Standing a few metres away from the vomit smeared pavement, Andrea hugged me tightly. ‘I’m alright,’ he said in his strangely posh English accent, ‘I’m alright.’ Then standing together there, with a fistful of greasy, black Italian hair in my hand, and the gentle fumes of bile acid teasing my nostrils, I stared out into the midnight air and knew that somehow we were both thinking something similar.
I think it took about three days of meeting together for Andrea to finally pluck up the courage to try speaking English with me. I then remember bursting out into hysterics as soon as I heard him do it. A quaint and posh tone blossomed from what before had only been this deep and lazy, thick and belly-spoken Roman Italian, and the contrast caught me off guard. Now yes, as a teacher I realise it’s not great for someone’s confidence to shoot someone down with hysterical laughter when they try to do something, and in particular after when they’ve taken a whole 3 days just to muster the confidence to even try to do that something, but well, fuck it, I wasn’t at work. So I laughed my head off. Then told him he sounded ridiculous. If you imagine fusing the voice of Morrisey with a dash of Mike Skinner, then just sprinkling a tad of Italian on the top for good measure, you get Andrea. An accent that then becomes all the stranger when it suddenly materialises from the deep chords of Roman speech. I was eventually kinder to him about his accent, which to be fair is actually very good if not a little odd, but I suppose really I can’t let him get too confident here as having my only real Italian friend stop speaking Italian to me would suck a lot.
And Andrea is beginning to become a real Italian friend, or perhaps just a real friend even. When you go set up life in a new place, you meet new people and make new friends, and it’s an interesting experience to go through the steps of friendship again. I suppose once University is finished, and in fact for many people even school, the days of making new friends sort of fade away. People have found their companions, the people they click with, those they are closest with, so why search for more? I know if I was back in London I wouldn’t be looking for anyone else. But here I have to, so here I am, because if I didn’t I would start to get real ronery (Japanese English) and even though I miss some people immensely, the benefit of not being with them is forcing me to do something else. This something else is make new bonds with new people, and it’s cool watching that changing relationship between two people again, watching how you’re own sense of humour starts to form, how the tone and style of the conversation changes as more time is spent with each other. In some ways you begin to build a slightly new version of yourself; a version of you which is only present when with that person. While I do feel the friends I make here will unfortunately never be as close to me as those that wait for me at home, and this does make me doubt and wonder what I’m doing away when I know I’d always be enjoying myself more by being with them, these people at home will also always be there for me. I guess now I’m making others who might be there for the rest of my life too.
However Andrea and I had never physically been that close until that night. Now I realise that sentence may sound a little gay, but well, sometimes the Italians are. It’s that old cliche where you go to a European country and think all the men are gay because they wear speedos (cough) and touch you a lot. You hear it before you go to Europe and think I’m not an idiot so am not going to fall into that trap, but then when you sit on 4m long sofa on one edge, and then your guy friend comes and decides to sit down as closely as possible next to you and start rubbing your leg, you do get a little confused. Then when your 16 yr old student keeps pulling his chair up to yours so his leg is always up against yours, no matter how much shimmying away you do, you can’t help but wonder what the deal is. However my point here is not to say that Italian men are all gay (but they are), but more so that they are a touchy people who like to be close with each other. Perhaps my Englishness had put a barrier between me and Andrea, we’d always had sort of long handshakes in the past, and sort of put our hands on each other’s shoulders as we asked each other how we were, but you could feel that Italian urge to be more intimate was always in the air.
Though in the end it was only 6 pints and a pile of vommit on the pavement that could bring us together like this. Puking like a true Englishman, he then got up with difficulty, ‘I’m alright’ he said, and then hugged me tightly. And in that moment, no matter how drunk he may have been, I knew that we were both aware of the significance of that hug. It was heartfelt and without any sense of awkwardness, it was overcoming all the lack of physicality that there had been before. In that hug, we were solidifying our status as friends, and it was one of those beautiful unspoken moments of friendship in a man’s life, only emphasised further by it’s surreal, drunken, and vommit-ridden Milanese background. I stared into the stars and was glad for having taken myself out here, for having allowed myself to be exposed to a new and different life
‘I’m alright’ he said again,
‘yeah… we’re alright,’ I thought.