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Saturday, January 17, 2009

2008 New Year's eve: impressions of a stranger in a strange land

Stranger. You could look up this word's definition in the dictionary, but as far as it concerns myself, defining it is not an easy task. Since late 2000, I've been living and working far from my home land, both in Italy and in a bunch of very different countries: Israel, Poland and Spain, to cite a few. Each country has its set of peculiarities in the vast majority of the aspects you could analyze as a human being. Differences span from social rituals to country traditions, and each difference is unique. As a stranger, you usually detect these differences quite soon, even if they're very subtle. Being a stranger, from this point of view, is like being an explorer: no matter how much you read or how deep is your knowledge about the history and traditions of the country you're living in, you'll never be fully prepared to feel it as if it were something natural.

I remember the first contacts I had with cultures very different from mine: it was during the years I spent at the University of Padua. I met, worked and made friends with people from Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, England and many other countries. Christians, atheists, Muslims. In one year I could celebrate Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Eid Al-fitr and Nowruz. It was incredible to me and that was the period in my life when I first realized the need of moving away from Venice.

After many years here and there I finally settled down in Spain which, amongst the other countries I lived in, is probably the most similar to Italy. Maybe that's not a chance and that's why I finally chose this country for my body to have some rest. Something was calling me. Even so, you're always a stranger, and it's rare that it passes a day without remembering it. Subtle differences, maybe. Some of which are funny, some of which are good, some of which are bad, and some... you really don't care. But on the average I'm spending my time here as I'd spend it if I were in Venice.

Friendships. Here, the question is not being a stranger. True friendships are extremely rare, everybody knows. But that's not the point either. My conclusion is that it depends on age. Experience, even better. I thought I understood what William Blake meant when he wrote Songs of innocence and of experience, but I was missing the point. I had the course in English literature when I was too young and immature. I could not grasp the reality in it. At the beginning it was not clear to me but now I think it's just a consequence of the diminished gradient of learning, and I'm referring to human experiences. When I was 13, the world was full of unexplored experiences waiting for me. And I was there, desiring to live, dreaming, desiring, striving to accomplish the goal of the week, which retrospectively seemed innaturally long. All of that, I did it with my friends. Friends with whom you shared the very first experiences in the vast majority of fields: love, death, happiness and delusion. Not only lived I with them, I made myself a man with them. That's why now, even if I spend one entire year with a person whom I have a great affinity with, that's not the same. What I'm really missing are those learning experiences. Surely, many things will happen in my life that I'll be glad to share with my friends, but they'll be statistically few. Much fewer than those I lived in those years. And now that I live so far from them, no matter how far, I still remember them, their faces, their voices, their smiles and their cries. I live up very well with myself and with the friends I made here. But sometimes, I miss them.

When? Well, that's clear to me, too. Italy and Spain are so similar that sometimes I really wake up and wonder where I am: here or there? And that's good. I already lived the goods of Italy, and I'm now enjoying the goods of Spain. What I won't substitute, ever, here in Spain, it's my family. Not the family I will build. The family I'm part of since I was born. 2008 has come to an end, Christmas has just passed by and I'm writing this post on New Year's Eve. And when I'll shut this workstation down, I will have dinner with my cat, Samira. She does not know yet, but she'll have a special dinner too. Spaniards are great people, and they have an exacerbated sense of the family too. No matter what might happen, they will not miss the traditional lunches and dinners with their relatives. That's where strangers often don't have a place. At least until they build one of their own. And I'm doing that, that's why I feel Spain like home, now. That's where my heart belongs, no doubt. But moving is like being born again. You rebuild what you already had. You lose what you took for granted, and maybe you did not know in advance. You just weren't prepared for it. But it comes for good, because now you rebuild it when you're an adult, when you're mature, when you know what it's worth.

That's why there's no bitterness between these lines, they're just a chronicle of facts. I felt like writing this down because I had a coffee with a fellow Italian who lives here. We had a discussion (yet another) about the differences we both feel. And we agree about most of them, that's not strange either. And while we were going to take our cars, I was struck by this thought and I loudly said: "Antonio, when you were a child, could you imagine that when you'd be 32 years old, on New Year's Eve, you'd find yourself in the parking of a small mall, at 30 km from Madrid, talking about Christmas in Italy and listening to this inexplicable villancicos?" We looked at each other. No. Of course I wouldn't. Nobody would.

I bet no kid would think of that. Dreams are dreams, told de la Barca, and their magic is that you can do whatever you want in the dreams of your own. We're both happy here, no doubt. It might seem sad maybe, but it's not. We had a laugh. A loud, healthy laugh. We shared a cigarette, and it seemed like our personal and silent bonfire greeting the year that comes. We took our cars and went away.

I dream dreams of adult, but I still have dreams. The greatest desire I have is that you will all continue to have at least one dream to strive for, every day of your life.
So let this year pass by, thanks to everybody, and that your dreams come true.
Merry Christmas and happy new year.

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