[Written on Thursday, November 28th. Thanksgiving Day.]
I can’t believe the day has come. These 9 months are a blur. I don’t know what to say to you loyal readers, so, while I sit hear in London Heathrow waiting for my connection to San Francisco, I’ll just give it to you straight.
I did this trip expecting to have a blast. I would not have done it if I’d thought otherwise. I knew I’d see incredible art and architecture. I knew I’d eat well. I knew I’d drink a lot. I knew I’d travel outside Rome to spectacular places. I expected to hear wonderful music, and to see some beautiful landscapes and nature. All of that happened. That is not, however, what made this adventure so magical. What I’m most going to remember is something else: the people.
I did not expect the people. The thing I did not anticipate was the people. I did not see them coming. I did not know that people everywhere – and especially in Italy – would be so warm, generous, welcoming, hospitable, helpful, and friendly. I don’t know why, but I just did not know this. It blew me away.
I didn’t know that I’d meet a set of eclectic expats who live in Rome. This dynamic group – American, Australian, Filipino, German, Turkish, etc. – helped me with 50,000 things. Thank you for telling me where to eat, where to drink, what museums to visit, how to do laundry, where to go on trips, and how to deal with those daily frustrations of Roma. Thank you for having me to your homes, and for introducing me to so many others.
I did not know I’d get to hang out so often with a group of people who, like me, were in Rome short-term. Thank you for telling me your stories and for sharing your time abroad with me. I’ll always remember the incredible times we had, the struggles over which we commiserated about even temporary life in Italia, the piazzas, the museums, the walks, the talks, and all those nights drinking and eating together.
One thing I did know was that, if anyone came from home to visit me, we would have fun. But I did not know that they would really do it. Getting to spend so much one-on-one dedicated time with Yonkel; Oomps & Irene; Bryan; Sam, Ronnie & Marc; Matt; and Anna & Danny was incredible. It is so rare to get all that time together with great friends. I had a ball with each of you, and I’m so glad you made the trip. Likewise to all my friends, friends of friends, family, and former colleagues who were passing through Roma and met me for a drink or meal. Seeing your familiar faces in an unfamiliar place was awesome.
Of all of this, however, the thing that took me most by surprise was my Italian friends. I keep hearing that Italy is in decline. Some say it is a museum in itself – a collection of grandeurs past that is now fossilized. That’s not what I saw. Now, it may be that I saw a self-selected and narrow slice of the population. I know that’s possible. But the Italian people with whom I spent these 9 months are wondrous. They are vibrant, creative, witty, and cultured. They are interesting and interested. Most of all, they are warm, welcoming, kind, and generous. I know that all sounds hackneyed and clichéd. But it is true. I already miss them.
Most of all, that I was able to develop such close friendships with my tutors Paola and Valentina moved me. I guess we did not succeed in getting me to speak or understand much Italian – other than the sounds Italians make to characterize the noises that Italian farm animals make. (See my November 24th video in the post about Assisi.) But they taught me a lot about Italian culture and Roma, and they gave me selfless friendship – for me, that stuff was more valuable than learning to speak another language. I owe them the biggest grazie milles of all.
I guess my No. 1 take-away is this. We live in world of immense cruelty and suffering. They form a huge swath of the history of our species and they are relentless. (Before some of you get too excited, this is true of all other species too. We are not unique.) Evidence of such suffering exists all over Roma (and any other place you visit), and news of additional atrocities stun us each day. But, after 9 months in Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Turkey, Montenegro, and Finland, I was struck most by the other side of the coin.
I was repeatedly overwhelmed by the kindness that I received. There were of course occasional road-bumps; every once in a while, someone would clearly try to rip me off. But, wow, that was the exception. In upwards of 98% of my interactions, I found that other people are willing to – and want to – help. They want to share. They want to connect. They want to laugh, eat, and drink together.
Maybe I just got lucky. I doubt it. As someone who can at times be a cynical skeptic, this took my breath away. It reminded me of the closing line in Woody Allen’s Manhattan: "You have to have a little faith in people."
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If you’ve been reading from the beginning, then you know that these 9 months have been the time of my life. I have had the best year imaginable, filled with one fantastic experience after another. And, so, on Thanksgiving, let me close this manifesto by thanking you all – the readers.
To everyone who sent me even a single text or email, and to those of you who spoke or FaceTimed with me even once, thank you. Your travel tips, your hellos, your jokes, and just your names lighting up on my phone or computer meant the world. They grounded me and made me smile. They reminded me of all the great things and people at home. Because of you, I was not lonely for even due minuti while I spent 9 months traveling on another side of Earth.
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I’m not sure what will happen with this blog going forward. We’re still in talks with management about that. Please check in once or twice in the near future. We will have at least another few postings in the near-term. After that, who knows?
Arrivederci. Grazie mille. Ciao, ciao, ciao.