Chow (written by Matt)

by guest blogger Matt

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Oh no. My to-do list is down to the two items that are always at the bottom: writing about Italy and learning Italian.  In July and August I avoided these chores by setting up our apartment, adjusting to our new life, dressing like an Italian and traveling around Italy.  September, October and November brought school for the kids, learning to cook, biking, practicing golf and planning weekend trips.  December brought welcomed guests, the holiday and an extended trip to northern Italy.  January meant completing the year-end accounting duties I agreed to handle at work.  Now it’s February.  I have no more excuses.  So here I am.  Writing.  And I’m also learning Italian.

You would think I would want to learn Italian.  For six months, the majority of my conversations are with Jill, Tom, and Ray.   That’s it.  Outside of those conversations, I am limited to small talk.  Actually small talk is generous; I am really limited to salutations.  “Hi.  How are you?  It’s cold.  Can I have a double espresso?  I mean one espresso but with two espresso shots in it.  Put it in just one cup, please.  Thank you.  That is a beautiful espresso.  Thank you again.  Goodbye.”

I finally decided to take an Italian class – a one-week intensive course.   There were only two students in the class, me and Erwin from the Netherlands.   Every word, including all the directions, was in Italian.   The first night, the teacher gave us a long homework assignment.  He told us to conjugate 30 verbs.  It took me two hours.  The next day he was really impressed.  He had only really asked me to list 30 verbs.  Well, after five days, I was ready for a break.  The lessons helped, but I have a long way to go.  Case in point:  when I stopped by the dry cleaners, I dropped off my pants and mentioned Jill would be dropping off some more clothes that afternoon.  Things happened, and Jill did not make it that day.  Several days later, we went back together.  When they saw Jill, they looked surprised.  They said something to Jill.  She gave me a funny look and asked why I told them we weren’t married anymore.

Another misunderstanding happened earlier this year.  On my bike route to the golf course, there is a bar that has the same name as a friend back home.  I thought it would be nice to send her a picture of me in front of the bar.  So I found a customer, and in my best Italian asked if he would take my picture.  He agreed.   However, instead of accepting the camera from me, he walked underneath the sign and posed.  When I realized that he thought I wanted a picture of him, I was too embarrassed to attempt to sort it out.  So I took his picture.  It’s a beauty.

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Fortunately, the weather looked good this week so I bagged the idea of another week of Italian classes.  Instead, on Monday, I grabbed my bike and headed out to the golf course.  I didn’t make it far.  Just about the time I reached the first busy piazza, the sack with my clean golf clothes got caught in the spokes and immediately stopped my front wheel.  It sent me flying over the handlebars and flat into the cobblestones.  I sprained my wrist and bruised a rib.  The bike broke.  And that put an end to golfing or biking for the week.  Instead I’m sitting on the couch eating Advil and searching webmd.com for home treatments.

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We just passed the half-way mark of my sabbatical.   Great revelations have not yet found me.  However, I do know that being surrounded by over 2,000 years of human history has me feeling insignificant.  At first this seemed negative, but the more I consider it, the more freeing it becomes.  My logic is, if I don’t matter, then what I do doesn’t matter; and if what I do doesn’t matter, then I should do something I enjoy; and if I am doing something I enjoy, I should do it as well as I can.  Since I really enjoy my current work and my family and my friends and the activities I do in my free time, this only reaffirms that I’m on the right track.

Putting it into perspective -  visit to the Monumental Cemetery.

Putting it into perspective – a visit to Perugia’s Monument Cemetery.

And while we’ve tried to assimilate as best we can to the Italian culture, I’m not sure how I can incorporate this lifestyle into my routine back home.  It is different over here.  There is no hurry; everything takes a long time and everything is done with care and with enjoyment. I experience this from the shop owners in the stores we frequent.  The owners are the primary workers, and they work long hours.  They take pride in the products they have chosen.  And even though they close for three hours every afternoon, it’s with good reason.  It’s to have a nice big lunch with their family.  Food and family – the two most evident cultural values.  The consumer and business person in me hates it.  However, my soul loves it.  It is inconvenient, but the statement of value is inspiring.   And it is not inconvenient to an Italian who couldn’t imagine it any other way.

They say that with pain and discomfort comes growth. I keep reminding myself of this as I bumble through the awkwardness of basic communication, the embarrassments of my cultural incompetence, and the humbling need to be dependent on others.  Yes, I think one year is plenty of time for this kind of exposure.  At the same time, I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about leaving.  There is so much I still want to see and experience here, and there is so much I will miss when we are gone.  I will miss two long meals a day with Jill, Tom and Ray; grocery shopping and cooking with Jill; long afternoons playing cards with the boys; weekend adventures in medieval Italian towns that are within a hour’s drive; having everything I want within walking distance; the constant architectural sites around every corner; and of course the coffee and food.  While I’ve been trying to reflect on the impact of this year and what it might mean to my life, it’s possible that the real impacts of my sabbatical won’t be known until I return home.

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15 thoughts on “Chow (written by Matt)

  1. Matt, Wonderful blog. Humorous, insightful, inspirational, worth several reads and I can hardly wait to see you and the family. Love, Grandpa John

  2. HI Matt! Loved your post and know why we hit it off so comfortably as two people could. I spent a year in Japan as an exchange student during my junior year of high school, and what is so interesting is that reading your post is a mirror image of the feelings I had at the time. What is more exciting is the path you will experience when you get home and the newer better ideals will actually grow even more. It is humbling to the core, but so liberating at the same time. You will probably start to notice you are smiling more and walking a little lighter. Enjoy the revelations, embrace them for this is what life is about: learning, loving, living in the moment, teaching and sharing.

    Take care my friend, George

  3. I loved this Matt! It was so perfectly you. And the story of the dry cleaners cracked me up! It reminded me of being in Rome once and trying so hard to find where the Pope was giving his audience. We were sent 3 different places (including the crypt) as clearly something I was saying made no sense. We all miss you guys and can’t wait to hear many more stories at Roche Harbor.

  4. Hi Matt!! Like your wife and boys, you are a wonderful writer. I had to laugh when you talked about your Italian “mistakes” as it brought back so many memories of our time in Japan. My dad liked to think that he had a handle on the Japanese language and the crash courses he was taking. He was proud to tell his Japanese secretary that his office chair was actually his bathroom. She thought it was the funniest thing ever and made sure to share that with my mom and I. 🙂 I am so glad that you all are sharing this wonderful experience together. I do truly believe that you will come back and look at things a bit differently. I would not trade my 2 years, as a teenager who did not want to go at all at first, for anything. It helped me become who I am today and I know it will have a positive lasting influence on all of you. We look forward to seeing you all this year and hearing of your travels and enjoying the “slow life” with you all. Sounds absolutely perfect to me! Love & hugs to each of you!!

  5. Dear Matt, I hope this isn’t your only blog. More please! Your typical honesty and insightfulness created a fabulous read. We read it at Greg and Laura’s and laughed out loud. We’re wondering, what is the name of the bar? That incident was hilarious and you smoothed your way out of it graciously. Keep up the great attitude!

  6. Loved hearing your narrative voice Matt. Your post is honest and fresh and full of the truisms of travel. I used to think that wherever I went, I could become OF that particular culture, but it became increasingly obvious to me that being in other cultures often just made me feel MORE American. Which is okay. I think the lesson, besides the fabulously stated one you gave in your post (“…if I am insignificant, then what I do doesn’t matter, and if what I do doesn’t matter…”), is to embrace who you are and where you are from, appreciate and learn whatever you can in the culture you are visiting, and then re-appreciate what you love about your own culture. I hope you are healing from your bike accident – glad to hear that it wasn’t too serious! Miss you all…

  7. Dear Matt,
    Thank you so much for sharing the depth of your Italian explorations. You said you had a number of goals: 1. biking – sounds like you have had the ups and down of that exploration, 2. Italian – just remember that the attainment of a second language is a challenge for an adult, 3. golf – Willie and Wayne would be proud but that pursuit can continue when you return, 4. a new life style – you look very Italian and seem to have embraced Italian cuisine and cooking with Jill, and 5. writing. Matt, your writing in this blog is incredible in so many ways: word choice that made me want to read on, flow of sentences and thoughts, and depth of sharing. Keep writing … Much love, Aunt Anita

    PS. Mary Beth forwarded this blog. Can you add me to the monthly list.
    PS. Happy Valentine’s Day to all four of you.

  8. wow. and who would have thought i could miss you even more. thanks, Matt. Hearing your voice, even if its just in type, brings such a light to our family. Italy is so lucky to have you all for a year.
    Love you-Rose

  9. Matt, great blog – very insightful and reflective… also funny! Hmmm, I am thinking of a new Deasy Italian cook book.

  10. Hi..I just discovered your blog. For a numbers guy, you are pretty good with words Matt. I enjoyed your son’s post too, and it sounds like Jill is turning into an Italian. Ciao for now.

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