Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Magic of Friendship

One of the most magical aspects of my life in Italy is the friends that I've made, friends that have developed into an extended family that enrich my life on a daily basis, whether I'm in Italy or  the States. Nearly every day, and sometimes twice a day, I meet with these Italian friends on Skype for an hour or two, and we share our lives while having a language exchange. Many of these conversations have continued over a span of 3-5 years. Traveling by myself in Italy has been an advantage in many ways, as it has fostered a closer connection with many of these friends, who shower me with affection and attention when I visit.

Case in point: recently I've been planning my upcoming travels to Puglia, an unknown-to-me region of Italy, and wishing that I knew someone who lived there. (By now, I have good friends who live in many other regions, including Lazio, Toscana, Emilia Romagna, Le Marche, Trentino-Alto Adige, Campania, Lombardia, Liguria, Piemonte, and the Veneto.) And then magic happened, as it often does in my Italian journey. As if in answer to my wish for a new friend, I received an email from a young man who lives near Bari, one of the larger cities in Puglia, asking if I would be interested in sharing a language exchange with him.

Over the course of the last six years I have met dozens of Italians, of diverse ages and background, through a language exchange website, and many of them have become good friends. If you've been reading this blog, you've had the chance to learn about some of them, as I've shared many stories of our encounters in Italy. The website we use is mylanguageexhange.com

As for my new friend, Domenico, the chance to meet someone in Puglia is quite unusual, as there are very few people from Puglia registered on the language exchange website that we use, and untold thousands of English speakers for him to choose from. Out of that large pool of choices, he contacted me! Incredibile! When I told him that I was wishing I knew someone in Puglia, he responded, "รจ incredibile come a volte il destino gioca le sue carte!" (it's amazing how fate sometimes plays its cards!)

As is often the case, from our first meeting, we made a good connection and had an easy time communicating. We are both at the intermediate level in each other's language, which allows us to converse in more depth than beginners would be able to. Once he heard I would be in Puglia soon, he offered to show me around the area where he lives, if I have time to visit his city. You can bet that I will try my best to honor his invitation! Thanks to the warmth, generosity and kindness of my Italian friends, I've been privy to many parts of Italy that I would not have managed to get to on my own, not to mention the rich store of information they share about their language and culture.

To give you an idea of my Skype meetings with my Italian friends:
On Mondays, I meet with Massimo in Bologna. I visited Massimo and his family several times during my stay in Florence in 2010. They are coming to the U.S for the first time this summer, to visit the East Coast and Yellowstone Park. Massimo often sends me photos and videos of their excursions to the Dolomites, where they enjoy hiking, skiing, sledding and snowshoeing.

Massimo with his wife Sofia and daughter Erika, Bologna, 2010
Lucia meets with me on Tuesdays, and I have visited her several times in her home in the mountains of Trentino-Alto Adige. Last summer we hiked together in the mountains of the Veneto. Lucia and her daughter Marta hope to visit me in Kansas this summer.
with Lucia at the train station in Trento, 2010
On Wednesday mornings, I often meet with Marco, a pediatrician from Modena. We've visited each other in Italy many times, in Modena, Parma and Zagarolo. Now I will also be talking with my new friend from Puglia on Wednesday afternoons.
w Marco in Parma, 2009
Thursdays I do double duty: first, I talk with Gianluigi,  a new friend, who lives in Padova. Then I meet with another Domenico, who lives in a beach town in Le Marche on the Adriatic Coast. We've been meeting on Skype for over four years and I've visited Domenico and his family several times. Domenico also has French penpals, and is working on his specialist degree in Engineering.
Domenico, from Grottammare, via Skype
On the weekends, I often talk with Enzo, who lives in Salerno, south of Naples. Enzo recently came to the U.S. for the first time, for a honeymoon in Florida! Our conversations are always animated and informative. From Enzo, I hear about the difficulties of being young and establishing a career in Southern Italy, where job opportunities are limited, despite one's education and training.
Enzo, via Skye
There are other Italian friends that I communicate with by email: Lidia, in Rome; Renata in Parma; Paola in Florence; Monica in Paris. And many more contacts have come and gone, as our needs and lives have changed. But my core of friends in Italy has grown each year, and continues to expand.
w Lidia in Rome, 2009
w Renata in Parma, 2009
With all these Italian connections,  it's easy to understand why being in Italy is so compelling, and so rich. I'm eager to return, but in the meantime, I'm grateful for the ability to have daily interactions with i miei bei amici, my lovely friends.

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