My host mom calls me, “la Italiana,” because despite my mostly German heritage, she decided my looks and Spanish accent prevail as Italian, and so La Italiana I became, and for the “Puente” (a week long break we have in the first week of December because Catholic stuff happens), to Italia I flew.
And after a week of living in one of my many European mutt “motherlands,” it is safe to say I am actually the worst Italian ever.
Our motley adventure began with a five-hour layover in the Barcelona airport. So, like any self-respecting American college students, we bought a bottle of wine from the duty-free store and decided to drink away the time. Only problem? The duty-free store did not sell corkscrews, and being a seasoned veteran of opening wine bottles with pens (from that one time I did it in Joe’s apartment with Nina’s cat wine and exploded the entire bottle all over his kitchen), I was elected to repeat my previous failures. After failing miserably at the whole “flip it over and bang it until the cork comes out,” method, I physically and mentally prepared myself to shower in wine once again. Armed with a makeshift shield I crafted from a plastic bag, I pushed all of my strength into the cork and managed to open our bottle with minimal casualties and wine lost.
We arrived in Turin at about 11pm, and when the taxi dropped us off at our AirBnb we thought there must be a mistake. I don’t remember whose brilliant idea it was to go to Turin first and why, but from the part I saw I think I could have gone my entire life without seeing this city and been completely fine. Italy, unlike Spain, eats at normal hours, so our only hope of sustenance this late at night was a pizza joint run by an Oriental family that spoke better English than Italian. So Italy started with the most ghetto Airbnb I’ve ever seen and Chinese pizza (Nancy’s didn’t even come with cheese). The next day, my roommate Nancy and our friend Julia learned the hard way that “latte” in Italian means milk. Not coffee WITH milk.
Thankfully, we only stayed two nights in Turin before catching a train to Venice (only after stressing to catch and find a train that Nancy had made up and didn’t actually exist). Arriving in Venice, it was obvious things would be better. First of all, if you haven’t been to Venice, go. Like seriously, screw your job, your responsibilities, your boyfriend, get on a plane and go. Even in off season, this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever experienced. Our Airbnb was a cute, modern apartment in the heart of it all that included fresh croissants every morning. It’s only flaw was a lack of WiFi. We feasted on our first real Italian meal, ending with quite possibly the best dessert I’ve ever experienced. I was actually on the verge of tears eating a fresh crepe, drizzled with Nutella, and topped with Oreo gelato. In fact, my ecstasy was so great that I forgot I was lactose intolerant, speed ate the entire thing, and proceeded to throw up my angelic dessert. Very sad, but still just as amazing going in reverse.
After Venice, we made our way to Bologna for only one night to sample what we’d heard was the best Italian food Italy had to offer. Those rumors are true; the rumor that is not true, however, is how similar Italian and Spanish are. I ordered something from a menu in Italian that, had this been the case, should have been a filet of fish and green peppers. What it ended up being was filet mignon with capers in a cream sauce. While not what I expected, I am glad I was wrong because oh my god. People who know me know I’m happier with cheap fastfood than I ever am with something hip or fancy, but if I had to sell my soul for one dish, it might be this one.
The next morning, we boarded our train to our final destination: Florence. While our Airbnb was once again slightly sketchy (reminiscent of a crack house, or a place where the drugged-out people from your high school would go to do acid), Florence was beautiful. We ate our fair share of amazing food, naturally. I saw the over-hyped statue of the naked man for the second time in my life, though this time was definitely less arousing. I went to my first Christmas market and ate German food and got surprisingly drunk off one cup of vin brule.
However,the moment that sticks out the most in my mind is this dinky little Irish pub we went to. The outside had nothing special to show, but we wanted to grab a drink while we waited for the organic dinner place to open (once a Californian…). Upon stepping inside, it was something different. American college t-shirts and greek life letters covered every inch of the walls and tables. A shot list bearing shots named after every relevant college in the United States hung on the wall. My eyes scanned anxiously up and down, rolling to the back of my head when I saw UCSB was on there twice. But when I finally found it, I screamed. I actually, embarrassingly, sorority-white-girl screamed in this bar. The Cal Poly shot: vodka, limoncello, amaretto…an odd combination, but I didn’t care.
I hadn’t been nostalgic until now. I don’t know if it’s me as a person or the fast pace of this trip, but I genuinely hadn’t missed home much. But now, sitting in this bar thousands of miles from home, I missed Cal Poly. Every memory came flooding back: going on my tour and becoming so enamored that my three-year long plan of attending University of Miami ended instantly, moving into my dorm and thinking I was the shit, learning I wasn’t the shit, and relationships I built—some of which lasted, some of which didn’t, and some of which turned out in a way I never expected.
It was this moment, this shot, that I knew I was ready to go home. I might never be a great Italian: gelato makes me throw up, I’m not too fond of cheese, and while I speak Spanish with an Italian accent, my actual Italian is pitiful. But at the end of the day, I don’t identify myself as an Italian. I identify myself as Mustang. Because for all it’s exercise obsessed, beauty-ridden flaws, I am damn proud to be a Cal Poly student, and there really is no place like SLOme.