American Dreams

When I give the sum of five hundred dollars every month to three different banks for four years of my life that ended seven years ago, I question my sanity, my math skills, and every decision I’ve made since I was eighteen and this year I’ll be thirty and I still make less than twenty-five-thousand annually. One day, a long time ago, when I made even less and was less adult-like, I had a real conversation with the bursar and the registrar of my former alma mater about giving back my degree in exchange for my financial liberty… After a serious consideration and inquiry on their part, it was deemed that what I actually gained from the experience isn’t tangible enough to be returned… Not that I would trade the last decade for another one, although the last five years were questionably rough on the spirit, I still think I should have been a barber. At least I would have good hair, full tattoo sleeves, no debt and could live somewhere hip. That, I think, is the new American dream.

On the flip side, thanks to having a degree in comparative literature with a minor in French, I’ve lived in four countries, on two coasts, can speak three languages, and somehow manage to eat enough to have to go to the gym three times a week. Somehow, that, too, is some fulfillment of some dream that I actually never had. I had always dreamed to be a designer or sing on Broadway or be a fashion photographer or write novels, then the dream was to teach literature, then it was journalism, then it was just to get the hell out of Pennsylvania and experience life beyond the known. Now, at this end of the known, which is no end, really, but in media res (English major vocab, thanks college!), I can see how complicated it was, how simple it could have been, and how perfect it all is nonetheless. So, I may be more than fifty grand in the hole, but I’m thankful…?

A Day In The Life

A day in Italy goes something like this: The sound of the kids getting ready for school in the flat above you wakes you from your dreaming and the clear blue light of early day reaching over the mountains reaches also past your eyes into your mind to clear the dreamstuff from the empty space. After a splash of cold water on the face, you set the little stainless steel espresso maker on the blue flaming stove to provide you with your blood until lunch. With your caffè, black, a handful of fibery biscuits and a cup of yogurt, juice or soy milk to wash it all down. You make your move in the bathroom and then don a familiar outfit. Most Italians make it a point to look chic and professional but I can’t afford to hold myself to such a standard so I put on all black, shorts now because it’s summer, and a familiar pair of black Converse. Douse the hair and tousle. Pack up your messenger bag and out the door and across the yard, patting the landlord’s dog on the head and hopping on your bicycle to roll through town and the yellowing light of nine a.m.

After lessons, or the gym if it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday, where you’ve bored yourself through another routine to keep fit and build muscle, it’s home for lunch, penne rigate al pesto and a big green salad and a few glasses of fizzy lemon water. I like to read at lunch and have another espresso before I head back to the school to push me through until the evening. Lessons are an hour long and usually friendly. You try to coax language from the students and you try to stuff their heads with it all at the same time. Hopefully there’s a five or ten minute listening so you can catch up with your phone messages and alerts and notifications and what-not. Between lessons maybe there’s time for a gelato, pistacchio please, and then by nine p.m. you’ve finished and can go home for a small dinner, a glass of wine, and more reading or, if you’re lucky, a classic American film that you can switch to English and relax.

Sometimes in the afternoon, the neighbor kids play in the yard with the dog while the landlord and his wife yammer in dialect as they tiptoe around their garden, watering the tomatoes and picking the last of the lettuce and maybe offering you some of the big green leaves. There’s a bathtub but you don’t take baths even though Italians love a good soak in a tub but you appreciate the availability and you worship the bidet. There aren’t screens on the windows here so you leave the long-legged spiders in peace, sentinels against the odd mosquito whose death is certain if you hear it buzzing. It’s the only sacrifice of life you’re willing to make and you do it with love in your heart. If it’s humid, you pray for a breeze because there are no air-conditioners, just like there are no clothes dryers, and you get used to stringing up your linens and things and keeping an eye on them and the dog so they don’t get into trouble with each other. On weekends, the pool is open and maybe you do some laps and lay in the sun and wonder how young Italian men are so attractive and why their fathers are all paunchy and pale. There’s always time for a bicycle ride along the river and you’re greeted by a series of fragrances: linden, rose, jasmine, grass. The wide green river broils quitely by, too strong for swimming in, and the valley sweeps up all green into the high arms of the mountains. If the clouds are coming from the west, best to go home and grab your umbrella. If you’re lucky, when you go to pay the rent, the landlord is in a tshirt tucked into his whitey-tighties fiddling with a bicycle in the garage. Someone had left a crate of cherries by the gate and you found them first and gave them to him with the cash but turned down his offer for a bowlful because you’ll die if you eat them. They’re pretty little things, though.

Sundays are for cleaning house, grocery shopping in the morning, strong-arming old ladies for the last good leek, it’s Italy after all, they can take it, and waiting too long in line because conversation first, service second. Maybe you head to your favorite cafe with outdoor seating in a fountained square and nibble on a chocolate-filled croissant as you sip your soy cappuccino and watch all the people un-bustling like it’s Sunday because it is and nothing matters. Then in the evening you spend a couple of hours planning your lessons and take a long stroll through the quiet little city, maybe you’re licking at a gelato as you do so.

Merge

  
There’s a spot here where the small river Leno tumbles into the larger Adige and it’s called La Moia. The name doesn’t have much significance but the location is special. Leno runs from a small lake in the mountains just east of Rovereto known for its nude sunbathing. It divides the northern bulk of the city from the southern butt while splashing loudly down a series of short cascades before it swirls and bubbles around the boulders at its end where it meets the Adige. The larger river begins its own journey in the Alps in Austria, winding through the many valleys, eventually being fed by a tributary that itself starts at a lake in Cles, arguably the most beautiful valley in the region of Trentino. It wanders, wide and green, splitting the valley in half, Rovereto spread out on the east, and smaller villages scattered about the vineyards on the west climbing up the slope of Mount Stivo. 

At La Moia, I often stop, by bike or breaking from a jog, to sit on a boulder amidst the streaming water, and watch the two flows merge and, as one, disappear around the next bend, heading further south to eventually feed the Adriatic Sea. From where I sit, I can watch the river running smoothly by, bordered by shimmering trees and tall rock slopes. On my left, Leno laughs and rumbles its way across the rocks, running like a child to be scooped up into her father’s arms. The merge is effortless, indicated by a jagged line of soft tension where one direction of flowing water meets another and quickly join forces. 

Here I meditate on merging my mind and body with the greater body of nature mind that I witness before me. Time stands still here though everything is in endless motion, somehow slowed down by the focus on all of it happening contemporaneously. A bird darts across the water but it’s just a part of the larger movement, like the white puffs of tree pollen that dance through the air. Reality is merged here with something deeper that sustains it, something like the water under the river’s surface upon which the sunlight plays its game of shadows, unseen but carrying it all forward. I swim in that darkness.