A typical day in a small Italian town

THUMB ITALYIt's 9 a.m. and I'm already sweating. Waking up to the sounds of children playing soccer, a fruit salesman yelling through a microphone, and old women conversing across their balconies is the norm in Albi, Italy. After I stretch my sunburnt arms, I roll out of the rock hard bed that I am sharing with my mother, father, and younger sister. I slip on my navy blue Toms, the perfect shoe for a 17-year-old Canadian girl visiting Italy. The shoes have a hole that my big toe slips through, but they are the only shoes that allow me to walk on the rough cobblestone streets of Italy. To get breakfast, I have to leave the house, walk down the stone hill and around the corner to find the kitchen my grandmother cooked in for many years.

In her place is my aunt. She runs over and gives me a big hug and kiss on my forehead every single morning as she hands me a cornetto, which is an Italian croissant filled with chocolate. Before I can even blink, a glass of milk with a little bit of espresso is prepared for me. The milk doesn't taste like milk at all and more like a mix between water and pancake mix, but I take in anyways to avoid offending her – the biggest shame is turning down any sort of refreshment from Italian women.

The kitchen has brown and orange tiled floors, a chestnut wood table with matching chairs, and a light brown suede loveseat in the left corner. Across from the surprisingly comfortable loveseat is a white stove with multiple stains from the hundreds of meals cooked in and on it, an empty aluminum sink, a fridge that used to be white, and a washing machine that ruins all of my clothes. As I look around, my grandfather, uncles, aunts, cousins, mother, father, and sister are surrounding me. At 9 a.m., dripping with sweat, sunburnt, and exhausted, I feel whole. I'm so blessed to call them my family.

My family's town is called Albi, Catanzaro. It is in the middle of nowhere. The only things surrounding the town are moss, trees, and roads to larger cities. Albi is not important or big enough to be on the map of Italy, but it is mapped on my heart. Albi is home to 14 pigs, five donkeys, 25 chickens, and roughly 1,000 people – nine of which are my family. Regardless of how busy the day is, nothing comes between making it to the kitchen for every meal of the day – no excuses. Family time is so important, especially when it's only for one month every five years.

After breakfast, we all separate to get ready for the day. It's 10:30 a.m. Showering would be nice, but there's not enough water for everyone in the town and even if I did, it would be too cold for it to even be enjoyable. Plus, the door doesn't lock and one of my family members might walk in on me – again. Five minutes go by, and I'm ready for the day. It's a waste of time to do my hair because the humidity is going to ruin it anyway, so I let it do whatever it feels like doing. Hair straighteners and makeup become a distant memory in Albi.

There are only a handful of things to do in the 28 square kilometre town. The choices include: sitting on the steps watching the old folk gossip about the "Americans" who are visiting as they inspect me like I'm under a microscope, going to the pizzeria that doesn't actually sell pizza, or the "Bar di Stoffa" (which isn't the actual name of the bar but the nickname of some Italian who owned it years and years ago and that stuck). The last option is teaching my six-year-old cousin how to count to 10 in English. After weighing the options, becoming an English teacher is the best choice. My favourite little boy in the entire world, who I've nicknamed "Sasa" is the best student.

EDIT ITALYThe star of the show, Sasa, on his daily adventure.

Photo by Maria Dardano

"Wan, two, tree, fourrr, eh fiva, seeks, sevena, eight, nina, eh ten." The three foot tall blonde boy repeats this sequence over a dozen times and looks up at me through his square, blue rimmed glasses, which cover his big brown eyes. He then insists I record him on my iPod Touch so he can watch himself. The repetitiveness doesn't bother me at all, because he's the only person in the entire world that will never get sick of me, and the feeling is mutual. After our short film is recorded, he grabs the iPod, and the device itself puts him in complete awe. The video plays, and a big gap-toothed smile appears on his face as he watches himself speak English.

After he's mastered counting to 10, he insists we get some gum and then play with his Hot Wheels – a daily routine. It's 11:30 a.m. He pulls me by my hand and as we go up stone hill, under the stone arch, and up to the main street, which is also made of stone. Across the street is Rinnucio's, the only grocery store in the town. As we enter the small shop, Rinnucio himself greets us, turns to me, and routinely, he asks, "Maria, when are you going to bring a nice Italian boy from Albi back to America?" I respond with the same answer every single time. "There's only old people and children here, Rinnucio." He laughs, grabs a pack of gum, and gifts it to Sasa. Before I can comprehend, Sasa is pulling me to the next stop.

With no fear of a car coming, Sasa and I walk in the middle of the street. To the left of us is a little stone house with an assortment of flowers on the window. Inside that little house is a little old lady named Conciettina. She sells cigarettes, gum, and beer to anyone – even Sasa. My grandfather is always inside sitting on his designated chair exchanging pleasantries and chatting with the folk of the town. In front of Conciettina's is a small bench that old ladies sit and gossip on all day. Next to the bench, respectively, there is a hair salon, a store that sells only fridges and magazines, and the next stop on our adventure: the steps to Sasa's house. He yanks me up a set of light lemon coloured granite steps to a white sticker label that reads "Constantino Pullano" in black marker. Constantino is the name of my uncle, Sasa's father. He swings open the chocolate brown door and runs inside towards a huge light blue bin filled with an assortment of Hot Wheels . As he is sifting through the bin, my uncle orders us to make our way back to the kitchen, as it is almost lunchtime.

The three of us walk back down the slightly cracked granite steps, past the fridge and magazine store, the hair salon, and Conciettina's. The street is empty, as lunchtime is the same time for everyone in Albi. We walk back down the stone hill, pass under the stone arch, and turn around the corner to the place where everyone we love is waiting in the kitchen. The smell of tomato sauce simmering and pasta boiling is enough to bring the entire family together. It's noon. Everyone gathers around the chestnut wooden table while my aunt and mother serve the family a big plate of homemade pasta – just like my grandmother used to make.

Hot Wheels will have to wait, Sasa. It's time for lunch.

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