"Are you going home, or leaving home?" she asked, as she sat down in the seat next to me.
My mind was miles away, (about 11,000 to be exact) studying the outline of the Wasatch Mountains from the view of the airplane window. Spanning almost 160 miles, they are the western most tip of the greater Rocky Mountains, and have served as the background scenery to most of the events in my life.
Even when I had moved away from Salt Lake City at times, I had always known I would return. I could count on the airplane dropping down about ten minutes prior to landing, to give me a bird's eye view of the jagged granite walls. And I would know I was home.
This time there was no return trip planned.
"Hmmm," I said, meeting her gaze.
I could tell she didn't think she'd asked a trick question, and yet there I was, struggling for the answer. Was I going home, or leaving my home? Where was my home?
My mind shifted from granite walls to terracotta roofs. The previous year, I had sold my house in Utah, most of my possessions, quit my job and took a leap of faith. I had moved to Florence, Italy. During the months there, I had come to feel a connection with my new surroundings. It had been the most courageous thing I had ever done, and I was happier than I had been in years.
I ached now to see a sunset over the Arno, and hear the sound of opera blasting from an apartment window. I had found a new rhythm with the Campanile bells as my alarm clock, and dodging tourists in a busy piazza had come to feel familiar.
I had returned to Utah for the required three months. My time had primarily been spent in Visa application, and then reapplication, and visiting friends and family. Only when my Visa arrived, did it feel like the hard work was worth it. It's no small feat to get a Schengen Visa!
But, I had not felt like I was home in those months. As much as I enjoyed seeing old friends and catching up on the local news, my heart seemed to be far away, in a very old country that continued to call to me.
Now that I had extended entry into Italy, I could make the ultimate step I had been working towards. I wanted to live in a Florentine neighborhood, and totally immerse myself in the Italian experience. Purposefully, I packed my suitcases for all four seasons.
"I think I'm going home," I said, with as much conviction as I could muster. And with that, the long trip across the ocean began.
I had decided to wait until I arrived in Italy to buy a cell phone. That meant upon arrival, I had no way to contact my apartment owner or agent. Despite already asking my taxi driver to heft three very large and heavy suitcases, I needed to convince him to allow me to use his phone. Whether it was my rusty Italian, or just his natural kindness, he agreed to place the call and I was assured Adriana would be there to let me in.
Now, on my best days I can't work a TV remote, figure out a fuse box or understand the directions on a washing machine. Somehow all appliances know this, and refuse to function properly for me in any country.
So there was no way that anything Adriana explained to me that afternoon was going to sink in. Not only was I now two days without sleep, I had just hauled each one of the aforementioned suitcases up 56 steps to my new apartment.
However, I followed behind her like a dutiful puppy, and nodded.
Once the door closed, I collapsed in a chair. The suitcases would remain unpacked tonight, and if I was going to stay awake past 7:00 p.m., I needed to go for a walk. Not having the energy to go grocery shopping, I figured I would head down my block where I knew there were a couple of restaurants.
The first restaurant I passed was bustling and full of the apertivo crowd. Seemed overwhelming to me and I kept walking. As I rounded the corner on San Niccolo the smell of pizza drew me in. Before I knew I'd made the choice, I was seated on a bar stool nodding that, yes, I would like a cold glass of prosecco. I explained that I was vegetarian and would like two pieces of pizza to go.
As I visited with the bartender, it became clear to me that something had been lost in translation. I could see him talking to a woman in the kitchen who appeared to be making two whole pizzas. It may have been the prosecco, or perhaps eating pizza for the next few days sounded fine to me, but I just sat on the bar stool and smiled.
I was liking the feel of my new neighborhood!
Once again inside my apartment, and a couple of pieces of pizza later, I was ready for bed. I opened the shutters to the courtyard, looked at the greenery overflowing from the back of the Bardini Gardens. I could hear the sound of neighbors having dinner and, from a distance, someone singing opera.
They could all continue... I was going to sleep.
At 2:37 a.m., I woke up. Such is the joy of traveling half way across the world.
Walking to my bedroom window, I peered out at the outline of the palm trees and the moon shimmering behind the dense clouds. Silence.
I breathed in the stillness. It felt like home.
Two months later, the holiday season has begun, although quite differently than in the United States. While I have wonderful memories of the holidays throughout my lifetime, I find I am completely content to celebrate them in Italy now. Thanksgiving dinner may include eggplant parmesan and steaming bowls of pasta, but around the table will be family and beloved new friends.
If home is where the heart is, then that makes sense. My heart is in Italy. I am home.