It isn’t what the movies promised me.
First, these are the things I didn’t bring back from my ten days in Italy.
I didn’t bring back a young Italian lover. I didn’t even leave one there, although I was open to falling in love in a romantic place with someone speaking a romantic language. Didn’t happen. The best I did was buy art from one.
I didn’t bring back the deed to a 300 year old crumbling farm house. Nor one to a struggling vineyard. I won’t have to invest money, sweat, time and blood into renovating the imagined house, or rejuvenating the forgotten vineyard.
I didn’t bring back more than one or two extra pounds, even though I ate pasta twice a day, bread with every meal, and gelato daily. Oh, and there was wine involved.
I didn’t bring back a tube of hair gel I left in Florence, and a top and shawl I left in Montorrosso, in a pitiful attempt to lighten my damned suitcase.
What I Left Behind In Italy
It wasn't just the extra clothes I had packed and didn't need.
So, what did I bring back?
I brought back memories of seeing the chip marks Michelangelo made in the marble of unfinished sculptures. There is something about witnessing part of the process of creating great beauty that inspires awe at the commitment and skill, almost as much as seeing the finished result of genius. I brought back the joy of creation.
I brought back new art from the city that contains so much antiquity.
I brought back a healthier body than when I left. Again, this was eating pasta, bread, gelato and drinking wine. I was bemoaning my week back home living a sedentary life. I see clients for six to eight hours, four days a week, and then sit at my computer to write. My lover listened, then reminded me of the real difference between home and Italy.
In Italy, I had places to go, and new things to experience every day.
All of those places and experiences require walking. And walking. And walking. At least five miles a day. The difference is that here, at home, I fall into old habits and ruts. There is a lot more to see and experience in Austin than I have in the seven years I’ve been here. He recommended I map out walks and places I wanted to go to, and then walk or bike there. Or I can drive and then walk. There are an abundance of hiking trails here, and except for the days of 107 degrees Fahrenheit, most days are good for moving around outdoors.
I brought back a stronger body that wants to continue moving.
A desire to find ways to walk and bike in a city that isn’t as built for it as Florence. People literally put their lives at risk biking on roads and highways here in the overcrowded city of Austin. Of course, they do the same in Florence, with its narrow cobbled streets, but cars can only go so fast there, which isn’t very. Even when they drive half on the sidewalk to pass people, cars and bikes.
I brought back the knowledge that many of the foods I think my body doesn't tolerate well, are simply not a problem when I’m walking constantly. I ate things in Italy that I never eat here. Cheese, cream, gelato, pasta, bread. Turns out I don’t have gluten sensitivity, and may not be allergic to the casein protein in milk. Who knew not being sedentary was the answer to eating things I want but had forbidden myself to have?
I brought back more self confidence and trust in my body.
Some who know me might sarcastically suggest that isn’t possible. At least the more confidence part. But I have always been good at faking it till I make it. While it’s true that I never shy away from adventure, often following paths with no clear end, and into dangerous situations, I’ve gotten a little wiser in older age. I didn’t follow my new Senegalese friend down the wrong street in Florence. (See above mentioned article).
I handled wrestling my suitcase and backpack onto and off of planes, trains, and automobiles, and up and down interminable stairs.
All this, after limping along far behind my sister in New Orleans the March before, because of knee and back issues. I seem to have mostly conquered both. Maybe it took the scare of not being mobile to make me commit to mobility, and top it by going to my dream foreign country alone. Whatever. It worked.
So, basically I brought back a new and improved me.
Less burdened by things, more active and limber, and more committed to writing. It doesn’t beat a young Italian lover, a 300 year old farmhouse, or a forgotten vineyard. But it’s good. And there is always next trip.