The Courage to Explore in Unfamiliar Italy

Jan 10, 2017

By Stef Smulders

The Courage to Explore in Unfamiliar Italy

One day we found the courage to travel along the hills of the Oltrepò after we had first reassured ourselves that ‘our’ house was still standing and wasn’t washed away by the abundant rainfall of the last couple of days. Luckily, the house was still standing firm in its place among the knee-high vegetation: an unsightly grey cube that still did not seem a very attractive place to go and live.
We decided to take a little look around our prospective neighbourhood and we drove to the south, into higher terrain. The roads became twistier and narrower and we were climbing gradually higher and higher with each bend in the road. My insides started to protest. Had I eaten something bad this morning? The gingerbread cake we brought with us from the Netherlands? Of course, it must have been past its sell by date! I thought gingerbread cake couldn’t go off? How could this happen to me? I am always so careful to check everything that passes my lips for signs of mould or wriggling life forms. Or was it the strong espresso from the moca, our little Italian percolator? It produces powerful coffee that requires a hardy stomach. I started to feel sick. This was followed by a vision.
I was standing on the steps of the diving platform in the swimming pool. I was trying desperately to cling on to the smooth, cold metal rails. I was scared that my feet would slip off the slippery steps, which would first break my leg and would then send me falling backwards head over heels smashing my head on the tiles. I couldn’t get a proper grip on the handrail, the steps were a lot steeper than I had expected, and I started to shake. But there was no way back, I had to find the courage to continue. Once at the top, I heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, I was standing safely on a wide flat diving board fenced off by metal mesh on both sides. I decided never to do this again. But now I would need to move forward, beyond the fencing, all the way to the end of the wobbly edge, and jump into the depths. I looked down and realised that from the top it was a lot higher than it seemed from the bottom. It made me feel light-headed. How did I get myself into this mess? Behind me, a small group of macho boys were forming, staring at me impatiently. I had to jump, so I closed my eyes, held my breath and… took the plunge.
We had to stop at the side of the road for a break, so I could get some fresh air and let my stomach settle down. What exactly had we got ourselves into? Moving to an entirely different environment, with foreign people, foreign customs and a foreign language, which we hardly spoke or understood. Removed from our social network in the Netherlands, removed from our snug nest where we had lived for the best part of 20 years and where we felt at home and protected. Away from our friends and family, who could support us through difficult times and who could share the joys of the good times. Were we really leaving this all behind? And for what? Panic seized my body. Imagined all the things that could go wrong. Was there still a way back?
After the first wave of panic had died down and I found my courage, I returned to my senses. No, making a U-turn now was not an option. We had already taken the first steps and there was only one way forward: to proceed without wavering. But did we really dare to? Once back in our flat, my stomach and my mind regained their composure. We were going to create an amazing holiday destination, I realised, in beautiful countryside, in fantastic climate. We would have lots of interesting guests and we would make sure they would feel just as at home as we do. Stop hesitating, close your eyes and jump!

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About the Author

Stef Smulders

Stef Smulders was born in The Netherlands in 1960 and moved with husband Nico and their dog to Italy in 2008 to start bed-and-breakfast Villa I Due Padroni in the beautiful wine region Oltrepò Pavese south of Milan. In 2014 he published his first volume of short, anecdotical stories (in Dutch) about daily life among the Italians. The English translation has just now appeared as Living in Italy: the Real Deal. Sneak preview: http://italiaanse-toestanden.duepadroni.it/index-UK.html

We Said Go Travel

We Said Go Travel