Archive | November, 2019

Rome is where the heart is

I recently returned from an eight-day Italian vacation. I went by myself. And it was heavenly. 

Planning proved a challenge. With no constraints and no need to compromise or collaborate, it was hard to drill down on where and when I wanted to go, how to split my time, in which neighborhood to stay, Airbnb or hotel, activities… Faced with so many decisions, I became paralyzed.

Months of inaction yielded insight. It struck me how seldom we get to do whatever the hell we want, within budget and reason, of course. And even more rare is actually following through on our dreams. I met people on this trip who moved to Rome for a short stint or the long haul because perché no? There are a lot of things in this world that are hard to navigate but figuring out how to live abroad is certainly worth the effort. I’m not planning on moving, but I am certainly going to start planning my next solo adventure. 

In addition to all those choices large and small, the unknown causes me anxiety—even renting a car in an unfamiliar city can cause me mild panic. I have flown solo to Europe many times, but usually with someone waiting at the other end of the journey to stay or pal around with. 

To calm my agita, I read guidebooks, practiced Italian with Duolingo, booked tours in advance, and checked out train timetables. I heeded a million well-intentioned warnings about pickpockets and scam artists, and worried about being out of contact with work for a week-plus. 

All of my preperations faded into the background and my worry melted away like gelato on a hot day after my first walk around Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. My body was so filled with joy and wonder that there was no room for negative feelings. Why spend the money to fly around the world if you aren’t going to utterly juice it up? 

With my leg looped through my handbag strap, I dined al fresco that first night with strangers, a lovely couple on their honeymoon. A gay couple from New York, they immediately felt like home. Rome felt like home, actually. I walked all over the city, often at night and often licking gelato, completely at ease even though my international roaming didn’t work and I had to rely on a paper map and my own sense of direction on Rome’s twisty cobblestone streets. Getting out of my comfort zone, I found a preferable kind of comfort that comes from curiosity and expansiveness. I even reached out to my crypts and catacombs tour guide and asked if he wanted to get together later in the week. Okay, I might have been a little day drunk, but he was from Maryland and Philly and was wicked funny so he felt a little bit like home, too. But it could have been the vino bianco…

I had dinner with a bald novelist another night, an ex-pat from Canada. He walked me around to all his favorite spots near Piazza Navona, mostly churches which were all closed for some reason, but we happened upon an ancient library, musty with the smell of precious books and handwritten ledgers. We ate at Armando’s, a legendary restaurant next to the Pantheon. Again, it felt like home, and not in the “global citizen” kind of way. The tiny restaurant, with its 70s wood paneling and friendly waiters, was reminiscent of a hole-in-the-wall gem you might find in Chicago or Philly, and totally my jam.

I spend a lot of time in solitude but still worried that I might be lonely on vacation without someone to nudge when my Vatican tour guide says “In peculiar” instead of “In particular” or to share a sight of such singular beauty that I’m brought to tears. I noted all of these things by myself and my experience might have been richer for it. I later shared some of these moments with friends on social media or via text. It was a lovely ritual, actually. At night with wine-stained teeth, I’d fall exhausted into bed, edit my photos and reach out around the world to the people who anchor me. As my stepmom Pat said about one of my Facebook posts, “I’m really enjoying your trip.” Yes, I felt she was on the adventure with me. 

While in Florence, I met up with Joe and Ken, the newlyweds I met on my first night in Rome. I joined them on a rooftop bar that overlooked the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio. I hope to see them again the next time I’m in New York.

I celebrated my love of my own life this week. I am generally a snarky person and hate the whole #blessed sentiment. However. This week as I dragged my 51-year-old body to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica and down into a chapel made of the bones of Capuchin monks, as I walked 79.8 miles through the streets of these two glorious cities, I was profoundly thankful that my body and my life allowed me to have all of it. Including 14 flavors of gelato. More of this, please.

So this is a bit of a call to action. Don’t wait for your person or the perfect opportunity or the right time. Don’t let anxiety slow your roll. Do it now, for no other reason than because you and your body can. Find more places out there that feel like home, be it an OG Italian restaurant, strangers who show you kindness, ancient ruins that provide sanctuary to cats, the top of a church or the cool dark of ingenious catacombs, the smell and suppleness of a leather shop, art that transformed the world. Let your senses run amok. And, yeah, always keep an eye on your wallet.