Monday, March 12, 2012

La Avventura Della Mia Vita: A Lifetime In The Making

This final post is another one of the better late than never ones that I've found nearly impossible to write to my liking. There are few things more difficult for me than putting my numerous life changing experiences into words on a page but I do know where to start.

Shortly after Christmas, I was still acclimating to my new surroundings while running some errands with a friend. He was asking questions about Italy which inspired me to reflect on the past year of my life. In doing that, I realized something that I hadn't previously thought of. There wasn't anything in the world that I would trade for the adventures I'd experienced. The memories and moments that have shaped me over the past year can never be taken away. There are instances in which you wish you did things different, or wonder how things would've turned out if you followed another path. There are accomplishments and successes in life that can never be taken away from you, and those that can. Maybe I could have had good a job, been in love and settled down on the heavily trodden path. I wouldn't want my last year to have been anything different than it was. No one will ever be able to take anything I did or felt away from me. One year in my life has never had such an effect on me in every possible aspect. I am changed forever, and I have new friends throughout the world that will last forever. This blog doesn't cover even a fraction of the crazy experiences I've had. The wild times and emotional rides will forever be a part of me. That is what I realized when recounting stories with my friend, and I made sure he knew that I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Look at the face on that fish
Being that it is something that Italy is famous for, I'll begin with food. My approach towards food in this year became very much symbolic of my approach towards life. There was a time when I was your typical Mr. Plain. Venturing outside of the comfort zone of staple foods was a great fear. I hated things I hadn't even tried. I previously mentioned my former aversion to seafood in my post about Ancona. This experience allowed me to open my stomach to new choices. Rabbit and horse are now among the list of foods I've tasted, but there is definitely one horrible meal that stands out among my memories. I'd like to say I'd never try squid ink pasta again after the half plate of it that I suffered through. I might be lying if I said that though because I've actually heard it is good elsewhere. At this point, that was a moment where my kindness, combined with an over adventurous attitude, got me in too deep. Not only did I suffer miserably through the small portion I could stomach, but I did it for an ex girlfriend, and it was only the first of two food sacrifices with the second occurring in Florence. She ordered the dish not knowing what it was nor did I have the slightest inkling myself. My dish was edible enough but she could barely manage a few bites of the squid ink with slimy fish plate in front of her. The fact that I took over that says more about my development as a human being than nearly anything else during my time in Italy (exaggeration).

In addition to all that, I've become a fresh and local food nut. The frozen food aisle in the supermarket is a restricted zone after frequenting the specialized produce markets, butchers, cheese shops and enoteche (wine shops) for a year. Fortunately, we currently hold an inspired competition at my present residence that consists of each person preparing one dinner a week. Up to this point meals have included rolatin, garlic and herb crusted tilapia and even a unique homemade interpretation of sushi. All this good eating even caused skinny me to return home with a little pudge around the waistline this time around. What I'm trying to say with all of this is to always let the places you go become a part of who you are, and that definitely includes the food.

Living abroad has changed me in more ways that I could have ever expected, and maybe even more than I even realize. Family and friends insist that I'm a very different person. I put it down to the newly inspired understanding of fashion that comes with the territory of living in Italy, and I have been fortunate to be complimented on that often. Others describe a different aura of maturity, confidence and charm. I feel different, but the change was gradual for me. For everyone else it was sudden. It wasn't the numerous shoes or scarves accessorizing my European inspired dress. It was an understanding of where I am in life, and what I want out of it. I can't claim to know myself or my path perfectly because I realize that I may never reach that point. The difference is that I realize the constant growth happening in, and around me. I remember very well the day I picked up and left the country. I had no idea what I was getting into nor was I prepared for it. Being thrown into the fire put me back to square one to relearn life and living. My friends and family were no longer there for anything, and it provided me an opportunity to escape to recreate myself. This wasn't a vacation to Italy or even your typical study abroad. There was no support structure to help nor was there a guide to follow. My perspective of life has been significantly altered from immersing myself in a culture where life is not all that similar to what I knew. And the more I traveled, the more I realized how little I know about the world we live in.

Italian Communist Party flags outside their office in a Palazzo I lived in
For all my talk of growing up, this experience allowed me to relearn the joys of being a child. My friends could provide vastly different accounts of my personality. My perspective of the world and politics is greatly changed from my time as a temporary citizen of a foreign country.Ironically, I've become more of an adult and more of a child at the same time after everything I experienced. If you had the opportunity to encounter a wide range of my friends you might hear many different perspectives. I have a unique perspective on the world and politics that is a combination of international experiences. I've been deep in political and cultural discussions in places, and among people, where beliefs are quite outside of the American norms. Communist activists in Slovenija engaged me in ideological debate during a stop on a road trip in Ljubljana. Foreign policy has been a center of discussion with an individual from the Middle East who informed me of the belief that Osama bin Laden worked for the CIA. Tibet and Taiwan were the focus of a discussion with Chinese nationals who had no feelings that either deserved to be anything other than part of China. One of my most intriguing discussions allowed me to learn about what it was like growing up through war and massacres in the Balkans. These moments have all been a part of my own personal growth and understanding of the world, and are essential moments in making me a mature global citizen. Some friends might provide this account of an intelligent person hungry to learn and discuss the issues of the world.

Sunset on the Cattedrale di Ss. Donato e Pietro (the duomo) in Arezzo
Others will be quick to point out something very different. I'm a child acting out spontaneously, and sometimes out of control crazy. In my own opinion, I was quite boring before my year in Italy. Everyone has there bit of fun and life which I surely had, but I didn't have a true passion, excitement or liveliness in my character. I was always passionate about soccer but I have a hard time coming up with any other examples. I've skinny dipped in the Adriatic and hopped in the Long Island Sound on a whim in January. Bring that to the attention of some of my friends and they would respond with something along the lines of, "yea, he would do something like that." I've discovered an appreciation for life and the world from my time abroad. Even the smallest events excite me. A snow covered landscape, or catching the sunrise and sunset generate a sense of passion. If you have something crazy that no one wants to join in to do, I'm probably the first person you should ask.

In terms of spontaneity, you must also remember that you are reading the blog of a man who spent half his time living in Italy without a place to call home. There is a different perspective of reality when you've got off a train at midnight in a foreign country without a place to sleep. I almost had to beg on the street in order to buy a train ticket from Milan to Bologna. Then I had to find a place to stay once I arrived. These are some of the experiences that I cherish the most. Living life in constant uncertainty is largely responsible for my personal growth. Spending a night in a medieval piazza wouldn't have bothered me even slightly. My issues with commitment and stability are a direct result of this nomadic lifestyle. I was scared to book a hostel for my trip to Belgium because I didn't want to be stuck with a set itinerary. There were too many options of places to go for me to settle on any in advance. It turned out for the best too because I missed my flight and wasn't forced to pay for hostels that I didn't use.

Love and Lights in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
Experiences have become everything to me now. I've swam in a medieval fountain, expressed l'amore in a piazza, bent [;-)] a handful of laws in a foreign country and even serenaded a Spanish girl in Spanish. There are numerous wild stories that even my best friends haven't heard, some I'd be willing to tell but others, maybe not. My roommates were comprised of people from six different countries and three continents, not counting my road trip with two Chinese guys. I've partied in underground Italian clubs that foreigners wouldn't even be able to find. My poor grandma doesn't believe I'll be married until forty, if at all, after hearing the slightest portion of my stories. One of the most difficult things for me is to spend two weekends in a row in the same place. I'm always antsy to be on the move and escape the routine. Most of all, I'll do anything I can to travel and try something new.

A teacher, more of an old friend, from my high school years at Salisbury told me I'd be changed by the experience I embarked on but I never truly realized to what extent. My personal growth far exceeded anything I could imagine but I've simultaneously rediscovered a youthful to desire to never grow up. I NEED to be free and spontaneous. Nine lives may be needed to satisfy my curiosity to learn and experience. Oddly enough, I still encounter the occasional moment of culture shock from my constantly transitioning environment. Immersion into another culture and language has been significantly rewarding. I still find myself leaning in when I hear groups walking by speaking English because I subconsciously don't know whether to expect English or Italian. Every time words of a foreign language are within earshot I hope that it's Italian. When it is, an air of excitement comes over me followed by homesickness and nostalgia. Strangely, I've never really been homesick despite leaving home at age sixteen, but now a small reminder of a country where I spent nearly a year wrenches at something deep within me.

Youth in Cinque Terre
I've been fortunate that people find me interesting since returning, which is definitely an improvement over my old, boring self. I also realize that I'll never be able to fully explain my experiences and emotions related to this period of my life. Every time I set out to write this post, I found myself quitting annoyed. Wrapping it up now, I feel like I've crammed so much into this piece, but left out so much more. Maybe I'll discover the inspiration to write another one of these "final posts." Whether it be cage diving with sharks, seeing St. Petersburg in the summer, traveling through the Middle East or learning to surf, I know that I have so much left to look forward to. Completing them all may not be possible but I look forward to trying, and getting lost as much as possible along the way.

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.

Trouble no one about their religion;

respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.

Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.

Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools
and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled
with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep
and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
-Words of Wisdom, Chief Tecumseh

No comments:

Post a Comment