I had reached a turning point in my life in Italy. I had overcome the major challenges of cultural adaptation, none of which I hadn't anticipated. I got slaughtered, battered and beaten by the bureaucratic gods and survived Italian boot camp with flying colors which included plenty of black-and-blue marks.
I had lost the desire to visit the States, even to stock up on my annual hoard of American vitamin pills and Vicks VapoRub. I had my church and my macellaio, my shoemaker, my favorite market vendors, bars, lampredotto stands and cycling destinations.
I voted in the primary elections and acquired a general grasp of the (no adjectives here) political scene. I understood the good and the bad and had met Americans who made it here and those who threw in the towel. There were no more surprises, or at least nothing that would shock me. I learned how to navigate the health care system. I had a bicycle team, an adopted family, a dream retirement job guiding bicycle tours in the hills of Chianti. And I had recently negotiated an 8-year contract to live in an elegant renaissance palace that I don't ever want to leave....ever. I was ready for the next big bang.
In 2013 I broke through many barriers. It was the year in which I stopped feeling like a newbie in transition and started gaining an identity in the community. It was the year in which my grasp of the language really started kicking in and gained exponential momentum. So very satisfying to have arrived at this point.
I finally felt integrated enough to join a local volunteer organization, the Angeli del Bello, a group of Florentines who dedicate their time to maintaining the splendor of Florence. For me, it meant removing graffiti from the walls of our buildings and monuments and then restoring the surface. Not only did this give me the opportunity to mix with born and bred Florentines who share my passion for this stupendous city, but it led to a great friendship with a fellow volunteer. Not to mention that I love to dedicate my time to make Florence even more beautiful than it is, if that is possible!
I was blessed last year to find four new girlfriends, all exceptional women. They are Florentine, Sicilian and Pugliese who don't speak English. They love and accept me despite my cultural deficiencies and notwithstanding that they cannot imagine my pre-life in the U.S. They judge me not on my status or title, but for who I am now, who I am on the inside and the passion and energy that I exude on the outside.
To have conquered the language well enough to develop such intimate relationships is about as good as it gets for me. After this, everything else is icing on the cake. And what a cake.
In 2013 I turned a corner and started for earnest, planting my soul into the culture, diversifying my interests, studying Italian politics, learning more profoundly Renaissance art and renouncing to a great extent the social network scene because outside my door lies the greatest city, the greatest social network that I can possibly ask for.