My host sister Sabrina had to visit her dad over winter break, which, as my host cousin Simone quaintly put it, officially made me “una di noi!” or “one of us!” because I no longer needed Sabrina to go out with the “group.”
Alessandro was mainly responsible for this, stepping in for Sabrina and staying by my side amongst the group, inviting me to the random dinners and meet-ups that their friends threw.
If the gentle reader finds it strange that a helping hand was still welcome four months in, they have never lived in a country where they don’t speak the language and have no family, friends, or any other English speakers (though I fully considered Sabrina my sister by this point).
You try as hard as you can to follow what people are saying, but they may as well be speaking in clicks, so you inadvertently zone out, leaving you da solo. This is why it’s nice to have someone who sticks by you and includes you in the phantom conversation, explaining simply and slowly (and always with elaborate hand gestures), what just happened.
One day Alessandro invited me to go to Rome with a couple other friends to go shopping, which, in keeping with my traveling pledge to always say yes, I accepted. I don’t know why I was surprised to find three other boys waiting at the train station when we arrived — it’s Europe. One was Giovanni, with whom I always played school-yard hand games, though he drew the line at “Miss Susi.” I suppose this happened because I could rarely hold a conversation for long, so we worked around it and developed our friendship a different way. Another boy was Lorenzo, with whom I’d played a brief game of monopoly, and then he asked me out. I said no thanks and we moved on. The last was David, who plays guitar but I’d never really talked to. A nice group of kids.
We finally arrived in Rome and took the metro to…I need to look up the name of the piazza, where all the knockoffs are sold and the outdoor vendors make up an elaborate maze of clothes, bags, shoes, trinkets, and everything else one can imagine. Fortune tellers and card-sharks set up shop on the sidewalks.
Before we entered, Giovanni nicely turned in to papa bear and instructed me put his cell number in my phone in case I got lost, and then instructed his friends, “Always an eye for the girl, understand?” “Sempre un’ occhio per la ragazza, capito?” We shopped for hours. I bought a watch and a bag, and the boys held up, tried on, and bought countless items.
After everyone was shopped out and refueled, the boys took me to the Spanish Steps, which I had yet to visit. They were packed because of the holiday, but it was amazing nevertheless. We lounged Keats-like on the steps for some time, then caught a 6’o clock train back to Viterbo. Great fun.
Author’s note: I wrote the post above during the academic year of 2007-2008 when, not knowing one word of Italian, I decided to spend the year in Italy living with a host family. I went through School Year Abroad (SYA), a program I cannot recommend highly enough.