Cheating, Part I


I know I said I would cheat tomorrow, not today, but I find myself with nothing worth saying at the moment. Tomorrow I may be short on time, but today I'm short on words.

So, for the Suspects among you this will be old hat, and thus you may skip merrily along and spend your time more fruitfully elsewhere. Anyone else is cordially invited to read my answers in the ongoing interview project. I was interviewed by someone who may not wish to be named here, so I won't (and I made a couple of adjustments to the text of the interview, too, for privacy), but she came up with some excellent questions, to which I provided my usual rambling answers. At the time (early September), I was clearly not short on words, so be warned.


Question 1: We both did our junior year abroad. I almost moved to England to be with my boyfriend; you did move to Italy and got married. I know for me, I was entranced by the idea of leaving my life in the US behind - the culture, even my friends and family - and starting over. Did this factor into your move to Italy? Did you ever consider having Dario move to the US instead? What were some of the hardest things to deal with for the first year or so? Are those things still hard, or have they gotten easier while other things have become more difficult?

There is definitely a certain appeal to the idea of starting over from scratch in a new place, trying to build a new life completely unlike the present one. And there was probably an element of that in my decision, too: I was kind of floundering about in my first taste of life after college, not really sure of anything and making a lot of bad decisions. Getting away from that was certainly a plus.

The main factor for me, though, was Dario. I briefly got it into my head that he would move to the States, I'm not sure why. When I finally realized that it was never going to happen, for various reasons--mainly that he didn't want to leave his parents here alone- -I didn't hesitate long. If moving to Italy was the only way I could be with him, then so be it: I stuffed a wedding dress into my suitcase and caught a plane. I really never conceived of my decision as "hey, I'm moving to Italy"; it was always, "I'm going to be wherever he is, and he's in Italy." The fact that I didn't exactly have a life I'd miss (see above) just made it easier.

The hardest part at the beginning was the family cohabitation. In college I specifically applied for housing in the dorm that had the most single rooms, and asked (begged, pleaded, cajoled) not to have a roommate. I never did, until I shared an apartment here on JYA, and I wouldn't really call that a successful experiment in communal living. I simply don't like living with other people--well, unless I happen to be married to them--and I'm not very good at it. Yet, for the first three and a half years of our marriage, we lived with his parents, in their two-bedroom apartment with a teeny-tiny bathroom that was (is) smaller than the walk-in closet of my old dorm room. Living in close quarters like that, with pretty much zero privacy, that was hard to get used to.

I adore Dario's parents, and if you have absolutely no choice but to live with your in-laws, you can only pray that they're as easy-going and kind and just all-around lovely as Giorgio and Marisa, but it's still far from ideal. Not recommended for newlyweds, believe me. Thank god we no longer have that problem.

Other things that were hard... hmm. It was definitely a noticeable change from living here as a student, which surprised me in my youthful ignorance. Mostly because you tend to pay closer attention when you don't have a departure date scheduled in a few months' time, I think. I've probably forgotten a lot of things, unless they still bug me. For which, well, see below.

One thing that has gotten harder to accept is my lack of citizenship. Not that I have any particular desire to participate in the Italian political process, which is... complicated, to say the least. But I don't like feeling completely cut off from society, either, with no voice at all in decisions that affect me. When I was first married, applying for Italian citizenship could have cost me my US passport. They changed that law around 1990/91-ish, and I even started the application process, but it required a million documents (including several that don't even formally exist in the US), and I eventually gave up.

Question 2: What do you most enjoy about Italy and living there, both on its own, and in comparison to living in the US? What do you most dislike?

Italy is an amazingly beautiful country, both its cities and its natural landscapes. When I really stop and look around me, I'm still stunned at how much loveliness there is, and still awed by the history that is so closely interwoven with contemporary everyday life. And it's so varied: every few miles, the architecture, food, even the language changes. It's endlessly fascinating.

The food and wine, of course, are fabulous. Ditto the clothes and shoes. Bologna is a very chic city, so it can sometimes be a little intimidating to be constantly surrounded by all these effortlessly put-together women (who, sadly, do not appear to share my fondness for the food), but I adore seeing the fashions both in and out of shop windows.

The cell phone system in Europe, too, is infinitely superior and so much more logical than the one in the US, so it's not all about pretty old stuff. You can drive fast and really take full advantage of the power of your car's engine. I love that feeling. Driving in the States is terribly frustrating.

I know experiences vary widely across the country, but I have always been very impressed with the health services here in Bologna. I'm a total believer in guaranteed health care--especially the more horror stories I hear about American HMOs, which seem to have taken the nightmare potential of socialized medicine and made it reality. It's just a lot more expensive, and not available to everyone. So I'm very appreciative of having access to top-quality medical care without having to worry about payment or reimbursement or being turned down for an exam or whatever.

Another big plus: minimum three weeks paid vacation time, and no such thing as "sick days." If you're sick or injured, your doctor issues a note saying how many days you're supposed to stay home, and you receive full pay for those days and no reduction in vacation time. I hate the idea of giving up earned days off because of a nasty case of bronchitis. Of course, being self-employed I don't actually benefit from the vacation or illness provisions. But I like that they're there.

It's hard for me to generalize about what I don't like about living in Italy, since I don't really live "in Italy": I live my life, which happens to be located in Italy. I'm not sure whether that makes sense, but what I mean is that it's not always easy for me to separate out things I don't like about my own life, that could possibly be problems or annoyances anywhere, and aspects that are specific to the location. I've always said so, but recently I've had a couple of experiences and conversations that have really brought home the fact that my life, my friends, things I've seen and done truly cannot be used as any kind of generic yardstick for life in this country. So, take anything I say with a massive boulder of salt, here.

The bureaucracy is oppressive, but I largely experience it second-hand nowadays since Dario takes care of most of that stuff (I'm, uh, not really cut out for detail work). I'm pretty sure I can safely say that this is one thing that applies to the country as a whole, and anyone who lives here. It's actually gotten a bit better since I first moved here, but every month brings with it at least one deadline, and in order to do anything at all you need to produce a ridiculous number of documents. There's less demand for the special paper (carta da bollo) and stamp taxes (both purchased from the tobacconist, who is also licensed to sell salt) than there used to be, but neither have been eliminated entirely. It's really quite Byzantine.

Other things I dislike, that come to mind offhand: the fact that there is no such thing as continuing education or evening classes at the university; the obsession with titles, to the point where being just a regular Signora o Signore is an embarrassment; the politics; the million taxes in return for mostly mediocre-quality services; the disproportionately high cost of living (in the cities, at least); the emphasis on appearances first and foremost; the fact that you have to be licensed to be a journalist--and with nearly all of the country's mass media in the hands of one (vile) person, at the moment, I find that downright terrifying; the belief that it is more mature to shrug and accept (or bitch about) whatever happens rather than fight for change; the general air of pessimism and resignation about, well, basically everything.

Question 3: You finished your M.A. last year. I know it can take a long time to feel normal after finishing a degree. Do you feel recovered yet? Are you glad that you did it? Would you go back to school again? How has your M.A. affected the work that you are doing now?

Ha. Hahaha. Sorry, this question really makes me laugh, in a slightly-manic-bordering-on-hysterical way.

You know, it's ironic that a major part of my thesis focused on theories that basically say that everything is connected and the concept of breaking things down into component parts is mostly illusory (obviously a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea). Yet I somehow naively believed that I could get this degree, complete this major project, and once it was over I would just go skipping along as before, with no significant changes except a sense of being "qualified" (at what, I'm not quite sure), and something else to hang on the wall. Ha, again. It really is all connected, and nothing takes place in a vacuum, and change is inevitable. Amazing how hard it can be to grasp these very basic ideas in relation to one's own life. Or, possibly, I'm just of above-average density.

I don't think I've even completely worked through all of the effects, yet, although it's been almost a year (!!!). All I can do right now is offer the short answers to your questions: a) recovered yet? No, and possibly never will be; I'm hoping that's not necessarily a bad thing. b) glad you did it? Hmm, very loaded question. Mostly yes with a wistfully nostalgic sprinkling of no. Change is always painful, even when it's welcome (see below). c) would I go back to school? Funny you should ask that. Um, yes. d) how has it affected my work? Sadly, not at all. The crappy economy has brought the whole "career", such as it was, to a screeching halt. A fact that probably hasn't helped the recovery process along, either.

Question 4: What piece of clothing or jewelry have you bought or lusted after most recently? Why? Was it functional, or did it do something for your image of yourself that you loved or needed?

Fun question! Despite the rather misleading image I've somehow managed to create on the board, I'm not exactly the poster child for fashion, and I rarely buy things for myself. However, I am an expert at lusting after things. And since we are now easing into fall, which is without a doubt my favorite season in every respect, including clothes-wise, I've been doing plenty of lusting of late.

It's hard for me to single out individual items, so instead I'll stick to brands/designers. My biggest lust target--in a fashion sense--is definitely Max Mara. His clothes are classic with just a slight edge, to keep them from being stuffy. I adore the way he uses fabrics, the way he plays with shapes and lengths. What I like best is that so much of his stuff is appropriate for work and leisure, it can be dressed up or down as needed. I like versatile garments like that. Whenever we happen to come across a Max Mara shop, Dario groans because he knows I will spend forever drooling at the outfits on display, oohing and ahhing over everything, and discussing the relative merits of this jacket vs. that cardigan.

I tried to find a good link, but the best I could do is a recent fall fashion preview, which isn't the most exciting but at least gives a general idea of his style.

What does my love for MM say about me? Um, I guess that I aspire to be classy but not stuffy, just trendy enough without going overboard (and, er, wealthy). That my ideal is a perfect combination of form and function, without tipping too far in either direction. I think that a corner of my mind thinks that if I can surround myself with objects, including clothes, that meet that ideal, maybe the rest of my life and my person will follow suit.

For accessories, I am in love with Coccinelle. Their bags, belts, shoes, etc. tend mostly toward the hip and/or fun, and it's another one of those places where you have to basically drag me away from the window display. Plus, how can you not love a company called Ladybugs? I would buy their whole collection, every season, sight unseen.

This again says that I clearly have tastes that greatly exceed my budget, and also that I like to play around with details. Because sometimes you just want to be fun, or trendy, without having to change (or invest in) your whole outfit to do so. It's like the hair thing (see below).

Have I ever actually owned anything from either of these places? Nope. But in my imagination, my entire wardrobe consists of nothing but. My imaginary self is very well dressed. She also weighs about ten pounds less, goes to the gym regularly, has weekly facials, and never has visible roots. She would've given much more entertaining answers to these interview questions, too. You should meet her sometime.

Question 5: What has changed most about yourself in the past few years? Is it the way you look, the way you spend your time, something about how you envision yourself, or something else? Did you work hard to achieve the change, or did it just kind of happen? Does the change annoy you, or surprise you, or are you damned happy?

The only change I have consciously made in the last few years was to quit smoking. I still find it hard to believe that it's been two and a half years already. It wasn't the first time I'd tried to quit, and I have no rational explanation for why it stuck this time--also because, contrary to how they always tell you "you have to really want to quit in order to succeed", I spent the first month kicking and screaming. Quite literally. It took me about a year to really appreciate that I had, indeed, by some miracle managed to quit, and now that's one change I'm damned happy about.

Other changes have just kind of... happened. I've started thinking more about what, exactly, I want to do with my life. I mean, of course that's something I've considered before, plenty of times, but I used to focus my thoughts within a relatively narrow range of options. Now I'm casting a wider net, exploring all kinds of possibilities in my head, trying to imagine what kind of life would make me happy--or would make it possible for me to be happy, which I suppose is rather different.

One thing that I've come to realize--and I suppose this falls more into the category of changes in how I envision myself--is that I have a profound need for change. I don't mean "I need to find an alternative to how things are right now, and stick to it", but that I am happiest when my life doesn't have a set routine for very long, when there are always new and major projects in the works. This is kind of a "duh" realization, because whenever my life has remained relatively static for any length of time I've always grown restless and come up with some kind of new plan or idea or scheme to mix it up a bit. I mean, for god's sake, I usually change my haircut and/or color at least twice a year! Nothing is left alone to gather dust. (Well, except the furniture. Too bad I'm unable to channel all this energy for change into, say, housekeeping.)

Until recently, though, I tended to look upon this trait as a flaw (and, frankly, most other people saw/see it that way, too), maybe a sign of immaturity, something I needed to work on and correct. I think I've finally accepted that I am simply not the sort of person who can settle comfortably into a predictable sort of lifestyle, at least not on a long-term basis. Of course, being someone who thrives on upheaval means it can be something of a trial to be around me for an extended time, unless you also happen to be the change-loving type.

On the other hand, it also means I have plenty of good stories. And that is clearly one of the most important things in life. (For one thing, it means I have built-in entertainment for when I'm old and feeble and will pass the hours telling myself amusing tales of my youth. It's all part of my clever long-term plan, you see.)