Unlike every other person who comes to Italy, I was absolutely not an Italophile when I arrived, having never had, up until meeting un Italiano online, any interest in the country: neither the language nor the food, the fashion nor the folks. It all seemed like a clichè in fact, and not my kind of clichè either.
I remember all my first impressions: overload of the senses (I do suffer with HSP or sensory overload, mind you – hehe!); having come from very rural Scotland at midwinter, the designer-everything of Caserta was kind of a shock to my system. Rural Scottish people don’t always do glamour so well and, though in Scotland I was considered ‘scrubs up well’, my new partner was highly, visibly, verbally unimpressed. Now, where I came from, it was either extremely rude or extremely mean to openly comment on another person’s appearance in an overtly negative way – unless we are all drunk, and all laughing about it together.
After 6 months of daily hard-core criticism on my dress-sense, diet, language, ability to speak Italian (!) and so on, I was weary – one could even say, tetchy. The signs had all said ‘do this!’ about jumping into a life in Italy with both feet, and the signs were still saying ‘stick at it’: who am I to argue with the universal intelligence?!
My initial undesirable clichè of Italy grew into a veritable distaste for all Italian superficiality, brashness, arrogance, chauvinism… I could go on. I ground my teeth quietly (see below) and barely-tolerated it: cripes, there must be something good about it, if so many people go on about it so!
ALREADY CONTEMPLATING DIVORCE
Why does one stay in a relationship when it is not working? I’d asked this rhetorical question of many a friend in the past, and always assumed that it’d never happen to me, but I was caught in a catch-22 of being isolated in another country without the language, contacts, income – nor the stamina even to return to Scotland. I spiralled further down.
It came to ‘do or die’ in December 2010: I left the guy, and weighed up my options. Nestled into his weekend house in Guardia Sanframondi’s centro storico, I rested ’til I could pluck up the energy/ enthusiasm/ clarity of mind to find the logical forward step. There did not seem to be any positive outcome, but I was not quite ready to return to the 10-months-per-year Scottish winter. Fortunately, this seeming block turned out to be the most fortuitous turning point of my life!
From the outset, Guardia Sanframondi had pulled at my heart: there was a tangible energy and atmosphere to the place; all manner of coincidence and flow seemed to be visible in the everyday. Even on my first visit, there had immediately been a sense of interconnectedness, which reminded me of my island village in Scotland: a culture of being present.
Being present is a profound aspect of spiritual life, which city-minded folks spend lots of money on books and courses about, trying to learn how to ‘do’. The difficulty with such a subtle subject, as with many aspects of the spiritual path, is that one cannot learn intellectually, one does not ‘do’ it; one has to learn with one’s whole being, to be. One can best learn to be present, by being around others who are skilled in it – Guardia to me, seemed like a big spiritual retreat!
As well as presence, Guardia S. radiates all the things which are necessary to a happy human being; warmth, generosity, gentleness, acceptance, laughter. It was here, rather than Caserta or the Amalfi coast, that I quickly fell in love with Italy and the Italians.
Italy (and Guardia) filled me where before I had been empty, it padded me out with calories and warmth, rounding my sharp corners. Italy hugged me when I needed it, in all it’s superficial romance and folly, but also with sincere love and tenderness. Italy has given me the greatest gift of my life adventure: this house, this magical container that I could really begin to build and grow in. And Italy has given me backbone and balls: things I’d never have had a chance to attain, had I not been thrown in at the deep end: drown or thrive! Italy brought me awake with a hard slap, and then invited me into The Good Life.
scottish-italian in scotland, with scotland looking like it is italy, hehe!
TRIAL SEPARATION (AND OPEN AFFAIR)
Despite learning to love the country, I took a break from all things Italiano in 2014, having finally had too much of the hard slog getting myself established there. I actually decided, I just cannae dae it anymore, like it all felt too much like constant challenge on a cultural level – misunderstandings with males particularly – not being able to have a sane conversation with any adult male, without a conflict-resolution-therapist to translate…
I wanted to change my business base, and to start working from Scotland, where one doesn’t step into a cultural minefield every time one visits the council/ accountant/ tax office/ whatever. Despite having grown to love the climate, the quality of life, the beauty of the landscape, I craved for the things of my own, familiar culture… I was willing to compromise the sunshine for just a tad more sanity in regards to being a woman running a business.
But it was kind of like a cultural detox; I began to miss all manner of Italian things, almost as soon as the plane touched down in Scozia.
I immersed myself in Scotland and our great quest for independence, reaquainting myself with what it was to be Scottish, as our culture rose rapidly into its new vibrant identity: it felt incredible, and it completed me, this new identity, amongst a newly-awakening people. And eventually admitted, I have to have my feet in both worlds. I belong here, and there: I love being there, and here.
♥ FIFTH ANNIVERSARY ♥
It’s five full years since I first visited Italy proper and, while I still will not describe myself as an Italophile, there’s grown in me a deep love and respect for the culture, the people, the landscape. I adore the climate and even the fashion – especially now I know the local markets well enough to find gems like the ones above and below – cashmere T-shirt for 50c! Hand crafter leather satchel for €1 – joy!
When I’m here, I look out on the view at the top of this blog, and when I’m away in Scotland, I dream about it.
Okay, okay… so I love Italy, and my heart is here for the long-term! ♥♥♥
Tante belle cose, Clare