Today is the fourth day in a row that I have eaten a spoonful of peanut butter for breakfast. Yes, three days in a row now with a very empty pantry, due to a combination of laziness and a lack of cash. My December rent money, due in just under two weeks, is hidden in my bedside table under a note reading: DO NOT TOUCH THIS MONEY, to guilt my desperate-for-a-night-out self from spending it frivolously.
Nido (what we would refer to in English as daycare), literally means nest. And that’s where I’ve been spending many extra hours these last weeks, trying to pick up as much work as possible and keep myself busy. That’s also probably where I picked up this rattling cough, reminding me I should start a DO NOT TOUCH THIS MONEY pile for a new winter coat. I don’t remember my first November here being so cold. I remember it being full of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts and canopies of twinkle lights, but this damp wind is somehow absent from my memory.
The last weeks I’ve been rushing to all corners of Florence, from the forest school to the nido to various neighbourhoods to give at-home lessons to students whose families now welcome me with big smiles and a cup of tea. I’ve become one of those perpetually-running-late people, always chasing after buses and shamelessly banging on the door even as the driver is pulling away, puffing out a grazie! when he or she reopens the door for me. Coffee or tea in a travel mug is not a thing here, but even if it were, I’m sure I’d be spilling it on myself constantly during this daily chase.
I’ve gotten into the habit of falling asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, and waking with a start to my alarm the next morning to do it all again.
Vuoi un po’ di tè? (would you like a bit of tea?) my roommates ask me as I rush in the door between jobs or after work. No, grazie, sto uscendo, (no thanks, I’m going out), has become my standard response. Always on my way out.
Yet sometimes, when I’m on my way home from work, my tired feet dragging and the winter sun having already set, I look up into the lighted windows in the palazzos I pass. I see the warm glow of kitchens, the high, wood-beamed ceilings and the artificial light of t.v’s and I wonder what it’s like to be those people, in those homes. I smile. I see tourists in the street, awe-struck by the city I now get to call home. Sometimes as I pass the Duomo and the Belltower, I look up at the regal silhouettes and remember that la bella vita is what you make it. My heart is full.
When I arrive home, after I’ve forced myself to boil some rice or pasta or whatever odds and ends I may have lying around at home (what can you make with an onion and a half a lemon?), I bundle up in several layers of pyjamas and tuck myself into my single bed with the springy mattress and I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen differently. But I can’t imagine how things could have unfolded any other way. My life had to be this way. When people ask me how I ever ended up here, I cannot answer, because I don’t recall the moment when this became my accepted reality, when this became my normal. Less has become more. My closet has slowly emptied over the years of travelling back and forth. My roommates laugh at the fact that I have almost no possessions, but somehow own not one, but two Christmas trees (one of which is already proudly displayed in my room). It’s the little things. The things that are small but feel indulgent, and make you smile.
Late night cheap wine in piazzas outside of bars with no room inside, mid-day espressos, church bells heard from my bedroom window and weekend trains to see the guy I fell in love with two years ago…this is la bella vita. This is my bella vita.