Nearly four months have passed since we left Milan, and we are still adjusting. Our days and evenings have been filled with errands, chores, and deferred maintenance of ourselves and our house. We’ve had to replace our glasses, our refrigerator, and our tires. We had to catch up on some of the Academy Award films that hadn’t yet come to Italy in English before we left, and most importantly reconnect with many friends and relatives in Washington and Chicago.
“How does it feel to be back? Do you miss Milan? Are you experiencing ‘culture shock’?” Those are the questions we are asked most frequently. Our answers are pretty much the same as you would expect: Most of the time it feels good to be back. Yes, we miss many aspects of our daily lives in Milan.
The “culture shock,” on the one hand, is not so much as it was when we returned from two months in the UK in the summers of 2000 or 1979. The reason for that is the internet . . . globalization . . . everything lumped together as “modern communications.” We were never really out of touch with our Washington lives. As we worked at home in the late morning, we streamed “Morning Edition” and in the evenings, “All Things Considered.” I practiced my Italian by reading Corriere della Sera every day, but I filled in my gaps by checking the New York Times or Washington Post on line. I could even keep up with my New Yorker by downloading it to our Kindle.
This past week, however, I did experience huge culture shock. We took our usual Amtrak regional train from New York to Washington. It took 3-1/2 hours, and we were on time for a change. The ride was bumpy and so jerky that I couldn’t take a sip of water without getting splashed in the face. What a contrast to our many trips between Milan and Florence a few months ago: a smooth ride that took 1-3/4 hours to go only 30 miles less for about $20 less.
Italy has its share of infrastructure problems, but the U.S. is falling behind so many other countries in so many ways. Since we have returned, we have watched and listened to the continuing statistics on unemployment and services here being cut; this morning's paper describes Amtrak's problems. Most seriously, the holes in our safety net are getting larger, and we have only ourselves to blame as our country slips back in time.