The Final Word - Almost Six Months Later

Posted by Whit Barringer , Saturday, November 03, 2007 5:58 PM

What happened to me? School, work, and, unfortunately, laziness.

There are actually about four days worth of posts missing from my trip to Italy, but it's really alright. They're some of the most vivid I had while I was there. I remember packing up everything and seeing the apartment for the last time, upset and relieved that I wouldn't be back. I remember trekking in the 100 degree weather with four (or five, if my roommate couldn't carry her fourth) suitcases and bags wrapped around necks, shoulders, and hands, and having to call for backup from our friends across the bridge (which is where we heading anyway - it was closer to the busstop to go meet them where they were and go from there instead of going the full distance at 2:00 A.M.). I remember the fireworks show the night before we left, and how it lasted for 45 minutes (American fireworks shows are around 1/4 of that). I remember my roommate getting sick and the rest of us getting her a 1 Euro gelato that started melting the minute it was slapped on the cone. We literally ran through the streets, hitting dead ends in our gelato-panic, dashing into the apartment and smashing in onto a saucer, and how we laughed about how much we cared to bring it to her.

That night, we wheeled our luggage to the bus. We were talking for a while, but we fell into reflective/sleepy silence. I tried to go to sleep, but my mind was whirring. About mistakes I had made, things I wish I'd done, experiences that I wanted back, laughter that I wanted to relive. I was utterly depressed, but I felt the ambitious pull of painting pictures and telling lively stories to my family and friends. And indeed I would do so. But it didn't keep me from feeling that I was losing a home.

I fell in love with Italy - its people, its culture, even its heat (which is amazing, considering most of my posts spend at least a few lines complaining about it. But often what we complain about becomes softened when we leave it behind). I learned a lot about myself, especially the limits of my endurance, strength, and patience. I guess that's the point - the heart, in all its intensity and stubbornness, travels as well.

Fast forward about 24 hours (after the airport lost all 40 of our bags and we had to spend 3 hours filling out forms - no, I'm not kidding) and I'm at home, giving out presents, telling funny stories, showing off my tan gained and weight lost, and dreading returning to work the next morning. I think out of the whole thing, that was the hardest part of coming back. There was no phasing in, no extra day off. I was yanked from one side of the world to the other by the computer screen in my cubicle. I shared a few stories, but already my experience was so far away that it felt like it had never happened. The evidence was only in my darkened skin, but I felt like I had always been that way. What had changed? Was I the same person? Was I truly unchanged by the incredible experience that was my stay in Florence?

I don't know that anyone can go somewhere and be completely be unaffected, not excluding the kneejerk unthoughtful "it was good" or "it was bad" responses. And certainly, my experience cannot be narrowed into something so shallow. In fact I would say that it was one of the single most important events of my life. At one point I would have called it a "long-term experience", which would at least imply that it was substantial and long-lasting. But it seems like it happened years ago, and has taken on the quality of "events" like "the ninth grade."

As I move away from the event, the more I see how it's affected how I think of the world. I can see more of the shape of the world because I've seen what the other side looks like. While I haven't been everywhere, my eyes have at least been opened a little. I can feel the pull of others to empathize - and now I have the absolutely invaluable ability to do so because I've at least seen, if not felt, what's going on.

On the other side of it is the encounter with man-made beauty. I was able to see the source of the Western model of beauty. It was like reading about the ancient gods and then meeting them, one-on-one, in all of their indifference to time and place (which is part of what makes them crucial to the beauty-paradigm, isn't it?). I saw David and Venus, two of the most adored works in Western history. I saw the embodiment of the ideals. I saw it, beheld it, and stood in awe of it.

As far as reflections go, this has been rather piecemeal and disjointed. But that's because I haven't found a way to combine all of my ideas about Italy into one session. I don't think I ever will. It's still molding, and changing me, stirring me. Thankfully, I don't think I'll ever make up my mind.

Now! Finally, I can write about other things.

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