The second car is packed and our hand baggage with accessories for all eventualities – hunger, boredom, train delays, flight delays, emergency toilet trips – hidden somewhere, though whether I will find the appropriate accessory for occasion remains to be seen.
We’ve been stumbling over boxes for weeks and all grumbled in frustration wondering where something is, whether it is packed, has gone already in the first car or is genuinely missing. The house, this house that we have called home for the last 18 months is finally – immaculate and ready to be handed back to its owners. It’s the only home La Principessa really knows and it’s peculiar to think it is unlikely that, with time, she will remember any of this particular house.
In school today, H and P diligently gathered together astucci (pencils cases), quaderni (exercise books), libri (textbooks), arte and we hauled the sack home, presenting it to Tom to be squeezed into non existent spaces in the car, staving off their excitement to show it all to us right now when time is pressing and we depart at 5.30 tomorrow morning.
The children’s school Christmas festivities have been celebrated and sung amongst smiles and laughter, tears and tantrums, depending on the age and circumstance of the children in question. La Principessa ran up to join her brother and sister in singing a remarkable complement of songs in staccato paced Italian in a celebration which brought together the best of this progressive scuola familiale we have created here.
We leave tomorrow, 15 December, 18 months to the day from our departure which seems aeons ago. These short eighteen months have been full of adventures and new experiences, challenges and trials, soaring zeniths and crashing nadirs. We have shouted, screamed and cried, laughed and sung sometimes all in the space of moments. We’ve been bemused and confused by this insanely frustrating but beautifully welcoming country, we’ve wondered when people haven’t understood us when we’ve tried so hard to be understood and basked in contentment when things have clicked. We’ve questioned just how many forms are required, signatures needed, people involved or opinions sought. We’ve realised the bureaucracy is as bad as everyone says it is. And worse. We’ve bought some land, renovated a stone hut, revelled in our gorgeous spot and realised we have una bella sfida (a great challenge) ahead of us. We have pruned, bud rubbed and worried about mould on vines, watched anxiously for rain, watched even more anxiously as unseasonable hail has battered precisely our corner of the valley. We’ve watched in despair as our precious olive crop fell to the ground weeks early, massacred by the olive fly, but rejoiced in the peace of our plot of land and the hope that next year will be different.
We have learned a language – some of us (the children) with perfect pronunciation, others of us (me) packed full of errors and mispronunciation, on which friends smile benignly. We’ve found ourselves buying cinghiale direct from the hunters’ cellar, after a cryptic coded conversation at the butchers. We’ve collected honey from our friends’ bees, been privileged to help make pecorino cheese, climbed rocks and swam in the wild, watched eagles swoop, deer graze and scarper and full moons rise majestically over the mountain.
I’ve helped my Italian friend to set up a school, been privileged to prototype rapidly ideas that have been bubbling for years. I’ve ‘taught’ in Italian, marvelled at the children’s amazing adaptability, rejoiced in the freedom of a school created for children’s childhood. I’ve met and worked with an inspiring and wonderful group of people, understood and misunderstood, stumbled and tripped when my Italian won’t keep up with my ideas and found myself running finance meetings for the school.
I have gone through the motions in reverse these last few weeks as we have packed up to leave and I feel the same but oh so different; these months are inextricably a part of us and backwards we will understand better how.
For now, we’ve thrown ourselves out of our known and every day we discover something more about the other, the culture, the land and the people here. We are ‘other’ and we observe ‘the other’ and in doing so hold up the mirror to our own nature. We feel more acutely what we are and understand better how hard it is to assimilate. Tomorrow is the end of this chapter but just another step in our relationship with the bella and the brutta of Italia. The book is unfinished; we have sketches of the plot but it’s open to changes. The sadness of leaving is offset not only by the comforts of familiarity awaiting us all but more by the knowledge that the goodbyes we have bid in the last days have been salutations not of farewell but au revoir.