What am I doing right now? I am sitting in an airport in Newark, watching August Rush, sipping a Heineken, enjoying my layover before hopping on an eight hour flight to Munich, Germany. After spending an entire day in Munich, I will board another long flight to New Delhi – my home for the summer. But that’s not what this blog is about. I can’t talk about that here. I need to close out my Italian adventure before I move on to this other crazy escapade and forget all the amazing things I learned last semester.
Last we talked, I was sitting next to the Colosseum in Rome (or reminiscing about sitting next to the Colosseum in Rome, I suppose). It was a beautiful Spring day, and I was at peace. I left the scene completely immersed in my own thoughts and quietly took the train back to Orvieto. It is always wonderful to come home to an apartment full of fun-loving, incredible people. I love that I was so quickly able to call that place my home and my roommates my family. After all the chaos of travel, no matter how fun and inspiring, I always felt so happy – so relieved – to just be home with the people I love. Anyway, that night we set up a final ‘family dinner’ with a new crew. We invited our professors – Alpa, Tony, Marina, and Serena – over to our apartment for a final meal all together (although I think I used the term ‘last supper’ at least three more times before I actually left Italy).
Kirby had been cooking all day and was loving it. I helped a little bit when I got back but could take very little credit when it was all said and done. I’m trying to remember what all we had – I know we started with garlic knots and salad, and then I think we had chicken with olives and rice? And wine, of course. Oh, and Marina supplied the dessert – a sort of Italian candied fruit cake. I don’t remember the name, but you must toss aside all negative thoughts brought to mind when someone mentions fruit cake in America and trust me when I say, it was absolutely delicious.
Honestly, the whole night was really good. It was so nice to spend time with my professors outside of the school setting. Despite our differences in the classroom, I truly appreciate each of them as people. Tony was hilariously awkward in a room of girls, but just as fun as I remember him being in the beginning of our trip. Alpa loosened up a little bit and shared plenty of information about India with me, which I am sure I will be very, very grateful for here in about 24 hours. And then Serena and Marina were just as wonderful as ever. They are seriously two of the nicest, most sincere people I have ever met. I can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again. It doesn’t seem possible that you can gain such respect and build such a rapport with people, then say goodbye for good. I don’t like that at all.
Once pictures were taken and we said our goodbyes for the evening, the five of us girls got dolled up and met everyone else out at Clandestino. The highlights of the night had to be getting serenaded with Beatles songs by the town drunk and Ashley letting a stray cat into our apartment. I also took a picture with a giant lemon. Yes, a lemon. It was huge. So that was fun.
Ashley and Brendan left for Barcelona the next morning, so we started Friday, May 10th with family photos on our front ‘porch’ and goodbyes. Kirby and I went for a walk on the Rupe. It was as beautiful as ever. I didn’t realize how much it transformed over our four months stay until I looked through my old pictures a few weeks ago – completely different, but equally as exquisite. The goodbyes continued with our final program dinner at a little place in Orvieto that I didn’t know existed. We ate antipasti after antipasti, gnocchi with truffle sauce, cured beef, and a rice-pudding-esque dessert. It was absolutely delicious (as if you were expecting me to say anything else). Tony got up and made a semi-emotional speech, and we gave our last hugs to our Italian professors. I almost cried, which doesn’t happen that often – or didn’t used to… darn it, Italy. The group meandered through town to Bar Duomo and spent the next couple hours there. I am compiling a catalogue of all the people in my Italian story, so I made quite an effort to make everyone uncomfortable with my camera throughout the course of the night. I had to remind them they would thank me in the long run.
We took one last look at the Duomo at night. I am in love with that thing. It will forever be stamped in my memory – forever making me feel so small, so welcome, so fortunate, so inspired… what else can I say?
(No, I actually have more to say. My apologies.)
Maryam and Cassiday left the next morning for their Eurotrip – leaving Kirby and I as the only remaining Vicolo Pianzola residents. I went to the market for the last time and said goodbye to all my favorites. I also insisted on getting pictures of them for my catalogue. Naturally, some people were more enthusiastic about this request than others. The goofy guys we always bought blood oranges from insisted I get in the picture with them. They made me hold a melon, ha. Then they started talking about ‘la bella figura,’ and the main guy tried asking me out to lunch. I decided it was probably time for me to say my last goodbye at that point, as fun as they were – they didn’t need any more encouragement. I took pictures of the man with the dried fruit, the meat and cheese guys, the girl from Scarponi, and my main vegetable squeeze – although I couldn’t forget their faces if I tried.
Kirby and I toured Pozzo della Cava after the market. I can’t believe we almost didn’t go. It is this cool, privately owned underground cave system with modern interventions and a deep Etruscan well. I was thoroughly impressed. I think I mentioned wanting to live there at one point. The little old man in charge didn’t speak a lick of English, but he was adorable. He made sure we stood on the special glass window in the floor, exposing an open shoot that went tens of feet down into the ground, before we left.
I spent the afternoon on a long walk by myself. I had to venture through the old cemetery and to the overlook with the view of Orvieto once more, since the last time we went I didn’t have a memory card in my camera. It was storming in the distance, so I didn’t stay long – but the sky was incredible. It was a perfectly beautiful day and Orvieto never looked better. The green rolling hills, the tufa rock, the stone buildings, the tile roofs, the bell tower, the Duomo towering over it all… remember when I said it doesn’t seem fair that something that beautiful exists? Well, I still feel that way. It pains me to think that most people won’t get a chance to stand there and see it all for themselves. I am so lucky, and I don’t know why. Why do I get to be so insanely blessed? I wish I could tell you. All I know is that that view on that day put itself in my internal memory book. It’s not going anywhere. I get chills just thinking about it. Oh and there were yellow flowers everywhere! Add those to your visual. They are important.
Those of us stragglers still in town had our last gelato together by the Duomo later that day. I took more pictures and did some souvenir shopping. I wanted to go to the olive wood shop on the ‘Magic of Oz’ street, but it was closed – so I went to the little shop right next to there on Via del Duomo. Fate was at work as I ended up meeting the sweetest girl working there. She was so nice. I hope that even once in my life I have made that kind of an impression on a person in such a short meeting. I can’t even explain it accurately, but her kindness and enthusiasm just made my day. I have her name written down somewhere. I need to find that. What a great girl she was.
Following my shopping spree, I ventured to the west end of the cliff to watch the sunset. After the storms earlier in the day, the sky was filled with big puffy clouds – perfect for the perfect sunset. I was supposed to meet Kirby and Nadav, but we didn’t communicate well and I ended up watching it alone. It was absolutely perfect. The clouds were huge and pink, the sunset was clear, the grass was green. The way the light hit the walls of the surrounding buildings is something I can’t describe. You just have to see it. I don’t know what it was about that specific night, but the colors were so vibrant. It was a phenomenal sunset and more than I had ever hoped for.
The sun finally went down as it usually does, and I made my way back to the apartment to pack. I hadn’t brought my key with me, but I was supposed to be with Kirby so I didn’t think it would matter. Then, of course, we didn’t meet up – so I spent a good couple of hours on our porch/at Nadav’s house (Nadav wasn’t home. JC was a very gracious host) waiting. In the meantime, I occupied myself with slow shutter photography, drawing my name in lights and such. It was entertaining. And then Kirby finally found her way home, and I started packing my life away. I hate packing. I have never been good at it, and although I have gotten much better in the past few months, I will never do it ahead of time. Ever. So I stayed up later that I should have and got business done.
The alarm went off around 5:30 am as Kirby and I struggled to fulfill our promise to each other to watch the sun rise. For a short time I thought we might skip the sunset and go back to bed, but at the last minute we convinced ourselves to go. I threw on some tennis shoes, said forget the bra, and literally ran out the door. We had to run the whole way to make it to the east end in time for the sun to break the horizon, but we made it. Remember when I said my first view of the Duomo actually took my breath away? Well, I lost my breath here, too (and not from running… well, not entirely). We came up the cobblestone hill that marks my half-way point usually, and as we came over the top – this view unfolded. The sun hadn’t quite peaked yet, but in the dawn of the morning enormous, thick clouds of fog were rolling through the valley. I remember so vividly the first time I experienced the fog like that in Orvieto with Ashley on our very first run, and ever since I have been wanting to see it like that again. As God would have it, there it was on our last morning. Look at the picture below, and then multiply your astonishment by 10,000 – that was me. I couldn’t believe our luck. It was like we were floating above the clouds, like we were on top of the world. My heart was I suppose. It was a moment of pure joy, and I was so glad Kirby was there to share it with me.
It took us awhile to tear ourselves away, but we did. We walked through Piazza Cahen, reminiscing about our first impressions of Orvieto – remembering getting off the bus in that very spot, in the rain, and not being at all impressed. It didn’t take us long to realize how wrong we were. We spent the next hour or so walking down the Corso, and then by the Duomo for the last time. That early morning walk was so cool because no one was out yet. It was like we had the whole town to ourselves – like a movie set. We stared at the Duomo for a long time, took our last pictures, and turned and walked away without looking back. I promised Kirby right then that I would be back one day. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I will go back. I have to go back.
We made our ‘last supper’ lunch at like 9:30 am with everything we had left in the fridge. I think we ended up with pasta and pesto next to a potato hash of sorts. My dad would have been proud. I can’t lie – it wasn’t bad – but I was so full afterwards, nauseous almost. I suppose it is possible I was nauseous about leaving Orvieto. Perhaps it was a combination of the food and the emotions. Whatever it was, we powered through and gathered up all that we could, saying another goodbye. One last glance at the most perfect little front door on the most perfect little Italian street, and we boarded a bus to the funicolare. One train ticket later and we were on our way to Rome for the very last time.
It didn’t feel real. It just felt like another weekend trip that would end with me returning to Orvieto, but I was fooling myself. It was the end of an incredible journey, and I can tell you now four weeks later – that part of it finally feels very real. The ‘it being over’ part. The train zipped on down the line, and Orvieto was gone.
Kirby, Nadav, Gretchen, and I booked a hotel on the beach in Ostia Lido where RJ and I had been the week before for our last night. We spent far too long walking around looking for our hotel in the heat, as my bags were digging into my hands and shoulders. You could say I was less than thrilled, but we finally (and yes, I mean FINALLY) made it. I don’t know how we scored beach side rooms for so cheap, but we did. We spent the rest of the day walking along the water in the sand, then ordered some pizzas and ate our true last supper on our balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. Kirby suggested we sit on the pier to watch the sunrise, so we did. I wore sweatpants in public for the first time in four months that night, and I didn’t care. It was awesome – as was the gelato that followed. I had the very best limone gelato of the entire semester at a little shop on our way back to our beds. Thank you, Italy.
The next morning came quickly. A cab ride and a security check later, and we were on our way home.
It really happened that quickly. Just as abruptly as it began, my semester was over – and I could not believe it. I still couldn’t believe it when I met my family in KC. I’m sure I was tired, but I was kind of in a daze. It wasn’t until we were driving home after eating at Famous Dave’s BBQ, as I was whispering to myself “I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here” that I realized what had happened.
I had gone, and I had returned. I was different. It was almost like I was seeing America for the first time. Everything that used to be normal felt foreign, and I didn’t feel like this ‘new’ me belonged. And since no one I was around was able to see the change that I felt, I couldn’t expect them to understand. It was hard. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me obviously, as I had just had the most incredible experience of my life. I just needed them to acknowledge that I was adjusting, that I was seeing things differently and trying to process it all.
Days went by, and the transition got easier. I learned to re-appreciate, or maybe appreciate for the first time, certain comforts of home. I got to see people that I had missed for so long, and I was able to share my journey with them, reminding myself of all the blessings I encountered along the way. And now looking back, it is hard to understand how I was ever sad.
I am so incredibly blessed, so incredibly fortunate, so incredibly loved. I cannot be sad about that. The promises that God has for my life, the work He has already done – it is all part of my story. My pages are being filled. Tomorrow is blank, but not for long, and as I take each day – one at a time – beautiful, beautiful truths are revealed. This life is so beautiful. My life is so beautiful.
I know that not everyone is going to get to see the things I have seen. I know that not everyone will be able to relate to what I felt while I was away and when I returned, and that’s okay. I don’t expect people to see the world like I do, but I do expect you to take every opportunity to see the world through your own eyes in all its vibrancy. Don’t let it pass you by, don’t forget to seize opportunities, don’t overlook your blessings. The world we live in is so insanely amazing. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take people for granted, or conversations, or relationships.
Everything has its time, so as sad I was to say goodbye to Italy – I wouldn’t have done anything else with those four months. I have seen my God be faithful over and over again, so I know that His plan for my life is going to continue to unfold. Just as it should.
You may have the universe if I may have Italy? Possibly. Or maybe we should both just take tomorrow, wherever we each may be, and love it for all it is worth. My tomorrow is in India, so I guess I’ll start with that. What will you do?
Ciao per ora, miei amici. I love you more than you could ever possibly know.