With my renewed sense of belonging in Parma and once again feeling happy and lucky to be abroad instead of impatient to go home I started to live it up in Parma. Being almost done with my rough draft of both papers, and with little other work to do, I decided to start the weekend early, really early. Wednesday night I went out to Nero Blanco, one of the few clubs in Parma, with a sizable group. We left for it late and left the club very late so that I don’t think I got back home until four. Hey, sometimes you just have to enjoy yourself! We had a blast and I had nothing to do the next morning so why not? It felt good to leave the house and leave my desk and leave the worries behind. My brain needed a break and my body needed a change of scenery. Yes, it wasn’t the healthiest thing I’ve ever done, but sometimes you just gotta do it live!
Thursday afternoon I finished my rough draft for my political science paper and was half an hour late for my Italian tutor because we didn’t communicate the time of the lesson very well. Still, I was semi-productive enough throughout the day that I had time to finish the paper and take a walk through Parma, as I love to do. Walking, sadly, is the only real exercise I get in Parma and I’m the kind of person who uses exercise to relieve stress and to think. It’s one of my favorite ways to escape from the world and I’ve lacked it desperately in Italy (don’t be surprised when I’m fat when I get home). Walking is the only way I can at least feel like I’m doing something. I use my walks to think and enjoy the beautiful little city of Parma. I’ve pretty much traversed the entire city and, after talking these walks, I can say that I truly know my around the place. On this walk in particular, in my improved mood, I felt connected to Parma itself. I felt like a resident taking a stroll through the place. I walked to the Baptistery and the Duomo and really looked at them. I didn’t simply pass by them. I walked up to them and got to know them. I walked all the way around them and took in everything. In the back of my mind I knew that my time to enjoy these monuments of human design was evaporating before my eyes. I needed these walks to absorb every last minute of it.
That night Kim invited Brian and I to go out with her and her tandem partner and some of her tandem partners friends after dinner. We were picked up by Deborah (Kim’s tandem) and her friend and headed to some bar outside of town. I was excited because we were getting to see a part of Parma we would never see on our own and hang out with some people from Parma that normally with whom we would not have met. The bar looked like it was in an old elementary school and for some reason I felt as if I were entering Ridge Hill on a weekday evening for practice when I was 10. Inside the place was cool and we sat down at a long table with four other friends of Kim’s tandem. Brian and I ordered some local beer which turned out to be delicious. There was a stage set up for a band, which we were sitting directly next to, so we got in as much conversation in the hour before the band started playing as we could. Of course, as seems to be the trend when I have prolonged conversations with Italian youths, we ended up talking about American universities and the different cultures of America and Italy. We talked about jobs and music and whatever. It was nice to meet some more, new Italians and we had a wonderful time talking until the band started playing. They were pretty good and rocked out some American classics, but the problem was that we were sitting directly next to the speakers and for some reason my generation feels the need to play music at absurd volumes; our conversations were forced to end except for the intermittent screaming into the ear of the person next to you to make fun of the ridiculously stupid things the band members were doing as they played. It was quite the sight and we left before the show was over. Our new Italian friends let because it was a Thursday night and they had responsibilities in the morning (responsibilities, I’ve forgotten what those are!), but Deborah, her guy and the three of us continued in search of another place assured to be a lot of fun. We got there and it was empty. The place had the feel of a bowling alley mixed with a pool hall. There were arcade games, slot machines, pool tables and a bar with a dance area and a large area of tables. It was a bit creepy. We got a drink regardless and Brian and I ended up launching into a serious debate about the NBA and whether or not Kobe was better than Michael. I felt a bit bad because we kind of went off into our own world, but you cannot get us started about basketball and expect us to stop. From there we were dropped off at one of our favorite locale, XXL, where we reconvened with the rest of the group and once again stayed out until nearly four in the morning. Man, I really wanted to be productive the next day, didn’t I? I made the decision to live in my past couple of weeks and not let the “stress” of school get in my way. I was not about to pass up any opportunities to have fun or to experience something entirely new in Italy. I’m running our of those chances to live entirely care free. The papers would get done.
I woke up late Friday(surprise!) and set to work, once more, on those papers. My mind was not entirely in it, however, and I think I spent most of the time goofing around. Plus, I wanted to make sure that I went out on Parma for the night.One wonderful thing to do in Italy, one probably adopted from Spain’s tapas tradition, is aperitivo. Sadly such a fun and inexpensive means of socializing over a drink and some cheap food does not exist in the United States. I had wanted to experience aperitivo much more often than I managed to while in Parma but a combination of my group (people never wanted to go) and wanting to spend dinnertime with Nice prevented me from going to aperitivo more than a couple of times during the semester. Well, I forced the fun Thursday night and pretty much dragged Brian and Jackie with me. They actually were fairly willing to come with me.
We went to a couple of different places before finally settling in at the wine bar to which I went when I first met my tandem partner Andrea. We ordered a bottle of wine and drank it standing around a table. Classic Italy. The three of us spent the next several hours discussing the abroad experience. We broke down our group, our trip, the good and the bad parts of abroad. We talked about going home and how conflicted we felt about the all-too-soon departure from Italy. We imagined living in Parma during the Spring semester instead of the Fall. We imagined staying another semester and how amazing it would be. In the end, though, we all agreed that we were happy to be going home. We were certainly not happy to leave Italy and this marvelous four month long vacation they call school, but home was calling. Our lives were calling. Life has to go on. There are things across the ocean I need to do, people who I need to see. This semester was ending and so was the abroad experience but we agreed that our Italian experience will never end. How could it? How could we forget everything that we have learned, everything that we have seen? How could we ignore how this experience had changed us and how it has shaped our lives? Yes we were going home, but Italy would always be in our hearts and always in our minds. One day we will come back, but now it was time to go home. That doesn’t change at all, however, how terrifyingly sad and depressing it was to think about December 21, which only days ago had seemed so far and so welcoming. Now, it approached quickly and menacingly, refusing to be ignored in it’s quest to appear as time always wants to act contrary. Why couldn’t it slow down? Why couldn’t it give me a break?
After another late night and late wakeup I went with Katy, the girls and Katy’s host family to a French market occupying the new Parma marketplace for the weekend. The weather was wet and frigid, but the smells of French cheese, olives and breads lured a large crowd. I bought myself a bunch of olives (trying to speak in French), some delicious goat cheese, a couple of croissants and a baguette. The food was fabulous and the croissants almost as good as ones I actually ate in Paris.
I went back home where I waited for Nice who had offered to take me into the countryside for a walk, to pick some radicchi (a type of wild lettuce) and go to her favorite farm (La Collina), which produces some of the best quality ingredients I’ve ever encountered. We call the people who work there our “drogatini” because the farm takes in drug addicts to rehabilitate them, and to help them along with this rehabilitation they work on the farm. It’s actually a wonderfully kind thing and a great idea. It really helps people. Nice and I left around 2, and I had yet to start working on my papers.
This was my first one-on-one time with Nice in a while and man did we ever talk. At some point I began talking her about my pessimistic tendencies and other mental problems that for the past couple of weeks I had allowed to manipulate my life. Nice helped me a lot. She is the most upbeat and optimistic person I know. She doesn’t fret or worry. She lives and that’s basically the advice she gave me. Life, as she said, is a challenge. Attack it. Every problem that we face and every obstacle is another thing to be conquered. We cannot be afraid of the unknown or of difficulty. Life is not easy and would be boring if it were. I shouldn’t let myself be mired down in worries and fears because then I really miss out on living life, and it’s true. I had missed out on the last couple of weeks, weeks I can never regain in my life no matter how hard I try to jam them into my remaining time in Parma. Life is too beautiful to worry and driving through the countryside with Nice, I honestly began to feel it.
We pulled off onto some random side street and parked beside rolling hills. Nice, an experienced walker and radicchi picker, knew exactly where to look for these delicious wild lettuces. She led me right to a mini “field” of them hidden amongst the grass that would have otherwise remained hidden unless one knows where to look. She gave me a knife and a bag and we started picking. I was picking wild lettuce in December in Italy! Seriously! Wow…it amazes me every time I think about how bountiful there earth can be. From there we walked through some muddy fields (and I was not wearing proper foot attire) to the farm store. We strolled through farms of zucca, lettuces, vegetables, melons, all sorts of vegetables and fruits that continued to grow even with winter quickly approaching. The large plain in which Parma exists, la pianura piadina in Italian, has to be one of the most fertile stretches of land in the world and could explain Parma’s rich history of food. Needless to say this farm store was amazing with the freshest of fresh fruits and vegetables and meats from animals they raise themselves in the mountains. Will somebody please explain to me why this is missing in America? Nice and I then walked back to the car, carrying our haul, and drove home.
It was a fantastic afternoon and thank God I decided to go and ignore the pressing need to write my papers. I would deal with those later, and I did. I actually finished the first draft of my history paper that night as I stayed in until 12 writing it before going with the group to some club outside of Parma. The place was fun at first, but I have never been touched more in my entire life, by guys! I have zero problem with homosexuality but I do not like being hassled and pushed and groped. It’s not my idea of a good time. Still, I didn’t get home until around 4 and would be waking up around 9 to go into the countryside with Nice once more. I’ll make up for all of this sleep when I get home to the States.
Sunday morning Nice took me, Abby and Kim for a drive to her friend’s house out in the countryside. It took us three hours to get there because Nice wanted to drive us through the windy, mountain roads so that we could see the beautiful countryside. There was snow on the ground so the surrounding hills and trees were a beautiful combination of white and green and brown. We talked a lot and stopped a lot so that I could take photos and Abby could try not to get sick. The scenery was breathtaking and even with Nice’s Italian driving skills, the trip was a lot of fun. Nice’s friend, and his family, live in a beautiful house directly under some giant rock formation. We arrived there, after some difficulty making it up the driveway, and met the group. The family has two younger children, a daughter our age, her boyfriend and the parents. They were all very, very nice (even though Nice told us that the mother is out of her mind) and we had a fantastic lunch in their beautiful house with giant windows and fabulous views of the surrounding mountain country. After the lunch we went for a walk in the snowy paths behind their house, which immediately turned into a giant snowball fight (definitely my fault) and walked up to this massive rock. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t get home until around 6, but why did I care? Losing time working on my papers was more than worth it to romp around in the snow all day. I started to feel sick before going to bed which I more than expected because after 4 days of going out and staying out late, with little sleep, I spent a day playing in the snow. How could I have not fallen ill?
But, again, I don’t care. I’ve started living again and I started enjoying Parma again. This roller coaster of emotion has not stopped and will not stop, but what should I expect? Nothing can be perfect, no matter how hard I try to force it to be. There will be problems and there will be hurdles, but in the end I need to keep reminding myself that, as Nice says, pushing through them is part of the fun. Give me life and give me abroad. My time continues to wind down, but I refuse to stop enjoying it.