Thursday, May 23, 2013

Our three-year mission draws to a mostly successful conclusion

Sunday, April 28, 2013
This is it, the end of my three-year mission to explore strange old worlds. My loosely defined goals were to learn Italian, explore Italian culture and find relatives—dead and alive. We planned to do this in three three-month units in 2011, 2012 and 2013. This year got shortened to two months, and Lucy had to stay behind to heal from her operation, which, by the way, went very well. She is close to fully recovered, and we have some celebrating to do when I arrive home.

I hereby declare the mission successful, though if rated on a purely objective scale, I couldn’t give it a 10 out of 10, mainly because I am still far from being fluent in Italian. In looking through my notes from two years ago, I had written that I understood about a quarter of the church sermon. Now I am up to about 60 percent, but that means I am missing an awful lot. When people speak quickly, my rate drops dramatically, and I really struggle with the slang my Italian friends use in their Facebook comments.

On a cultural level, we have adjusted quite well, though we continue to make surprising and interesting discoveries about differences in the way Americans and Italians view the world. This is one of the best parts of the whole foreign experience, because it opens our eyes to diverse ways of thinking, and new discoveries are part of the joy of life.

Perhaps the area in which I’ve had the most success is in my research about my ancestors, which has also revealed many previously unknown living relatives, both in the United States and Italy, and even a few in France and Argentina. It is still a bit baffling why this should give me such a thrill. What difference does it make to meet one total stranger who is a distant relative and one who is not? Why should a person invite me into his or her home just because we had a common ancestor 100 or 700 years ago? And yet it somehow does make a difference, and not just for me but for many others as well.

Now that our three-year mission is over, what is next? As much as we have enjoyed our time in Italy, we have decided that we have too many ties to our lives in America to just pack up and move to Italy for good. We will probably continue to come to Italy for a few months each year, but we won’t tie ourselves down by buying property. I still need to work at least two more years before I can completely retire, and who knows what other interests we may want to pursue by that time?

I have some hope of writing a book about our adventures, but because I have to jump headlong into my summer work the moment I get home, my writing will have to be put on hold until mid-fall or even winter. Thus my blog entries will be very infrequent and sporadic until at least October. There is even a chance we could decide to do something else next year, but Italy has a strong attraction, so I think we’ll be back. Until then, arrivederci, San Salvatore.

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