Here, an entire life plays out within a few blocks. My uncle has spent his entire life in Rome. He stayed in his mother’s house until he got married and moved a ten-minute walk away. He raised his daughter, who then married and moved into an apartment across the street from her grandmother. He walks to his office every day and if he walks only fifteen minutes further, he can reach the Coliseum (although he’s only visited twice). His past, his livelihood, and his legacy all reside within a neighborhood in Rome.
In Italy, this is actually rather standard. Staying in close vicinity to family is almost expected whereas in the US, flying from the nest is the norm. Young Italians are certainly more independent than they were a few decades ago, but in many places, the strong familial connection remains; many students still commute to university from home or return there every weekend.
My father, who immigrated to the United States, is the odd one out.
This family world results in some interesting situations. The family I’m living with right now told me that it is really far away to travel to the grandparents, whom they often visit. “Far away” for them is forty minutes on the road. For me, one of my grandmothers is in the next state and another was an ocean away.
The beekeeping uncle lives upstairs of the grandparents; the cheese-making cousin is across the road; the hotel-owning great-uncle (who also makes pizza) is a few minutes away; the pig-caring cousin is the next town over; a great-aunt owns a restaurant on the lake… The list of family members close by goes on and on and the town is full of people carrying the same last names.
Having so much family so close can be a comforting connection or else a terrifying possibility. While sometimes it is difficult to see each other, I’m happy to have my own spread across the world.
Soon enough, I’ll get to see my own pocket of family back home.