Seeing an Italian film, “Cosa Voglio di Più,” or “Come Undone,” tonight called into mind my previous sojourns to Italy. There was no familiarity of place or circumstance, but the film did remind me of how much things have changed in my life from one trip to the next—and how things will be different yet again during my upcoming voyage.
The first time I traveled to Italy, I spent several days apiece in Venezia, the Cinque Terre, Firenze, and Roma con il mio marito (with my husband); the second time, I traveled con il mio fidanzato (‘boyfriend’ sounds so much better in Italian, non è vero?); this time, it will just be me. As with my ever-evolving packing style, one could say that I am travelling progressively lighter with each trip.
The first was a neophyte’s vacation, albeit a comprehensive one. For several months, I learned parole italiane from “Italian in 10 Minutes a Day,” which was surprisingly effective despite the cheery title. My ex learned no Italian, which put me on the spot for two weeks—however, being half Italian, I was an eager student of my own teachings.
Upon our arrival in Venice, we needed to catch a vaporetto, which was when I found that those 10 minutes each day would come in handy. The man at the counter claimed to speak no English when I inquired about the boat to the Ospedale stop. I can still recall the sudden rush of blood in my ears as I strained to remember a few simple words to form a question in Italian; my heart thudded in my chest like I faced an examination panel.
Four years later, I brushed up my skills for a business-and-pleasure trip to Verona that involved escursioni giornaliere a Bologna e a Venezia (day trips to Bologna and Venice.) This time, we were based in Verona and were able to know the city over a whole week.
I made it through business meetings gleaning but a few words, though joy came from a masterful remembrance of Venice. Feeling triumphant, I attempted to converse with il nostro amico Mario e la sua figlia, Claelia (our friend Mario and his daughter Claelia), who told me with sweet restraint one night over dinner, “The way you speak Italian… it makes me smile.” The Italians are nothing if not molto generoso.
In two months, I will travel da solo by plane, train and bus to arrive in Civita on 10 Agosto, hauling my own baggage and no doubt putting four months of Italian school to good use. It’s inspiring to think of how much I’ve grown since that first trip in 2004: little things, like being confident that I can lift my suitcase or read a map, to big things like taking a sabbatical so that I can pursue this fellowship journey and challenge myself as a writer.
Staying solid grows more challenging as time closes in—What if I don’t produce something worthy? Will I be safe traveling through Italy alone? Will I get lost? Will people include me in their circles? What if I’m lonely?—however, I keep returning to the overall metaphor of how travel changes a person, and how life itself is but the ultimate journey.
With that, I have come to reflect evermore vigilantly on the moment when my real love of Italy began: we threw our heavy bags down in a sweaty fuss that afternoon, rushing out of our stuffy fourth-floor B&B toward Piazza San Marco in time for sunset. The sky was pale blue and cloudless above us as shadows gathered in every corner, twist and turn. The four-over-the-store buildings blocked out direct rays, but we knew where the sun was headed; that first foray through the alleys was 95% instinct and only 5% map.
People began to emerge from naps to fare una passagiata and we heard greetings shift from, “Buon giorno” to “Buona sera.” Dodging shoppers in search of souveniers, cammerieri serving tourists at tables lining the street, and the occasional strolling Italian couple dressed to the nines, we finally exploded onto the piazza.
On instinct, we crossed the square to reach the water’s edge and only then turned back to look at San Marco. It was leafed in gold, blazing with orange, red, yellow, purple and green from the dying sun behind us. I remember sinking onto a stone bench as if in a swoon. There’s no point in trying to describe what I could only say was my heart laughing, crying and shouting at the same instant. I was out-of-my-head in love with Italy.
We sat for a long time without speaking. When the sun fell behind Santa Maria delle Salute and the October air bit us with a welcome chill, we wandered back to un buon ristorante where we ate pizza for dinner.
Memories like this help to quell all those nagging thoughts, and remind me that there will be hundreds more for me to discover in less than 60 days.