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Archive for June, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I can more fully understand an experience after I’ve had a while to process it. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of something, good or bad, and try to assess right then, but I’ve learned that better understanding comes after an experience has had time to stew for awhile. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Italy last summer, exactly a year ago, and so I’ve been going through everything that we did there as well as the photos.

A year ago yesterday, my mom and I spent our last night in Rome. We had had a long, hot, day visiting Pompeii and Naples (mind-blowing, by the way) and wanted to spend a relaxing evening before driving to Florence the next morning.

At the time, I was eager to move on to Florence, excited to see what would come next. Rome was overwhelming, but in a good way. There was just so much to see and I knew we’d never do it a bit of justice in just three days. I think to truly experience Rome, I would need to stay for a while, sit with a glass of vino at a sidewalk café day after day, wander the streets with no goal in sight, and just feel the rhythm, the pulse, of the city. Being independently wealthy would help with that.

I love big cities; I adore the energy that they hold. They have personalities all their own and Rome is no exception. Rome is just so big, in so many ways. There is some sort of order, but not the kind that’s in London, Dublin, or Sydney. The centuries of tumultuous history that have made it into what it is today are still there, everywhere you look. Scooters fly by the ruins that mark the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Egyptian-influence mixes with Greek. Morning and evening rush hour zooms under the magnificent Roman wall still surrounding much of the city. Modern life goes on, but pays its respects to the events and buildings that have been the foundation of the Eternal City since its very beginning. It’s a crazy paradise.

Roman wall

Roman Wall

 

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The Coliseum and Roman Forum

Rome was patient with us. My mother had had to fight jet lag for the first time ever, an unpleasant experience for even the most jaded traveler. We had a fabulous guide, though, Lynne, who provided us with equally wonderful local guides during our time there and that made it all the better. We learned to walk boldly into the crazy traffic to cross streets, (Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, no eye contact with the drivers, and GO!) to see Vespas that tore down sidewalks and zipped in between the throngs of tour buses and cars as the norm, and became accustomed to the constant beeping of horns.

I learned particularly quickly how to dissuade all gypsies, some aggressive, with a hand up and a firm, “No, grazie”, before walking past them and holding my bag close, hand on the zipper, nothing in my pockets. (“Gypsy” is sometimes seen to be a derogatory term, but it includes all of the scammers that hang out to pick pockets or swindle people, especially tourists. The term used to be used to describe only the Roma, but there are many different nationalities of people whose main occupation is to steal in Europe. “Gypsy” seems to cover them all in Italy.) We had successfully navigated the bus system, getting off at a stop relatively close to the Coliseum, walking the rest of the way, and then making it back to our hotel the night before. We paid the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café Rome to eat and get a t-shirt for Oldest Child. We saw many of the treasures of the Vatican Museum, walked through and prayed in the stunning Sistine Chapel, and began to make friends in our tour group. Our first three days had been busy, to say the least.

 

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Basilica

Visiting the Vatican, its own independent country but completely within Rome, walking over the spot where St. Peter is reportedly buried (THE Peter, the fisherman, the one who walked with Jesus, who saw him risen, that one), standing in St. Peter’s Square, the place that’s on my television every Christmas Eve for midnight mass even though I’m not Catholic, yeah, those experiences still floor me. I can’t believe I was there, in the middle of all of that history. Religious or not, the volume of the priceless art alone is enough to give one shivers of glee. Throw in the religious significance and it can reduce you to a puddle of joy.

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View from the Vatican

 

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Remains of a temple in the Forum

Anyhow, on that last night, we found a nice little outdoor café/restaurant for dinner. Outdoor cafés are all over Italy, some are expensive, many are very reasonable, and I really think that’s a fabulous way to experience the country. The people-watching is spectacular. We had quite a bit of free time to do as we liked, something that I think is important on a tour. I’m learning from the Rick Steves’ philosophy of going where the locals like to go in addition to the popular tourist hangouts, a very rewarding experience.

The night was warm, but not too hot, and the waiter was very nice. I tried ordering completely in Italian (I had been getting bolder with my language skills) and laughed when the waiter repeated my order back to me in English. I teasingly shook my finger at him, chiding that I was practicing my Italian and that he wasn’t helping me. With good humor, he graciously listened to my broken Italian and spoke slowly the rest of the time so that I could understand. I found that to be the case in many places, especially in our hotel in Roma. The front desk staff all seemed to be amused by my attempts, but not in a mean way. If I was struggling with a word, they would gently say the English version and then the Italian after to help me along. I’ve always tried to be helpful with those who speak English as a second language here in the States, but that experience has taught me to be even more mindful of the language barrier.

The wine came, the food came. Everything was delicious. My mother and I talked for a long time, a luxury with our normally busy lives at home but in Italy, everyone makes time to talk, everyone takes the time to visit, especially in the evenings during the passagiata. The passagiata is the walk that people take in the cities and towns, usually around a piazza, or city square. People visit, have an aperitif before dinner, (Italians eat dinner late.) and generally relax after a day of work or play. It’s a lovely idea and a wonderful time to watch people. The entire evening was spectacular and although I was ready to leave for Florence, I felt a stab of regret that I had leave Roma so soon, just as I was getting to know her. The sensory overload that descended on me when we first drove into Roman traffic that first morning was just starting to make sense. I wanted more, I wanted to wander without a schedule, to accidentally find treasures that I hadn’t read about and I plan to go back one day and do just that. Well, with a Rick Steves guidebook and map.

Now, those who know me know that my true love is London. There are places where people know that they belong and London is it for me. but Rome and her sister cities have so much to offer that I want to keep coming back. I don’t think I could ever live there, I crave order and timeliness on a daily basis and while Roma has its own sense of order and time, it would be too overwhelming. I would need to take breaks from the energy, but I know that Rome would always leave me wanting more, never running out of marvels. It’s like a rich dessert: a little bit will satisfy, but you will keep making it because it’s so good. There will always be a reason to return.

Pieta

Pietà

This is just the beginning of my memories of Italy. I condensed Rome into just over one thousand words, no easy feat, especially when I could have filled a small book with just those three days. For such a short time there, it planted a long root in my soul that will continue to come back long after I think it to be gone. Well done, Roma, well done.

A presto.

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I love airplanes and airports. I mean, I really, really, love them. My head spins around like Linda Blair’s when we pass Detroit Metro. We live under a flight path and when planes fly over our house, I wonder where they’re coming from. Who is on them? What are their stories? Are they on holiday? Business? Have they just been, or are they going, to somewhere they’ve always wanted to go? The possibilities are endless.

It’s no secret that I love to travel, and I think that’s a big part of my crush. Airports are exciting places! There’s so much to look at, so much to see. Overpriced restaurants, designer shops, tacky souvenirs, and cool fountains abound. The first time I saw a Burberry store or a Jimmy Choo shop was in an airport. Of course, I could never in a million years afford to buy anything, but it was fun to pretend that I could.

The thing is, if you’re in the airport far enough to see all of these wonders, YOU’RE ACTUALLY GOING SOMEWHERE. ON AN AIRPLANE. That’s so cool. I always want to ask everyone where they’re going, since everyone past security is a passenger. It used to not be that way. On my trip to Ireland back in 2001, Mr. Marty Man, Oldest Child, and Middle Child walked me to the gate. We all simply walked through the metal detector and went, no questions asked. A few short months later, our world was turned upside down with 9/11 and, well, now my brother gets pulled out for the “special screening” machine and we have to take off our shoes. I don’t mind, though. There are bad guys out there and safe is good.

I love the airplanes, themselves, too. Not in a mechanic sense, but airplanes get you places fast, unlike cars. Now, there are some good things to be said about road trips, especially if they’re with the right people, but I am not one of those who enjoys the journey. Mechanical problems that can strand you, other stupid drivers, stopping for gas, stinky feet, staying in crappy hotels on the way, no, thank you. I want to get to where I’m going, as quickly as possible and an airplane is the quickest means to an end. I know, they’re no picnic to ride on for long flights. They’re cramped (it’s a dream of mine to get bumped up to first class with leg room) and crowded, and the bathrooms leave much to be desired, but I can make it across the Atlantic Ocean to my favorite place in the world (that would be London, in case you’re wondering) in less than seven hours. If I were to get in a car and drive for seven hours, I can end up in some nice places, like Springfield, Illinois, but if I really wanted to get to Springfield quickly, an airplane would get me there in about an hour and a half. Convenience.

After I went to Australia many years ago, I thought I had my fill of airports. Trying to sleep on the floor of the Auckland, New Zealand airport for seven hours waiting for our flight to Sydney was almost unbearable due to the fact that we had been traveling for almost twenty-four hours and it was the middle of the night in the airport, so nothing was open. Those were some looooong flights and layovers, for sure. When we got back, I thought I would be happy if I never saw an airport again, but it was only a couple of weeks before I felt the yen to travel again. I wouldn’t get on a plane again until my honeymoon, five and a half years later, but I felt that itch every time I passed the airport. Just for reference, Detroit Metro is visible from the freeway, I94, that I travel on a lot.

When Mr. Marty Man and I flew to Miami on that honeymoon, the magic happened all over again. Somewhere in those years, I decided that travel was going to be a crucial part of my life and, luckily, it has been. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to many places in my life and I would love to make it more. When a plane flies over, I feel that pull, that tug to wherever that plane is heading, off on another adventure. It’s led me to Florida a few times, Australia/Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Ireland, the UK, and Italy. I also have a stamp in my passport for Amsterdam, although I was only in the airport for a layover, but it look cool.

My primary target is Europe. Marty Man would like to see more of the US, where we live, and that would be okay, but I absolutely adore Europe. The history alone is enough to make me cry, and it has. It humbles me to say that I stood in the Sistine Chapel, a masterpiece of art, with tears pouring down my cheeks (which, incidentally, does not help with the humidity issue) at the sheer beauty of the place. I have been floored at the majesty of Westminster Abbey. I know there are people who are similarly affected by spots in the U.S. or Asia, or lots of other places but for me, Europe was always the place I dreamed about since I was a little girl. It has not yet disappointed. (Well, maybe the toilets in Rome. They were pretty gross.) There’s something about walking down a street that has been a street for over 2,000 years that does something to me. There’s something about being in the exact place that my ancestors came from that connects me on a spiritual level. There’s something eye-opening about having the realization hit you that there are other perspectives in this world besides the one from your own country and wondering how that fits into the international dance of give and take. Travel is education.

Why am I postulating on this? Oldest Child is in the UK right now for a study-abroad session through his college. As I write this, though, he’s actually in very good hands with my friend Sabrina, close to Venice, for  his off weekend. He is learning things there, gaining experience that he could not get at home and for that I am grateful. And just a teeny bit jealous. Well, maybe more than a teeny bit, but I’ll get over it. Anyway, his being there is why I’m thinking about this right now and I’m so happy that one of my kids has caught the travel bug like his mama.

I’m always looking for my next chance to fly. If you ever get the chance, take it. Don’t be scared off by the unknown or different, for things that may or may not ever happen to you. Take the chance, take the risk because chances are it will be just fine and you’ll learn something new while having a blast. In the meantime, I’m going to continue gazing at the sky and dreaming of my next adventure.

A presto.

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It’s that time of year again: graduation season. My FB newsfeed is full of announcements, plans, invitations to graduation parties, and happy pictures. I remember Oldest Child going through this last year and next June, we’ll go through it again with Middle Child. It’s a wonderful, exciting (expensive!), time for the grads and their families and I really can’t wait for my other two boys to experience it, even if my bank account can.

As anyone who has graduated from anything knows, it can be daunting and overwhelming. It seems like everyone has such high expectations of you, but you might not know what comes next. Now, Oldest Child knows exactly what he wants to do and he’s set about it with admirable tenacity. Middle Child is thinking about it, but he’s undecided at the moment and that’s okay. There’s time to figure it out. Youngest Child bounces from being an FBI agent to working with animals in some capacity, but he has quite a while yet. We don’t put pressure on them to be one thing or another, but we do make it clear that they are expected to be able to support themselves after college, not as easy of a prospect today as it was fifty years ago. I want their college years to be good, to be well-spent, to help them into a fulfilling career, but most of all, to do something that they love.

It’s tough, though, this growing up business. College or work? What to study? How to pay for it? Community college or university? Commute or live on campus? Drink or don’t drink? Do what your parents want you to do or follow your heart? Focus and study, or party? High school graduates have so many options and possibilities, including ones that they haven’t opened themselves up to yet. I look at all of the happy pictures and wonder what’s ahead for these kids, these young adults who have their whole lives to live. This is the time that they can make adult decisions, sometimes affecting a single evening, sometimes affecting their whole lives. Good choices and bad, they will all contribute to the adult that they will become.

Me? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I was overwhelmed in my first year of college and didn’t do very well, except for my theatre classes, which I loved. I had skated through the high school honors program with no problem, but my first year of college was a wake-up call. I didn’t know how to do anything for myself. A couple of years later, I started back to community college part-time, class by class, honestly applying myself this time, using up my savings bonds and acquiring (many, many, many) student loans. I decided on teaching because that’s what everyone told me I should do. Even though it turned out to not be the right decision for me, I was proud that I graduated from college even though it took me 15 years. Would I do it all over again that way? Not in a million years, which is why I’m trying to make sure that my boys are prepared.

In the end, though, each graduate has to decide what they’re going to do. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to screw up royally sometimes, some more than others. At this age, they’re very smart and savvy about certain things, but they really don’t understand what’s ahead. They don’t know how fast circumstances can change, how even though they think they have life figured out, they don’t. When that reality hits, it hurts, not only them, but their parents as well. We can’t just kiss the boo-boo anymore, they have to live with their decisions.

I remember, as I’m sure many of you do, those feelings of insecurity, but also of invincibility. It’s that feeling that contributes to the risky behavior that teens are famous for, although to different degrees for each individual. Some teenagers are just more mature than others. Brain studies show that the decision-making part of the brain isn’t finished growing until around twenty-one years of age and with some kids, that’s easy to see. I am definitely worried about the group of boys I saw in Kroger yesterday. Obnoxious in the store, reckless in the parking lot, their actions put other people at risk but they didn’t see that. They were only concerned with having a good time. I’m sure that if they would have hit someone with their cart or while fooling around in the parking lot, they would have felt terrible, but that regard for others was obviously not in their heads. I feel for these kids, although that kind of behavior is exactly why I did not want to teach high school and why I walk the other way from a group of teenagers unless I know them personally. Part of what makes me cringe is that I remember acting like a teenager and, as an adult, it embarrasses me. That’s one thing I would wish for our graduates: Try and understand how your actions affect others. If someone had told me that back then, though, I don’t know if it would have sunk in.

There are other kids, though, that seem to be light years ahead of the others in maturity and I feel for them, too. It’s tough to see what your peers are doing and make the choice to take the high road. I commend those kids, but I’d also like them to know that it’s okay to screw up once in a while, that even adults screw up a lot. That’s how we learn and as long as we know enough to not make those mistakes again, we’re doing all right..

Graduating high school is an achievement. Becoming an adult is really hard. I would love to tell our grads, my own included, that life, real life, for them is just beginning. This is one of the most exciting times of their lives, but they might not realize it until later on. Don’t waste it, don’t study something you hate or are ambivalent to because people tell you that you should. Don’t spend these years in a haze of intoxication or laziness. DO something to make your mark on the world in a good way. Be a force of light in the world. You are the next generation. What will you do to make life better?

A presto.

 

 

 

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