I tend to take things for granted. It comes from the same place that allows me to walk past the stunning architecture and street art of Manhattan with disregard and sometimes resentment. But in these past two weeks, I’ve had so many moments of clarity & appreciation that I’m breathless now just thinking about them. It has half to do with the beautiful backdrop and soundtrack of roosters, church bells & speeding cars (undoubtably driving several kilometers above the speed limit) that greet me every morning on my way to work… and the other half to do with the overwhelming generosity of my host family.
Last weekend, I took a trip to Venice for Carnivale with two other American girls from my program. It was great to fall back into my cosmopolitan ways… getting lost in a sea of anonymous faces, and thanks to the masquerade theme of Carnivale, the masked faces were literally anonymous… and being forced to talk to strangers, willingly and gladly. I’m going to take a pause here to give you a little background on Carnivale. Back in the days of Casanova, Carnivale was the one time a year where different socio-economic classes could intermingle without repercussions as long as they were wearing masks. So, a lowly peasant could have a dance or two with a noble member of aristocracy, if only for one night. I couldn’t help but feel like the same rules applied to us as we meet and intermingled with strangers. It didn’t matter what your background was that weekend or who you usually hang out with. The only thing that mattered was the conversation you were having and the person right in front of you. I met some amazingly fun, diverse, and open minded people. From the moment we walked in the hostel, we had drunk & beyond friendly Australians sitting on our beds to greet us. Within minutes we were pre-gaming with them.
Now Carnivale in Venice is an unmatchable experience, it’s like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, hundreds from Italy flock to it. But it’s also unmatchable to the small town festivities. Fat Tuesday. It’s pretty much self- explanatory… it’s the day before Ash Wednesday, the last day before Lent where you can overindulge. And trust me, there’s plenty of food and sweets to satisfy any gluttonous appetite. Best of all, I’ve discovered mascarpone. A creamy cheesy pastry mix that’s the main ingredient in Tiramisu. Its like eating straight cream and sugar without the obscure guilt. But, of course, it was drowned with Nutella because the sun don’t shine and the moon don’t obit without Nutella in or on everything in Italy.
Whatever “dolce” wasn’t eaten at home was brought to the school for the kids to pass around and share at the morning break or on Fat Tuesday to the auditorium where the kids dressed up to throw what seemed like an infinite amount of confetti at each other. The way these kids were throwing it, you’d think they were trying to fulfill a vendetta, and the confetti were tiny blades of danger. Not to mention that it got everywhere and somehow found it’s way into bodily crevasses that are not accessible with clothes on. Seriously, I found some in my bra in the underpart of my boob.
The best part was that all the kids recognized me from class and fought for my attention. Which of course got the attention of their parents and I felt kinda popular. I think my host mom got a kick out of it too, because she was basically my translator and thus popular by association. I’m very aware right now that I sound like either a teenager or housewife. But honestly, so much of my life living with this 100% genuine Italian family has made me so aware of social circles and bring me back a high school mentality. Like the other day, I went to my host sister’s volleyball game and all I could think about was how I got cut from the JV team and felt wildly and unreasonably inadequate.
However, it’s just this small town family oriented lifestyle, which provokes feelings that I haven’t felt in a long time, both good and bad, that makes this experience exceptionally refreshing. And I have my host family to thank for that. They were the ones that drove me to the train station 1 hour away to get to Venice. My host mom regularly stays up baking even now that Carnivale is over & done, and I have a feeling that she does it for me. My host mom was the one to insist that I go the auditorium with my little host sister on Fat Tuesday and to see my other host sister’s volleyball game. I’m, unfortunately, switching host families this weekend to live and teach in a neighboring town, Potenza Picena. I’m a little nervous that my current host family has straight up spoiled me and there’s no turning back. I hope I’m wrong, but my new host family sure does have some big shoes to fill.