My name is Jordan Gowan. I am a writer, surfer and musician; a recent addict to photography and gelato, and I flew 18,610 km to get here.
Where I live, we call ourselves “Kiwis”. In Italy however, when you refer to “kiwi’s” you are obviously talking about the fruit – and while I love a good kiwifruit, I wouldn’t identify as one.
Perhaps it’s easier if I just say I’m from New Zealand. And despite my country being a solid twenty-four hours of flying from here, Italy doesn’t seem to far from home.
Out in the suburbs where I live, you could almost be in downtown Wellington or Auckland. Tall apartment buildings tower over me as I shelter under a tree from the day-long downpour that Viterbo is experiencing. Lit up by streetlights, which I’m sure are universal, the scene is so familiar that for a moment I feel like I am back in the city where I grew up, walking back home from class.
Of course, my university back home didn’t use to be a monastery and a former prison, and I don’t live anywhere nearly as beautiful – or old – as the city of Viterbo. While some things are similar, it doesn’t take you to long to realise that we’re smack bang in central Italy: little scooters zipping through the streets, the bottles of glorious wine that sell for less than two euros in the supermarket, and a thousand and one different smells of food assaulting your nostrils and holding them hostage. Then there is the language, which is an everyday adventure in itself. Living where you don’t understand a good 90% of what everyone around you is saying is disorientating to say the least. It is confusing and more than a little unnerving to have conversational barriers come down every time you attempt to interact with someone outside your immediate English-speaking circle. Yet at the same time it’s exciting and extremely rewarding each and every time you can speak or understand just that little bit more.
I am filled with the same feeling of excitement every single time I walk inside the walls of the city. Nothing in New Zealand is as old as even the newest street in central Viterbo, and I am endlessly fascinated and enchanted by the winding alleys and backroads with their cobblestoned footpaths and stone walls. The best way I can describe it is that Viterbo is a city that is falling in on itself, both in the steep hilly footpaths which run down to the centre, and in the blend of modern and ancient which is so unique to the town. Town speakers hide out behind ancient columns and modern Fiats and Vespa’s speed down streets where a horse and cart wouldn’t look out of place.
Yet somehow against all odds I feel at home here. Maybe it’s the Italian approach to life: friendly, laid-back, appreciative of the small things and always ready to have a chat no matter what the time of day. It’s not too dissimilar from my home country where “She’ll be right” (translation: “things are going to work out fine”) is pretty much our unofficial national motto.
Or maybe it’s the people. On my way to my favourite writing haunt in Viterbo, a little old lady flags me over, talking quickly in Italian and gesturing wildly, as is often the Italian way. Although we can’t communicate to well, between the motions and the few words I understand in Italian, I gather she wants my help and heave open the garage-like door protecting her little shop. She smiles, says “Grazie” and wishes me a good day, and I somehow fumble a reply before continuing on my way. While secretly stoked with myself for successfully navigating an unusual situation in Italian, I find myself reflecting on the fact that I have yet to meet an unfriendly Italian. Sure some are more stand-off than others, yet for the most part most I’ve met have been incredibly helpful, generous and accommodating when met by my clumsy Italian and awkward New Zealand accent.
As I sit on what feels like a castle wall overlooking Piazza San Lorenzo, 18,610 kilometres away from my usual study haunt in a dusty upstairs library, I’m struck again with the beauty of Viterbo, and the beauty of the fact that for the next three months I get to live here. I’m suddenly reminded of a church service I attended a few weeks earlier in Viterbo, which despite hardly even being able to communicate with half of the congregation was the most welcoming and joyous family I’ve ever met. One lady came up to me after with a smile wider than my face and spoke to me in fluent English, and I don’t think I could ever forget her words.
“You’ve travelled thousands of miles to get here,” she said. “But this is your home now.”
And I think she was right.
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Hi everyone! I am a musician, surfer, writer and traveler from Palmerston North, New Zealand. I study Italian and photography at Universita delgi Studia Tuscia. In my free time I enjoy listening to music, playing the guitar and travelling around Italy and wider Europe. For more of my writing please visit http://ninteythreewords.blogspot.it/
Ciao a tutti! Sono un musicista, surfer, scrittore e viaggiatore di Palmerston North in Nuova Zelanda. Studio Italiano e fotografia all’Università degli Studi della Tuscia. Nel mio tempo libero, mi piace ascoltare musica, suonare la chitarra e viaggiare per l’Italia e l’Europa. Per maggiori informazioni su quello che scrivo, potete visitare la mia pagina http://ninteythreewords.blogspot.it/.