This morning, my Italian mama, Maria, makes me a cappuccino. On the bus 20 minutes later, I feel like a cracked out windup toy. This is why I do not drink coffee. This is also why I have two pages of notes in my notepad which I can't make out. At the time, though, I felt very productive, and slightly euphoric. Is this why you people drink coffee? Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? JUST THINK OF ALL THE WORK I COULD GET DONE IF I DRANK THIS STUFF EVERY DAY.
I am on the way to the train station to meet my super fit yogini friend Morgan from Bali. She lives in Brooklyn now, but, in a fit of extremely good timing, is in Italy on a cruise with her mom and aunt. I am beyond excited to see her. Despite having said goodbye to Tegan only two weeks ago, to be abroad and spend the day with someone I have a history with, even if it’s a history of one month, feels nothing short of extraordinary.
When we meet, we hug for about an hour. One of the things no one talks about about traveling alone, or being alone, period, is how much you miss hugs. Never mind sexy stuff or romantic touch: I can’t tell you how much I’d give, some days, for a pat on the arm. They say human beings aren’t supposed to go days or weeks without touch, and as a traveler, I really see why. Getting a security check at the Istanbul airport was a lot more of a thrill than it should have been.
Anyway, Morgan and I head out to take on Florence, while simultaneously catching up on the last three months. This is what I love about great friendships – you can interweave seeing an ancient church with dissecting your lives, relationships and psychological theories.
We pause to appreciate an ancient fresco, and one of us says,
“But the thing with my mother is…”
Wevisit a 400-year old pharmacy and perfumerie that makes exquisitely scented, beautifully labeled potions. We wander into a shop that sells smartphone covers and spot ones that have sparkly floating stars and glitter in them. We each buy one. It is the most unnecessary, juvenile, unsophisticated purchase you could make in Italy, and yet every time we take out our phones, we are delighted.
Just your average mid-1600s apothecary
I tell Morgan about how Maria pointed out, yesterday, that there are two bathrobes in my room.
“I don’t need two,” I had said.
“Of course you do,” Maria said, looking confused. “One for the downstairs, one for the upstairs.”
Morgan buys a beautiful set of silk and lace lingerie. We have the richest, most calorie-ridden lunch imaginable, with a litre of gorgeous Chianti. When we part ways, I buy gelato while waiting for my train - strachiatella and strawberry - just because. As I look at the people around me laughing and gesturing over coffee, wine and vast amounts of carbs, I think about how sensuality – the enjoyment of food, of smell, of sex, as part of everyday life – is not something we learn to do very well in North America. I remember a friend telling me what her mom taught her: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
One of the key moments that got me on this whole journey was in an airplane bathroom, three years ago. I had been on holiday, visiting friends I loved and seeing places I’d always wanted to see. On the flight back home, seized with emotion, I ran to the airplane toilet and started bawling. Because I realized that these last few weeks I had felt alive in a way I hadn’t in years. Which meant that before that, I had been... kind of... dead.
It’s such a dramatic thing to say, but it was the truth. With the best of intentions, I had cut off huge parts of myself. I'd thought that’s what life was supposed to be about: sacrificing, shutting down, making it to the weekend. Spending most of my time doing what was good and proper, not what felt right and true.
I still struggle with how to be a good and useful person in this world. But not once in the past few months have I not felt alive. And while eating my fill of gelato is not the whole answer, it is, without question, how to live while in Italy: sensually, with sparkly floating stars, tasting everything, regretting nothing.