The next couple of days in Italy were filled with random train stories and big life decisions. I was asked to do some training for the school, which was me sitting in on some lessons and finding out what they were about. Chatting with the younger kids, made me miss my nieces and nephews. In between one set of classes I ate mini yo-yo biscuits smooshed together with Nutella and then watched a dog inquisitively sniff at a ferret on a leash.
My train trip back to Varazze that evening became one of those ‘interesting’ moments of my time there. I was travelling in a train, like many, that had graffiti on the outside of the carriage and names tagged in secret places on the inside. There was no rubbish to be seen, but years of built up grime worn into the seats. I’d wanted to catch up on some writing, so I pulled out my iPad and made a little ledge by resting my feet on the edge of the seat in front of me. Halfway through the journey, the first train conductor I’d seen on board for all of my daily trips, came down the aisle to check on people’s tickets. He stopped where I was sitting and looked down at me with his stern face and then started berating me in Italiano until everyone stared and my face crept with crimson. He then motioned for me to put my feet down and wipe the seat where they had been. All I could manage was a paltry “Sorry”.
By the next stop the train bully had bought with him his conductor friend. They made sure to look into everyone’s seating area and then cast a long glance at mine. When it was time for me to leave he stood guarding the door, and when I scraped passed he offered a forced “Bye”. I turned quizzically after I got onto the safety of the platform, where the armed forces of conductors had disembarked and stared at me walking toward the exit.
That night I wanted something cheap and comforting to cheer me up, so I went and ordered an eggplant pizza to go. It was from an empty restaurant that was manned by two young guys standing behind the bar area, staring at television. They hadn’t noticed that I’d walked in. When my dinner was boxed and handed over, they were not prepared for a card payment instead of cash. I walked the ten minutes back to my hotel, entrusted with the hot pizza and returned with some cash. They were surprised at my haste, figuring that I’d at least eat it before I came back. I wanted to wait, knowing that once I was curled up on my bed eating, I’d be done for the night.
It was coming to the end of my first week in Italia and I really wasn’t feeling that great there being on my own, so I took a massive morning walk to Cantalupo. The streets curled around houses that wound up the hill; where old nanas hobbled up to the shop and tradesmen banged away on rooves. The warm air melted into my bones and breathed a new lease of life into my soul. The vista was stunning, with the flecks of sea winking up at me.
My unappreciation for Italy thus far had been born from wondering if I should take this job. On the one hand it was an opportunity, a step to get my foot in the door of living here. On the other hand it just didn’t feel right; I was unsure if I could survive on the unknown hours at the rate I’d be getting and ultimately I came to the realisation that deep down, I wouldn’t be happy. Teaching felt like something that was a lifetime ago. And although I love children and this is something that I am good at, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t ultimately into anymore. My passion was now firmly wedged in the craft of writing.
I went to observe classes in Pietra Ligure that afternoon and this confirmed what I knew. The lessons heavily focused on the compostition of the English language and teaching grammar was something that I was sh*t scared of. When I went to school, it was in the phase of learning language via a more natural association. You had no idea why sentences were constructed as they were, it was just because. And the closest I had to formal instruction of this was the use of the terms ‘nouns’, ‘verbs’ and ‘adjectives’, being bandied about.
If the previous day’s train story wasn’t bad enough, that evening’s one was even worse. One stop from my station, an old fullar had gotten on. He walked down the aisle looking from side to side and decided to settle diagonally opposite me. From there, he started staring at me and proceeded to touch his old man crotch. I briefly caught his eye, with my eyebrows confused between a ‘wtf’ and surprised stance. He momentarily looked as though he’d just stolen some chocolate and then continued like I wasn’t even there; to which I scrambled for my stuff and left for my stop that was thankfully 30 seconds away.
To shake off the ick and have some time out with my decision making, I went to the supermercato and bought some goodies for a picnic dinner. I sat on a quiet bench on the promenade, overlooking the sea; with focaccia, prosciutto and fromage, spread out on a paper bag plate across my lap. Each piece of bread I ripped was plastered with cheese and laden with the cured meat, and each bite I took I tried to calm the noise in my mind and the knot in my stomach. And of course, with every major decision made, I treated myself… to gelato.
I knew deep down what I had to do that was best for me, and to trust my gut instinct. The following evening I formally crafted an email, thanking the school for the opportunity, but declining the job. Upon send, I felt like my inner stress had dissolved into being myself, once again.
Until next time; where I am still eating gelato, going on day trip adventures, and befriending my hotel cleaner who overfed me. x