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

36 Days in Italy–The Thinking Part

2015-07-05 08.50.15We Live to Tell

If a woman goes to Italy for 36 days and no one is around to see it, did it really happen?

Maybe that’s why I Instagrammed my solo trip through Italy…to ensure it’s existence. Each photo, a footprint that left traces of my path. I even Facebooked little anecdotes when I was in the mood. (Yes, Instagram and Facebook are also verbs.) And as I wandered and snapped pictures, alternating from my iPhone and my pocket camera, I wrote silly captions in my head. Documenting. Framing. Storytelling.

As I took my passeggiata day, in the vein of an Italian evening stroll, processing my trip and what it felt like to be back, I came to the conclusion that life is lived for stories. If all of us are here for human connection, that moment only happens when a storyline begins. If language is the foundation of culture, how we live is ultimately defined by what we say. In some ways, we are what we say we are–our stories are how we make meaning for ourselves.

“Dear Diary, You’re dead.”

2015-06-04 14.35.55I brought one of many travel journals with me. I think I opened it and wrote one entry somewhere in the first two weeks of my travels. The thing is, I cannot write for myself anymore. Our world–big and small–lives another life online. Privacy is dead. The knowledge that I am writing for an audience, even if my audience is anonymous and isn’t physically present, changes how I talk to my inner self. Hilarious or tragic? We are–any one of us who has a social media account at all–accustomed to having a 24/7 audience whether we call them followers or friends or connections. Even the definition of a selfie is about putting oneself on stage.

Say What You Want to Mean, Meaning from What You Said

And so I’ve come back to this blog to share my travels. And I asked myself why. As I asked myself weeks ago why is that I’m spending precious moments of my trip posting inane comments about this and that on Facebook. To tell a story, to share a thought, to communicate–is to create meaning, structure and purpose. (I also just like to write–both for and not for a paycheck.) We put words to what we want to matter. We shade experiences with emotion through language. Mine are words and Instagram pictures. Yours might be music and tweets. Videos (or Vines) and postcards or Pinterest pins. And in this case, the message is the meaning.

Making Moments into Memories

I also remind myself over and over that everything in life is fleeting. And travel teaches you that sad lesson each time you return from a trip. But our photos and posts and stories help us hold on to moments a little longer. Cementing memories. Producing proof. Saving little pieces of ourselves to share over and over again.