Ah, Italy: the land of beautiful architecture and landmark literature; the land of world-changing history and timeless art; and the land of beautiful people and colorful politics. And who could forget incredible food: pasta, pizza, homegrown ingredients plus the homemade parmesan cheese crafted by a local stable boy. And of course, above it all, who could forget the wine?
Wine, wine and more wine. Wine is everywhere in Italy. I read somewhere that babies are given wine before breast milk in the Italian hospitals. OK, I never read that, but it sure feels like it could be true.
But strangely enough, I don’t actually drink wine, or any other kind of alcohol. That’s because I am a recent convert to the Mormon faith, and Mormons consume neither coffee nor alcohol as part of our religious beliefs. And in Italy, well, that’s pretty interesting.
I have been dreaming of studying abroad in Rome since my freshman year at Temple, not only for the art, culture and ability to hone my Italian-speaking skills, but also because by the time I got here I would still be under 21, meaning going to bars and buying alcohol would be legal for me in Italy before it would be in the U.S., and that’s really cool. It was always my intention to drink wine at dinner and, if it presented itself to me, to go to “da club” and get loose. But that’s not really how things worked out for me.
Of course, it’s not like I didn’t know what I was doing when I decided to give up a life of liquor for religion. Most kids usually go to college and find freedom from religion, but for whatever reason, though I wasn’t searching for faith, I found it.
This summer, I lived in Boston and had some very interesting encounters with the Mormon Church of all things, a faith I had known a lot about but thought was a little too incredulous for my liberal mind. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d actually convert. But after having a multitude of undeniable spiritual experiences, I knew I couldn’t deny the things I felt — the path I knew I had to take. And because I don’t do anything half-way, joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant giving up alcohol, coffee and drugs for the rest of my life, as well as abstaining from sex and certain other intimate activities until marriage.
Back before I converted, I was pretty much your stereotypical college lady, engaging in that alcoholic rite of passage on weekends, dabbling in certain herbal illegalities — ah, freshman year — and having the occasional awkward, well, let’s call them “physical encounters” that I’m not particularly proud of.
Never, ever, ever in my wildest dreams did I picture myself where I am now, drinking Coke at the bar like a 12-year-old while my friends are drinking artisanal spirits. But I am. And the thing is, it’s wonderful. It works for me. I still venture into the Roman nightlife, I still get crazy, and then I come home and read my scriptures before I turn out the light.
The best part is that I have an amazing group of friends here, old friends from Temple who, while they may not totally understand my decision to become a Mormon, don’t pressure me to do anything they know I won’t do. If anything, I’m weirder when I’m sober rather than drunk. I’ve already done plenty of “twerking” here in Rome, most of it in public. And that’s OK.
I am still the same Annie I’ve always been. On the liberal scale of one to Rachel Maddow, I’m probably a seven. I’m a vehement supporter of gay rights, immigration reform and democratic diplomacy, a typical college kid in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana and stricter gun-control laws, an ardent student of evolutionary biology, of anthropology and of world religions. But I also happen to believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the sanctity of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in spirituality and liminality and in eternal salvation through faith. And that’s just kind of how it is.
Some may find the reconciliation of my interests difficult, most obviously in being a Mormon and supporting gay rights, but I see no problem. Just as I have the freedom to worship how I choose, so should anyone have the freedom to marry whomever they want and live the life they love. I believe that everyone should follow the dictates of their heart, wherever they lead them. We live in a great country with a constitution that empowers us to pursue happiness. I am pursuing mine. And I encourage you to pursue yours.
So that’s my story. While everyone at school gets their little espresso shot out of the vending machine, I embrace my inner Kel and get a can of orange soda — which actually tastes like oranges in Europe. Who would have thought?
It works for me. It may make me a little quirky, but I’m American. We’re American. And if you haven’t figured it out by now then, well, being a little weird pretty much comes with the territory. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Annie Nardolilli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.