Life has thrown me a curveball.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to do next.
My plan had been to live in Florence, my favorite city in the world. I rented a very charming, rustically decorated flat there. The flat is right in the center of Santa Croce, in an old stone building that the Medici family probably built, where the roof beams in the bathroom still have their original decorative paint from the 1600s. I was there until midway through December, writing all day and going out for aperitivo and wine every night.
Then I found out something I probably should have looked into before.
American citizens can only stay in the Schengen area, which roughly corresponds to the European Union, for 90 days at a time unless they enroll at a European university, have a European family member, or can otherwise prove they have a good reason to stick around.
To prove that, you’ve got to visit the consulate of the country you want to live in (in my case, Italy) in the place from which you file your taxes (in my case Texas, where my family lives). So two weeks ago I hopped on a plane to Houston, where I’d make my case to the Italian consulate.
It turned out that I loved Houston, but was not a big fan of the consulate. Houston is a gigantic city full of gigantic buildings that are all ten miles apart. It’s got beautiful parks and one of the best science museums I’ve ever seen, and all the clubs play dirty south hip-hop that everyone knows all the words to, and whiskey comes in full-sized Coke glasses and there’s plenty of room to dance. The Italian consulate is a tiny office full of annoyed bureaucrats who look at you like you’ve got to be kidding them, and say that you need to own real estate and/or have at least $40,000 in your bank account in order to be even considered for a long-term elective residence visa.
So that’s that. The good news is that after 90 days out of Italy, I can come back for another 90 if I can find it in my heart to forgive them. The question is what to do in the meantime.
First I flew to Lubbock Texas to spend Christmas with my family. Lubbock feels like a town that doesn’t really want to be there, but whose people can’t be bothered to leave. Most of the buildings are dull brown, because dust gets in everywhere and people gave up trying to keep them any other color. The younger generation complain that there’s nothing fun to do in Lubbock, but that all other cities are too expensive. The older generation complains that the younger generation have lost touch with their roots, then go back to comparing their hunting knives.
Over a series of beef-based dinners, I talked through travel possibilities with my family. I seriously considered Papua New Guinea, where they’re literally hunting and burning witches right now, but people were very intent on talking me out of it. My mom suggested someplace in the Arabian area, but that seems like a lot of conservatism and fried chicken, and I’ve already spent too much time in the South. Two different people have told me I need to see Nairobi, because it’s a lot like an oil boom town in the old wild west. I’ve found a company in Mongolia that will rent you a motorcycle for 12 euro a day and just let you ride around in the wilderness. In New Zealand there’s a cave filled with tiny worms that glow blue at night.
None of those places are Florence. A few weeks ago I posted a big “Moved to Florence” life event on Facebook and reaped a load of Likes and jealous comments. Now I’ll be eating those words. Or at least half of them, because I can only stay in Florence for 90 days out of every 180.
In the meantime, I’m holed up in Lubbock, waiting out a winter storm so intense that national weather reporters have descended on us. Once this blows over, I’m headed out to L.A. to link up with some old friends for New Year’s Eve. Then it’s back to Florence for the few days I have left on my tourist stamp, to clear out my charming rustically decorated flat and pick a new destination.
If you’ve been reading to the end in the hope of an observation or life lesson that brings this all together, I don’t have one. I really, truly have no idea what I’m going to do next.
My dad told me, “Well, just do something. If you like it, keep doing it. If not, do something else.”
All I can do tonight is write — which I like, and also have to do, because writing is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.