This weekend I was treated to a visit from my parents. Seeing them here in Reggio, right in the toe of Italy, pootling along to my doorstep in their hire car as if it were no more than a casual visit to Cambridge, was one of the most surreal things that has happened since I’ve been here, and that’s saying quite a lot!
Reggio isn’t really geared up for foreign holidaymakers. For starters, no one really speaks English. This isn’t a criticism – I doubt that Italian tourists in London are treated to anyone speaking their native tongue – but it is surprising when you compare that to places like Florence and (I presume) Rome, where even when you try and speak to the locals in Italian they will respond in English. Furthermore, there aren’t that many hotels. The tourism here seems to be of a seaside resort nature, and as such it completely shuts down over winter: in the first few weeks of my arrival the nightclubs, or ‘lidos’ as they are called here, that lined the sea front were being dismantled, meaning I had to kiss goodbye the dream of finding my party-hard alter ego in Reggio (no, I wasn’t holding out much hope either).
As such, the teeny hotel my parents found themselves in had only six rooms, and in order to obtain the complimentary hotel breakfast you had to follow the equally teeny hotelier down the road and round the corner to one of his mate’s cafes. It’s only when you end up going on a spontaneous hike like this that the language barrier becomes a problem, as my Dad reported that once their guide had laughed heartily at the fact that he was wearing a t-shirt on what he must have assumed was an arctic November morning (it was about 15 degrees), they had pretty much exhausted their communal vocabulary. Comprehension difficulties aside, though, Italian folk are extremely hospitable, something that, living as a local for the last few months, I had completely forgotten, and being treated to liqueurs on the house and compliments on my Italian at various wonderful eateries over the weekend was a lovely reminder.
What characterises visits from your parents is that they’ll say things like ‘I think there’s a national park near here, shall we go?’ and will manage to track down marmalade even in shops bearing the title ‘Specialità Calabresi’ – who knew?
They’ll also bring you lots and lots and lots of treats. I’d mentioned I was missing British chocolate, and my mum had said she might have some celebrations kicking about that she could bring. I was somewhat overwhelmed, therefore, by the boxes of heroes and celebrations, multipack of dairy milks, mince pies, biscuits and even Kendal mint cake that were eventually bestowed on me as a community effort from my parents, sister and grandma. On top of that, we ate out for every meal while they were here, and I finally managed to get hold of the pizza that I’ve been craving for the best part of a month (never thought I’d have difficulty finding one in Italy!) So it is with some relief for my waistline if nothing else that I had to say goodbye to them on Monday evening.
Seeing my parents has been a great morale booster for the rest of term, which suddenly seems quite short if I think that we’re well into November now. Acting as their interpreter for the weekend has made me see that my Italian has come along quite a way since I arrived, while just kicking about in Italy, drinking cocktails and meandering along the busy main street at night, made the experience seem a whole lot more like a holiday and less like a compulsory year of self-discovery. The end of the first leg of the journey is in sight now, as I will be heading home for Christmas in just over four week’s time. Before that though I am going to Rome, hopefully to Naples and welcoming a few more visitors here – amazing how much I’ve been able to cram in, and yet I’ve still only scratched the surface of everything that Italy has to offer. That’s what makes it such a great place to be based for a year abroad, and what will keep me eagerly flicking through my guide book over the Christmas break.