Sharing the Wealth

Travel is a funny thing. Like a dashing book or an eloquent play, it is rarely the entire story that gets you; the combination of the drama and the passion, or the comedy strewn in with the intricately woven characters. Instead, it’s often a single line that found its way inside you and has no plans of abandonment.

Sometimes (most of the time) I feel like kind of an idiot when people say, “How did you like Italy?” or “Where was your favorite place to go?” and I can only sputter as I try to string together an answer that can somehow sum up the endless amount of thoughts churning in my head. I feel like I talk so much that people just want me to shut up- which is a rare feat considering I’m talking about- subjectively- one of the most breathtaking countries in the world. 

However, once in a while some of my words actually hit a chord, undetected from me until I’m told. I can’t see it in their face and I can’t hear it in their voice, but sometimes, a person will say to me, I went there because of you. And, in turn, this hits a chord of mine more than seeing any photograph or reading any blog post ever would.

Today, my 50-or-so mousy and giddy mother called me to tell me that in November, she will be going to Italy. While there, she will visit the Amalfi Coast (and within it in particular, Sorrento and Capri), Naples (Pompeii), and Rome. Her old college is planning a trip for alumni for an unreasonably good price for a nine-day-trip.

Let me clarify here- my mother doesn’t have a passport. She doesn’t even drive at night. Living alone at her house in the forest, she locks her bedroom door at night, as well as exterior doors. But she told me that when she got the email offer for the trip, she could only think I have to. I have to see what Jenna saw. 

It is words like this that makes me believe that all of my ranting, my photographs, and my endless blog posts are all worth it. If one person out there listens, even it’s just my own mother, it becomes so unbelievably worth it that it feels like a steal.

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Time is of the Essence

Throughout my life, I have been giving my time up like charity. You need me to come in and work an extra shift? Not a problem. You need someone to put the project together for class? I’m in. You need help with your article? I’m on it.

Doing this gave me some great opportunities. I met a lot of cool people, had a lot of great experiences, did a lot of neat stuff. But the thing is… I never enjoyed it. I never took it in, appreciated it, breathed it. I never had the time to.

In Italy, you don’t do this. If you’re going to dinner, you’re not going to be on your iPhone doing work when you’re supposed to be chatting- and not catching up, either, because you don’t need to catch up if you had the time to be already caught up in the first place. Everything you do, you do it because you enjoy it, because time is of the essence, but in a slightly different way.

In America, we do use our time wisely, always; if we at stopped at a traffic light, we’re emailing. If we’re waiting in a restaurant, we’re making a phone call. If we’re at our shitty part-time jobs, we’re doing homework.

In Italy, the Italians also use their time wisely; in the fact that if they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it. If someone is cooking your meal, it’s not going to half-assed and rushed, it’s going to be beautiful and perfect. If someone is going to talk with you, they’re gonna talk with you, not shove you out of the room because they have another meeting like right now. 

Now it may just be senioritis, but this year, I use my time… for myself. Instead of blindly giving it away, I think about what else I could be doing that will make me happy. I don’t want to rush anymore. I don’t want to look at my days and think Yeah, I made it through. I want to look back on my days and say it was a great day not just because it was productive, but because it was fun. 

In America, we are looked at as the worker-bee nation, which has made us into a superpower… but has also made us super worked. For the first time, I’m wondering how great of a thing this actually is.

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Il Dolce Far Niente

I remember my final days in Florence. I remember how as the weeks added up, how I missed more and more having responsibilities, jobs, basically just being accountable for more than just getting on a plane on time. I missed being important to someone, to something.

Well now, here I am. It’s 4:45 on a Tuesday and I have been up since 7:30 am, and after this too-short hour I have off, I will work until 9:00 pm (then I’ll probably go to the bar, which is besides the point).

I miss the days when if I felt like it, I could linger in a cafe for an hour. I miss when I could walk into a museum, just because. I miss when I could meet a stranger and just chat with them for a little, not trying to occupy my mind with what else I had to do that day. At the time, I missed serving a purpose. Now here I am, trying to fit in when the hell I can possibly eat breakfast (which usually ends up being a piece of fruit I eat while I’m sitting at the traffic light on Ocean Ave).

What the hell was I thinking? Yes, having things to do is great. I’m not saying I want to be unemployed, or the worst sin of them all, bored. But with more longing than I have ever felt for any person, I miss being able to be. I miss thinking about the taste of the food that I am eating and thinking about the conversation I am having. I miss the sweetness of doing nothing. Il dolce far niente. 

In America, we hustle, hustle, hustle. We work three jobs and we try to get the kids to soccer, lacrosse, and track and we get to the gym at 6:30 am and we eat lunch at the drive-thru and we take long hours because we really need the money but what is it for, really? What are we working for, honestly? When is the payoff going to come?

You let me know when you find out. In the meantime, I’ll be looking up one-way flights back to Italy.

Nothing.

La Famiglia e Tutto

Today I had a meeting to go to (shocker). And as with most of my meetings, I didn’t really feel like going, mostly because I would just rather be in my room pinning things on Pinterest. However, also with most of my meetings, I still showed up.

However this one was a little bit different- a study abroad luncheon for my Italy group, in the exact same room that we all sat in about six months ago, when we were complete strangers. I remember trying to be a brave and sitting at a table with the girls, none of whom I had ever seen before or even knew what to say to them. I sat there and quietly ate my free sandwich (I did show up, didn’t I?) and got out as soon as I could. Thinking of my upcoming semester in Italy, I never felt so scared and unsure in my life. Looking back now, I’ve never been so confident and proud of any other decision I have ever made.

Funny how this time when I walked into the room, I was greeted by smiling faces of all ages and from all different backgrounds, all of whom I had only ever known within my ancient city of Florence. Odd how things change. To see all of us out of our elements, struggling to fit into what feels like this new culture, was scary yet comforting, knowing that once again, we weren’t alone.

And just like now, we weren’t alone the first time we set off to meet a new culture in a new country, either– we had each other. To think we will always be as close as we once were is pretty ridiculous, but I don’t think that really matters. No matter how much time goes by and how long we stay best friends with our childhood neighbors, our kindergarten playmates, our college roommates, our high school boyfriends– they will never have what we all had together. Strangers who, in relying on one another as family, friends, and comrades, became a little globe-trotting family.

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How To Live

So right now I am in my NEW BED! Well, not really new. Actually it’s borrowed from our realtor but whatever it’s new to me. The point is that I have moved once again, but this time it’s back to school for my LAST SEMESTER! Great now I’m depressed.

Anyway, as I was moving in, I looked at the piles of junk that my mother and I deposited on my bed. Bags and bags of clothes, printers, fans, jewelry boxes, backpacks… and two lone suitcases. The two suitcases that I was allowed to bring for my semester in Italy. That’s it. Two suitcases.

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And you know what’s funny? As I looked at this giant pile that was ever-growing on my bed, I wondered how much of that stuff I actually really neededI went to Italy with two suitcases, and never missed a thing. These new perfectly content suitcases that had the chance to see the world. I visited seven other countries during my semester abroad and 15 Italian cities and had plenty to prepare me for the cold, the heat, and the ugly. So did I really need all of this stuff? No. I didn’t.

Am I going to send it back? Uhh, no. As I explained to my mother I had already spent a semester wearing the same shirt basically every day and that was just fine but I like having my closet back. But looking at that pile and sorting through my junk, it became clear that although travel teaches you how to deal with new people, new cultures, and new habits, it also teaches you how to live.

Home is Where… You Are.

Okay, don’t laugh, but throughout my entire life, I have been telling myself that I will probably live in New Jersey. Most likely, I would live in the tri-state area, work in New York City, all the meanwhile staying near my family and friends and college. Doesn’t sound too shabby, right?

WRONG. Well, maybe for me. Studying abroad does a funny thing to you (among many others)- it teaches you that you don’t have to be anywhere. The world does not crumble away to nothing when you leave, and even your mother will get along just fine without you. All of a sudden, the world feels much more accessible.

And this leads to the prospect of being able to live anywhere. Spend a few years hanging out in Dublin? Why not. Working out of Madrid for awhile? Bring it on. Chill in Portugal for a little bit? Can’t think of a reason not to.

On the one hand, this is a scary thought. Suddenly, there are an obscene amount of options and things to do and you are no longer limited by something as mundane as a country boundaryFrom now until forever, the world will be yours, not only a place to visit, but a place to  live.

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There’s No Place Like Home.

Having returned to America from my semester in Florence, Italy last Saturday, I have clearly taken my time in posting anything about my farewell to Italy and my return back to this strange country I call home. This is because all that I can articulate about the whole thing is

I am sad

And happy

The end.

Because honestly, how do you sum up the strangest, most exciting, tiresome, scary, and thrilling three and a half months of your life? How do you put that into pre-packaged little words that you scramble away on your laptop back at home in your childhood bed?

Sitting in this bed with my stuffed animals and my best friend Dona, the same thing I have done for the last god-knows-how-many years, makes me feel like those three and a half months in Italy weren’t even real. When people ask me the much-anticipated question how was Italy? I just want to ask them, wait, I was in Italy? That was me in my own life? What? 

And at the same time, I feel like kind of a jerk when I’m standing in line in Starbucks chatting with my friends and I say Oh, in Istanbul, Starbucks has way better holiday drinks and the woman in front of me turns around and gives me a confused look. I feel even worse when I ask my family, Hey, what’s new? and they have nothing to report, when all I want to do is tell them about how I spent the weekend before last in Ireland. I feel spoiled, awful. For a second, saying Florence sounds so natural and it rolls off my tongue because it was where I called home. Now, it is a faraway place that people dream of visiting.

At the same time, I remind myself that I made this decision to go, and it was scary and exciting and I did it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of to not want to be the same person I was back in August. It’s okay to come home and not be happy anymore with going to Applebee’s for dinner when I could be at a family-run hole-in-the-wall place or go on yet another vacation to Florida. It’s okay to not want to wear sweats and Uggs and look like every other cookie-cutter girl in their Victoria’s Secret gear and it’s okay to want to explore the cities that are in your own backyard that you now see that you haven’t really experienced yet.

And yet it’s also okay to take back the life that was yours- your friends, your jobs, your much-loved responsibilities and your big bed and your pets and your obscene amount of purses that still have tags on them. It’s okay to appreciate your television set in English and the fact you can now send text messages without asking what’s the wifi password? I missed my friends and my cat and the fact that I am needed here in America, that people rely on me and I’m not just flitting about aimlessly just because I felt like it.

On this note, I feel like some of the things I wanted so badly to come home to maybe weren’t so great after all. I craved pancakes and bacon and buffalo sauce and driving, and now that I have it, I miss my beautiful pastas and fresh croissants and taking a nice walk to class. It’s funny how the things that once seemed so important really aren’t so important at all. I used to wish I had my dryer back and that I had all my clothes in my closet back to wear. Now I see I wear all the same outfits I wore in Italy anyway.

So what am I getting at here? Um, that’s a good question. I was hoping this was something I would be answering at the end of this post but maybe it’s just not possible to make these grandiose conclusions after something profound. I’m happy to be home, to have my life back and my friends back. Yet I am saddened by the problems I see in America that I was blind to in the past. All I can think of is that day we got in our taxi at the ripe time of 7:00 am in the much-fitting pouring rain and bid farewell to our beautiful Duomo, our beautiful home, that we will never return to, that feels like a dream.

Home

Passion. Boom.

Being that we took our finals for my Monday and Wednesday Renaissance Theory of Love class on Monday, we spent today doing something professors usually don’t bother with- we went over our exams. Usually I run at the mere thought of this- finals week is the point in the semester where yeah, I’ll study, but I don’t really care that much. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna pass anyway and I really just want to GTFO so I can go home and decorate for Christmas or do some other mundane activity.

So anyway, I wasn’t too psyched today to be going over exams in this class, one that which focuses on the philosophy of love during the Renaissance period, a subject my professor is incredibly psyched about. Before she handed us back our tests, she stood up, and started telling us about how when she was writing her Masters thesis, she was in the library doing research and looking at archives when she came across a primary source document that Leone Ebreo had written. She started waving her hands around and her blondish-grayish shoulder-length hair was kind of bobbing about and as she paced the room, she actually ran into the desk behind her a few times. All because it was so amazing to her to have seen Leone Ebreo’s real handwriting, his little dotted i’s and crossed t’s skimming a page that was filled with his own philosophy, his own ideas.

And as she spoke, I couldn’t help but glance up to my right and at the clock to see how close it was to 11:45 before wondering what the hell I had gotten on that final. That’s when it hit me- this woman is sitting here, telling me about her greatest passions in life, and I’m wondering what I got on a test in a class that I more or less picked out of a hat.

This feeling is what encompasses Italy for me- this grand PASSION. It doesn’t matter if an Italian is screaming at her boyfriend on the street or ordering a cappuccino or dancing in a sketchy dive bar across town. No matter what an Italian does, he does it with conviction. He does it because he wants to, hell, he has to. 

Yet often I see in America, we gear towards the opposite. We take boring desk jobs we hate and we major in subjects our parents forced us to and we write half-assed papers and do lousy workouts at the gym. Where is the want? Where is the need? Why is this in Italy but seems to have skipped a few countries along the way?

Maybe it comes with living in cities in a country so romantic that people have been writing about it for hundreds of years, their joy practically hopping off the pages. Maybe it’s from being somewhere that has one euro gelato so good that you eat it in the dead of winter. I’m not really sure. No matter the case, it’s time we did something for us. 

Quit your job, buy a ticket, fall in love…. just because you want to.

Venizia

Milano: Just Stay at the Airport

So when my dear friend Alex and I departed Budapest, we landed in Milan so she could catch her flight home out of Milan the next day (sad!) After two flights and an unpleasant layover, we were happy to arrive to our hotel in Milan only to see this…

Yeah. It’s a far cry from the Marriott we enjoyed in Budapest, let me tell you. When we walked into the room, I immediately saw we had one bed to share (yet again…) when I had gotten two. The guy at the front desk told me it wasn’t a big deal and “they’re the same price anyway.” What happened to the customer is always right? Oh yeah there were also pubes- yes PUBES- in the bed and I don’t think the sheets had ever been washed. I slept in my sweatshirt and hoped that at the very least, the lock worked. DON’T STAY AT HOTEL VERONA. JUST DON’T.

But anyway, after I dropped Alex off around 8:00 am, I had like three hours to kill before my own train came and I would be en route to Florence. So why not see Milan for a little?

I was there for, like I said, three hours, and trust me, this is enough time to see all the sights. First, I stopped at their Duomo, which is a pretty nice church to say the least. Not as good as Florence’s Duomo (my own personal opinion) but whatevs. When it was built, it was made for all 40,000 residents of Milan, so needless to say it’s not little.

Then I headed over to the Galleria next door which is basically just a big shopping and people-watching center. Unfortunately for me, since it was 9:00 am, there were no people to watch, just this bull’s balls to step on the floor which is apparently good luck.

I also walked on over to Sforza Castle where the equivalent of the Medici family in Florence lived, gandered through their own little city park and fed some ducks, and strolled Via Dante, a huge pedestrian-only pathway that has some shops. This is literally all there is to see in Milan and everything will cost you an arm and a leg. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Red White and… Green?

In the days of the bobble that we now live in, I will admit something very shameful- I used to be a plastic water bottle girl. Tragic, I know.

Anyway, (sorry, poor segue) Europe, among its eight zillion differences from the good ol US of A, loves the environment. Unlike in America, where we spend more time debating if global warming is real and talking about what a dbag Al Gore is, in Europe, they actually do this thing called recycling. And they don’t do it because a faux president made a video or because gas prices are obscenely high, but they do it just because they do it.

For example: In Italy, you have a limit of how much electricity you can use per household, and if you go over it, you don’t get some bullshit fee that you could probably argue your way out of at the end of the month but instead they simply shut off your electricity. In my apartment, this happens literally at least once a day. The washing machine and the oven can’t even be on at the same time and if someone is straightening their hair, just forget it. I have been trapped in the kitchen more than once in the dark, haunted by past American Horror Story episodes.

When throwing away garbage in Italy, you don’t have the opportunity to choose what is recycled and what isn’t. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where a garbage man picks up your trash, you better sort it yourself into one of four categories or else the police will actually come looking for you. True story.

Also, since every grocery store is the size of my living room and you can only buy as much as you can carry on your back, huge cases of water are simply out of the question unless you could 1. find a pack of water and 2. be devoted enough to make two grocery store trips. Instead, most people invest in a cheap reusable water bottle, which is more cost-effective, green, and also colorful. Plus, you can refill it in the bathroom sink instead of pulling one out of your fridge. Who knew?

It’s always funny to me when people say “global warming doesn’t exist” or what we do the environment simply doesn’t matter. There are approximately 7 billion people in the world, overcrowding this world, and you think they have no effect on this planet? Really? The debate on if global warming exists is insignificant. The fact that one day, the trees that you’ll be saving are the ones in your yard is what should really matter. You don’t care about the environment for yourself? That’s fine. But when your grandkids have to go to a museum to see a tree and they’re pining away for the Lorax, you’ll be wishing you had the decency to put those papers in the blue bin instead of the green.

In Europe, recycling isn’t a choice or a nice thing to do. It’s simply what you do, as natural as brushing your teeth. Don’t get me wrong, I love America with all my heart, and I’m no hater. Red white and blue all the way. But we could learn a few things from our friends across the pond.