Getting Lost in Italy
When you decide to go to another country—not just to see its main tourist attractions, but to stay for a while and be part of the everyday life of a different culture—everyone wants to give you advice. They tell you what to do and what not to do. People give advice about where to go, who to talk to, or what to wear. They suggest what to try and what not to try. They insist you take care of yourself, beg you to sleep hugging your passport, and never leave your suitcase unattended. While all that advice is practical and undoubtedly valuable, it only prepares you to survive the experience. None of those recommendations tell you how to live it, truly feel and live it.
I didn’t want to live in Italy, I wanted to live Italy. I had the opportunity to do this while living in Milan, and suddenly all the advice I got was not enough. I’ll tell you what I learned.
Advice on Living Abroad
You learn that hot food is overrated when you eat a cold panino on the train to a new destination and that simple flu can become the worst torment of your life when there is no one to tell you to take a sweater if it gets cold. You discover that getting lost can be, rather than a nightmare, a blessing when discovering hidden corners and secret spaces in the same city. The adrenaline rush of running to miss a bus, train, or flight makes a roller coaster ride seem like playing marbles.
Living abroad, you learn to fall in love with something new every day and the value of details. You realize that every sunset is different, and every cloud tells a diverse story. After a while, it becomes obvious how that travertine building, unnoticeable at first, differs from the one next to it. You notice that the 135th photo you took of the Duomo varies from the 134th. But the 171st is the best of the 249 pictures. And in the end, if your camera is lost or stolen while you’re wandering around Pisa, you realize that the photographs you’ve taken don’t compare to what you felt when you were there, and a drawing becomes more interesting than the picture you took.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if you sleep two hours to get to know a new place. You become tolerant, curious, and kind to other cultures when your best friend speaks a language different from yours. You also understand that studying a language is useless when you arrive in another country. And the only thing you master is saying your own name. Although it’s scary, you learn that solitude is necessary because you’ve probably been listening to other people’s voices for a long time, completely forgetting your own.
You fall, you get up, you cry, you laugh, you scream, you sing. You live. In the end, you discover that there is no greater pleasure than life itself and that living is your favorite adventure. The bad news is that no one teaches you to say goodbye to the adrenaline of new beginnings. To appreciate, for the last time, the sound your roommates make, the sway of the subway, or the smell of coffee and bread in the morning. No one prepares you to say goodbye to those friendships that cross nations.
No one warned me that it would be so hard to say goodbye. So if you are about to head off to meet new worlds, my best advice is to dare to take that train and don’t be afraid to get lost. Do it, far or near, but get lost, and above all, live your destination, don’t just inhabit it.
Today as I leave you, Milan, I can only thank you for every new corner and every experience. For showing me what your streets look like in the rain, habituating me to your morning scents, embracing me in the cold, and giving me fresh breezes on August days. Thank you for letting me live you. Arrivederci, Italy.
A version of this article appears in print, in Issue 1 of Álula Magazine with the headline: “Getting Lost in Italy”