I was born in Italy. My parents are both Italian. I am scientifically proven to be a pastivore, hence I have an Italian physiology. We always went back to Italy, for Christmases in Ravenna, and summer vacations at the beach, and special events, and sometimes for Easter, too. We went back because we’ve lived in quite a few countries in the last thirty years; but I have lived in Italy for about one third of those thirty, during very different times of my life.
The first time was when I was born. In Ravenna. Lots of people were there, and I don’t remember much. Nothing, really.
Then I went back, when I was a bit older and my sister was toddling around. I was in middle school, and lived in Rome.
When I could finally chose for myself, I decided that travelling around wasn’t for me. Nope, I was thoroughly sick and tired of moving, moving, moving. Of changing houses, of changing friends, of changing culture and food and traditions, of not knowing where we’d go next. I was going to stop, and never move for the rest of my life, and since I knew what I liked, I headed towards the only place that had remained constant throughout the years – Ravenna. I chose to go to University in a city 90mins away by train, and came back home to Ravenna every evening. It was familiar, it was comfortable, it was perfect. Everyone knew me, I knew everyone, the roads, the shops, the events, the food….
After four years I was nearly hysterical: I had to get out. I. HAD. TO. MOVE. It was in me, that itch, I just couldn’t stay any longer! And so the travelling began again: Torino, Evora, Windhoek, Cordoba, Madrid… But that’s a different story. Because although I had to leave the suffocating place that I had thought was going to be my permanent, forever residence, I still feel that Ravenna is my home. And the one person that has been there the whole time is Marta. La Marta, literally “The Marta”, with the Italian article before the name as is custom in Romagna (the region Ravenna is in).
Marta was there during my four chaotic years of university.
Marta was there every Christmas, Easter, summer and special event.
Marta was there when I was born.
Marta was there way, way before I was born, too.
Marta is the help. In every sense of the word, every way you could possibly imagine. She was born on the 9th of January a long, long time ago somewhere along the Rubicone, one of many siblings in a typically poor Italian family in post World War I Europe. I remember she told me about her first job, as a friend (a lady-in-waiting, if you will) to some rich girl in Milan. Her parents sent her there, and she told me how scared she was of the bedside table lamps. Because she had never seen electricity before. She was eight.
Then, at seventeen, she found my grandparents, who needed someone to work in the house – cleaning, babysitting, cooking and general housekeeping. My father was twelve at the time, my uncle seven – t was 1960 and she’s been there since. My father and uncle found girlfriends (although everyone has always had a soft spot for Marta) got married and moved out, had children. Had me. My grandparents died. The house was gutted and remade, completely. I turned thirty this year. And Marta is still there: my constant, my rock, my home.
Without her, going back to Ravenna would only be half as perfect.
So my first polaroid photo is of her, La Marta, the day after Christmas this year, with our beautiful fake Christmas tree (that, incidentally, has been with us for more than ten years), in my grandparents house.