on vacation in Esenta, leaving next week.  Nicola moved to the US for school and was also on vacation with his girlfriend.  Each year Esenta hosts "La Sagra" which is a four-day festival of food, music and small games and rides for kids.  That was this weekend, so I got to see a number of people I didn't expect to see.  There is something magical about tapping someone on the shoulders and watching their eyes go from inquisitive to recognition to astonishment as their minds time travel to long forgotten memories instantly remembered.

I flew into Verona on Friday night and Sergio and Daniela picked me up.  I had been worried that I wouldn't remember any Italian and that was completely true on Friday.  My mind only has two compartments for language, English and foreign.  It makes absolutely no distinction between German and Italian, which presented a problem because I spent much of the weekend accidentally speaking German when I meant to speak Italian.  The Italian was closed up behind a locked door - as the weekend wore on, more and more of the doors were unlocked and my Italian improved greatly, but it was always a struggle.  The weirdest aspect was that I knew the meaning of words, but I would be completely unable to tell you if the word was German or Italian.  For example, I had the word paura in my head which I know means "fear", but in that moment I could not figure out if it was German or Italian.  Very strange experience.  I must tip my hat to anyone who can switch between multiple foreign languages seamlessly.

Dinner on the porch
The food this weekend was simply outstanding.  There is a chance I put on five pounds this weekend despite going for a seven mile run on Saturday morning.  Fresh bread, home made pizza with buffalo mozzarella, delicious peppers, fresh tomatoes, chicken with the most delicious marinade, prosciutto, and more Parmesan cheese than I can justify eating in a weekend.  So yummy.

Everyone in my host family is doing pretty well.  Sergio and Daniela are both still working in their same jobs.  The house is still amazing.  My host grandparents, who live below my host family, are both alive and doing well.  Jacopo is done with classes at the University, but still has to do his thesis.  He just moved in with his girlfriend, Giulia, and is working at a bookstore.  Marco finished high school and may be going to study architecture this fall (he still has to take the entrance exam).  He's lifeguarding this summer and has the tan to prove it.  Cousins Marta and Anna are both doing well.  Anna was on vacation, but I got to see Marta and somehow since I was last there, she went from a slightly-awkward teenager to a beautiful young woman.

I started off Saturday with a nice long run.  I had planned to run from the house to Castiglione, the near-by town where I had attended school.  Esenta is clearly separated from Castiglione and in 1999 I would never have considered going from one to the other without a car.  When thinking about my route, I thought I might be able to reach the outskirts of Castiglione before needing to turn around.  If I were ambitious, I might run all the way to the school.  Clearly, the distance was longer in my memory  than in reality as I not only ran to the school (about 2 miles away), I ran all the way through town to the other side and still had to meander on my way back to get the distance I needed.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the lake with some of my friends.  The day was super hot, but fantastic nonetheless.  The water was crystal clear and the perfect temperature-a little chilly, but not too cold to swim.  I got to spend some quality time with some of my good friends from 1999 and some of their friends who I have met over my several visits the last few years.  Saturday night I had dinner with my host parents and then went down to la Sagra, spending the evening with friends, both old and new.

One of these is not like the others (hint - it's the blindingly white guy)
Allesandro with his zia Marta

One of the downsides of my job is that I don't have the long-established friendships and relationships that you see in a town like Esenta.  It takes a bit of time to establish those relationships and it can be hard during the times that they don't yet exist.  But, when they do exist, they don't go away with space and time.  With certain friends you fall back into the groove of things almost immediately.  My friends and host family from Esenta are like that - we've all changed over the last fourteen years, but when we get together, we are all old friends again.  This weekend rejuvenated me more than I even realized I needed.  And for that, I can say Grazie or Danke - I'm really not sure which is which, but they both mean "Thank you."

Jacopo and his girlfriend

Me with the Musatti family

With my host brothers

Cousin Marta with her boyfriend

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