From the Tiber to the Clyde: Beginnings

Roughly a month after receiving my offer, I packed my bags and left Rome with my mum for a few days. I wanted to attend one of Glasgow University’s monthly visitor days and get a feel of the city. It did not take a long time to begin having an idea of Glasgow’s general vibe: somehow, the first events that helped in that direction did not even occur in Glasgow itself. Everything started on our delightfully chaotic 10 am flight from Ciampino to Prestwick, probably the strangest and funniest journey of my life. Quite a few passengers, most of them Scottish and probably returning from their holiday, kept getting up from their seats and walking around the very restricted space of the aircraft, always seemingly having something to do: whether their next plan was to take something from their hand luggage or to find someone to chat to, they made sure to keep themselves busy all throughout the flight, trying to include my mum into their conversations and managing to have a laugh with her despite the fact she does not speak English. While all of this was happening, one of our flight attendants was endlessly going on in the background about his resemblance to Will Smith and dreamily talking about very-not-Glasgow tropical destinations. He then gave us a misleading and rather confusing welcome to Edinburgh.

The cheerful atmosphere followed us on our train from Prestwick to Glasgow Central, the Ayrshire natural landscape gradually turning gritty and urban as we approached the city to the sound of chatter and the smell of fish and chips a family was having as lunch, accompanied with Irn Bru. I don’t think we could have had a more stereotypical welcome to Scotland.

Walking from the station to our hotel near George Square through a very busy and fairly sunny Argyle Street, our strongest impression was that of an insinuating, unpleasant smell of undefined nature and origins pervading the air. We never understood what it was and I have rarely ever smelled it since, yet every time I do, it brings me back to these initial moments in the city. On that day, we discovered that Glaswegians working in retail greet customers with heya, that the weather can go from sunny to extremely rainy in the space of half an hour, and that chippies are to Glasgow what bars are to Rome. There were street singers performing cheesy pop songs at every corner, and bubbles, and even the absolutely wonderful techno tin bin man with his dancing cats. Although very impersonal in some of its commercial areas and showing evident signs of gentrification, the city centre had an atmosphere which did not feel as alienating as that of many other cities, Rome included. I think it has a lot to do with Glaswegians. The sentence ‘People Make Glasgow’ is not a void statement: they genuinely do.

Returning to Glasgow as a fresher at the beginning of September was a completely different experience. The first week, in which I got through all the necessary chores of moving to a new city with the help of my parents, flew by. After saying goodbye to them at the airport, I boarded a train covering the same route which had brought me to the city for the very first time, Ayrshire turning into Glasgow again in a much quieter setting. Listening to my favourite Italian songwriters to fill the overwhelming silence, I kept my gaze on the scenery outside the window, watching obscure town names in English and Gaelic roll past and, with them, vegetation and buildings. The thought of everything I had left behind and all that I was about to welcome into my life completely took over my mind. Walking through Argyle Street again, I did not really take anything in, quickly getting on the subway at St Enoch and getting off at Hillhead. Not knowing the way to Murano, I let Google Maps guide me into Maryhill, passing through the Botanical Gardens and what I would later know as Stabby Park and Stabby Bridge, my senses getting more alert as I approached my destination.

My very first Glaswegian days were a complete immersion in the extremely liberating experience of momentary rootlessness. I mostly spent them tipsily wandering around, at peace with not quite knowing the way back or anything else really, comfortably lost in my exploration of new places, surrounded by new people with their new names to remember and adjusting to my own new English-friendly name: Ema, instead of Emanuela. In those days, Glasgow was more of a thing I was processing internally, an alien experience invading my life rather than a city. Little did I know that, in due time, this city would not only lose all semblance of alterity to turn into a home, but would also help me better understand Rome, and why I felt such a strong need to leave it.


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