First Perspective: Living in Gaeta

DSC05480By Sarah Bolen

Tangled curls twist downward towards tanned feet, hiding a face freckled by the Italian sun. This is the image reflected in the dirty window of the crowded commuter train I take every morning. I slowly become less aware of how hot it is, as the train rocks past scenery only God could have designed. The sea hurls itself against the mountainside in a foamy fury and the mountain, steadfast, responds with ancient poise.

Every station gives me fifteen seconds to see the architecture and culture of each town. We move from fresh fish at the pescheria to aged prosciutto at the salumeria. I smile at a few things that don’t change at all, old ladies stopping to gossip about the same things they’ve gossiped about for forty years, surrounded by children playing soccer in the streets. And I wonder to myself how I’ll have the courage to leave this place.

My name, Sarah, is pronounced differently here in Italy; the locals roll it over in their mouths, then sing an exotic “Sah-rah.” I’m 28 years old. I’ve lived in Gaeta, a small coastal town 50 miles north of Naples, for 9 years, my entire adult life. In my backyard, I have a vineyard, an olive orchard, a vegetable garden, ten rabbits, five chickens, and three goats. La dolce vita.

I’ve always said that there are two types of expats living in Italy: some who choose to live with the money they’ve earned at home in wealthier currencies, renting out chic apartments in the city center and taking taxis wherever they go. I chose to live in Italy as an Italian, and, like most Italians, I can’t afford to live in the city. Instead I am part of the pendolari, the pendulums, swinging back and forth, commuting from distant, border towns. I travel nearly three hours to Rome every day, six days a week, to work. This decision has been by far my greatest challenge and privilege. It has earned me the right to be welcomed into, and respected by, my Italian community. Of course, this means I’m facing the very same struggles Italians are facing these days. As politicians throw luxurious parties in order to discuss the country’s most pressing issues, the unemployment rate soars at an unsettling 60.1% for Southern Italian youths (ANSA), and my Italian husband, Antonio, has unfortunately become a statistic. His boss stopped paying him years ago and he’s yet to find another paying job, not as a waiter, not even as a barista

I never complain about the obstacles my Italian life throws at me, because it is my choice to live here, and Antonio and I are lucky enough now to be able to make the very difficult choice of leaving. We are following in the footsteps of many Italians before us, in order to save our own future: we are immigrating to the United States. And we’re not the only ones. Several of our friends are joining us as the face of modern Italian immigration. 

Some have already gone to London and Amsterdam while others are planning their escape to Australia and even Singapore, left with no other option but to search for, ironically, given our unparalleled natural beauty, greener pastures. Visiting Americans lusting for slow-paced Italian culture, rich cuisine and sun and sea look at me, shocked, when I tell them we’re leaving, and I can understand why. However, even the locals have been telling my husband to get out while he still can, to make a life for himself, and to hope that he can one day return. For now, all we can do is carry our beloved Italy with us wherever we go. I am extremely grateful to all the people who’ve touched my life over the past 9 years and I want to honor Italy by continuing to promote Italian tradition, educating others about her past, and helping the next generations to look towards her future.

Smooth hair, stretches down my back towards nervous feet. I’ve cleaned myself up, and Antonio is dressed well, too; he wants to make a good impression on my family. I can’t even imagine what he’s feeling right now, as we abandon his home country, fingers crossed. As my eyes meet his, I know that their unusual shade of blue will be my only connection to the Mediterranean for a while. Then, I notice something else in his eyes- hope, hope that America has one last dream left in her.

Want to write for us? First Perspective is a showcase for essays related to the Italian culture or your Italian heritage, up to 700 words in length. Reminisce about something meaningful — an event, a location, an experience — with an Italian-related connection. Sing the praises of some new Italian restaurant or Italian shop or any Italian happenings you believe others should know about. Send submissions by email to jack@ciaopittsburgh.com. 

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