At certain times throughout my life, certain friends have returned from either living or vacationing abroad with a bit more, shall we say, enthusiasm, perhaps, than other intrepid travellers. While the majority of my friends who have travelled return with a certain je ne sais quoi, a handful of entertaining stories and a few choice pictures to share, there have been others whose enthusiasm for and dedication to the travel narrative goes above and beyond what is tolerable, and at one point one friend told me she was “appalled” I hadn’t been to Europe, and that I really haven’t truly “lived” until I’d done so. I found this statement highly offensive, since at the time I was busy putting S. through graduate school on a pitiful salary, and finding myself every inch the woman I never intended to be, someone functioning solely for the intellectual benefit of her husband. Since then it’s become a source of amusement, given my more grown-up ability to understand that defining what “living” means is completely individual. It also helps that I’m no longer quite so oversensitive.
So when I left for Italy I promised myself I wouldn’t become one of those insufferable American travelers who finds herself transcended by absolutely every event she encounters and who continuously catalogues her experiences with her digital camera, detailing every meal she eats and taking hundreds of photos in an attempt to capture exactly what the experience could have felt like, had she put down her camera and fork long enough to pay any sort of attention.
My mom was determined to take a tour instead of exploring on our own, and because of this I constantly found myself negotiating wild emotions, always trying to choose kindness instead of cynicism, patience instead of arrogance, understanding instead of desperation. The fact is, the bus tour of Rome and Tuscany was designed for people who want to amass photos instead of experiences, who hope to be transformed by ten minutes beneath a Tuscan sunset, instead of a collection of days. And you know what? That’s entirely okay. I mean, I wasn’t paying for the trip. I wasn’t about to complain.
As I traveled with my mother through parts of Italy I often considered possible blogging subjects, potential essays. I imagined a million short stories. As a writer, there are essays in every experience, characters begging to be immortalized at every turn. Would I write about the abomination that is the American tourist abroad? Or would I write about the inherent hearbreak in seeing my mom dance, really dance, the whole night long, knowing she could never do such a thing back home? Would I talk about women’s voices, and how they become seemingly empowered when traveling without husbands or maps, or would I write a spoof on our tour director, who ranted every day about Italy’s lack of family values?
And then I decided, I’ll know what to write when the time comes. And that time may be next week or thirty years from now, but I don’t need to rush it. It will all come tumbling out eventually – things always do.
Some highlights include being mistaken as a fluent French-speaker at the airport in Paris (I recalled a surprising amount of the language), having various young men come up to me and tell me I was beautiful, which was only to be expected but still very flattering (I’m sure they are highly paid for such boldness, but still), wading in the Mediterranean Sea, sharing bottles of wine with my mom, and, well, Rome. All of Rome. Everyone told me I would enjoy Tuscany much more than Rome but obviously everone does not know me – I found the chaotic embrace of history and modernity overwhelming and seductive, and I know that I will always long to return to that old, old, city, so I can stay a while and linger.
For your amusement, I will share some of the less offensive complaints I heard on the tour. My mom, for instance, couldn’t STAND siesta time, the way all of the shops closed, and kept saying she just couldn’t understand how anyone ever got anything DONE. Another woman swore she would write a letter to the tour company demanding it “clean Rome up” before bamboozling any other unsuspecting tourists into visiting, and I was asked 27 times why I didn’t have children yet, and how could my husband possibly have allowed me to travel without him. My mom and I just smirked at one another, and raised our shoulders. In the words of our tour guide, what are you going to do?
I am home now, and everyone is encouraging me to leave again immediately since while I was gone the Tigers made it into the world series and Granholm has 9 point lead over DeVos in the polls. But, while I did experience moments of pure rapture while traveling, and I long to plan another trip, it is also wonderful to be home, surrounded by the love of my husband and my friends, where my books and my stories and my real life is anchored, and in a country that, while perhaps not understanding all the benefits of a proper cup of tea, at least provides you with the hot water to have it.