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Back in the USA

We’ve been back for a little over four weeks.  A lot has happened since then.  We’ve moved into a new (old) house, I started back to work, Steve bought a new car, Millie got attacked by a dog, and our grandchildren made us feel like royalty.

Lots of people have told me I should continue the blog now that we’re back.  I scratch my head over that, because I feel like there’s really nothing to write about.  It’s just life stuff.  Working, cleaning, cooking, seeing friends and family – who cares?  But I really do miss the blog.  It had become something that I looked forward to doing.  Sometimes it was more of an obligation than a pleasure, but it was always something I enjoyed doing.

We didn’t want to come back.  We loved it in Italy.  We loved our village and we loved our neighbors.  We loved everything about living there.  Even the things that might seem like annoyances – no dishwasher, no clothes dryer, no AC, only radiators for heat, no closets – the list is long by American standards.  That’s just it – everything is measured by American standards.  And I’m here to tell you, American standards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  Here’s an example.  We signed the lease to our new home while we were in Italy.  One of the prohibitions in the lease was that we could not hang laundry outside.  What?  Why?  I’m sure if we hang laundry out in the backyard no one will complain and we won’t be evicted, but the very thought that it has to be put in the lease bothers me a little.  But this is part of what I mean when I say American standards are a little out of whack with the rest of the world.  Really – no hanging out of clean clothes to dry in the sunshine?

We’ve come back to a presidential election and the Georgia legislature in session.  Both of these things produce very troubling issues for us.  Here’s the thing:  we’ve been in Europe for six months.  I’m not saying that Europes’ problems are bigger than ours, but living there gives you a perspective that you don’t get here.  America is great and wonderful – but it’s big and vast.  It’s a big tent, but it’s a tent with very defined sides.  Europe is small and compact and the edges blur into other countries, other beliefs, other cultures.  America prides itself on being a melting pot, a place where all can feel welcome and at home.  But what we’ve come home to is anything but that.  We see a presidential race with candidates trying to outdo each other on isolationism, carrying the big stick and using it to beat the rest of the world into submission by our standards.  Our standards are great for us, by they’re ours, not theirs.  The world is a big place – can’t it have more than one point of view?  And decorum – what happened to that?  Some of the things I hear these candidates saying to each other is appalling to me and should be followed by the old familiar “nah-nah-nah-nah-poo-poo” because that’s about the level they’re communicating on.

And the things I read about being debated by our legislature here in my home state of Georgia.  Religious freedom seems to be quite the buzzword under the gold dome and the more I read about it, the more it sounds like anything but freedom.  I wasn’t aware that religion was not free here.  I thought anyone was free to practice whatever religion they wanted to.  That’s the way it was when I left six months ago and I’m pretty sure I learned in college that freedom of religion was a right.  I’m not sure what the threat is to religion, because when I read about the bills being introduced in the name of “religious freedom”, it seems like they’re trying to protect certain beliefs from others.  We all think of freedom as the freedom to do certain things, like expressing your opinion.  The freedom being espoused in these bills seem to be the freedom from certain things – most expressly the freedom from being around those whose ideas and beliefs don’t mesh with yours.  There’s a thin line between the freedom to and the freedom from.  You don’t want to marry a gay couple?  Then don’t.  The truth is, they probably don’t want you to marry them anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been on a news vacation for six months, but I can’t abide all this vitriol. Two things I learned in Italy:  1) Not having a full-length mirror makes you feel better about yourself, and 2) Not watching/listening to/reading the news makes you a happier person.  Are either of these things realistic?  Not really, but I swear they both made me feel better.

So, now that I’ve been back for almost three weeks, what do I think?  I love the people I know here – my friends are the best people in the world, my co-workers are unbelievable, and my family is what keeps me going when I don’t want to go anymore.  But my heart is in Italy.  In a small Tuscan village where the fog is thick and the view is incredible.  Where the food is indescribably wonderful and the people are generous.  Where “local” is the only way to eat and is not trendy.  Where the church bells chime each half hour (and no one complains that they’re “church” bells).  Where the priest blesses everything and everyone and leads every procession, religious or not.  And where we lived and thrived for six months.

Being in Italy for six months changed me.  It made me stop and look at things differently.  I’m probably still figuring out the ways in which I’m different.  Some of them are revelations to me.  Like how I crave walking.  I knew that we were walking a lot more in Italy, but I didn’t realize how much I had come to love that.  Now that I’m back at work, I spend hours in my office – meeting with staff, working at the computer, on the phone.  When I take a long walk on the weekends, it feels so good.  And so natural.

But I think the biggest thing that it gave me was perspective.  Perspective on lifestyles, material possessions, community, and many other things that have re-framed my world view into something much more tolerant and simple.  I think it’s easy to get caught up in trends that make you lose your sense of what really makes you happy.  I remember what makes me happy now and I hope that I remember it until the day I die.  And while I can’t spend every day living la dolce vita now, I can make room in my life for those things that I know to bring me joy and happiness.


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