I live in America: my heart is in Italy

Sophie Karrow, In-Depth Editer

One of the animal names I learned as a baby was bird, uchello. I would run around pointing at pigeons in Gaeta piazzas yelling “u! u!” trying to pronounce it. Gaeta is a town in northern Italy where Mom grew up and Nona still lives. Mom raised us in a bilingual household. Being able to speak Italian means Gaeta is my second home.

Despite my visits to other beautiful European countries like France, Spain, Germany and Ireland. Italy is my favorite, and Gaeta my most cherished place in the world. Here tiny avenues go between homes leading up to a castle, like veins to the heart, perfect for exploring. As kids we wandered up and down, meeting people and children our own age. We’d ask for directions or short cuts to the top.

Speaking allowed us to catch glimpses into their daily lives. Through interaction we learned the customs in which neighbors greeted each other, times of day they went out, how they decorated homes and gardens, and mannerisms in communication.

My favorite view of Gaeta is after sunset. The ocean gleams with moonlight and across the water are mountains sprinkled with towns lit up as if the stars have fallen to Earth. I remember staring out of Nona’s window as she told me stories of Mom’s youth. Italian connects me to the past of those I love.

Speaking means I can go to the special grocery stores buying formaggio, pane, or carne for tonight’s dinner as if I’m a townsperson. I can go off on my own without the fear of getting lost. It creates the opportunity for me to be part of conversations at dinner. It allows me to have friends and to spend nights on the beach with them by a fire. I’m able to speak of politics and lifestyle freely. Sometimes I remember words or phrases in italian when the English ones escape me. I have dreams with Italian characters.

As an American and Italian citizen, speaking opens the door to living in Italy when I’m older if I choose. Speaking multiple languages is beautiful because you experience another country on a different level. Sure, a lot of foreign people speak English, but mostly for business. Gaeta is old Italy, where tourism scares them, being bilingual allows me to experience their lives without disrupting them.

Since Downers Grove is my day-to-day life, having that experience lets me see that lifestyles truly differ from country to country. In Italy time seems to pass slower, where there isn’t a rush to get places, food is an art, and art is from the god’s. People greet each other by kissing or pinching cheeks. They value honesty and no topic is off the table for conversation. It’s very different then the fast paced chaos that occurs here.

In Downers Grove our lives seem stuck in fast forward. We spend more time on our phones and often miss out on the little joys of being alive. It’s a life changing revelation.