2011 – 2012
Did I already mention I did a year abroad? in Paris? It gets worse. I drank wine on terraces while watching the world go past. And ate steak-frites. I walked through Montmartre. At night. In the rain (probably, at some point). I didn’t smoke gauloises. And I’ll forever regret it.
I sat in my studio apartment late at night, in the dark, watching the lights on the Eiffel tower and listening to the spray of passing cars. And I read Camus, Sartre and all the existentialists.
But I didn’t understand them (probably why I retreated to the Beat movement in final year).
How could I understand? I was too young, too unsure of myself, I hadn’t yet found an identity to be weighed down by. Despite being in France, I continued much the same as before. Full of pretention, but perhaps no more so than before I lived in Paris (did you know that I lived in Paris?).
Moving to Granada was different. I had less contact with people back home and settled in to a new Spanish skin more quickly. It’s a tricky thing to explain. I was still me. But freed (somewhat) from the past. For some weeks, very little of my old life existed and I felt lighter for it. (Until I filled it with my past and my stories and new existential impositions).
Less philosophical too: it is fun to start again, try on a new character, a new life, make new friends, discover a new city, lay new roots, love anew, and to shape it yourself.
26th March 2017
In March, my girlfriend and I celebrated our second anniversary. A little before then, I started to become conscious of not speaking her language. I had intended to learn since it was clear we were “serious” (which became clear to me many months before it did to her, it seems…); but living in London, speaking English together, I hadn’t made much progress.
When I was young, I was intelligent and studious. But both are traits lost to time. No, the only option was to go to Italy on my own. To learn the language among the Italians. Free of instruction and prescription. Free to find a new voice and a new character; this time, an Italian one.
I could have gone to Turin, where il mio amore is from. But I already have ties there (her friends, her family, our nascent memories). Her uncles would have hosted me in Rome – very tempting – but I could have spent a week there speaking English with Americans and Erasmus students who thought they had discovered something important by living abroad (the worst kind of peolple).
So I booked a week off work and a course in Bologna.
I arrived late, dropped my backpack at the Air BnB (a good 40 mins from the centre) and crossed the railway tracks back in to town. I had so far managed almost without saying a single word (in English or Italian).
I wandered aimlessly until I came upon two wonky towers. Apparently Bologna once had more towers than New York City has today, built by the families as symbols of their wealth and status. Impressively pointless. (Resisting the Papal States for centuries surely betrays greater power than a lopsided, brick tower). Appearing out of the dark night, however, they did have quite an effect.
I ate tortellini nearby, served in a meat broth. I managed to use three words to express a desire to eat outside (posso mangiare fuori?); was understood when ordering my dish and white wine (5 words); and when I asked for the bill (just 2 this time) it duly arrived.
A successful first night, I think.