“So what is it like?” she asked me as we kneaded the pasta dough during our month-in-advance-scheduled cooking class at my B&B. I was giving the group of four a class on my Emilianese grandmother’s ravioli recipe. Lots of roasted veal, spinach and wine were involved. The kitchen smelled like heaven itself. But one of my guests wanted to know. “What’s it like to pick up and leave America and start this?”
The atmosphere of preparing food together in my kitchen always brings up interesting conversation. I choose my words carefully when people ask me about what it’s like to do what I do. First of all, I always have too much chaos going on in my mind. My first scrambled thoughts were:
Should I give it to her from the creative side?
Should I give it to her from the being-lost-in-a-foreign-culture-and-not-knowing-what-the-hell-was-going-on-for years side?
Or maybe it should be the vacationing-in-Italy-is-nothing-like-living-in-Italy side?
There was always the guest-make-all-the-backbreaking-work-worth-it side.…
My answer was simple. ”It ain’t boring,” I smiled as Nonna’s pasta rolled under the pads of my thumb. The truth is, this experience has smashed me, thrashed me, consumed me, frightened me to the point that I have, many times, been on my knees asking anyone who might be in charge to tell me why I had to put myself through this. And it’s helped me, shaped me, made me grow up and take responsibility for myself in ways that just weren’t required before.
Being an expat who has come to a relatively unknown place to start a business that relies heavily on other people knowing about it is, well, in retrospect, insane. Especially when you consider things like language. Culture. Snow that was not mentioned by the realtor. Mud that went unnoticed during the house hunting process. I did this with a partner who, for all intents and purposes, is a pretty positive guy but not a person I would describe as mechanically inclined.
There was an awful lot of flailing around in the water before we got our bearings. One of the most interesting things was that we, my husband and I, saw each other stripped of every conceivable part of the ego. It was like it was my soul and his soul and that’s all there was. The fears were palpable, but so were the soothing words to quell them. There were the frustrations and self-recriminations, but there were the moments of, “I know, I know” to help them pass. There were years of “how am I supposed to be creative when I don’t even know who I am anymore because nothing in my world feels remotely familiar or safe?” but there were also small, baby steps of moving forward and there was, as there always is, the kindness of strangers at critical, difficult moments.
For me, all of this has lead to a kind of creativity that is so raw, so basic and so real that sometimes it hurts to touch it. I writhe away from ego when confronted by it in others. I look for the spark of soul in everyone I meet. I feel like I have fought a war, inside of myself, for the right to lead a simple, creative life in a place which nurtured me and challenged me at the same time. I am less scared and more sure of what is important to me than I ever was.
So, what’s it like to pick up and leave America and do this? What did I need to know before I tried it?
I needed to know nothing. I learned everything I needed as I went along. Throwing myself into an ice cold pool of risk and reward will forced me to be dreadfully, blissfully honest with myself. I found out what I’m bad at. I found out what I’m good at. I found out what my limits are and I am learning, the hard way. to respect them.
So here we are, with a three room stylish B&B in a hill overlooking Italian wine country with a beautiful kitchen for cooking lessons, a pottery studio to make the breakfast plates and a wonderful wine cellar full of bottles from artisan Piemontese producers where guests can come and feel Italy from its warmest and most welcoming side. In an atmosphere created by us and no one else. A place where people can feel safe, where there is empathy and understanding and love. What it took to get here is in the past. My heart and soul are really learning to look forward and smile at what is.
Because what is is beautiful. And fleeting. As it always is.