Ciao, OaklandMarch 30, 2012
You know what I love about Italy? That you don't ever enter a place without saying the equivalent of, first, hello! Hello! Oh, hello, how are you, hello, hello! And then when you leave, it's imperative that you must say Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye, take care, see you soon, travel safely, goodbye, goodbye!
And this is what strangers must do. If you know or like the person in question? Please multiple the number of Ciaos by approximately 17. I got no end of amusement sitting in campo cafes, watching people meet and leave each other. So much genuine affection! None of it sounded forced or cursory.
That's what I got from this whole trip (along with an extra pound or three from the carb consumption but let's not talk about it). I was struggling with the language, but I was stubborn about it, so instead of falling onto people's mercy and their mad skills with English (because everyone in the service industry in Venice speaks good English), I would muscle my way through things. It was exhausting, struggling to be understood.
And while I'd gone to Italy by myself in order to find quiet, I found myself strangely lonely sometimes. I wanted to laugh with someone, and to chat easily. I had coffee with my friend Santina, which was awesome.
But for the rest of the time, when I wasn't happily being quiet, I was searching for connection. I craved it. I didn't see that coming. I pictured myself in Italy, perfectly content to wander alone for eight days. But even with Facetiming Lala every night (what a world we live in! How cool is that that I could just DO that for free?), I was looking for someone to talk to.
I would pick a likely-looking person sitting alone and plan on saying something casually (sometimes it felt like I was single again, trying to work up the nerve to talk to someone at a bar). And then, in all cases, their other half would join them.
No one travels alone in Venice.
Now, I know that's not true. It can't be true. But in March of this year, I started to believe I was the only one traveling solo. It became a kind of game, watching for people who looked like tourists who were alone.
I became a connoisseur of the small connection.
Like the screaming set of twins on a very packed boat. The girl baby and I bonded. Every time I caught her eye, she stopped crying and started smiling and laughing. I swear I was drunk on the ten minutes of love we shared.
Or the cat lady (I will tell you about her at some point, I promise) who called me cara and kissed both my cheeks when we parted.
Or the punk bartender who played Sinatra (I actually ended up lapsing into English with him, and it was okay).
Or the lacemakers.
Or the very young waiter who, when I declined dolce, brought me a tiny plate of wee cookies anyway, to make my night sweet.
Or the young man, sitting opposite me, eating alone (oh! There was one!) and obviously completely miserable about it. Seen above, this is the way he ate his whole meal. I tried for a long time to catch his eye but he wouldn't look at me -- he ate with his head down or occasionally staring up at the sky. I was too shy to just speak out and grab his attention. But by the time he hit his dessert, I gave up and just spoke loudly, "How's your ice cream?" He transformed, utterly. He sat straight. He grinned. He said it wasn't very good, that I should order something else. He left shortly thereafter and wished me a wonderful evening, still standing straight and walking away smiling from ear to ear.
Those moments, those were the ones that made my trip. I know it seems obvious, but I was kind of caught flat-footed by it. I went with the intention to write, to finish the book I'm working on. I didn't do that. I only wrote in my journal and on the blog.
I went with the intention of seeking solitude, and found it, but craved connection.
I went with the intention to catch up on sleep. AND I DID. Hoo-yeah. Not a sleeping pill in sight, just glorious sleep.
But I didn't know, I honestly didn't know, that other people would be such a big part of my trip. So I'm trying to bring that home with me -- that delight in hearing someone else speak, a stranger.
Yesterday I was in my home post office, and an older gentleman told me I'd dropped a piece of paper. "No, I didn't, but thanks," I said. I think I had just kicked a receipt, but he was still worried.
"You never know, young lady. You coulda written an important number on that. You don't want to lose that."
So to humor him, I picked it up and flattened it, putting it in my pocket. Then I really looked at him. He was COVERED in military pins, from his military hat to his heavily-weighted jacket. Normally I would have smiled and wished him a good day. But instead I said, "LOOK at you! What IS all that you're carrying around there?"
His chest pushed out and he said, "Welp, happens I'm the most decorated veteran in the East Bay."
"Wow!" I said, impressed. I stuck out my hand. "Honored to meet you."
"Abner Walton," he said [I know]. "I was with the army. Now I'm the owner of Dynasty Investigation, for the last thirty years. I specialize in finding people. And let me tell you, I find the ones who don't want to be found."
He told me stories, and I gawped appropriately, and it was a lovely, lovely few moments. It took maybe five minutes out of my life. And isn't that exactly what life is FOR?
Being. Listening. Thinking. It means everything, doesn't it?
Venice kissed me one last time as I left, giving me this as I took the bus-boat away, suitcase at my feet.
It was amazing to be there. And it was amazing to come home, which is just the right way to travel, I think.
Digit agrees. (Lala said by the last few days of my trip, he kept trying to get out. She thought he was trying to go look for me. Awwww.)
* Boots for the win, by the way. I didn't see a single Italian woman under the age of sixty who wasn't wearing black boots. I brought a heeled pair and a low pair, and alternating them daily kept my feet happy till almost the very end when duct tape handled the two blisters I got (duct tape, the best thing EVER for blisters -- I never travel without some wrapped around a chopstick -- just wrap it around the part of foot where the blister is and it forms a new, thick skin that you can just keep walking on. Best thing I learned from running).
Ciao, ciao, salve, arrivederci, ciao!