Now that my days in Rome are numbered before our impending move to Myanmar this summer, I find myself thinking quite a bit about the spaces we inhabit and the nature of change.
Back in Swansea, Massachusetts in the early 1990’s I once sat in Spanish class in a windowless room painted all sorts of garish 70’s influenced colors. The mismatched panels of gold, red, and blue combined to create walls that didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling so you could hear the lessons going on in three or four other classrooms mixing in with the ones we were supposed to be paying attention to.
These distracting classrooms were considered to be the most modern and innovative of constructions back when they first built my town a new high school sometime before I was born in 1976.
They were the “open office environments” of their day. -Sort of like Google without the technology, scooters, and vending machines. (As a certified introvert I must interject here that the latest research suggests that only a small number of individuals, mainly a small group of extroverts, actually thrive in such an environment. I always needed my own quiet space to get anything done.)
We were actually luckier than my older cousin Linda who was among the first class of guinea pigs to be subjected to the classrooms once the dust had settled on the new building. She told me they didn’t even have the paper-thin token walls when she attended so you could also see the other classes being held as well.
My Spanish teacher was a multilingual Portuguese man in his late 30’s with curly black hair framing his brown face. Small and stocky, he was nicknamed “Paco” by the older boys. In turn, he used to call me “Space Shot” which then became my nickname, only used by him.
I was a terrible listener back then in those last years of high school and Swansea-living. I would dream away an entire class, catch whatever homework was due by copying the board or friends’ notes (to their great annoyance at times), and then because happily I have a solid visual memory, would gulp down the information I needed to ace tests from the book later that night at home.
“Paco” allowed me to continue dreaming because ultimately I was able to learn in my own weird way and he had bigger fish to fry dealing with the hecklers and flunkies trying to entertain themselves at his expense with their daily antics.
It’s amazing how change happens. One moment you are going nowhere. The days, weeks, months, and years tick by in a bleary procession. No one will ever wrinkle or die or leave.
This morning after dropping my sons off at their Italian Catholic school Divino Amore, I made my usual rounds in our Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood where I have lived for the past decade here in Rome, Italy.
I walked into my usual coffee bar, chosen for the simple fact that I rarely bump into students or coworkers or anyone I would otherwise be happy to have a conversation with later on in the day.
In the morning, all I want to do is have my coffee and breakfast, read a few pages of the latest book I’m reading on my Kindle, and download from the universe the inspiration I need to create what needs creating that day (a course, a book, a blog post, the completion of an errand, etc.)
“Buongiorno.” I say to Alessandro the barrista.
He echoes my greeting back to me and without missing a beat, immediately puts together my “usual.” This would be a café normale (regular espresso), a centrifuge (a juice mixture of apple, carrot, lemon, and ginger), and a piattino (a small plate of toasted sandwich squares made from yesterday’s leftover trimezzini.)
I know his name because I hear the other patrons use it, but he does not know mine. Everyone in the bar is a regular like myself, but because they are Roman they know details about each other that we will never share.
It’s partly my own fault. I’m much more of an introvert in the early morning and I keep everyone at arm’s length. I may trade a few superficial remarks with my neighbors but I would never hang around long enough to have an extended conversation. My crude Italian doesn’t allow me to go too deep anyway and since I am leaving soon and have already moved on to studying Burmese, there’s no reason to improve.
I know that I am leaving but they do not. As far as they are concerned I will remain a daily fixture for one decade more. Even the people I normally pass on the street, the ones smiling and waving at me each day, will soon only see my ghostly trail.
I once longed to leave this place, this neighborhood where I both have lived and worked for years and only was able to escape for a few hours on the weekends if I caught the right train or bus. Now that I only have a little more than two months left, I try to fix every detail in my memory. I cling. I savor. It’s the devil I know.
What will my new morning routine look like after that distant happy day in the future when my children are finally settled into their new school and I perhaps have a new job, a new home, and a new life? Will there be pagoda views and reclining Buddha’s in my line of vision each morning?
The application form for the international school in Yangon that I am filling out for my sons would like the name and address of my maid and my driver. Yet my expat’s guide to Yangon warns of termites, spiders, cockroaches, mice, and ants invading a new home that is just a faint outline in my mind. Can one have both a maid and a driver and still be fighting off pests?
Will I gravitate more towards the locals, people who make roughly $35 USD in one month or will I get caught up in the world of diplomats and expat aid workers who pay five times the rent we pay in Rome to have access to an uninterrupted flow of water, electricity, internet, and other luxuries?
I’ve always prided myself on being a “bridge person.” -Someone who can talk to the impoverished and rich in the same afternoon and even convince the latter to help out the former.
Death is something that has always caught me by surprise even when it was most inevitable. I always have had a sense that if something were happening in the present then it would always be so. If I were visiting someone in a hospice or a nursing home, they would always be there, maybe even get better and back to normal life. Then the news that they were gone would shock me just as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over my head. -Even when I should not have been surprised.
There is a test you can take to determine your overall stress levels. You get lots of points if someone close to you has died and just as many if you have changed jobs, have been fired, or are in the middle of a big move. Take the test. It’s interesting that change is what causes all that stress. Yet change is the only sure thing in life, except maybe also death and taxes.
Today I found myself being a Space Shot. –Thinking about “there” while sitting in the middle of “here” and waiting for the two to switch roles.
I’m more of a passenger than a driver these days but that’s OK. I welcome the next leg of this journey with open arms… perhaps with at least one fly swatter in hand, just in case.