Chasing La Dolce Vita (cont)

With my bank account all but drained, I realised I had to start supporting myself, so on my second day in Rome I traipsed the city asking for waitressing work. I could have gone to Milan, where all the best job opportunities for my background of PR and journalism exist, but I was keen to avoid the career slog. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just wanted a menial job that would give me enough time to study some Italian and adjust to life alla Romana.

By day’s end I was carrying tiramisú and bruschetta here and there and struggling to grasp what was going on around me. When I found myself cleaning toilets as part of my daily job description I told myself it was all part of the process. Life was still beautiful, it was just a hell of a lot more realistic without the things I took for granted at home.

There were a few times – when I was screamed at by waiters fed up with my limited comprehension, when I injured myself at work, when I read a loving email from my family at home – that I questioned my decision to leave Australia. But for as long as I didn’t know what I wanted to do I knew was that being in Rome was far more appealing than being at home. All it took was a fat gelato, a stroll to the Pantheon or an acerbic email from an envious friend to remind myself how lucky I was. My progress in learning Italian ebbed and flowed.

Foolishly, I chose to keep my lips shut until I judged myself capable of completing a grammatically perfect sentence. Dumb move. It’s far better to blurt out anything and realise your mistakes. I soon lost count of my language gaffes, but perhaps my most golden moment was thinking I’d asked to make a hotel booking only to realise I’d asked to be penetrated. I longed to speak and socialise but every time I went to a party it was often so hard to grasp the conversation above thumping music that I fought back tears of frustration and talked to a bottle of vino instead.

Finding an Italian stallion who spoke next to no English certainly speeded up my lingual skills, if not created some hysterical situations. Imagine trying to tell your lover with subtlety what tickles your fancies between the sheets when you suddenly realise you don’t even know the Italian word for sheet, let alone condom. After about two years of life in Rome I finally began to piece together a career again. While far from fluent, my language skills have allowed me to resume working as a journalist after a three-year hiatus. It is beyond satisfying to be doing something I am passionate about, even though I’ve never been so financially challenged. Better still, I’m slowly beginning to understand more about the beautiful but frustratingly complex Italian culture.

Because I now realise that, for a long time, I chose to see and experience the Italian life I had dreamed about without dipping beneath the surface. That’s because Rome is so stupendously beautiful, oozing history and charm at every turn that it’s dangerously easy to lose touch with reality. In a country where beauty and appearances are everything, I often feel like I am on a film set in daily life, walking through a cobbled piazza to be entertained by the rambunctious Romans, whose gesticulating and gusto for life never ceases to entertain me.

While I don’t know how long I will call Rome home, for now life is definitely sweeter. When I first arrived in Italy I grew exasperated when bemused locals barked piano, piano! (slowly, slowy!) at me, when I walked or acted too fast, and stai tranquilla (stay calm!), because I tend to move like a hurricane and find it hard to relax. Slapped in the face by Italy’s infamous indifference to haste, not to mention its time-gulping bureaucracy, I adapted in the name of salvaging my sanity.

When I go to do any errand I take a book to enjoy, unperturbed by queues that once did my head in. And I make more time for small pleasures. I ride a pushie around town, often after midnight, to absorb the wondrous beauty around me. Time-permitting, I sleep for an hour after lunch at home and fare una passeggiata – take a stroll – daily. I’ve learnt to take each day as it comes, because there’s not much use planning when life can change at any moment. And don’t I know it. By Penelope Green, author of WHEN IN ROME – Chasing la dolce vita by Penelope Green published by Hodder Australia.