By the time I graduated high school, I was so ready to get the hell out of Wasilla, Alaska that if they’d told me I was going to do my foreign exchange on the moon, I probably would have accepted. As it turned out, I was sent to Italy. The year I spent living la dolce vita, I was 17, blonde (yes, blonde), and ripe for adventure. It was, as the song goes, a very good year.
Diving headlong into a love affair with la bella Italia, I quickly learned the lilting cadences and animated gestures of the Italian language and became virtually fluent in about six months. The language of Italian food proved just as enticing: my host father, Domenico, grew beautiful tomatoes in his backyard garden that, warmed by the sun, were the flavor of summer. Italian gelato, not yet popular in the States, was a gastronomic reverie of sweet, frozen silk. And on a sunny, early spring afternoon, a three-hour lunch on the Grand Canal in Venice sealed the deal: la cucina italiana was the cuisine of my heart.
I fell so naturally into the rhythms of Italian life that I began to think I was, in my soul, truly an Italian. Then one day, my host father and I drove into town so that I could withdraw money from the bank. The bank, inexplicably, was closed. “How is this possible?!” I demanded. “It’s a Wednesday afternoon! They’re supposed to be open! What’s going on?” I became nearly apoplectic.
Domenico shrugged, totally unperturbed. “Boh. Proviamo ancora domani. Dai, andiamo a casa a mangiare.” (I don’t know. We’ll try again tomorrow. Come on, let’s go home and eat.)
In that moment, I realized that I could live in Italy for the rest of my life. I could speak perfect Italian and make pasta as beautifully al dente as the most traditional of Italian mothers. I could drive an Alfa Romeo and marry someone named GianCarlo, but I would always, always be an American, hailing from the land of 24-hour supermarkets and “your way, right away.” That year in Italy, though, when faced with bureaucracy and inconvenience, I had no choice but to adapt and follow Domenico’s go-with-the-flow example.
All these years later, my New York life is defined in large part by the 24/7 access we modern-day city dwellers have to services, information, and Chinese takeout. Convenience nowadays feels like a birthright. Yet, this week I’ve been met with one bureaucratic hassle after another: the postponing of a flu shot due to misinformation, miscommunication between my doctor and insurance company (leading to a big fat bill for me), and the weekend disarray of the NYC subway system on a weekend filled with errands and travel.
Tired, discouraged, and a bit overwrought, I am reminded of Domenico’s tranquillita‘ in the face of unforeseen annoyances. Bureaucracy, ineptitude and “necessary track work” can throw our well-ordered to-do lists into chaos. Domenico taught me that, on those days when we can’t get everything–or anything–done, there’s at least one thing that we can do: go home and eat. Or, in my case, have dinner delivered. New York is good like that.