Accepting happiness in Bologna.

Me, my best friend Lena, and the staff of one of my favorite places, Marsalino, are waiting for you in Bologna.

I have been away for a while.  From this blog, I mean.  I don’t anticipate that my absence has been noticed, but I have definitely missed it.  And now I am finally back, after a long hiatus of a computer-less tour of the United States.

I am also back in Italy.  And I am sitting here and writing this blog entry from my favorite perch on a stool at the counter of Marsalino in my favorite corner of the world in Bologna, Italy.  From this perch it is easy to pretend that my life here in Italy has established itself as effortlessly as Under the Tuscan Sun, which you may have seen.  Or, as easily as today has been.

But, unfortunately, establishing my life here has required more than its fair share of sacrifice.  At this time, these sacrifices are overwhelming my reality, as I am in the process of selling my condo in San Diego, just one year after selling my car.  Having depleted my savings, I really have no remaining quantifiable stake in the world, other than my sheer and comprehensive happiness with my life.

And as easy as it is to begin my playing of the smallest violin in the world, I should really get real.  Because what is it that we ask for in life?  And here in lies the rub.  Because the answer to this question depends on where you call home.  And because I don’t know where I call home, I don’t know how to answer the question.

As an American, my priorities “should” be my work, my career path, and my upward mobility.  But I don’t live in America anymore.  I live in Italy.  And here, I feel like I need to simply strive for what makes me happy on a day-to-day basis.

In which case, my life in Bologna is wholly satisfactory.  But the American in me lives on – or haunts me – and I still have these little voices in the back of my head making me feel guilty for not currently working in a career with room for growth, and for living my day-to-day casually and spontaneously, with an overall focus on fun.

I admittedly employ my little “devices,” otherwise known as a defense mechanisms, to get me through those days that I really want to ask myself, “Peggy, what the heck have you gotten yourself into here in Italy?”

Because, the truth is, living umpteen miles from my friends and family, from my favorite foods, from my things, from my country, is hard.  After a whirl-wind five-week return to America this summer, I have a new-found perspective on what I am truly giving up to be here in Italy.

My international friends, fellow students at the University of Bologna, enjoy the first of the spring sun in the main piazza, Piazza Maggiore.

Honestly, I wish I didn’t.  It would be easier to just hide in Italy, and never go back to the US.  Never go back and re-connect with the people and things and food that I miss so, and truly understand how they are doing, in a way that is impossible through Skype and emails and newspapers and TV.

So by now you may be asking – quite appropriately – why do you do it?  Why do you give up all of these things just to live in Italy?  Under the Tuscan Sun wasn’t THAT good.  And my answer is all at once as clear as clear can be, and as clear as mud.  But honestly, the answer is, without incredible sacrifice, how can we understand incredible happiness?

Living in a country where I barely speak the language and every day exposes a new set of challenges along with a complimentary and equally significant set of inspirations, I all-at-once have everything to complain about, and actually, nothing to complain about at all.

I am working my butt off as an English teacher right now, understanding with each moment more clearly how privileged I am merely through my birthright as an American, in an English-speaking family.  As a result of my birthright, I can sustain myself indefinitely around the world, through teaching English.  And honestly, I feel quite undeserving of this privilege that my mother tongue language has given me.

But, I am working hard to accept this privilege with grace, and to use my opportunity as an employable English teacher to do what I advocate for – to travel. As a travel advocate in every sense of the word, I invite you to call my bluff.  Because it is easy to advocate for something, but not live it.  But when you live it, there is truly nothing like it.

It was only three years ago that I remember clearly sitting on my couch in my condo in San Diego on a Saturday, watching the food network.  Giada De Laurentiis was traveling in Rome for an episode of her show.  I remember every moment of the show in distinct detail, from her custom-made shoes to gelato in the center of the city, to a Vespa ride with her husband.  This experience in Rome seemed unreachable.  It seemed like something that people only dream of and just a lucky few get to experience.

Yet here I am, just three years later, only a train ride away from Rome, which is now a city full of friends that I love dearly and visit often.

The opportunity to move to Bologna fell in my lap.  I would have never moved here if the decision was left to my own devices.  I came here because Carnegie Mellon University offered a double masters degree program culminating in Bologna.

So here I am.  I have almost nothing tangible to substantiate my years of work.  But I feel like the luckiest person on earth.  And I would never trade my life.

When I think about where I am now, and how surprised I am at the course my life has taken, completely randomly the lyrics from the old Baz Luhrmann song, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) pop into my head, “…what ever you do, don’t  congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your  choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.”  Because I totally agree.  Where you are now, where I am now, where we all are now, is half chance.  And that’s all there is to it.

But I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that there is  a little voice deep in your heart, that pesters you the next time you see a show on the travel channel that wows you, and says, “Go…move…live…”

That would make me happy.

A presto.


Pizza heart.

6 responses to “Accepting happiness in Bologna.

  1. yay peggy! your blog post really struck me as i can totally relate to the american vs. italian viewpoints on life…let’s have a capuccino in piazza maggiore together soon > i’ll be in italy next week! 🙂

  2. If you decide that your path to overall happiness in life is to pursue happiness on a day-to-day basis (i.e., hedonism), I will still love you. But I don’t think that will bring you happiness and satisfaction with your life as a whole. I think to be satisfied we all must decide what we want from life as a whole, and then take steps to achieve that. I think most of us want to contribute something to the world- to be able to say, I left this world better than I found it, in some small way. Maybe it’s being a parent; maybe it’s building an industry; maybe it’s enriching other people’s lives through a million small interactions. It doesn’t matter if it’s a career or not, but it does matter that you feel as if you are contributing to something. And I know you have that desire. Even if you don’t know what you want to do with your whole life, I’ll be you know one thing you want from your life. Enjoy the short term, but keep an eye on your long-term satisfaction. Con amore- C

  3. It’s hard to reconcile what I want with what I think I *should* want. After years indulging in my wanderlust I’ve bitten the bullet and am staying for a few years in one place. … but there is method in the madness – I’m here with a clear purpose: to build up enough of a wealth base and location independent passive income stream to one day be able to travel anywhere I want… first stop is a move to Buenos Aires!

    • I totally agree. I have actually been feeling a bit sad lately because I live in Europe but my income is so low that even though the traveling is easier from here, I can’t travel like I would like because of my limited income. My plan is actually to do what you’re doing.

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