somewhere in central italy, 2018

For all that I thought I was prepared for my trip to the Italian countryside, I did not expect the homesickness that hit me in the form of a panic attack at 2 A.M. Fatigued from a disaster of a first day in Italy—lost luggage, heat too many notches higher than the spring we left behind in Canada, barely coherent conversations in any languages, botched attempts at getting to where we were staying—somehow I still woke up with my heart racing and the aching need to go home nestled so deeply in me.

I am in many ways superstitious, and when bad omens like these present themselves, it is hard for me to shake them off. The panic may have been a delayed product of unreleased stress from the whole day, or may have been the result of exhaustion I can’t even sleep off because insomnia proved itself insurmountable even in the fight against jetlag. Either way, it was hard to contemplate it like that when it’s two in the morning and I’m lying on a top bunk in a dark room with seven other sleeping bodies, my heart racing and my only thought a red alert flashing over and over in my head.

But Italy so far has been so lovely. Beautiful architecture every which way you look, beautiful roads if alarming in the way of crossing them, beautiful skies. Not even looking so obviously like a tourist has dampened my enthusiasm just by breathing the Roman air. It’s unbelievable how these are places people live in and around, that these places I study and long for while learning about their histories and their structures are places that are just there for locals. The way that High Park is just there for me while in Toronto. A young woman was casually highlighting a textbook while sitting cross-legged at Terme di Diocleziano; I was seized with so much confusion and envy and awe all at once. What a life, woman, goddamn. I had to take every other second to calm myself while a friend tried to dissect the Latin on the grave markers lined up before us. (Apparently, the emperor Nero was very fond of his German bodyguards.)

Rieti is also lovely. I wish it hadn’t been such a journey to get from Fiumicino Airport to Castel Sant’Angelo, and I wish it hadn’t taken failures at renting a car, fearing for our lives as our bus driver drove in fourth gear in the dark, and far too many Euros that burned holes into my Canadian pocket, but the place where we are is truly, truly lovely. It fulfills the part of me that pretentiously longs for the pastoral—the part that highkey gets a boner for the idea of living in the countryside where it’s quiet and calm and nothing ever happens. À la Only Yesterday. Admittedly, this image has been tainted since seeing God’s Own Country, but it’s a possible future I still very much cherish.

Being here has made me second-guess it a little bit, though. I’m frustrated to realize how much of a stereotypical Gen Z kid I am—unable to live without wi-fi, apparently, yet still determined to stay on my phone and not socialize. Unable to live so far from anything remotely resembling a village. That might also be the social anxiety talking, but I have never been so content in a place yet so unhappy, never been so awed by a landscape yet so eager to be away from it. I’m being spoiled, I know, and it isn’t all that bad, but coupled with homesickness and sleep I still haven’t managed to win back, it’s a lot to process when all there is to stare at as I process are rollicking hills and rollicking hills and… rollicking hills. Sheep visited today, at least. And the locals come up to pick asparagus near the excavation site.

But oh, is the food wonderful. I had my first plate of risotto, and had my first meal stuffed full of glass of vino after glass of vino, and piece of homemade bread after piece of homemade bread. Unfortunately, I am yet to gather the courage to exercise my one school year and one Babbel subscription’s worth of Italian past a meek Grazie to the nice lady that ran the restaurant that fed us for dinner.

Still, it is its own thrill to be in such a new environment. Despite everything, I at least feel like I’ve taken the parts of Call Me By Your Name that I actually did like: the cinnamon tography of the beautiful landscape, the old cottage-like buildings, the bustle of the Italian locals, the small town life. Fitting, I think, because for all that my relationship with the film is complicated at best, it did successfully convince me to sign up for this trip just by mentioning Hadrian’s name once. I know it was just there for Maximum Gay, in the same way Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley used a Hadrian bust to murder someone because gay—but still. That’s how I’m trying to be. Though less grad student seduction and peach-fucking, more God’s Own Country.

Without the endless sheep births. Hopefully.