It is with distance that you begin to see the larger picture. Sometimes all it takes is one step back to realize. Up close, a mosaic is just a plethora of colored tiles, the true image is hiding at a larger perspective.
This was the emotional sensation I had upon my temporary stint in Italy this past September. After almost 2 years away from the country that has defined my 20s, the experience going back felt a bit different this time. Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel called “You Can’t Go Home Again.” In it, he describes unfair passing of time which prevents one from ever being able to return “home again”. The emotions, the memories, your thoughts, once upon a time can only be revisited in hindsight.
Upon arrival in Rome, I was overwhelmed with a displaced feeling of nostalgia. As if I had woken up in a dream and got stuck for 2 weeks. The most poignant part of the experience this time around, was the overwhelming lack of progress that holds Italy back from achieving stability. Back in 2008, when I was a young 20 year old punch-drunk by Italy’s beauty, I mistook this part of the society as an endearing reason to love Italy. I never noticed how unfortunate the economic situation in Italy had become.
Speaking to friends who are Phd holding professionals about a typical salary in Italy was an extreme reality check. While the cost of life for an average italian living in a city center is by no means bargain, many educated Italians are being paid less than 2000 Euros a month! And they’re lucky for even having a steady job! Over 20% of the italian population of people aged 18-28 can’t find work, regardless of having a solid education. In Parma, the affluent Northern Italian city I used to call home, over 85 stores in the city center were closed due to bankruptcy.
This is why I describe the return this time around as bittersweet. Everything I remembered is crumbling under a weak economy. You can see it everywhere, in the eyes of every Italian there is a certain sadness they carry with them about the state of their country. An overwhelming sense of apathy that weighs everyone down from progress. The happy go lucky self I was when I lived there, had just learnt comparatively speaking that there is no Santa Claus. Now I finally understand the famous ex pat Italian mantra, “Italy is a beautiful place to visit, and an impossible place to live.”
Here are a few photos I took along the way: