No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.Lewis Carroll, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland
Musings Along the Way
Have you ever considered the expanse of 3,500 miles? As I write this, it’s 3:11am in London and we’re at the far northeastern edge of Canada, 39,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Looking at the icon of an airplane on the screen reminds me that, cocooned in this massive metal cylinder, I’m just a spec in the scope of 3500 miles, moving 500 miles closer to somewhere every hour. There is little in our day-to-day existence to give us such a sense for our little place on this massive planet. The fact that we will cover such a distance in about 6.5 hours is staggering.
Sitting in London’s Heathrow airport this morning, I wondered if perhaps I had followed Alice down that infamous rabbit hole. Even with the comfort of familiarity with the English language, walking through the hustle and bustle of this beehive of an airport is a journey of patience mingled with a persistent sense of being overwhelmed: with humanity, with sound, with known and unknown brands, smells, and the foreign. Walking from one end of our terminal to the other, I felt like Neo first being introduced to the Matrix by Morpheus, walking along the busy streets of New York City, bodies coming at him from all directions and an inability to move fluidly among them.
Isn’t life a grand and glorious adventure? One of the first things that appear on any long journey is the departure. Of course, the truth is that the traveler began the departing months before. Our four week sojourn in Italy began with the seed of celebration, thirty years of marriage seemed like a great cause, and grew into a vision for an extended trip that would include my parents. Leaving our neighborhood, our last sight was seeing three of our grandchildren sitting together in their front yard, playing quietly, oblivious to the fact that Nanny and Poppy would be gone for what is both a moment and forever in their child’s minds. What a gift to have such a simple concept of time, seeing it as neither taker nor giver, but simply what is now fully present.
Following airline recommendations, we left for the airport nearly four hours before our flight was scheduled to leave feeling like we were leaving way too early. Ninety minutes later, I was at the gate with Brandi from American Airlines working feverishly to find us a path to Rome as a flight delay guaranteed that we would miss our connection in Philadelphia. It would take another 60 minutes to get us rerouted through an earlier flight to JFK, then London, and finally Rome. If we had not gotten to the airport when we did, we would have been a day later getting to our destination. Lesson learned. Thank you Brandi, you were amazing.
Almost exactly 24 hours later, we were touching down in Rome. Flying over the Alps and then along the Mediterranean coast seemed like something I had seen in a movie – it was all a bit familiar and surreal at the same time. The modern Italian buildings looked like any high rise apartment or office buildings one might see in any major city in the United States. Glass and steel and concrete efficiently designed to hold the maximum volume of humanity in a relatively small footprint. Modern streets and railways, airport and train terminals, all felt like the known but the language and unfamiliar settings reminded us that we were a long way from Indiana. I found myself thinking, or perhaps saying out loud, “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Having traveled enough to know how to navigate many of the challenges of a new city, airport, train station, and language, I’m still always surprised by how disorienting it always is when being submerged into it. Where to go, what to say, which train is the right train, which question is the right question and who do you ask…no matter how prepared I think I am, it is always a process of first faltering steps. Sometimes literally. An hour and half later, I was laying on my back on the ground feeling stupid after tripping on a step up a hill in the dark in what was the most visceral example of my sense of disorientation – I totally missed it as I was busy trying to navigate the forest, er, streets, and missed the tree in front of me. No worries, a (somewhat) fluid action roll saved me from anything worse than my own sense of embarrassment.
The Journey Continues
Fall notwithstanding, we made our way into the buzz of Napolitano night life which was, even at 9pm on a Sunday, wildly dynamic – which to our exhausted and somewhat shell-shocked selves, was massively chaotic. Walking any new city’s streets at night is its own combination of disorientation mingled with fear of the unknown – are we in the right place? Are those homeless people sleeping on the steps of the gorgeous Galleria dangerous? Will these crazies on their motorbikes actually run us over as we cross the street? Our bold foray was rewarded with an outstanding introduction to Naples at Antica Pizzeria Brandi, nestled along an absolutely iconic Italian street, complete with pizza, wine, live music, and humanity brushing up against us as we sat at a table leveled on a small platform along the steep incline. Ahh, belle Italia!
Now it is 8:17am and I am sitting in my first Italian cafe, actually outside of it, in perfect sunshine amid the bustle of Napoli’s Via Cristoforo Colombo – directly across from the coastline and a big port complete with cruise ships. Modern buildings stand next to spires and castles, as you would expect in any old European city, and the air is filled with beeping cars and motorcycles (motorbikes everywhere!) along with the sing-song rhythm of the natural Italian speakers surrounding me. I’m working on my Italian; for some reason, it has not come as naturally as the Spanish or French but I will persist. One more set of first faltering steps.