It seems fitting that I would write the concluding chapter of my travel blog while riding a train to New York. In Italy I wrote the vast majority of my journal entries, dutifully tapping away at my iPhone, while riding in the cars of European trains, sitting in airports or sitting at 30,000 feet watching the sky turn to an ocean of white cotton. What is unfortunate, and quite annoying, is that today is March 5, 2011; I left Italy on December 22, 2010. Why has it taken me so long to write this?
At first I couldn’t do it. I had no energy. After leaving Italy my brain could not go back and absorb the months of life that I had just lived. It was too much, too crazy, too unbelievable. I tried to think about it and relay the stories to my family and friends, but the words simply weren’t there. The most I could ever get out of my mouth was “incredible.” I gave no descriptions and offered no valued insight into the four months that had just flown by my eyes. My brain was so muddled and unwilling to process (I hate using that word in situations like this. I feel like a computer) the ‘meaning of it all’ that I avoided the topic all together. I probably uttered a total of three sentences about my experience to each person that summed up “it was awesome. Check out my blog.”
So, here I sit headed to NYC on my “Spring Break” and I think it’s about time to try to write down what happened to me, what happened to my life and how appreciative of the experience I am…
I think I’ll begin with the most obvious of changes that Italy had on me; my social life. I no longer feel comfortable in the big party, loud music, house situations that are inherent in being a college student in America. I hate it actually. What happened to sitting outside of a bar and talking about life with your friends until its time to go to a club if you feel like it? What happened to the glasses of wine and aperitivo? What the hell are these drinking games that invite you to drink crappy beer really quickly in order to get as drunk as possible? Where did the sensibility, sociability and maturity of Italian life go? Why are my roommates blasting the music as loudly as possible, making it so I cannot talk to the person next to me, when the only people in the house are us? I cannot do it anymore. And I haven’t, and it’s put a bit of a strain on the relationship with me and many of the housemates.
This was typified on the first weekend night back at BC. My house was throwing a party. I felt awkward and went next door to hang out with Courtney. Neither of us felt very enthusiastic about reentering the BC party culture, and to this date, neither of us really have. It’s not that I’ve become less social, but I certainly have been made to feel less social. My friends look at me like an alien when I tell them I have no desire to drink, or that I’m too sick to go out with them. The truth is that I don’t have an aversion to drinking, going out or socializing, it’s that I have an aversion to going out in the BC mode. What I really want, and the times I find myself happiest (socially that is), are when I go to a bar with friends, or I hang out with my friends and watch a movie; anything where we can talk. Courtney has always said drinking is about socializing. I never quite knew what she meant. ‘Of course drinking is about socializing;, I thought in my pre-Italy days. ‘You socialize by going to big parties.’ But, no you don’t. How can you socialize when you cannot talk to the person who is standing less than a foot away from you?
Italy gave me a long lasting appreciation of the ability to converse. My understanding of the value of communication grew exponentially both as my Italian improved and as I began to become close enough to my friends abroad that we could have deep conversations. My fondest memories of Italy all involve discussion. Yes the food was fantastic and the sites incredible, but everything was fodder for conversation. As Brian said at our final dinner, “Dinner is not about the food, it’s about what you say to the other people at the table.” Something of which I think Americans have lost sight is the magic of communication. How many families don’t sit down to dinner together on a regular basis? How many people spend their spare time mindlessly watching a television instead of discussing the world with their friends or family? Communication is the great specialty and significance of the human race. We, more than any other species, have the ability to translate our deepest thoughts, emotions and feelings into comprehensible language, both physically and verbally. Why would I ever want to waste this incredible skill?
And besides the mere act of communicating, I learned of the frustration that can occur by not having the ability to convey myself properly. Despite my decent Italian there were plenty of times, more so at the beginning than at the end, where I felt stymied by my lack of mastery of the Italian language. I often found myself wanting to delve into a philosophical discussion, political debate or life conversation but unable to do so because I literally could not find the words. And when my Italian finally became good enough to do so I felt a wave of relief and joy. Nice and I were driving to pick radicchi (oh how I miss that!) when I started to tell her how incredible of a person she is and how mystifying I found her optimism. At that moment the full use of my communicatory skills returned and once again I felt fully like a person. The frustrations of having valuable thoughts go uncommunicated and dissipate in my mind left as the words flowed out of my mouth in Italian. In reality the importance of this journal was personal because it gave me an avenue to communicate the thoughts that I might not have been able to communicate in person to the people around me.
The power of the word allowed me to tell the world about my months of enjoying life. I certainly came away from Italy with the ability to recognize, more than ever, the boundless potential of the human race to create beauty. Indeed it made me have a revival of optimism about humanity’s chances to grow and improve the world. We are not a doomed race. We are not evil. We are not ignorant. Of course we can act stupidily, but the marvels that we can create, and especially the ones that I saw, made me much more appreciative of humanity as a whole. If we can paint The School of Athens or build the Blue Mosque than why could prevent us from coming together to solve the problems that infect our world? If an individual can sculpt The David why can’t an individual sway the masses of the modern world? Surrounded by greatness I imagined greatness. Surrounded by beauty I started to believe in beauty.
Is there anything more valuable than being thankful for the gift of life? I celebrated the magic of living every day of my life while abroad. In everything I did, in everything I ate, in everything I saw, in everything I thought, the idea of life came back swimming into my mind. Was I really living that life? Was life actually meant to be enjoyed like this? I had always lived to live, but this was living in life. Nothing could be more real or meaningful than constantly being amazed at your life. Living should be stunning. We shouldn’t be able to sit down and say, “Yea this is normal.” Life, in itself, is too precious and too rare to throw away to normality. I’m not arguing that every day should be spent chasing a new dream or by traveling to a far distant land, but I now understand that I in everything we do, we should be able to find that magic of life. Life has nuisances and life has bumps, but life is wonderful and I can once again thank my four months of living in life for imbedding this new sense of optimism and new eyes with which I look out on the suddenly bright world.
I miss it. I miss the food. I miss the art. I miss the lifestyle. I miss the travel. I miss it terribly. That does not mean, however, that I am unhappy back in “the swing of things” at BC. This is my life and I’m loving it. I wish certain things would change, but it’s my life and it’s in my power to do something about it. It’s up to me to keep the lessons of abroad within my heart and within my actions. Life is much sweeter. My life is much more fulfilled. How could it not be after 4 months of wonder? I have left Italy, but Italy will never leave me.