Last weekend, Nancy and Steve hosted several of us at their home in Madrona for “A CivitaVeritas Evening” – an auctioned dinner centered around stories of my fellowship journey in Civita.
It continues to surprise me how many of my Seattle experiences radiate from Civita di Bagnoregio: seeing Jonathan, the archive intern, at work around the corner from my office; running into Ryan, the garden intern, in front of Zeitgeist in Pioneer Square; and watching friendships continue to blossom with people I’ve met along the way, like Iole, Denis, Jerry Satterlee and fellow Fellow Perri Lynch whose work I’ve now experienced in Occidental Park and Taste at SAM.
Though my involvement is still in its infancy, the bonds that stem from NIAUSI form a taut web. That strong sense of community weighs prominently in my thoughts as I consider my next project, “Hidden City Diaries,” which involves travel to several American cities where I will create original works –including podcasts– that come together to tell a larger story.
Without a doubt, key to my success in Civita was having a patron –Tony– who could make initial introductions for me into society, as well as a Seattle-based posse–Steve and Nancy, Tom Miller, and certainly Iole, both at home and in Italy. This time, a network of patrons will not only be a serendipitous result, but an intentional start to my work. At the conclusion, I will have forged a network that spans the country — not only for my own benefit, but to connect people within these cities and readers with each other in surprising ways.
In considering the concept of travel as connection, I reminded myself that the experience isn’t just about what we see or who we meet on the road, but who we become along the way. If not to be transported physically, but spiritually and metaphorically, then why travel?
As with the Hero’s Journey, the condition of travels confers a cycle of death and rebirth upon us: we come to possess new knowledge that changes our identity in ways from small to profound. The people we were when we departed no longer exist; instead, we are reborn into more evolved iterations of ourselves. When we rejoin the world we left behind, we do so as altered beings.
Upon our return, we change or break patterns, develop new relationships — or end old ones. These acts are the physical expressions of a larger Hero’s Journey traversed internally. At the least, we reflect on where we’ve been as a means of understanding where we’re going or questioning why we’re standing in place.
Many years ago, when flying on an airline that handed out numbered boarding cards instead of seat assignments, there was a twelve-year-old girl traveling to Los Angeles to see her family. There was something magical about receiving Boarding Card #1, beyond the ability to have first choice of seats. It was a vast power, a nod to self-determination.
When the pretty gate agent handed it over –a tattered orange card with a number “1” on it– the girl felt like she had won the lottery. She turned it over in her hands, flicking the edges and wishing that the hour before her flight would pass quickly so that the journey would officially begin. Years later, she would realize that journeys begin far before one arrives at an airport.
In those days, she preferred window seats up front so that she could be the first to watch Phoenix disappear and Los Angeles miraculously rise after an hour. She loved to take off when the sun was setting so that she could rest her head against the cool window, her face in the dying orange light. She snuggled her fuzzy foam earphones atop her ears and fast-forwarded her Walkman to “Need You Tonight.”
Her ritual was private and containable — and wholly hers.
She allowed her thoughts to drift, first to her excitement about seeing her little cousins, then to the way her aunt smelled when they hugged –a potpourri of lightly-scented hand cream, linen, silk, and ocean spray– and then to a boy she had a crush on. From her airline seat, atop the twinkling lights of thousands of houses passing underneath, she anticipated the feeling of warm Redondo Beach sand underneath her feet, salty ocean breezes on her shoulders, and gray fog that burned off reliably at noon.
Whatever happened each summer, she always returned home feeling older and wiser, having learned something she had never known before. Those lessons were her souveniers.
Looking back on a lifetime of memories such as these, I believe that travel liberates us like no other experience can. We are both at the mercy of the world as much as captains of our own destiny. In transit, we do what we want, what we must, what is necessary. In that space, if nowhere else, we own our decisions, and we come to understand that the significance of the journey is both the end and the means.
In my life, travel not only brings me closer to those I love — it brings me closer to the person I really am and the person I’d like to be — not only abroad but at home.