My great grandmother traveled from the south of this country, up through Rome and then onto a ship that took her across the ocean. She knew me as the little girl that didn’t like tomato sauce (that changed quickly) and I knew her as Nanny, the woman with the accent that came from a faraway place. Now years later, I’m living in the country she turned her back on. I wouldn’t know what she’d think of where I am, what I’ve done with my life.
I wonder if I knew her longer, and had her teach me Italian, if now my life would be full of dialect – trying to sort it from the Florentine speech I’m learning to fit in. I wonder if I had more of a history of my southern Italian roots if my life in Florence would be easier or more difficult. Being from Florence or being from Calabria is like being from New York City – or Iowa. Italy may be one country, but the boot has a lot of change from the north to the south, just like any other.
When I studied in Ascoli, I sat in the cafe and I listened to Shereen as she dealt with other customers, interacted with Paolo behind the bar, and chatted on the phone. I internalized her vowels and repeated the words over and over again. If I had stayed there and kept speaking that way, I would’ve been known as more of a Roman than a Florentine, someone from the Marche.
Rami’s grandmother never knew my family was from Calabria. It would’ve been a touchy subject. It makes me wonder even more if my Nanny would’ve thought I was a backstabber, heading back here, living among the palaces – instead of the little mountain town by the sea.
Someday, I’ll go south. I’ll climb the mountains and jump into the waves off the shore where my family name is still known. I’ll listen to them speak in the toungue that should have been in my mouth, and maybe I’ll get my answer. Who will I be to them?