April 13th, 2014

There is a readiness here, a warming wave of welcoming that simmers under the surface of many people here in Roma, and all that is needed to draw it out is a few words of kindness, a humble jumble of words in Italian spoken with respect if not correctness, or a smile as you walk through open doors. The people here have a kindness in the color of their eyes or the corners of their mouths that spills forth with only a few gentle prods, and for some people with no prodding at all.

I have had a lot of conversations with people here in Roma, total strangers, conversations I started or entirely unwarranted communication that fell into my lap like a small, but confusing present. I speak a little Italian, enough to get by, but no where near fluent, but I try. Trying, to try, provare, is key in Italy and I suppose any foreign country where you do not speak the language. But I am trying, every time I walk in a store, buy food at the market or in the grocery store, I try a little more. As my vocabulary and confidence increases so does my understanding of not only the language but the people.

I stood laughing in the rain today at the absurdity of the bounds of kindness that complete strangers will extend to me. It was nothing really big, and in large part I am sure it was just them doing their job, but still it was a strange moment born from kindness and the building of relationships between total strangers.

I am traveling to Budapest, Vienna and Prague in two weeks and so I have been desperately searching for a good pair of boots for the snow. However, this is a more difficult task than it appears for two reasons: One, everything in Italy is EXPENSIVE. Two, I have very small feet but very big calves so most boots will never fit me. So today a friend and I went out to wander Rome and find boots. I hopped from shop to shop, trying on a multitude of shoes, speaking broken Italian to try and ask for the smallest shoe size time and time again unsuccessfully. Finally I found my way to a small shoe store with three Italian women chatting at the counter and rows of nice Italian shoes lining the walls. I browsed the store and decided to try on some of the shoes and explained my plight to the woman working with me. She and I together found a pair of boots, but as always my calves were too big for them to fit properly, but the woman was bound and determined to help me.

She got on her hands and knees and tried to help me zip up the boots. When she failed, the other two women came over and asked what the problem was. Then they too joined the first women and all three Italian women worked together to make me fit into those boots. With a jumble of harsh Italian murmurings, a lot of effort, and four women working together, we got the shoe zipped up.

Sadly even though we got it zipped up, it didn’t quite fit right but still, when the battle was over the four of us sat in the store smiling and talking about the effort in Italian. The owner of the store held up her hand to me to show me she had broken a nail in the battle, the casualty of war. Even though she held the broken nail delicately in front of her face, a smile clung to her face and a brightness in the corners of her eyes that seemed to collect in the lines made by smiles both present and past. We all looked at her broken nail and in a mixture of laughter and apologies I thanked her and headed out of the store into the rainy cobblestone streets.

Standing in the streets with the rain coming down, thinking about the strange battle that had just occurred, my friend and I stood laughing in the rain. I couldn’t believe the effort and the dedication of total strangers to try and help me out when I was feeling desperate and hopeless. What a strange world, what a bizarre experience, and I am thanking for every moment of it. Thankful for every cobblestone in the street, every stranger that smiles or says hello to me, but most of all, thankful for all the broken nails that were lost in the battle to help me fit into a life that felt impossible to achieve.

 

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