This week's installment begins with a tale of the post office. Now, as you know, postal services are notorious. In America, for example, post offices are often used as venues for acts of revenge and reprisals against unappreciative employers. Here in Italy, the post office appears to be significantly less violent but infinitely less efficient. IF YOU CAN BELIEVE THAT.

Consider the following scene. I tootled off to the Poste Italiane to post a birthday card to my friend Bill from New York. There was exactly one of us in the queue: yours truly. Great, I thought, this should be quick.

Guido, the postal clerk, was not in a mood to hustle. Noticing that my letter needed to get to America, Guido first sighed, then stood, as if bracing himself for the journey ahead. He adjusted his leather trousers, stretched his arms above his head, rolled his head once or twice to the right, then once or twice to the left, cracked his knuckles and sat back down again. (This is a true story.)

At this stage, I smiled, eager not to appear obsessed with capitalist concepts like customer service and speed. Guido once again looked at the envelope, thought again about the distance it had to travel and made a snap decision: time to call Mama. I AM NOT KIDDING. I have a limited vocabulary at this stage but, even with my few words of Italiano, I pieced together the fact that Guido was calling home to instruct Mama Leone to make ravioli. There was much to-ing and fro-ing at that stage --- molto discussion about gnocchi --- until, finalemente, Guido prevailed.

Okay. Lunch sorted, Guido began to calculate the exact postage for the birthday card. Alas, it was all too much. Guido THEN took a break, mid-transaction, and called what I can only assume was his girlfriend or mistress. Lots of whispering into the phone. I think there was mention of a petto, a breast. Unfortunately, that word sounds remarkably similar to the word for fart --- peto --- so God only knows what was being discussed. I walk around thinking everyone is speaking of love when, in truth, they could be discussing gastroenterology. Or car maintenance.)

FINALLY, lunch and breast taken care of, Guido issued me with my stamp. He said, AND I DO NOT KID HERE, "E difficile, no?" (Translation: It's difficult, no?) I don't know about Guido, but I find computing foreign tax credits a tad on the difficile side. Navigating one's way through the labyrinthine streets of Ljubljana can be tough on the old noodle. But raising a stamp for international postage? Hm...clearly I have the wrong attitude towards work...)

This entire transaction took 25 minutes.

I therefore beg my friends to please understand if I fail to send birthday cards. I have decided NOT to spend my entire time here in Italy waiting for Guido to smooth his trousers and sort his lunch.

Truth be told, I find all of this extraordinarily amusing. And healthy, in a non-Western way. Sure, sure, Italy's part of the EU and all that. But, these people are relaxed. They have learned to enjoy life and live without worries.

For my part, I have learned to laugh at the phrase "Penso domani." Technically, that phrase means "Tomorrow, I think." In real life, however, it means: "Forget about it, you uptight foreign wanker. Have a cappuchino and relax. The plane will leave/your photos will be ready/the tickets will arrive/the performance will begin/ etc., on some random day and at some random hour, and there's nothing you can do to influence the decision. Penso domani...."

This week, I am getting ready for my total immersion Italian classes and rounding the bend on Book Two of War and Peace. I've signed up for a wine tasting class (eight weeks' worth of lessons on the various Italian regions), an intense cooking class and four private lessons on Sauces & Soups. In between all of that, I plan to revise my infamous novel.

Sometimes, late at night or first thing in the morning, I lie in bed and think about my life. And then I pinch myself. Is this really me, I ask? I mean, last year at this time I was living in Shoreditch, whinging about the Central Line, toiling away for the world’s largest broadcaster and thinking ending a relationship that had run its course two years earlier. Now here I am: living in Rome, mastering Romesco sauce and swigging a 1998 Montalcino. I’m talking about Bernini and Raphael like I knew the guys and I’m joining into conversations about the historical inaccuracy of “Gladiator.” With gusto.

Of course, why the hell not? Here's to dreams coming true, adventures presenting themselves and spirits unshaken and undeterred.

xx A.


© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004