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December was a great month.  It started off with a long weekend in Paris with Rachel (it’s an amazingly beautiful city), followed by another weekend with her in Rome.  And on the 21st, after four months abroad, I boarded a plane back to the USA to celebrate Christmas with my family back home.  As excited as I was to return and enjoy American culture and cuisine, I left Rome feeling as if I was finally starting to feel comfortable—or at least less at unease—after a hectic and occasionally frustrating first months here.

Back in Buffalo for a week and half—back in a world of a language I understood, full of family and friends I missed while away, food and grocery stores that were familiar, people I could relate to, and routines and norms I could seamlessly slip into—a sinking feeling started to set in.  I missed home—familiarity—more than I realized, yet the comfort I felt in being there was only fleeting.  Each day brought a nagging voice in the back of my head that counted down the days left until it was over and I had to return to Rome.

Needless to say, when I left my house for the airport at 8am on New Year’s Day, I was less than thrilled.  After a full day of travel, I would be landing at Rome at 7am on Jan 2 and heading straight into work from the airport (in retrospect, a bad idea).  On top of that, I would be returning to a home that was anything but.  My friend Giacomo, whose apartment I had been living in since I arrived in Rome in August, returned right before Christmas—meaning that I had to move.  Luckily, I was able to find a new place before I left for the holiday, and the day I returned, I would be moving in.

All of this combined to produce a pretty rough landing back in Rome. 

Exhausted and missing home, my second day back, I carried my two suitcases full of clothes to my new apartment.  It was a Friday night, so after meeting up with some friends for dinner, I returned to the apartment and tried to lock the door.  But it wouldn’t close—the door tines were jammed, and the key was stuck.  I couldn’t close my door, nor could I get the key out of the outside lock.  Frantically, I called my new landlord, a fellow co-worker at WFP.  Although I was able to get a hold of him, he was still on vacation with his family…in Switzerland…in the Alps.  He told me that, since it was late on a Friday night, there was nothing he could do.  No locksmiths would be working.  The best we could hope for, he said, was that someone might be able to come out the following morning—if he could find a locksmith that worked the weekends.  As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the door to unjam.  It would have to wait until morning.

I spent my first night in my new apartment with a half-open front door and a key stuck in it.  To make matters worse, the toilet wouldn’t stop running, and the only way to make it stop was to turn off the apartment’s water, thereby turning off the hot water heater—the apartment’s heating source. 

No toilet, no heat, open front door.  Welcome back to Rome.

In the days that followed, the door and toilet were fixed, but I resolved to go back to the drawing board and try to find a new apartment.  In addition to the aforementioned mechanical issues, the apartment’s mattress is very uncomfortable, the upstairs neighbors very loud, and the internet connection too weak to be able to reliably use Skype (my connection to the outside world!).  It took me about a week (with several jetlag-induced sleepless nights it felt much longer) to finally find a new place in Testaccio, a neighborhood right on the edge of the city center.  I’ll be moving in at the end of the month.

As tough as the past weeks have been, things are looking up.  Despite the change of apartments—and the pending move to a new one—I’m trying to settle back into my old routines, get back into the swings of things, and pick up where I left off before I left for the holiday. 

Each day, things get better.

I still do think about how nice and comfortable things felt back at home, and when things get particularly frustrating, I find myself counting down the months until I return back to the US in the end of July. But there is too much to see, too many new things to experience—in Rome, in Italy, in Europe—for me to wish this time away. 

December was a great month, and January—the rest of it at least—will be too.

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