Fighting the good fight: reflections on being an English language teacher in Italy in the aftermath of Covid.

Thursday 23 September, 2021

Last Saturday evening, driving through the city of Lecce, I saw a big billboard advertising the services of the English language school: the school I am going to start working for in about ten days’ time. There was some inspirational photographic image of photogenic students, absorbed in some language-learning activity, and below it in a kind of hip but approachable font, the slogan, “Never stop learning”.

I could be cynical about the commercial nature of appealing to people’s desire to improve themselves through education: to tell you the truth, I am a bit cynical about it – the marketing side, not education itself. I did a degree and a master’s degree, both times in the field of American literature, and though the university in no way guaranteed that a good career would follow, that was the implication.

Okay, it was clear these were not the most commercially oriented degrees one could be doing, but the idea was that the resulting qualifications would be so impressive to potential employers that it didn’t matter all that much what you had studied.  I bought into that, because I was enjoying my course so much and didn’t want to recognize the fact that I was doing something basically irrelevant to all but a handful of people in the world outside my academic retreat. I had a considerable shock when I found, at the end of those lengthy halcyon days, my former tutors were no longer replying to my emails and my extensive reading of the transcendentalists, realists and modernists of American literature was of absolutely no use to anyone advertising a job.  Since then, I have met people who did degrees with more practical applications – psychology, law, engineering – who also found themselves without a way into those professions, or a way to make secure careers in them – some of those people are now English language teachers.  

And that is how education is marketed – with the implication that by doing a particular course, whether a six-week training course or a four-year degree, your future is assured – you won’t ever have to worry about finding a good job (not just “good”, but “satisfying”), or about getting a mortgage, or simply paying the rent on a decent flat in a respectable part of town, or buying groceries.

By signing up for an education, the sales pitch goes, you are building yourself a house of bricks that no big bad wolf can huff and puff and blow down. There’s a “through a mirror darkly” implication too – if you don’t sign up, well, your house is made of sticks, or straw, or maybe even something nonbiodegradable like polystyrene coffee cups– good luck when a wolf or a hurricane comes along.

There is of course a value to education, but it is not automatically a market value. An advanced level of education does not guarantee that you will not find yourself at some time unemployed, poor, disregarded, disrespected, desperate. It may give you the self-respect and analytical skills to deal with these situations better than if you hadn’t had an advanced level of education – I think it has for me, and that has made it worthwhile. This is not how education is marketed and promoted, however – it if was, it would be for a very “niche” market, as they say. Existentialists, perhaps.

But to return to this billboard, when I saw it, I did not think something cynical, I thought instead that I had a responsibility toward any hopeful spirit who had read that billboard and consequently registered for a course that I will be teaching.

It is easy to become demoralized in the English language teaching profession. It is true you can live in foreign countries for extended periods – from six months to a lifetime, depending on your desire and the circumstances – and you can travel the world, finding a job to support you in each different place.

It sounds wonderful, I know; and it can be, for a few years, but if you are in it as your main career, there is a considerable downside. The salary is at subsistence level – the current average salary for an English language teacher in Europe is between 1100 euro and 1300 euro per month. As a single person you can, depending on where you live in Europe, just about survive on that, but you won’t save anything, unless you live like a church mouse. Nor could you think about raising a family, unless your relationship partner has a better paid job than yours. There are, with very few exceptions, no benefits offered to teachers by English language schools – no pension plan, no health insurance, no incremental raise in salary if you stay longer than a year. The employment contracts are usually for eight or nine months of the year, from the beginning of October to the end of May or June – in the summer it’s up to you to find a way to support yourself, and there is hardly any work available in this field in summer – save for working in summer camps, which is not to all tastes – in fact, unless you’re a 25-year -old sports enthusiast who is happy to get four hours of sleep each night, and likes eating all their meals in a canteen surrounded by kids, I don’t really recommend it as a way to spend your summer.

The profession is not unionized, nor can you expect much solidarity from your colleagues should you tangle with management. Some teachers are just there – wherever “there” might be – to have fun no matter what, and don’t care much about pay or conditions, because they are not planning to remain in the game for too long anyway. Why should they get involved in someone else’s dispute? Someone they hardly know and whose issue is not their issue?

Without a union to support teachers… management has just about all the cards in their favour.

Others who might be more sympathetic or in agreement with your point of contention are aware that, without a union to support teachers, or any formal complaints system involving third-party mediation (as with more regulated companies or organisations), management has just about all the cards in their favour. English language schools can always find teachers from somewhere, and their attitude towards teachers who ask for better pay or better terms of employment is, in most cases, “take it or leave it”. They’ll probably also let you know, in various ways, they find it rather distasteful and naïve of you to have asked. What profession do you think you’re in?

If you’re trying to build a life around this line of work, you can start to feel, after a few decades at it, like the ageing boxer played by Stacy Keach in the John Huston film “Fat City” (1972)…

For teachers in their twenties, doing it for up to five years for the travel experience, or at the other end of the spectrum, teachers who had a good career beforehand, then decided to go into this profession at retirement age, to have a few interesting experiences, none of this is much of an issue. However, if you’re trying to build a life around this line of work, you can start to feel, after a few decades at it, like the ageing boxer played by Stacy Keach in the John Huston film Fat City (1972) – an amicable gun-for-hire, a “good sort” everybody is fairly well disposed towards, but nobody really loves or cares much about, never advancing in either his profession or his personal life, and with a future ahead that doesn’t bear contemplation (Keach’s character, like many English language teachers, avoids such contemplation by getting wasted on booze periodically).

Stacy Keach, left, with Jeff Bridges, in the John Huston film “Fat City” (1972)

When you see… they are enjoying the lesson, it’s a great feeling.

Your mind can be taken off all this, at least for a while, by an appreciative student, or class of students. When you have a one-to-one lesson with student who wants to learn, or a lesson with a class of interested students who meet you halfway or more, and you see that you are facilitating some learning, and they are enjoying the lesson, it’s a great feeling. It doesn’t even feel like work, sometimes. In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing; but you are, at least, for those ninety minutes, succeeding in your role and helping people to achieve their goals, and the effect can be, well, reassuring for a teacher (at least, this teacher) dealing with feelings of the pointlessness of their own existence.

However, we don’t always encounter these kinds of students. English language teaching is not secondary-school teaching – it doesn’t pay nearly as well, have the benefits like government pensions and a year-round salary, and it isn’t nearly as tough. We don’t have to face moody teenagers for five hours a day, do all the paperwork that comes with a public-sector job, and perhaps worst of all, deal with parents who feel that the reason their kids are failing in their formative tests must be due to the school, or more precisely their teacher, failing them (as opposed to them needing a bit more monitoring at home as to their engagement in class and completion of homework, for instance). On our training courses, the CELTA or TESOL, we are taught mainly how to teach motivated students, and in fact our “guinea pigs” on which we develop our teaching skills are adults who are so keen to learn English they come to free classes where they know the teacher is still qualifying (though to be fair, they usually get a good lesson, even if it is delivered with a certain nervousness).

In a typical English language teaching week in a European country, you usually have some classes, or one-to-one lessons, with motivated adult learners. But most of your lessons are with school-age children – the children the secondary-school teachers have been teaching all day, enrolled in extra lessons after school to learn English, sometimes against their wishes – often against their wishes. So, although we don’t have the responsibilities that secondary-school teachers have, we don’t escape the moody teenagers who don’t want to be in our class.

The right way to deal with this is with a shrug and tolerance – what the hell, you can’t expect every class to go like an aria, just do your job, try your best, and at the end say goodnight, and go home – or to the bar. But over the last year, not having much of a life of my own, it got me down. English language teaching is predicated on the idea that students must be interested in one topic or other. English language textbooks tend to recycle a small number of topics with the broadest possible appeal – food, travel, friendship, shopping, sports, celebrities; you try to relate this to your students’ lives and preferences: what kind of food do you like best? Where is the most interesting place you’ve been? What sports do you enjoy playing or watching?

Planets Jupiter (L) and Saturn are seen during the great conjunction from the Griffith Observatory on the same day as the winter solstice, December 21, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. – The great conjunction refers to the astronomical alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, the closest for nearly 400 years. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP)

…perhaps demoralized by the restrictions created by the Covid regulations, most students would not get enthusiastic about or interested in anything…

Usually, this gets some enthusiasm – everybody likes being asked about themselves, young people especially. But this past academic year, from October 2020 to June 2021, perhaps demoralized by the restrictions created by the Covid regulations, most students would not get enthusiastic about or interested in anything. I felt that this might be more a kind of collective depression than resentment of being in class, and I  recall trying to inspire conversations based on current events that were not Covid-related, and that were, I suppose, focused on the more fascinating aspects of living on Earth: on 13 December 2020, the new eruption of the volcano  Mount Etna, of which spectacular photos had appeared in all international news sources; on 21 December 2020, the arrival of the Great Conjunction, when the planet Jupiter “overtakes” Saturn in its orbit, an occurrence that happens approximately once every twenty years; but they showed barely an interest in either subject. In the end, there seemed nothing to do but just accept that there was not going to be much brightness in these lessons, and just get through them, delivering the content.

Mount Etna eruption, December 2020 (stock photo, no credit)

It became a massive psychological effort just to take a shower in the morning.

By the end of the last term, I had lost all my enthusiasm for teaching. I did my best by the students and worked hard to help as many of them pass their exams as possible, but I had come to feel that there was nothing to be said for the work other than that it paid the bills and gave me a daily routine essential for keeping one’s feet on the ground. I’ve been looking into ways to get into a more elevated position in the profession, and other possible work outside of it. This summer was for me a summer of depression. It became a massive psychological effort just to take a shower in the morning. A feeling of despair and self-loathing and paranoia overwhelmed me.

At some point, the better part of my nature fought back. I started the blog you’re now reading. I carried through the activities of moving forward with my life even if my heart wasn’t yet in it. I started an online course from the British Council, specifically about motivating learners. It began two days ago, on 21 September, only a fortnight before most English language teachers start the autumn term, and the timing of it makes me wonder if the problems I experienced with student motivation are problems that many other teachers in my profession also experienced, and I wonder if many teachers too are hoping to turn things around in this next academic year. I wonder if many of them also felt depressed by the problems of encountering indifference to the task of learning in their classrooms.

Even before I saw the billboard… I had been thinking about the need to approach this new academic year in a positive way…

Even before I saw the billboard with the photogenic learners and the slogan in hip but approachable font that read, “Never stop learning”, I had been thinking about the need to approach this new academic year in a positive way. I am still looking for ways to get higher in the profession or develop other career strands, because if I don’t, I don’t know where I’m going to end up. But, for now, this is my profession, and for the sake of self-respect, I need to do my best for the students that, at least in some cases, might be coming to me with a desire to learn, or if not a desire, some spark of curiosity or intelligence or ambition that might do as well as desire.

“If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself” – Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” (1954)

As we seem to be coming out of global crisis… the role of a teacher, even a simple languages teacher, seems to have some more meaning in it.

As we seem to be coming out of the worst phase of a global crisis that left many people dead before their time, and many others bereaved, the role of a teacher, even a simple languages teacher, seems to have some more meaning in it. The Covid pandemic seems to me something like a war that the world has been through – the casualties certainly justify the comparison – and I’ve recently been thinking a lot of a film I haven’t seen in a long time, The Seven Samurai (d. Akira Kurosawa, 1954). In the film, a group of samurai who have lost their master and have become mercenaries for hire, rediscover a sense of responsibility to others in helping a village to protect itself from marauding bandits. As an older samurai tells a younger one, “This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.” I’m not protecting others, but a teacher helps others, which might hold some comparative value. Perhaps also by helping others, even in a small way, you also save yourself. I’m kind of counting on it.

Review: “Vive Le Cinema” film festival, final night, Saturday 18 September 2021, at the Chiostro del Rettorato, Piazza Tancredi, city of Lecce.

Sunday 19 September 2021

It was strikingly clear on my Saturday evening walk through the streets of Lecce that life has returned to something like normality again, including the feeling of vibrancy and elation you get in any good city or town on a Saturday night when the weather is temperate, and people feel free to associate with one another without fear or anxiety.

As of September 2021, at least ninety percent of the population of Puglia is vaccinated against Coronavirus with a “first jab”, and approximately eighty percent have had both vaccination jabs, excluding children under the age of twelve who are exempted (links for the official governmental sources for this information are provided at the end of this article). The introduction in August of stricter rules related to the “Green Pass”, which require people to show proof of vaccination to be allowed into any indoor public space, including open-air events, spurred most people who were sitting on the fence about vaccination to get it done.

There was a palpable feeling of relief last night…

The result of this is that people are socialising with more confidence and in a more relaxed way. There was a palpable feeling of relief last night– a great deal of laughter, an effervescent tone in conversation, and less concern about maintaining physical distance. I felt a little like I had missed a meeting, or maybe two meetings – my perception of the Covid situation was considerably darker, but I was glad to be surprised.

I have always loved going to the cinema, and to film festivals especially. Going to the Vive Le Cinema festival I had an experience something like continuity with other phases of my life. Lately, I have had an unsettling feeling of discontinuity with the temporality of the world and the temporality of my own life. Trying to be logical, I could attribute this to not having had the opportunity to see old friends from England or travel outside of Italy for two years. But I feel also it is something more a matter of the spirit – I am finding it difficult to feel a connection to the world as it is, which I feel, superstitiously perhaps, is related to my trouble feeling a connection to my former self.

I am talking here of a feeling of joy, of freedom from care, that comes from “being in the moment”

My former self is younger of course, and no doubt improved through the soft-focus lens of memory, but the thing I want most from him is that ability – an ability that comes I think from a certain feeling of assurance about one’s relevancy to the present – to be completely engaged in the present. I am talking here of a feeling of joy, of freedom from care, that comes from “being in the moment”. Film screenings and film festivals seem to be the only thing I have experienced in recent years that give me something like that experience, that sense of continuity with my past and – perhaps because of the feeling of substance that feeling engenders – connection with the present. Sharing a space with two-hundred or possibly more people, many dressed to the nines, in front of a cinema screen, with the company of a friend, in the beautiful surroundings of the courtyard of the Chiostro del Rettorato, I was for those three hours living happily in the present moment, with no thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow.

This was the last night of the festival, and the French film they screened was an animated feature called Josep (d. Aurel, 2020) , which like the rest of the films presented in the programme, was fairly new. Josep tells the story of a left-wing Spanish painter , Josep Bartoli, who is forced to flee Franco’s forces in Spain but is imprisoned in an internment camp on the French side of the Spanish-French border by the Vichy French forces. He is treated savagely by the Vichy guards, but one guard, the sensitive and compassionate Serge, decides to risk his own life to help him escape to Mexico, where Josep claims to have a friend, the artist Frida Kahlo.

Josep is brilliantly drawn and animated and its heart is in the right place. Josep Bartoli (1910-1995) was a real-life artist and was interred in a prison camp during the Second World War, though other events and characters seem fictionalized. The story is told in flashback from the present day to the internment camp where Serge meets Josep, but also includes further flashbacks to Spain before Josep’s internment and shifts in narrative perspective from one character to another, which makes it a little hard to follow. There is a lot of brutality in the film, which though probably authentic to the true-life experience of Josep Bartoli, sits a little uneasily with the tender scenes of warmth and humour more typical to animated features, and at times the film seems to lack pace, perhaps due to its picaresque style.

Documentary filmmaker Aissa Maiga (on stage, in dress) receives her prize for “best film” at the end of the evening.

On the other hand, the pace is perhaps suitable for what is a wistful, melancholy film. It certainly deserves an audience and critical respect, and it is perhaps just not my genre. I would have preferred to see the documentary that had been screened the night before, Marcher sur l’eau (d. Aissa Maiga, 2021), which is a documentary about the trek of a tribe from a remote village in Nigeria towards an underground lake, during a period of drought. The director won the “best film” award on the night I was there – no one had told her she was going to win and so she had to be hurriedly called to return from her own trek of the Lecce streets in, as my friend noted, rather beautiful high-heeled shoes.
The event was very professionally done, with a great-looking programme and image for the festival, and the organisers (which runs to a team of around fifty, not including volunteers) deserve all credit and the expansive support they received from various notable institutions including the Apulia Film Commission, The University of Salento, and the Museo Castromediano.


On percentage of population of Puglia currently vaccinated (as of September 2021)

Vive le cinema festival website:

Leaving Tricase (part 4)

In which we return to the subject of the fair hamlet of Tricase, its manifold charms, and why I must leave despite them, in the final part of this discursive (but hopefully interesting) essay.

Thursday 16 September, 2021.

A sight particular to this region – a neighbour fills a water bottle from a drinking fountain, just outside my apartment and “Cafe Freedom” in Piazza Castello dei Trane, Tricase, Thursday 16 September 2021.

“There is something sad and melancholy about trips,” says Dr Soberin (Albert Dekker) in the cult film noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955), “I always hate to go away. But one has to find some new place, or it would be impossible to be sad and melancholy again”.

A few seconds later, the film’s femme fatale, Friday (Marian Carr), perhaps irritated at such showy meditations in what is supposed to be a Mickey Spillane adaptation, puts a bullet through his heart, ending all future trips for him, melancholy or otherwise.

Those lines came back to me as I prepare – well, prepare mentally, anyway – for leaving Tricase. I found, with some help, a decent flat in Lecce – expensive, for an English language teacher, but it can be done. The deposit is down. A job awaits me there. I’m leaving.

There is something sad and melancholy to me about leaving Tricase. I lived and worked here here for two years, from September 2019 to this month of September 2021. I experienced the atmosphere of anxiety and depression that pervaded the town during the worst period of the Covid pandemic here, from March 2020 to May of the following year.

From March to June of 2020, the “lock-down” was so strict that for those four months it wasn’t even legal to travel the four kilometres from my location in Tricase to Porto Tricase, to look at the sea. Fortunately, that only happened once, and from then onward even in the strictest lock-down – of which there were many – it was possible to visit Porto Tricase, because it is officially part of the same comune or municipality.

But apart from those four grim months, when the only trips permitted were essential ones and all non-essential services were closed, including cafes, it really wasn’t a bad place to be isolated in. Tricase is surrounded by countryside, and it was possible to nip out for a solitary walk through the country pathways, usually seeing no one around, or just one or two people. For the majority of the period between March 2020 and May 2021, it was possible to visit the Adriatic coast at the points of Porto Tricase or Marina Serra, and enjoy the expanse of sea and sky. Cafes were allowed to re-open, though for the most part only until six PM. Work continued, either online at home or in the classroom, depending on the decrees from the regional government of Puglia. It wasn’t easy (for one thing, general student morale was at an all-time low), but it was possible.

I was experiencing one of the weirdest and most monumental global catastrophes of my lifetime from a small, almost forgotten, almost paradisial corner of the world

I was experiencing one of the weirdest and most monumental global catastrophes of my lifetime from a small, almost forgotten, almost paradisial corner of the world. I felt, in this regard if no other, a little like the protagonist of Cesare Pavese’s novel The Political Prisoner (1955), a novel I had read in English translation a few years before arriving in Italy. We were affected by Covid, but not nearly to the same degree as the cities, and certain towns particularly in the north of Italy. For Tricase, a modest, cheerful town of a population of approximately 17, 600, that relies a great deal on summer tourism for its economic well-being, the Covid crisis was mostly an experience of isolation, depression, and financial hardship (particularly if you ran a small business or worked for one). However, it escaped the high infection rates and manifold Covid-related deaths that beset other, more densely populated regions in Italy. In the summer of 2021 the tourists returned in droves, and those small businesses able to survive – which was nearly all of them, I’m glad to say – seem to be doing well at this time.

Bona Sciana bar preparing to re-open for the summer, Marina Serra, 18 June 2021

During my time here I became a familiar patron of the local cafes, of which, for a small town, there are many. In fact I just discovered a new one (to me) only a few days ago. My usual places to go, where I was given the warmest welcome, were the small neighbourhood café next door to me, “Freedom Café” (on Piazza Castello dei Trane), run by the married couple Vito and Anna-Maria, and “Golosa” (which means both “delicious” and “greedy”, depending on context), a family-run business. At Golosa (on Via Lecce), which is primarily a pasticceria (bakery/cake shop) but which also serves as a café/bar, I am always greeted with a friendly, “Ciao, Prof!” (for professore, the Italian word for teacher), which makes me feel almost part of the community, at least for the time I am there. I favour the independent cafes (which is all of them excepting the Martinucci chain cafes); some others in Tricase or outlying places I like include the “Café Racer” (on Via Luigi Pirandello), with its motorcycle theme, the “BonaSciana” at Marina Serra, with a fantastic view of the Adriatic sea (though it is only open during the summer), and the “Mename” bar at Porto Tricase. I should also put in a word for Caffe Chinaski (on Corso Roma) which is, as some of you might have wondered, really named after the protagonist of Bukowski’s early novels. It is a small but interesting bar owned and managed by Fillippo, a friendly and charismatic kind of guy, and it is one of the few bars in Tricase where the background music is kept low enough that you could, if the place is not too busy, read a book.

I should also say a word for the Bar Kollo (on Via Leone XIII). This is the café nearest to the school where I worked. At first, I felt I wasn’t too crazy about this place, and went in only out of need for a quick caffeine-fix between classes; I felt I was received a little brusquely there, but I realised in time that it was just that – brusqueness, not rudeness – and by now they kind of know me, and I know them.  It’s a good honest blue-collar café where you often find the workers or retired workers enjoying a vibrant discussion over glasses of prosecco (prosecco not being a particularly “fancy” or expensive drink in southern Italy).

The essential kindness of the man and woman who work there is evidenced by the four of five cats that treat the terrace of the bar like a second (or possibly third) home- there is always something for them to eat and drink there. I’m not saying it is, for a quick visit to Tricase, the best café to go into, but if you wanted a feel for the working people of this region, without actually walking into a “tough” or insalubrious bar (which also exist, though usually found brooding on the outskirts of towns like this) this is the place in Tricase.

For a more sophisticated experience I suggest Café Pisanelli in Piazza Pisanelli, where you can expect to see sixty to a hundred people sitting out at café tables when the weather is good, or even better, the Farmacia Balboa next door, a former pharmacy turned into a wine bar and co-owned, as locals are fond of noting, by film actress Helen Mirren and her husband, film director Taylor Hackford, who have lived in the vicinity for many years. If you are used to being charged exorbitant prices for glasses of mediocre or even unpalatable wines in wine-bars (as you probably are, if you live somewhere in southern England), the kind of local wine you can have for around 5 or 6 euro here will, should you come, delight you.

Countryside photographed on a walk during strict “lock-down”, April 2020.

Besides the places of respite in town, Tricase also has beautiful countryside. I regularly cycled through it, taking the Via Madonna della Serra route through the countryside, past farmhouses and artesian wells to the crest of Marina Serra, where I would get a bibita (non-alcoholic drink) at cafe Bona Sciana and appreciate the view of the sea, then continue along the high winding coast road of Via Per Marina Serra and back towards town along Via Marina Porto, along which you encounter the Vallonea Oak of Tricase, a beautiful sprawling tree of seven hundred years in age and seven hundred metres in breadth, which was shortlisted for European Tree of the Year in 2020 (if you are interested in the prize, and/or the tree, see the links at the end of this essay).

She knows where every book hides Isabella at Marescritto bookstore, 3 June 2021.

If you visit here you must also take time to visit, at least for couple of hours (preferably at dusk) the hilltop town of Specchia, with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, and the tiny town of Lucugnano, primarily to visit and take a tour of the Palazzo Comi, the former home of the modernist Italian poet Girolamo Comi. In both places they offer regular music events in the main piazza during the summer months. Both towns are within a ten-minute drive from Tricase. I must also give special mention to the best bookstore in Tricase, an independent bookstore called “Marescritto” (“Sea-writing”, I think would be the translation, or perhaps “Written on the sea”), just around the corner from Piazza Pisanelli in Via Santa Spirito, owned and managed by the friendly Isabella and her sister. They have an incredible range of books within their small but exceptionally clean and tidy shop. The books are mostly in Italian, of course, but you can find dual-language Italian-English texts in the poetry section – where the poetry was originally written in English – and there are even a few novellas in dual-language (I found a dual-language copy of Conrad’s The Duel there). If you want something in particular, ask Isabella, she knows where to find anything in the shop, but you might not find it so easily.

Girolamo Comi’s study at the Palazzo Comi, Lucugnano, 3 July 2021

So, Tricase has a lot to offer for a small place, and to an extent, it and the surrounding region is almost paradisial, as I said earlier. The landscape and coast are beautiful, and the people generally friendly and hospitable to strangers. That said, after two years, I am still a stranger here, and I do not see that changing. I turned fifty-one in April (my second birthday in a “lock-down” situation). Despite the kindness I have been shown, I feel lonely and isolated, and anxious about the future. I feel, to quote Andrew Marvell’s famous poem, “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near/And yonder all before us lie/Vast deserts of eternity”.

The hilltop town of Specchia around dusk, 3 July 2021

As I wrote about in “Leaving Tricase Parts 1 and 2”, I had a friend who on the surface seemed to be handling being alone in her later years, seemed even happy with her life, and had a lot of friends who thought a lot of her, but underneath was so lonely that when her dog died, it caused her to take her own life. It makes me think that where one can, one should take active steps to fulfil emotional needs, rather than simply finding strategies to keep them under control indefinitely. I am not at all sure that moving to a city is going to give me what I am looking for – I am not even sure what it is I am looking for – it might be love, or it might just be a sense of purpose, a sense of relevancy or usefulness or significance or agency – it might just be the ability to live in the present moment – it might be all of these things together. But I feel pretty sure that I will not find any of these things staying in Tricase any longer. So although, to quote Dr Soberin, “There is something sad and melancholy” about leaving Tricase, I have to admit it would be just as sad and melancholy to stay.


Andrew Marvell reference: