Without Reservations: Travels of an Independent Woman

Back in Italy for year 2.   Three weeks after landing, I’m getting settled back into my routine, learning to let go of home again, and moving forward.   I had such a relaxing, restful summer with the people I love most, so it broke my heart to leave again.  Yet Genoa welcomed me with sunshine and stunning views, and along with some wonderful people, she reminded me that this is home too.

My flight landed on the 25th of August, and I began work on Monday the 26th — a week preparing for our students with evenings swimming in the Mediterranean or scooting about with Stella.   The next weekend, I was lucky enough to return to Venice as one of my best Fordham friends and her boyfriend were about to depart for a 2 week Adriatic cruise.  We shared an apartment one vaporetto stop away from the train station, and enjoyed a delightful Friday night strolling the streets, searching for the most perfect restaurant while catching up.  I was jealous of their upcoming cruise, but Kristen reminded me that I live in Italy.  Even if I had to go to work on Monday, it was the start of a new school year at a job I love, a far cry from the chaos and stress of the life I left behind in the overcrowded schools as one of many frazzled and under appreciated NYC teachers.   On Saturday the 31st, before they boarded the “People Mover” to their cruise, Kristen handed me her copy of Without Reservations, a book she mentioned over dinner in the US this summer.  A woman leaves her job for about 9 months, to follow her dream of immersing in several European locales without reservations.  She was going to avoid planning and to see what happens.

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I began the book yesterday.  The best and worst aspect of living alone far from home is Saturday morning.  I wake up in my cozy, renovated apartment with its terra cotta and marble floors, exposed brick, and garden views.  I wake up too early due to the ever present bells, birds, and scooters.  I make some coffee.  Maybe turn on Netflix or Apple TV.  I check to see if I got any iMessages or texts on WhatsApp.  Scroll through email.  Scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds.  And it’s only been 15 minutes.  The weekend looms before me, all mine for whatever I want to do, whether that is nap on the couch, stare at the wall, or travel somewhere.  But as exciting as independence is, it’s also lonely.  We are wired for family.  And I left mine in the States.

I went to move my scooter, but it was so beautiful and sunny that I couldn’t just go back inside after circling the block, so I rode along the coast.  I hit a snag of traffic and tried something new . . . passing the huge line of cars, crossing into oncoming traffic cautiously, and relishing the true pure joy of owning a scooter.   Winding high in the Ligurian Hills, with the Mediterranean to my right, glittering in the sun, I could smell flowers and fireplaces.  I saw my reflection in the rearview mirror, and I was smiling.  I paid a price for this, but what bliss!  As I reached Recco, known for inventing delectable focaccia formaggio with its flaky crust and liquidy stracchino, I climbed high into the hills on unexplored little roads, treating myself to sublime views.  I stopped Stella and was about to reach under the seat for my iPhone but realized I didn’t have it.  I just stepped out for a minute . . . didn’t plan this.  So, free from social networks, free from sharing the experience, I was able to fully immerse myself in it and enjoy in the moment.  It felt more special and pure as a result.

I wound my way down the hill, past super fit bikers challenging their lycra-clad quads, and headed back home where I changed into a swimsuit to hit the beach before the good sun was gone.  The pebbles were strewn with seaweed, providing a softer than usual bed.  I fell asleep to the cadence of Italian voices.  When I awoke, I practiced deciphering the sounds, realizing that I understand more than just snippets of conversation these days.  “Watch me, watch me uncle!”  “I can’t believe what she said.”  “We had ravioli and prosciutto and [kisses fingers] it was delicious.”  “Children, it’s time to go.” Real conversations.

I waded into the choppy water for a good workout.  Instead of just swimming, I have been using the aqua-size skills I learned from Mom’s class at the Y.  And since the salt water makes us more buoyant, I can do these exercises without the flotation belt.  It’s fun, and I can do both cardio and strength training while enjoying the stunning scenery all around me.  After a half hour of cross country skiing, reverse jacks, hamstring curls, etc . . .I swam back and towel dried.  When I reached into my bag, I saw the book from Kristen, and as the sun turned into the Golden Hour, I began.  Over a year later, I’m still in awe at where I am and what I am doing.  The old me would have read this book with complete longing, traveling vicariously through the author.  Now I read it as a companion to my own journeys.

I was drawn in right from the opening inscription:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.  -Zora Neal Hurston

This is my time for answering, I suppose.  While I am temporarily rooted in Italy, I have the freedom to wander on weekends and breaks, or even after work.  I have the mental space to reflect and allow my mind to wander.  And after all the hard work of settling in last year and prepping for 5 different classes while learning the IB and catching up students who were behind . . . ahh . . . I have space and free time this year.  It is wonderful, and I have earned it.

When Alice Steinbach left for Paris, a friend said “Cheers to a successful trip.”

What I didn’t say was that “success” was not something I was seeking from this venture.  In fact, I was determined not to judge this trip, or its outcome, in terms of success or failure.

As I noted in previous posts, expectations breed disappointment.  I am trying to take this adventure as it comes: the good and bad, the wild and relaxing, the painful pining and euphoric awe . . . filling my days with wonder and writing my story.  I’m writing some of it here as I reflect along the way.  But my mother reminded me, “Your story is not yet written.”  Who knows what is next?  All I know are my plans for class and the trips that I have booked.  Sitting here on my couch, shipped from NYC, with my cozy favorite blanket and a bottle of Barbera del Monferrato vino . . . I relish my freedom and independence.  I don’t want to live like this forever, and I won’t, so cogliere l’attimo.  Back to my book.

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