Remember way back in kindergarten when we had those learning exercises and had to circle the shape, object or animal that didn’t belong? For example, there would be a row of four animals, three bunnies and one duck and you were meant to circle the duck. Well, my time here has made me realize that I am that duck and will always be that duck here in Urbino.
I have tried to implement some routine into my days by going on daily morning walks. We have been tucked up here in less than romantic dorms (read: Rats might run from this place screaming! Although now I feel obligated to say that the dorm food is the one saving grace, always fresh, tasty and healthy if you, like me, count liters of olive oil as good for you). So I walk up this windy path that drops you down into town through a back entrance. On weekdays, I wave and say and an American “hi” to Cesare, the owner of 3Piante Restaurant, who is also out for some morning exercise. Then I wave to Willie at Ragna d’Oro before entering through the Roman archway going down Via Battisti. My timing is always such that Francesco, the barista at Dolci Di Battista, lifts up the metal gate in time to say, “Ciao” and smile. He knows I’ll be back later to the pastelleria later that day (probably more than once) to enjoy a creamy, sweet macchiato and homemade gelato. (They let you put in up to three flavors in a piccolo serving and any of my family who shares the Grijalva “must try a bit of everything, especially if it is on your plate gene” knows how awesome this is! I think the only better way to enjoy my latest favorite combination of pistacchio, yogurt e yogurt varaido would be to swim in it – naked). So after I say hi, I walk into the main plaza and decide how best to get lost in this little Italian town.
Today was particularly wonderful because it is Sunday and Urbino is quiet at in the morning hours on this day of rest. Urbino is a maze of narrow, shady streets with windy, brick walls that force you to turn left and right again, up and down steep inclines. I see a shady passageway to my left I have not yet traversed and decide to see where it leads me. If I hit a dead end, I know just to look for sunlight.
“Buon journo, sigorina,” a petite, wrinkled nonna says to me as she sweeps her doorstep in a simple housedress, blue apron with white ruffles and worn, black shoes. There are few other sightings of the people of Urbino today. It is just me and the cool air between the Roman walls until I run into another another nonna walking her dachshund. As I reach the top of my favorite steep street, I look for the orange, long-haired cat always there to greet me the foyer to my left and, to my right, see a local priest, dressed in formal black pants and jacket with a small gold cross pinned to his lapel, walking to church. We nod to each other and then I turn left to take the steps over the whispering bridge in front of the Palazzo Ducale and cross over to a passageway that leads you down to the city’s entrance. As I walk down the stairs, I pass under a kitchen window and smell the sweet, natural smell of tomato sauce already put to simmer in preparation for pranzo. I exit on the same cobblestone road and go under the same high, stone archway that Michelangelo and Raffael graced in search of art mentors and patrons, as well as their love of local La Marche foods like Casciotta D’Urbino. On my way back to the dorm, I turn to look back at the magnificent pillars of the Palazzo Ducale and can see the Duomo rising up behind it. That must have been a magnificent sight for visitors arriving on horseback from Rome.
Leaving Urbino is bittersweet. I wish I could say that I had truly immersed myself in not just Italian, but also Le Marche culture and language. I wish I had been able to respond “Buongiorno” to the nonna with style and grace instead of a thick, fumbling American accent. I wish I had known the name of the dachhound and stopped to pet him. I wish the priest had known to say, “God be with you, Aimee” instead of just nodding politely. And I wish I had been invited to partake in the spaghetti lunch with that family. But if all these Urbinians are the bunnies, I am the duck. I am wearing Nikes, running tech clothes and a hot pink iPod while I carry a water bottle in my hand. You have to circle me, because no matter how intimately I get to know the streets of Urbino, I will never belong here.
I could try to be like Frances Mayes and make a home for myself under the Tuscan sun, but my home is in under the SoCal sun. I came here to get lost in a little piece of Italy that has remained relatively unknown by tourists. Ironically, the purpose of The Urbino Project is to generate tourism and entice Americans to come walk these same streets in which I find solace. Secretly, I hope that Americans will still think of Urbino as too far from Rome, Florence or Venice to bother visiting. I hope to never see the day when we have to circle the bunny.