The Last Day of School, Italian Underwear, and Clapping on Airplanes

June 14, 2012

"The Wave": A school tradition on the last day

Today is the last day of school. Camille woke me up crying and insisting that she didn't want to go; that she NEEDED to stay home. It didn't surprise me. Camille, who has loved every minute of kindergarten, has been dreading this day for months. Of all us, she struggles the most with transitions and the last day of school is full of them. The good-byes, the arms full of finished projects, the pep talks about how fun first grade will be, the last circle time with her friends and her beloved is all confirmation that kindergarten is ending and that things will be changing. I helped her get dress and let her wear the sandals that she rarely gets to wear to school because they don't have closed toes. I brushed her hair gently and slowly and made sure to use a pretty barrette. I even let her watch Charlie and Lola while eating breakfast. And then with my heart twisting and aching, I watched her reluctantly get on the bus. Endings aren't easy.

Nope, not easy at all, but endings have a way of forcing us stop for a minute and do a bit of reflection. Stopping to look back, remembering the early days, flashing on the good and bad parts, circling back to the present, and eventually casting our gaze forward. It's just the way it is. It's how novels and fairy tales pull all of the loose ends together and foretell the future before those famous last words pronounce "The End". It's what happens when someone dies. We inhale, retreat within, emerge with bits and pieces of memories and shared moments, smells, irritations, funny stories, sadness, and sort out what we want and need to keep of that person. And that's similar to what's happening for me as we enter our final weeks here. I am sorting and sifting through bits and pieces of time here in Sicily. I am making lists of places to re-visit, foods to savor, people to see, and trying to solidify how I want to remember this place.

Perhaps because of my southern roots, places seem to take on personalities of their own and they quickly entangle themselves in my identity and my story. And in much the same way I think about friends or well-loved characters in a novel, it is often the quirky, minute details that end up being the most endearing and long lasting. When Katie was living in Luxembourg, I loved reading her posts that she grouped under the title of Little Differences. It was a record of the things that prompted her to compare her expat existence with her previous existence in the States. I kept meaning to write down a similar list, especially from those early days after our arrival when everything, even the grocery carts at the local stores felt so strange and exotic. I never got around to writing that list, but here I am three years later starting to get sentimental about our impending departure and I find myself randomly flashing back on a few of those little things. 

Here are two little differences that on the surface may seem very trite and superficial. They aren't the romanticized versions of Italian life that get highlighted in the movies or the guidebooks, they are are bit kooky and perhaps I'll regret sharing them here, but they have been a part of our life in Sicily and I want to remember them.

The first one is Italian underwear. Not long after our arrival in Sicily, we were enrolled in a class that was intended to introduce us to Italian customs and help us acclimate to daily life. As part of the class, we took a field trip into Catania. Our teacher/guide was a handsome, suave Sicilian who had spent most of his childhood in Australia. He charmed us with his accent, his perfectly tailored clothes, and his friendly, gregarious nature. During that field trip to Catania, he showed us around the fish market, the vegetable market, a local wine shop.  He urged us to sample the figs and showed us how to order coffee. It was a very pleasant morning and then as we were walking down the main shopping street in the city, his eyes caught a sign in near-by store. He excitedly darted into the shop and encouraged our group to follow him. We did. Without realizing it, we followed him inside a lingerie store where there was a large sale in progress. Stop and picture this scene: A large group of newly arrived Americans, with fanny packs, cameras, and their white  sneakers, crammed into a lingerie store watching their tour guide enthusiastically finger underwear. Without a trace of embarrassment, he proudly explained that in his opinion Italian underwear is the best in the world and then he spent the next few minutes making some selections for himself and his wife. And you know what? He was right. Italian underwear is good, especially the men's underwear. It is made of soft, high quality cotton and it is easy to find. It seems as if there is a lingerie/underwear shop on every other corner. I am sure Italians are shocked when they see/feel how rough Hanes tightie whities are. And I think that's part of the underwear lesson. Italians value quality and they value their bodies (although they really shouldn't smoke so much).

They don't have the same hang ups we, Americans, seem to have about our bodies and our undergarments. I notice that in dressing rooms. I see it when I watch Italians interact with one another. There is a physical level of comfort that we don't quite possess. Adam still laughs about his first experience in an Italian locker room after a soccer game. He was the only American in the locker room and within seconds of getting undressed the other players quickly started a discussion about body hair. They asked him if he shaved his butt because it was smooth and free of hair. They teased each other about their differences. There was a different kind of openness and ease. We see it on the beach all of the time, too. It always makes me smile to see a group of older Italian men proudly promenading down the beach with their bellies hanging over tiny speedo bikini bottoms, gold chains caught up in their greying chest hair, with their saggy arms around each other....they swagger with pride while enjoying their friends and the sun. Bodies are just bodies. People are just people. It can be quite refreshing and if you ever visit Italy, be sure to check out the underwear. 

And here's the second thing: clapping on airplanes. I am not sure if this is unique to Sicily but it never fails to amuse me and I always join in. Whenever a plane lands, there is clapping. It might sound silly, but it's true and I love that the Sicilians celebrate that moment. Hooray, we made it! We are on the ground. We are here. The trip is over or the trip is about to begin. That enthusiastic clapping is an acknowledgment of an important transition. And I think that's an important lesson right there. I want to remember that about Sicily. In addition to remembering all of the amazing food, the beautiful beaches, the friendly locals, I want to remember that they clap when an airplane successfully lands at its destination. It's a small, but good thing, isn't it? 

And I guess that's what all of my rambling is about. As hard as it was to put Camille on the bus this morning, I know she needs to go to school today. She needs to be a part of today's ending with both its celebratory side and its sad side. And it is also where I need to be in the midst of this move. In the sentimental stage of realizing "this may be the last time I eat here" or "this will be last time I see this person here", while also laughing about the things that initially seemed so odd or different, but that now seem so natural and necessary like wearing good underwear and clapping on airplanes. Endings are important.
Dana said...

Beautiful sentiments, Lucia.
PS. There is clapping up here, too!

likeschocolate said...

I loved Katie's account of differences too and have wanted to make a list, but never can seem to put it into words. Germans have that level of comfort too when it comes to bodies though are not as equally friendly as Italiens when you first get to know them. Haven't checked out underwear here to see if it is softer. Maybe, I will do that tomorrow. Will have to check it out when in Italy. Hope Camille felt better about her day when she got home. Maybe a little celebration is in order or at least a scoop of gelato. I am sure it will be very hard for you to leave after being there for 3 years. I on the other hand am kind of ready to go home. I miss my life in America not that I couldn't get one here too, but we are not here long enough to get one.

Karla said...

Nicely written and so very true as we're experiencing our "endings" in Pensacola. I like the idea of writing down differences between countries...I'll try to do that with the kids when we get to Japan. I will also take an Intercultural Relations Class.....I wonder if Japan has good underwear shops. :) I have to check out the book on your sidebar called "Emily's Imagination" I think it was written for "our Em" as every day is an adventure. She's also excited for 1st grade.

Corinne said...

I actually did something similar to this when I realized I was probably in Maryland to stay and would not be living in Utah again. Even just in our own country I found so many things that I liked about BOTH places :)

The Jiu Jiu said...

I carry a "differences list" in my mind comparing Chile to Belgium to Maryland; there's no way I could write the entire thing down because it's too long & covers too many of the senses. I've always had a sort of "goodbye ceremony" of my own for leaving all the places I've lived, or that meant a lot to me (e.g., my grandparents' house in NY); alone, I quietly go room to room, trying to lock down 1 or 2 memories connected directly to it (the problem is usually keeping the number low!). I then walk around, quietly saying "goodbye" in my mind to each of the places I've visited while living there, knowing that even if I return someday, they will no longer be the same. It helps, somewhat... I usually end with a few minutes' silent listing of things I intend to accomplish in my new home once I get there. It helps... a little. <:-}

Anonymous said...

My heart is with Camille, as my childhood was filled with international moves, too, and your next destination ironically felt the most foreign to me when I was her age. Wouldn't change it, just ackowledging the feeling. I've heard clapping a number of places and enjoy it too. Tara

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