We leave Crotone in the middle of the night. Not because we’re being run out of town but because our bus for Rome is a redeye–we’ll wake to Rome’s groggy pre-tourist activity, to shopkeepers opening their stalls and business people taking shortcuts through the Basilica on their way to work. Until then, my Italian family stands at the bus depot waving goodbye to us, blowing kisses and demanding we visit again next summer. For a few minutes, a younger cousin climbs into the bus’ luggage compartment and says he’s coming with us.
In the last few hours of dinner and celebration, they’ve given us gift after gift: hand crotched lace typical of Calabria, a beautiful necklace from a Crotone-born jeweler, homemade walnut liquor that Zia Antonietta poured into two plastic water bottles so we wouldn’t raise the suspicions of Customs, a tray full of almond cookies, packages of Calabrian spicy red chili powder.
“Think of us when you use this,” Zia says. And, “Send us a postcard from time to time.” I assure her that we will stay in good contact, that we will visit again. I tell her I will think of her every time I wear the necklace. After having felt forgotten, after having lost so many family members who moved to the US for work only to find they never earned enough money to return, they are eager to know Zac and I won’t forget them, that we won’t be lost to the US as well.
And we’ve already started planning the next visit–maybe we could all rent a beach house on the Ionian for a few weeks next summer, maybe we could visit one of the family’s mountain homes or Patrizia’s home in Toscana. I assure everyone that we will work hard on our Italian and speak better by the time we return.
The best part of the trip: feeling so welcomed by everyone, seeing clear family resemblances: similar hair, a similar nose, similar eyes. The worst: struggling more than I would have hoped with my Italian. As Zac says after the bus pulls away, this trip was a real risk–flying halfway around the world to stay with people we’d never before met. But the payoff has been incredible.
Once we reach Rome, we’ll fly to Budapest, where Zac has a philosophy conference and where I plan to wander aimlessly for days on end, taking in some of Budapest’s famous mineral baths (hopefully they can cure overeating?). It will be a relaxing end to our European adventures. Until then, we bump along in the bus in the middle of the night leaving behind–only for now–my Italian family.