Italy in Retrospect
This post was originally published on the Integrity Blog.
Last summer, a fellow teacher friend and I found ourselves on a plane. We said goodbye to the blazing, 120 degree heat of the southwest and were headed for a few weeks in Florence, Rome, and Cinque Terre. We were headed to study and behold art.
I have studied abroad during college, so I had been to Europe before. The first times I went overseas, it was in a whirlwind of giddy disbelief that I was there at all. Everything was fascinating. The street signs, the bits of unfamiliar conversation, the old churches, the food: it all was mesmerizing and exciting
This time around, I felt a more mature, well-balanced, cultured, and calm approach to the whole experience. It wasn’t a crazed type of excitement; it was more of a steady and, dare I say, deeper appreciation for everything I was about to behold.
If you know me, you know that I am a type A personality incarnate. I love tasks and organization and purpose and drive and all sorts of wonderfully ordered things. After an intense first year of teaching fourth grade, it felt beyond strange to have almost three weeks of pure leisure spread out before me.
However, this strange feeling of *free time* was very, very rich. It felt rich, marvelous, and really leisurely.
I don’t really have a beautiful, well thought out “lesson” that I learned from Italy. There wasn’t one principle that suddenly revealed itself to me as I wandered the streets of Florence and gazed upon a rainbow of frescoes and beheld the remnants of Renaissance culture.
This trip, simply put, made me happy. It made me better just because it happened at all. While I don’t have a single “take away”, I do have little musings from my heart from this adventure.
~It is a wonderfully gratifying experience to have studied Christian culture for so long and so meticulously, only to have the pleasure of seeing art and history in the flesh before you, cappuccino in hand. It is a great experience to have a travel companion who has a wealth of knowledge about Italian art and to sit with her on a museum bench and discuss, *really discuss*, a seventeenth century altar piece. When I step into ancient Roman ruins and glistening Baroque buildings, my education of the past has become so ensconced into who I am that the experience brings up all sorts of wonderful memories, intense classroom discussions, and strenuous papers. Having a knowledge of the Italian Catholic culture and then just coming to simply “behold it” was a very thrilling and yet peaceful thing to do. It makes principles and truth come alive to me now.
~Friends are valuable treasures. I had two very dear friends of mine from college who currently live in Florence and we were able to visit with them again during our stay. It was so beautiful to know that great friendships do survive the test of time. Conversation still flows so effortlessly and joyfully with true friends, even if you are on the other side of the world. Hold on to your friends.
~Gelato is no joke. The last time I was in Italy, I was so aware of saving money that I treated myself only once. So much for that nonsense. This time around, we splurged on heaping piles of nutella, pistachio, chocolate, and coconut gelato almost every night. It felt so good, so right, to just say to hell with it and treat myself. This taught the controlling part of me a sweet lesson: life is to be freaking enjoyed. There is a time for fasting and sacrifice and self control, but there is also time to enjoy the living daylights out of glorious things like Italian gelato.
~Christ is everywhere. I found Him in tiny little churches in the Italian countryside, dark and musty with only a handful of townspeople in the pews, just the same as I found him in St. Peter’s Square lit up in the evening. Beauty is everywhere, He is everywhere, if only you open your eyes and seek to find Him where He waits.
~Italian customer service: I’m sorry, I have no words. This also taught the control freak in me a lesson: who really cares? Everything is easy and no problemo. If you’re not dead, or dying, you’re fine.
~Local culture, small towns, crooked streets, crowded bars, salty wind, and soccer championships playing on a small TV brought out into the street….now THAT is really something. I don’t care much about soccer (football, whatever), but these local Italian people, screaming and dancing and drinking and laughing in the street, made soccer one of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever endured. I just stood there, a bottle of wine in my hand, laughing as the street exploded with emotion at the sight of a goal and I wished that I could always experience sports like this.
~Art is real, it is good, and we need to be doing a hell of a lot more of it. It inspires me to see actual young adults taking their vocation as artists seriously. It inspires me to see the pinnacle of human expression painted on ceilings and walls. It inspires me to have patience with my own art, to encourage others to start and continue, to take it up more often. The world needs painters and drawers and artists and we need them now more than ever in a world that forcefully convinces us that these things don’t matter as much as jobs and money. Well, beautiful and profound art does matter, and maybe it takes gazing upon an old Italian masterpiece to help us understand this again.
Bottom line: if you physically, monetarily can muster up the ability to go travel, just go. Just go out there and experience it. Even if your feet are bleeding (like mine were), even if you’re tired and worn out, even if you’re not sure that your gelato spree isn’t devastating your bank account, even if you have to wait hours in line to see the most famous statue in the world, just go out there and see it.
You may regret many things in life. You may regret unsaid apologies, harsh words, wasted chances, unaccomplished goals. Don’t make traveling one of them. Don’t make studying history one of them. Don’t make experiencing good art of them.
Don’t make crazy holy adventures or sweet experiences things you shoulda, coulda, woulda done.
Just do them and enjoy them.