Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finding my tribe

I'd like to tell you that all kinds of exciting things have happened to me lately. Exotic, vacation-like happenings under sunny skies in idyllic locations accompanied by a string quartet and photographed by a professional.

The truth is a little less exciting. I cycle most days, which I know for many people is in fact an activity reserved for weekends and vacations, but for me is just another day. Yesterday I rode in the rain. The setting was quite pretty, but when the cold wind is blowing rainwater into places that prefer to be warm and/or dry it's hard to truly appreciate the scenery. When alone I sing to myself, which probably sounds like a string quartet being tortured. My phone takes crappy pictures, which doesn't stop me from taking them or sharing them but they aren't really frame worthy and National Geographic won't be calling me anytime soon begging me to do a feature on Tuscany. Too bad for them.

But that doesn't mean life isn't exciting. Along with all the cycling, eating and wine drinking I've been doing there was a momentous occasion.

Last week I met a new friend.

Yes, that last statement required it's own paragraph, because friendships are hard to come by. I live in a city divided. There are The Italians, who are a tight-knit group of people staunchly trying to maintain a lifestyle while being completely over-run by The Tourists, who race around town taking pictures of laundry and food in their quest to "really experience Tuscany" and are being mocked by The Ex-pats, who are in Italy anywhere from a semester to an eternity and are too intellectual or cool to show how absolutely floored they are to be here.

I've never been cool. I'm not Italian. I'm not a tourist. I kind of orbit around all these groups connecting when I can. The rest of the time I amuse myself with things that don't require others. Reading, writing, drawing, walking around town or cycling around the countryside. Trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. If growing up is a given or merely an alternative. But that's a story for another day.

So, meeting a woman who doesn't fit neatly into these categories, is close to my own age and has many of the same likes and dislikes as I do was surprising and refreshing and serendipitous. Lately I've been thinking about the fact that when I left Minnesota I left behind my tribe. My apologies to the people who hate that term. That small group of women who I had instant access to and shared many of my same thoughts and feelings and desires, or if they didn't share them tried honestly to appreciate and understand my viewpoint, were suddenly thousands of miles and seven hours behind me. Since they were a relatively new addition to my life, I didn't think I'd miss that experience too much, but I was wrong. In part because after four years here I'm still kind of in a state of becoming.

Here, as an American, I spend a lot of time explaining other Americans or American culture or (yikes) politics to other people. I never just get to be American. When I am it's like I'm some kind of entertaining sideshow. So I'm a little of myself, and a little Italian and a little Swedish. But not so much of any one culture as to offend the others. Believe me when I say that no matter how much another culture might idolize the American dream, when you're sitting at their kitchen table they prefer you to be a little less American even as they ask you a million questions about being American.

Other Americans want to know why I came here, mostly so they can tell me why their position, ideas and inspirations are more lofty than mine. (one woman had the audacity to ask me why I came here, then told me my answer was wrong. "Can't you come up with a better way to phrase it?" Um, no.) We're so different we might as well come from different countries. But always, with everyone, I am first an American and then any other attributes they feel comfortable with.

So to meet someone who didn't immediately try to make me feel pitiful or angry or quaint was very nice. Someone who views me as another woman, not a specific nationality. I'm looking forward to a friendship unhampered by reciprocal invitations and hostess gifts and polite conversation, and instead fueled by shared passions for cycling, men who cycle, food and wine and living in the moment, wherever that moment might be. My tribe is shaping up nicely.