It’s gray where I live. In the autumn and winter it’s usually misting, if not pouring down rain, resembling London more than the fertile hills of Brianza.
It’s not necessarily beautiful. I drive parkway past large gray warehouse-style buildings. The gray paint even darker from years of soot, fumes from the cars passing, the weather. In the spring, when the temperature might warm abruptly, I can feel the particles in the air. I feel them on my contact lenses. I imagine them in my lungs, like I’m breathing in who knows what that flies in from Milan and the many factories that surround me in Italy’s industrial region. I imagine them coating my hair like a light layer of snow does, just nestling on the outer strands.
Each step you take it seems like you’re in another city. In America it would all be mashed into one city but here each neighborhood holds onto its identity so fiercely that the lines still stand. The cities sit so crowded that they’re basically one on top of the other, the buildings and shops and parks bleeding across the lines. The city centers are pretty, but the scenery is sad: Trash on the ground and too many cars. Sovico, where I live, is tiny. Neighbors aren’t necessarily close. There are few sidewalks.
I don’t know a lot of expats who would chose to move to a place like this when they decide to make the all-encompassing move to another country. I can’t imagine many who eschew the beautiful golden hue that rises with the sun in Tuscany, warming the hills up as the day goes on; the overwhelming greenness of Umbria; the blue misted mare in Venice; the excitement of an Italian city and all it has to offer, to live in a provincial town on the outskirts of industrial Milan.
But I did.
I did, because I’m not here for the city. I’m here for Marco. I’m here because this is the home of my husband, where he grew up, where he was raised, where his family still lives in a beautiful house in tiny Sovico. There’s no trash on our street. There’s no trash in our garden. Only tiny white margaritas that cover the lawn.
On the more difficult expat days, the only picture I’m able to paint is one like above. One that is sad, gray, covered in dust from years of neglect. On other days the smog and prejudice clears, and I’m able to see that I happen to live in an oasis of green.
Elegant magnolia’s decorate the lawn with their enormous white flowers, secure in their station and beauty, like elderly ladies in low heels and over-sized jewelry. Palm trees take over in summer, slow to grow but quick to open, and the fig, pomegranate and hazelnut trees grace us with their fruit throughout the fall. It’s our own private paradise.
I live in Sovico because I love Marco. I’m here because he loves this place.
Because when the buildings seem too gray and everything a bit bleak, my garden bursts in springtime colors.
Because when it’s raining, we’re stuck inside together, cooking a meal for no reason or reading on the couch.
While the world might be drinking in its city smog, we’re in the hammock protected by the pine trees. When I finish a long day of work and drive past storefront after storefront, accidents and mechanics, light after light of traffic, I know that when I get home for dinner Marco and I will shut all that out, replacing it with the smell of basil, of fresh bread, of love.
I sometimes think that I must be one of the only expats not living in a restored farmhouse in Puglia or an ancient apartment in Rome, watching the via vai of the city pass under my window. I’m not in the center of Florence or the design district of Milan. Instead I live on the outskirts, in the suburbs, removed from the action or landscapes that expats so often seek.
Home is not a given. We are not ordained a specific home at our birth that will be ours to keep for our lives. Anyone who has traveled, anyone who has left, anyone who has stared out the window of their birth-given home and dreamed of any place but there, knows this. The truth is that there comes a point when we build our homes. Some never realize this fact. Some never find it. It’s a constant process.
Home is in yourself. It’s what you carry with you, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll find someone who will help you along the way.
I might be living in no man’s land, but when I’m here with Marco, I know I’m home.