36 Days in Italy–The Feeling Part

2015-06-28 11.05.48We are drawn to things in life without explanation.

But my trip to Italy was rational, not emotional. I had a leftover one-way ticket from a prior flight that I felt like I should use. Why not? I hadn’t been to Florence or Venice in over 20 years. I was a college kid last time I visited, so it would be interesting to see these two cities with new eyes. (Or older ones, I should say…)

I booked my first 4 nights and the rest, I would wing. I’m always anxious before a big trip, and this was no different. The solo travel is both freeing and wearing. I’d be working part-time, so there was that. But would I feel isolated? Would I feel safe? Would it be too long, too short? Was it right to put my life on hold?

There is no right or wrong in anything, only different.

And 36 days of wandering around northern Italy was just life. I had my good days, and my bad days and every shade of emotion in between. After the first two weeks, I was tired and wanted to go home. After the second two weeks, I was scrambling to see if I could stay longer. You can put yourself in a new place, a new situation, a new time zone, even. And, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have a pendant I wear often with this saying. I find it so innocently true. I travel because I’m drawn to it. It’s not an “adventure” as people who sort of know me like to say. It’s just who I am. My life is just different from theirs. They have families. I have places. Maybe because I find places more honest, more reliable than people. Warmer, more interesting and more soothing to surround myself with. Is that sad? Or just different.2015-06-24 06.33.57

36 Days in Italy was both a lot and too little.

I put myself in an in-between state–not really on vacation, not really living–a little microcosm of the real me. Always in motion, aiming to get there with no real concept of where “there” is. Untethered. Like usual. Because that’s me–the life I was born into, the story that was written, the one that I recite by heart like a Greek tragedy. My fate is to wander until I find my way home. The joke is. I’ll never have one. And the soonest I can accept the punchline, maybe I’ll actually have a laugh.

I’ve always said the great thing about travel is

that it shows you how quickly possibilities can become reality. You can live another life. Step off a plane, and there you are in a whole new set of routines. Or anti-routines. Either way, you’ve flipped a switch and changed your life channel. Temporarily, if you wish. This trip could’ve been 36 Days in Westport or Seattle or South of France. The scenery didn’t matter. I spent my time there like I do here–gravitating to the quiet, relishing nature, having just enough company to keep me sane and seeing in the reflections of others what it means to be alone. “Are you staying alone?” “Table for one?” “Are you here by yourself?” Yes. Yes. Yes. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always so pronounced. But this outside observation punctuated my time just enough that I started to wonder just how alien is it to be on one’s own?

Italy is a country centered around the family.

Grown men staying adoringly close to Mamma. Brothers and sisters and uncles and cousins living just down the street, working in the same family business, sitting around the same long farm table at the end of a workday. In Italy, you are your family. Your identity, your future, your way of life is forever (and proudly) tied to family. It’s very old-world traditional in that regard. And as I wandered around, an adult orphan, I thought to myself, ” We are drawn to things in life without explanation.” At least, it’s not always apparent.2015-05-31 18.13.06


Day 26: The hot pink balloon theory. A.k.a random act of weirdness.

Who’s that woman running down the beach dressed all in black and carrying hot pink balloons? And…um, why?

(Insert awkward, pregnant pause here.)

Okay, it was me.

I went on a run the other day during a gloomy post-rain afternoon. The ocean churning just enough for a lone surfer waiting to pick his battle. The clouds layered in all kinds of moodiness before me. It was the best I’d felt all day…functioning on four hours of sleep.2015-03-27 13.41.09

So I’m plodding along in wet sand. Feet sinking and lifting with the same attitude as the testy sky. And there in the sea foam, a bouquet of hot pink balloons bobs in and out. I’m fixated on its screaming loud spots of color so rudely dotting my perfect stormy scene.

I run past it.2015-03-27 14.12.30

I look back. (Why are there a bunch of hot pink balloons floating to and from the shore?)

Two seconds of its story start to unfold in my head and I turn on my heels to go get them.2015-03-27 14.12.29

I started to think about their journey. And the ocean all littered with plastic and rubber underneath all the tonnage of water. I remembered the documentary I once watched showing all the trash that ends up in the mouths of sea birds or on specks of faraway islands that should be pristine in their remoteness but instead become dumps for orphan trash. I can’t leave them there. It’s not their fault they landed here without a purpose. Without a party. Without a little girl’s hand.

I pick up the bouquet of eight under-inflated balloons and finish my run searching the waves for the lone surfer I passed earlier and the tangle of lobster trap wire that marks where I should exit the beach to find my car.

2015-03-27 13.45.17I’m feeling like I did my good deed. I picked up random hot pink litter. I carried it like the complete antithesis of the Olympic torch. I don’t live here. I don’t know anyone. For all they know, I’m launching my balloon delivery business on a literal shoestring…  Because lonely surfer boys need a little cheering up.

I stop to think where to toss the balloons. Where to end their sad journey. Why I’m still clumsily carrying them half-inflated like this. I kneel down to pop each one with the edge of a broken clam shell. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop… They shrivel. And I wonder, why didn’t I do this the second I picked them up? Instead of prancing down the beach (because hot pink balloons conjure prancing) in the final stretch of my heroic (in a cartoon way) last mile.

2015-03-27 14.20.04 Back at the parking lot, the lone surfer is sitting in the flatbed of his truck. I jog into frame, pitiful wilted rubber bouquet in hand. Yep, there’s no way in hell this turns into a boy meets girl scene. I walk with a purpose to my car, toss in the limp hot pink latex and drive off into the fog. Mist–let’s say mist–it sounds more romantic.

It’s a random act of weirdness, I know. But I do have a point to the story. What if we all follow such a random flight? Land nowhere near what we think is the place of our purpose? Like lost or let-go balloons, what if we sail on a feisty or fickle wind only to deposit our destiny in the hands of a passerby?

I say to myself today, weeks into my me-time experiment, I am at the mercy of the moment. The one I cannot plan. The one I cannot hold. I’m in it and then it leaves me. And then the next one follows. And again, I move only as much as it lets me. I have my will and my power. Mighty enough to require two separate, independent words. But I’m learning, and I’m trusting, that I can’t sway which way the wind blows. All I can do is thrust myself into the atmosphere and hope to get caught up in a swell… of goodness or, at minimum, cartoon heroism.

Those balloons washed up like an accidental Photoshop error. Cut and pasted at the wrong place at the wrong time. Out of their element. But haven’t we all been there?

And in those instances, don’t we rely on the randomness of the world to nudge us back to a place where we belong? That’s the best we can hope for, right? The strangest encounters, the absurdity of life, working out its own kinks like a hot pink alert that beckons some Joe/Jane Schmoe to upright the wrong. Can’t we trust that when things go awry, our failings stick out just like bright sore thumbs alerting the universe to auto-correct the scenery? I think so. I think pink–and hot pink, at that–is a little hard to ignore.