The keys of my piano feel a little awkward under my fingertips. For six weeks I had nothing but my mandolin and my imagination to guide my writing, the promise of adventure around every corner and an undercurrent of anxiety hanging over every moment. I never did become entirely comfortable with my environment while living in Rome, it’s true. But while much of my time felt overshadowed by my lack of fluency in the language, dissatisfaction with the social climate of my peers, or monetary concerns, it was simultaneously impossible not to get swept up by the perpetual sense of impending adventure.
Of course, these problems will appear for anyone who doesn’t have years of experience speaking Italian (or doesn’t care enough about blending into their environment, which is fair when you only have six weeks), isn’t an outgoing partying type, or doesn’t have bottomless pockets to draw from (take note: there are always more things you can spend money on in Italy), respectively. But while it’s easy to talk about some of the particular experiences that made being in Rome so magical, just the fact that you know those experiences are around you significantly colors your outlook.
So as I stare vacantly out into the drizzly streets of North Philadelphia, I realize what it is I’m missing here, and simultaneously note how it differs from what I expected I would find abroad prior to arrival in Rome. There were no romantic afternoons scrawling the ideas flowing from my fingertips onto manuscript paper from some picturesque Roman park bench. There were no small-town gatherings of townspeople to sing their hearts out in the piazza on warm evenings. There was no sweeping across the rural countryside and stopping to soak in the surroundings when inspiration strikes.
Well, okay, there was one afternoon writing in a park between Testaccio and Aventine Hill. But as for the rest, there simply wasn’t the time. And when there was, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was always a traveler with just-not-enough Italian, just-not-enough money, relying on public transportation and often traveling alone in a great big hurry to see and do as much as humanly possible in such a condensed timeframe.
I miss the Italy that I experienced, make no mistake. It’s going to take a long time for everything I saw and did to soak into my work, although I am already beginning to see the influences of my instructor and some of the musical experiences I’ve described in previous posts come to play in my music now. But I also miss the Italy that I didn’t experience. There’s no question, I’ll be returning to Italy at some point. And when I do, I’ll be more prepared for it.
I’ve mentioned that having money helps. So does having a reliable means of transportation (I probably missed nearly as many buses and trains as I caught – and I took a lot of buses and trains). And I cannot understate how much more fulfilling it is to have a traveling companion at your side. Here I must credit my friend Phil for keeping me company (and keeping me sane and grounded) on the half of my expeditions he joined me for. But most importantly, having time helps. Feel free to make a bucket list of all the things you want to see and do in Italy, but realize that the most worthwhile things that you will find are the ones you don’t expect to. Leave yourself the time to find them.
It will likely be some time before I am able to return to Italy. So in the meantime, the best I can do is find a way to make every day of work as exciting as it was knowing that there is something new and unexpected just around the corner. Because the truth is, there is the promise of something around every corner here.
It just took peering around Roman street corners for awhile to be able to see it.