When I return to California, I try to imagine how my Italian neighbors would perceive things, as I re-enter the fast-paced American culture. I can imagine myself as an Italian for about the first four hours, then after that, I lose my Italian perspective, and I am once again an American coming home to California.
I often use film as metaphor for what I am experiencing. Living in this small town in Umbria is like living in a romantic comedy set in a foreign country. There is the nightly life of old men playing cards in the piazza, neighbors hanging out the window greeting one another and little romances that are sparked and then disappear into the night. It is a charming film that is character driven, slow paced, and warm. Landing at LAX and driving through LA at night I was jolted from that movie into a science fiction movie set in the future. This movie is fast paced, plot driven, with a backdrop of fantastic modern sets that are sleek and hard-edged.
There are some wonderful things about American culture that I am reminded of as I land in this new sci-fi movie. People are competent and efficient. Time is of the essence. Lines move predictably, and systematically. There is little chatting between strangers, as we all have eyes down checking our personal devises and to make sure we are on track.
The United States is a country whose business is business. This single focus affords most Americans a material life style that seems unique in the world. I am also an alumnae of Silicon Valley and thus gadget-crazed. It is good to be in a country that shares one's addiction.
Sitting in the dining room our first night in town, I watched a table of about 12 young women, in their 20's, having a birthday celebration. I looked at them and thought, these women could only be Americans. They laughed and teased each other without self-consciousness. This is LA so the women were all beautiful, perfect skin, perfect shoulder length hair, flipped up at the ends, and perfectly tanned bare legs. They were enjoying each other's company and were oblivious to "la bella figure" or what their dining companions thought about them. I remember now that Americans really like to have fun. They play like children and laugh with childish abandon. The young women were center stage in the restaurant and they knew it. Self-confident, healthy, young and vivacious. They all drank wine and ordered salads.
Going up to San Francisco, the movie seemed familiar, more like a favorite TV series. The East Bay is the same, although more people are moving over from San Francisco, with the expected change in properties. The grittiness is starting to disappear in some areas, but the focus on health and good food remains. The diversity is extraordinary in the people, ethnicity of foods and selection of produce.
Silicon Valley is place that continues to accelerate in its narrative arc. My friend, who still works in the Valley, said it is a "ruthless" place. People are fired if they can't cut it because there are many in line to take their place. It is the survival of the fittest. An interesting laboratory for people who want to study endless money, ambition and intelligence. Where will it all end? I can't even imagine. I know that at my stage of life, it is exhausting. I think if I were in my 20's or 30's it would be exhilerating, but as I watch it all, I have such a longing for Umbria that I can feel the desire on my skin, in my lips, in my soul.
We arrive back in Umbertide to no hot water, and one suitcase lost, but it was all resolved by people who greeted us, looked at us directly and said, "welcome home." In that moment, I shifted back to my romantic comedy, and I was anxious to go out to the piazza and see which table was winning.