Firenze per Fortuna, Una Nuova Famiglia 9/8
The first time I heard my host mother was when I heard her asking another girl if her name was Valentina.
As we entered the larger lecture room in the Villa Rossa to meet our host families with the other students during out selected time at 4:30 p.m., I heard, and saw out of the corner of my eye, a women dressed in a stylish black dress with an orange brooch asking another student if he name was Valentina. I turned to Kelly and told her, wondering if I should say anything to her. I decided not to, and waited anxiously to be called, sitting only one row in front of her.
Lilita reminded me of my nonna at first sight. She’s an older woman probably in her late fifties or early sixties, standing at a tad bit short than me with naturally golden Italian skin and pebble-colored hair. She was fanning herself the entire time we waited to be introduced.
She was immediately warm and incredibly sweet to Kelly and I. She said, “Chi e Valentina?” And was so enthusiastic to see me, no doubt because she could tell how Italian my name is. Upon meeting her, I gave her the gift I had brought for the host family—a copy of the Italian children’s book I made in high school for my Senior Project. Her eyes widened as I told her, “Ho fatto questo libro durante liceo—un regalo per te.” Lilita was so impressed she started showing off the book to her friends as soon as we left the room to get our luggage. I was silently thrilled, and I also couldn’t wait for her to see Kelly’s gift. Kelly made her a glass plate, which, once I saw it, immediately reminded me of famous Venetian blown glass, it’s so gorgeous. I stand by my idea that handmade gifts are always better because of their personal touch and their ability to hold memories longer and stronger.
We drove to Lilita’s apartment on the eastern side of the city. Her husband, our host father, Pedro, later compared the area in which they live to Manhattan in New York City—it’s the nicer side of downtown, also it’s also slightly quieter and safer as well. They live on the top floor of a small apartment building which, at first since we had to drag our luggage up three flights of stairs, was not exactly intriguing. But as soon as Kelly and I opened the large, wooden double doors to our new home, the stair issue quickly vanished from our minds.
The apartment is big for Italian standards, and gorgeous inside. The foyer is the entire length of the apartment building, and is the entryway to the other six rooms of the apartment. Kelly and I share a room, which is larger than any double dorm room in Syracuse, and our room leads to one of the terraces overlooking the neighborhood rooftops. That terrace is also the home to a five-year-old black lab named Nerina, who was quick to welcome us by running straight into our room, into our arms, wagging her tail in excitement. The apartment also has a nice bathroom, a small kitchen with a laundry room attached to it, a large living room connected to the terrace on the opposite side, and, of course, Lilita and Pedro’s room. The only other room in the apartment is a small separate bedroom for the couple’s grandson, Matteo, who comes to visit every once in a while. After seeing his room, I knew I would love to meet him at some point during my stay, because he is an avid collector of legos and has a huge map on the wall next to his bed, with pen marks indicated the many places he’s traveled so far in his nearly eleven years of life. He already speaks three languages—molto intelligente.
During first night with our new family, I probably spoke more Italian than I ever have in my life. Not only was I talking to Lilita completely in Italian, with the exception of asking how to say something in Italian, but I was also translating back and forth for Kelly, who speaks no Italian at all. Of course, according to Lilita, we’ll both be speaking completely in Italian within a month. I’m so glad that our family speaks very little English, even though it’s difficult sometimes and certainly mentally exhausting. But I can already see its effect on me, because I’m already speaking more and more to others in Italian, using it outside the house, and speaking involuntarily in Italian to answer certain questions as well—I’m even starting to think in Italian.
Lilita made risotto with red peppers and chicken for our first dinner, and I was overjoyed. Risotto is a creamy rice dish made by adding broth and wine to rice slowly, letting it absorb, and allowing the starch in the rice to make the dish creamy and almost smooth. It was so nostalgic because risotto is one of my family meals to make at home, and to have it authentically in Italy just reminded me of home so much. Needless to say, it was delicious, the chicken was wonderful, and the side dishes of salad, bread, and a small dessert of fresh fruit completed the meal.
Together at dinner, Lilita and Pedro asked Kelly and I about everything—where we lived, what our families were like, what television shows and actors we liked, how we lived in Syracuse, everything. After spending the first night with them, both Kelly and I can tell they are wonderful people and, considering they have been hosting families since 2001, we can safely say they know what they are doing taking in two students from the United States. Pedro was even nice enough to take the bus with us the next morning to school to make sure we knew the way. I’m glad we can count on them to help us if we need it, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better—and maybe cooking with Lilita!
FOTO: Villa Rossa, © Valentina Palladino 2011