Probably, the thing I missed the most during my volunteering year has been family. Not my family in particular, but the concept of it.
The world is convinced, and with good reason, that the thing Italians love the most is being together. It is completely true.We do complain a lot about our family, yes, that's part of our DNA, but we do that with love.
If you are italian, or know an italian, or your significant other is italian - you are at least one of these things, don't even try to deny it - you have at least once taken part to or heard about one of those spectacular italian lunches, or dinners, or both. Go back and think about the very first thing that you were told about those gatherings. It will be either 'we are so loud, that one uncle alway yells', or 'do not even try to say no to nonna when she gives you a second serving, be aware that there will be a third on the way, also', or, the best one, 'prepare yourself for questioning, not like a soft one, the one you see on tv shows. You will be confessing your deepest secrets by the end of the antipasti'. Legends? Nope. That uncle is indeed always yelling, nonna is feeding you like you haven't seen food in ages, and you are telling everyone about that time you stole a single chocolate bar from the grocery store, and got caught. Usually, these kind of gatherings end in people not talking to each other for months to come, cats stealing the leftovers from the barbecue and countless bottles of wine mysteriously empty (then you look at the other end of the table, see your old uncle sleeping like a baby and you solve the mystery).
If you have people to talk to in a civil way, or the internet connection is magically happening (which is not a given thing, and you know that), then you are ok. You get to the end of the meeting with a full belly, a good limoncello after coffee to digest everything and an interesting chat with your nonno on how to perfectly grow an orto.
If you are unlucky, then, poor you. Younger cousins running all around the table, your uncles fighting on how Germany is always better at anything at any time (you are, Germany, and we love you for that), nonno falling asleep after entrees and snoring like crazy, nonna and zie asking you where your significant other is, when you are gonna marry 'I'm not marrying nonna' , 'then you will live your life as a zitella', and then your uncle decides to enter the conversation and 'you need a man to support you and you having children', and then your inner feminist just decides to join the shouting and welcome to hell, folks.
These are not stereotypes. This is all true. Some families less than others, some families more. Maybe limoncello is grappa, maybe you are facing the sea or maybe you are looking at a snowy mountain. Maybe you are already married with children. Maybe you are part of the LGBTQ community and just broke the news to the family.
But there will be a moment, after dolce and right before coffee, when you will need some time for yourself. Silence. Peace. So you go out, take a stroll in your nonna's garden, where you used to wonder when you were a child, imagining castles, rivers, a dragon to fight. And stay there, under the plum tree, just for a few minutes. It is silent, the birds are chirping all over, a solitary car honks at some people gathered outside the bar for the daily gossiping. But then you hear it. The chat from the house, coming from the windows left open to let some air in (and mosquitoes, also). It is then that you realize that you wouldn't change it for anything. The yelling, the questioning, the too much food, the snoring. Because that is the comunity that has brought you up, for better or for worse. It is the very foundation of Italy.
One of Catullo's odes, Carmen LXXXV, goes as follows:
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
Which roughly translates into
I love and I hate. You ask me how I do that.
I don't know, but this happens, and I am tormented by it.
This is, obviously, a love poem. But I, for my part, feel the same thing about the concept of family. Family is something you love deeply, even when you don't want to. Even when it drives you mad. A kind of love so powerful that you feel it could resemble hate. Those dinners that you used to hate so much last year, when that cousin of yours just graduated and organized the biggest gathering after Wembley '86; the stupid questions you avoided like plague, and you'd rather play hide and seek with the little ones than answering them; the scale that looked at you judgingly after the third serving of lasagna. All of this, you missed deeply these past few months of quarantine. And now that something is starting to get better, and you can finally see your big, big, big family again, you feel happy, and thankful.
You will soon be back to hating it, I know that, you know that.
But for now, for this beautiful moment, go back to the house, leave the plum tree to its thoughts. Have a coffee. There are those old pictures waiting for you to laugh at them, the 80s hair at your mom's wedding, that cousin dressed as a princess and, most important of them all, that massive, gorgeous 'stache you had back when you were 12. And thanks to you, technology, for inventing Instagram a couple of decades after that.