Italy 2.0

I just lived this trip to Italy.

I just lived this trip to Italy.

By Mimi Johnson

This time the trip was all mine. I didn’t think about blogging. I didn’t think about writing. I didn’t journal. I didn’t even scribble any notes. One day after the next I just took it in, each moment my own.

Our first trip to Italy was just a year ago. On that visit I hit the ground running. I wanted as much as I could get, as fast as I could get it. Florence, Siena, Rome, Assisi and Perugia, I jammed as much as I could into each of them, greedy for every sight. I wanted big, huge bites of a country I’d waited a lifetime to see. And I wanted to get it all down, blogging all about those special moments – seeing The David, the Coliseum, the Vatican, the tomb of St. Francis and the address by the new Pope Francis. I logged every bite of every delicious meal, each swallow of deep, red wine, each spoonful of gelato. I wanted clutch it all, hang onto each experience in my sweaty little hands. And if I wrote down the words then I had a record. Then I could believe it actually did happen. And when we left Italy a year ago, it was with the hope that the conference my companion had attended would invite him back again this year.

They did.

But the intervening year has been, well, strange. I’ve lived long enough to resist calling it difficult. I’ve lived through, and watched others survive, more disrupting times than anything we encountered this year. But there were some bumps in the road. I spent a long winter hobbled by orthopedic surgery. And my companion’s capricious news industry continues to be quicksand under our feet. In April, we found out he’ll be out of a job on July 1st.

So this year’s spring Italy trip came at an opportune time. The arrangements had already been made, tickets and accommodations already paid for, so there was no serious consideration of canceling in spite of the impending loss of income. Travel is always a gift, but this time it was also a respite. Job-hunting, the removal of surgical screws, it was all going to have to wait for just a little while. For ten days we suspended ourselves.

Writing and blogging was suspended for me as well. This time I was going to just live the trip. What follows are the memories, the impressions, the bits and pieces that gave me exactly what I needed.

  • A caprese salad with a chilly glass of crisp white wine, served in a sidewalk café in Venice is perhaps the most perfect people-watching lunch possible. We just sat back and dined, watching the parade go by; speed boats, vaporettos and water taxis on the Grand Canal disgorged Asian tour groups chasing a leader’s tiny yellow flag, school kids in uniform herded by parental chaperones and young couples sharing gelato ice cream cones. Babies in strollers, nuns in habits and fashionistas in heels six inches high – I’m convinced if we’d sat there long enough we would have seen every expression of humanity under the sun.
  • Indulging in an evening gondola ride invites the observation of fellow tourists. It doesn’t matter. We kissed under the Bridge of Sighs unmindful of the stares.
  • You haven’t really experienced Venice until high tide floods the streets and palazzos. Clomping over the wooden risers placed over the lowest lying areas, and wandering a circuitous route to find a dry path to the hotel had the narrow streets echoing our laughter. It was a fun way to end the evening.
  • There is something deeply peaceful in watching an early morning thunderstorm from an open, casement window. The sound of rain on ancient cobblestones is one I’ll always remember.
  • In a world short on charm, Italian men have cornered the market. Not only do the vast majority dress well, they generally seem to have a resonance of voice that immediately raises goose bumps. One artfully murmured, “Buonasera, signora,” can nearly make me giddy.
  • Everyone should experience a meal with new friends gathered around a huge restaurant table that does not begin until 9 p.m. at the earliest and lasts at least until 1 a.m. Many bottles of wine should be consumed to wash down vast quantities of pasta, and walking the narrow streets home should include lots of laughter.
  • I enjoyed the view of this church just below our hotel.

    I enjoyed the view of this church just below our hotel.

    It is a touching moment when the staff in the little café where you’ve been hooking up with WiFi not only greets you, but starts your coffee when you walk in the door. Earning a sense of belonging in a foreign country is a beautiful thing.

  • It is a civilized thing that European cafes allow dogs on leashes to accompany their owners inside. Civilized.
  • Waking up to the sound of street vendors pushing their carts down the cobblestones outside your window and calling to each other as they go is a much more pleasant way to start the day than an alarm going off.
  • Americans stand in queues better than Italians. Their lines are straighter and more clear. But they sadly lack Italian serendipity.

When we returned home it wasn’t with a sense of dread. Yes, there are still things that must be dealt with, and now my companion and I are ready to dig into them. This trip was a gentle interlude, helping us both to renew our spirit of happiness.

There is a wonderful line in the old movie The Electric Horseman. On the eve of setting a thoroughbred race horse loose with a herd of wild mustangs, horse thief Sonny Steele tells a reporter (who he also happens to be sleeping with,) “Do me a favor. Tomorrow, don’t take notes.”

I did myself a favor this trip. I didn’t take notes. I just let it happen. And I didn’t miss a thing.

A foggy morning in the valley, but gorgeous from our hilltop hotel room.

A foggy morning in the valley, but gorgeous from our hilltop hotel room.

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