….when you get into the lift at work and you can be fairly sure that somebody will pull out the question: “So, what are you doing for holidays this year?”. Up until very recently my response was – unfortunately for me – “no idea, no plans yet, maybe Luca has to work”. This response was almost always met with complete horror and a look of pity, followed by “oh I’m sorry – we’re off to the Caribbean / Thailand / Spain for three weeks / a month / for-frickin-ever….”
Now, having backed Luca into a corner by forcing him to back his employer into an even smaller one, we’ve managed to book a week in Tuscany and I am officially “off” for two weeks. Now my response is generally met with “Only two weeks off??!! And only one week away???!!! Poor thing… COME MAI??!!” That’s the thing about Italians – they feel it’s their divine right to enjoy three, if not four weeks of uninterrupted holidays every August, and whilst historically the annual company ‘shut down’ has generally facilitated this, each year more and more workers are required to stay behind for at least part of August. How else do you operate in an globalized world?
So we’re off to Tuscany. Not just Tuscany, but Siena – and I have very good reason to be very excited…
When I was 20, I spent my Erasmus study year at Siena university. I didn’t want to go – in fact I did everything in my power to get out of it, as at the time I was engaged to my high school sweetheart and the idea of spending a whole year living separate lives with 1000 miles between us was too much to bear. As is happened, the year was obligatory if I wanted to finish my degree, so with a heavy heart and the promise of monthly visits, I set off for what proved to be the most important year of my life. I found a (really grotty!) apartment in the centre, in one of the medieval streets that leads down from the main square towards the Santa Caterina convent, paying a ridiculous amount of money each month for a single room (that was only just big enough for a bed and a tv), sharing a kitchen and two small bathrooms with five other students. The first few weeks were tough – I would go through the motions, attending classes during the day, meeting fellow students for coffee and getting blind drunk in the (not very many) town centre bars (B52s were my speciality), as I partied the nights away. Behind it all, though, I missed my fiancé, felt homesick for my family and generally struggled to get by in a language and culture that were not my own. I was so unhappy that my mum came to visit after a couple of weeks, loaded with goodies from England that only made me feel worse… As time went by, though, I started to get used to the distance between myself and my fiancé, and as my new friendships grew and I got to know the town better, I started enjoying myself. Really enjoying myself. By the end of the first term I didn’t want to go home even for a week and was so happy to be back in the new year that I remember my fiancé joking about how he was worried that “Siena might steal me”. Ah, the benefits of hinesight!
In a nutshell, the remaining 10 months of my stay brought with them the biggest changes of my life. I fell madly in love with Siena, with Italy and (although I hesitate to admit it) with one of my Spanish housemates who, whilst we became close friends, remained painfully out of my reach (for obvious reasons). He now lives in Mexico City and although nine years have passed, I still feel a pang on the few occasions that he writes me an email or sends me a message on Facebook…. Three weeks after the end of my Erasmus year, I was supposed to marry my fiancé. The church was booked, flowers ordered, catering in place and the dress – well, the dress is still in a box on top of my mum’s wardrobe. Needless to say, the wedding never took place. Siena – or rather Italy - had stolen me, as my fiancé feared. Now in my sixth year as an official Italian resident, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have never been back to Siena – initially it held too many memories which I wanted to preserve as they were without adding new ones, but I can’t wait any more. We (that’s Luca and I) will be there for the Palio on August 16th – so whilst one week of holiday might not be very much as far as my colleagues are concerned, it will mean far more to me than three weeks on the beach, and no doubt about it!