At a thrift
At a thriftstore last month, I slipped a book about the Amalfi Coast off a shelf. Four dollars got me glossy pages of Positano, Ravello, the glittering Mediterranean Sea. Tucked in a front pocket was thick, cloth-like paper from the ancient Amalfi mill and three oversized postcards. A global pandemic has made it a years-ago dream to be able to travel so freely. As I leafed through the book's pages, my own snapshots from a recent summer's Italian sojourn filled my mind... pictures not only or always sparkling and buoyant, but also complicated, unsettling.
Penciled on the concrete wall in Florence, on a city block near the Accademia Gallery and its Michelangelo David, are these lines of conversation:
Two Americans cut in front of me on this line.
Oh, no. I'm sorry, bro.
My niece and I stood with dozens of others in winding queue. We admired the pink of the sky, smiled at a little girl being swung in an arc by her papa. We spoke with tourists, captured photos on our phones, kept our eyes out for blustering Americans. Were we among their number?
It was early, before the museum's opening hour. The early sky cast stone walls and damp asphalt in a pinkish glow. Grace and I chatted about how our country can feel both expansive and small: an unruly, far-off Uncle Sam, well-meaning in its best moments, yet arrogant. She'd just returned from 18 months in Chile. We nodded together; she'd also felt it. The perception of country—of people—who blunder and intrude without warning, pushy and yet closed off. Away from our country, we catch a glimpse of how we're sketched and shadowed by perception.
But "when we're born, we're more alike than we are different." So Viola Davis begins her narration of an airline commercial, as beautiful infants from all over the world appear onscreen. I've landed among you, they seem to say ...and WOW! Each of us begins in a situation of great personal curiosity, of inordinate potential. And an even more crucial, impressive need for care and connection.
"Somehow along the way," Davis continues, "we start to believe the more distant we are from each other, the more different we must be from each other."
Sky-high views of a variety of landscapes appear—sparkling city, crowded slum, peaceful farmland, coastal village. As we grow, experiencing life in a family, a community, and even a nation, we begin to feel our separateness, our difference from others.
"And it's only when we venture out into the world that we realize all the things we share." A small boy pedaling a bicycle looks up to see a commercial jet. "Maybe that's the power of flight..."
It's a well-marked plane, and we're reminded that there's more at work here than a consoling, compelling invitation. Still, the scenes awaken a desire for human connection in faraway places, a spark that celebrates solidarity, curiosity, sympathy and understanding shared across the globe. That spark drew me to Italy.
But do we—can we—share such a perspective?
A Midwest thunderstorm meant a domino-fall of missed connections and a sleepless night in Chicago's O'Hare airport. I was more than a day behind schedule when a skillful, persistent online agent found me a seat on a direct flight to Rome.
There, having missed my rendezvous with a student cohort, I figured out the train from Fiumicino to Viterbo, 80 kilometers northwest. Three hours and as many helpful ticket agents later, my train rocked to a stop at Porta Romana, Viterbo's southern station. When I stepped off the platform and onto Italian soil, I was outside my head. Extreme fatigue is like being extra, extra drunk.
Francesca directs Viterbo's program for college-level study abroad, where I was auditing a few courses as a faculty guest. She and my landlord, Dario, made a special trip to meet me at Porta Romana, and they drove me into the ancient walled city to my rented flat. Four twisting flights up—Francesca took them at rocket speed—and her key did its tricky dance in the lock. The name over the door, in a long-faded, painted script: Piano 2.
Piano 2 was centuries old yet rebuilt after World War II. Red hexagonal tiles covered the floor, beneath tall and shuttered windows and coved ceilings. Dario switched fans on to move hot air through the rooms, and Francesca whipped along, flipping shutters and circuit breakers. She waved at an intricate trash and recycling schedule, printed and affixed to the fridge: "It's very important to get this right." Francesca indicated how to turn off gas to the stove, should I leave Viterbo for a few days. The clothes washer was topped with four large bottles of the wrong liquid—fabric softener, which would ruin the machine. "Buy detergent," she said. "Sapone. Do not use this." She shook one of the bottles, and the liquid slosh made me dizzy.
Exiting the apartment, she said, "Orientation continues at 2:00 PM. It's very important that you don't miss it. You've missed so much already."
Yes, I'd be there—in less than an hour. I splashed my face, changed my sour clothes. Dario had provided, on a curved platter of wood, digestive biscuits, fresh nectarines, grapes and cherries, plus coffee, tea, and honey. I sampled a nectarine, so good—fresh and sweet—I wanted to cry.
I stepped back down the four flights—last two in near-total darkness—to find my way back to our meeting spot. My new address stood at the convergence of four cobblestone streets. It took me three days to memorize the name of mine: Cardinal la Fontaine. But I remembered enough to move uphill, somehow reaching the Porta Romana gate by 2:00 PM, where I was carried off in a throng of chatty, sunkissed 20-year-olds. We moved en masse outside the city's ancient walls, along a busy street to the meeting underway at Tuscia University.
The students were so sweet; friendly and—like Grace—very beautiful (so beautiful! to be 21 is to be astonishingly beautiful!). Young, tanned, bright, full of energy. There was even a student, Beth, who was my age (56). Europe was gripped by a heat wave; still, I sat in the stifling lecture hall in state of numb gratitude.
Sweat trickled down my forearms and pooled at the small of my back, floating me into damp daydreams filled with grapes and cherries, and was there an ice tray in my freezer, and how firm was that long, welcoming bed in Piano 2, and God bless Dario for the fan that could blow on my face all night. A brick of sludge lodged behind my eyes. Important Info was dispensed at the orientation, but none made it past that brick.
What I do recall is walking off campus with the group for a city tour. Steps descended to a courtyard with archways and a portico, whose beauty I understood was timeless and astonishing; past a fountain, along a concrete-pebble footpath. This path traveled to an arched gateway outside the walled campus.
You'd take a hard right beyond this gateway, on a narrow sidewalk, composed of the same dark color and material as the street. If you missed the turn, you strode right into the whizz of traffic.
Which, stupid with fatigue, I very nearly did: stepped straight into 5:00 PM, rush-hour Fiats, Vespas, buses. My breath caught, my shoulders clenched. Wide awake now.
I have thought since, many times, of ways fatigue, discomfort, anxiety, pain, and similar factors can get the best of us. It feels somehow as though these should not count; they should not impel the disconnections, the strife, the trouble, their sometimes shattering consequences.
But as I type, it's back in an instant—I'm whirling forever beside car horns, dusty exhaust, spinning chat from the asphalt, barreling drivers hunched behind tinted windows, the whiplash of my neck and drop in my stomach. The near miss. Some unseen angel steering me on a dead right angle, which kept me from becoming roadkill. Circumstance and consequence, sliding past one another, spinning on hot, slick Italian euro.
If it's curiosity, mixed with love and safety and means that lead us outward on Viola Davis jetstreams, I'm grateful. For so many, seeking refuge or safety or living, the impulse is the opposite. My pathway from security to enlightenment became a long walk every day on Viterbo cobblestone. These centuries-old streets were not made for cars, which now travel them at high speeds. The stones have had to adapt, in undulating patterns; they're resilient, now hummocked into fluid-like knolls. Occasional missing stones make them treacherous as well as beautiful.
I walked them with that same vibrant group of students, five kilometers across town for a cooking class. We're a well-dressed, young (except for me) cohort: laughing, licking gelatos, enjoying shops and fountains. A car zooms by, and its driver calls out: "Americans. 'We have the money!'"
I'm as startled as I would be later, at the Accademia Gallery with Grace; but still, that wasn't personal. Personal was getting lost my second day in Viterbo, yet knowing I was close to home. I popped into a dress shop and showed my flat's address, scrawled on a map. The proprietress smiled and slipped outside with me, pointed up. Sure enough: white-on-white, number 109 Cardinal La Fontaine. Right next door.
Personal was when one facet of my trip took me to an ancestral village in the Pra del Tor, a high Piemonte valley near the French border. Extended family, including Grace, had gathered for a pilgrimage there, and several of us climbed out of rental cars parked near a picnic table on the grass. We watched as a local woman, aged but agile, broke away from a small group nearby, running toward us and waving her hands. "Are you Americans?" she asked.
In no time, she'd self-appointed as our guide and offered to walk us to the chiesa. "I have keys," she said, though the cool, reverent Valdesi chapel was unlocked. Later she shepherded us down a winding single-lane road to the cemeterio comunale. We saw familiar surnames on the headstones there—Beux, Spinelli, Seppe. Given names: Bartolomeo, Giacomo, Madeleine. Our guide showed us Enrico Seppe, her father-in-law. She paused there, thoughtful, a wry smile. "In 1910, he leave to America with two shirts. He come to back home a year later with only one."
The sculpture of a soldier in green metal atop the post office. Fashion saldi beckoning from tiny boutiques. A stroll through an unassuming archway giving way to an astounding valley vista. Pigeon feathers in the morning, on my living room floor. Saturday night, glamorous women line-danced at the piazza centrale, as a DJ played pop music over a speaker. Elegantly, tastefully costumed in blue and green, all high heels and pretty bling; they were of an age—40s, 50s—really lovely women. An audience of middle-aged men gathered round, softly clapping. You could feel their happiness, their luck, having chanced upon such a sight.
Next morning, I ducked into a church service at the nearest of Viterbo's 30 cathedrals. Somehow I happened into the one that was not Roman Catholic, but Romanian Orthodox. The chapel was filled with devotees who, standing, no hymnal or primer in sight, responded in nods and bows, interacting with the priest in quiet songs and chants. I stood on the margins to watch and conduct my own private prayer. At two hours in, the priest was just getting the Eucharist underway. I'd had enough—impatient American—and slipped out.
Two weeks into my stay, my sisters and Grace arrived, and we were on the move. Piemonte was our eventual destination, and our zigzag journey there is the reason we wound up in Florence, in line at the Accademia. That morning a couple from England shared the hotel's small breakfast room with the four of us.
"Are you long in Florence?" the woman asked.
"Not long. We're hiking Cinque Terre this afternoon."
"It is very warm there," she says, sipping her coffee, her accent posh and lovely. She and her partner hiked two trails at Cinque Terre yesterday. She grimaced, which made her pretty face all the more interesting. "Veddy sweaty."
We are all about veddy sweaty, after climbing the duomo stairs and standing in the sun-drenched line to see that beautiful David. After our rush through Florence's San Lorenzo and the Museo d'el Operra, Cinque Terre beckoned with the cool blue of the Mediterranean. Maybe we should have been in more of a hurry to get there. I could happily do more sweaty to achieve that blue, that gentle lapping sea in a wash over my shoulders.
But we meandered, stopping at a little town called Lucca. Parking was a trick inside this walled city, but we managed it and found our way into the town square. Only it was not a square, but an enormous circle of tall apartments, shops, gelaterias, cafes. Quiet, pretty, active, beckoning. Pinocchio was born here, via the local writer Carlo Callodi. Puccini, too.
Souvenirs in a tiny art gallery: pears and peaches of tinted Carrara marble, dusted with a light touch of glitter. The proprietress provided feathery gold tissue to reinforce paper bags. She wore a plain brown t-shirt and palazzo pants and moved with a nonchalance, a restful ease we've seen in the smaller cities of Italy.
In Levanto, the villa where we'd rented a room was so cool and restful that I started to believe we just might skip our hike. Heavy doors beyond the dining room opened into a courtyard. Cicadas sang as bees nosed into nasturtiums. But how foolish to waste our time with a nap. Christiane, our host, poured sparkling water as we sat together.
"You are on for hiking today?" he asked. Crisp, efficient, helpful.
"That is a very bad plan," he said cheerfully, unfolding a paper map with a train schedule. "It is past 4:00 and very warm. Fortunately we have [provided for you silly Americans] cloud cover and a little wind."
I may have inserted that bracketed part. Christiane meant well, and we laughed a bit in his presence and a lot once we'd gone. He was right about our timing. But Italia beckoned with its side roads, its round piazza majori, its shops and hayfields. It was impossible both to hurry and to linger.
He showed us trains and trails: Corneglia to Vernazza to Monterosso. The hikes proved difficult—stair steps up and over cliffsides and through orchards. Sweaty indeed, but studded with the glories of blue sea and golden hillside, with shadows of clouds and dust of old stone walls with tiny lizard occupants. Near the end of the Monterosso trail, a farmer and his dog sat a card table under a shaded grape arbor, ready with fresh limoncellos. He ducked behind a tin wall and stirred in copious amounts of sugar. Finally, in the Mediterranean, we ran smooth, rounded jewel-like pebbles through our hands and let the gentle surf tease them away. Spangles of sun on the water, quiet shouts of children on the darkening beach, cool silk of the sea washing over us.
Two other memories color Cinque Terre.
A large man traveled the Vernazza trail with a woman—probably his wife, and with a daughter aged ten or twelve. He was loud and angry, berating her—both of them—in a language we could not recognize. His anger had to do with his shoes: thin flip flops, much too flimsy for this trail. He stopped, just after we'd passed him (I looked back to see this) and snatched off each flip flop, slamming it with outsized drama over the fence and onto the ground, where dust rose as each hit the dirt.
Still yelling, with his wife walking silently, her eyes cast toward the ground, he stopped and pulled black aquasocks out of a knapsack and shoved his feet into them. They would not be much better, but they'd at least stay on his feet. We imagined—it was clear enough—that he blamed the woman and perhaps the daughter too for his choice of footwear. They had a few tough, rock-strewn miles before they'd reach Monterosso, and we could only hope their trip would become more calm. A hope with no basis.
Next morning, we hiked early, on cliffs above the brilliant sea; then enjoyed breakfast in the garden at Levanto. Christiane cooked our omelets to order; he provided fresh yogurt, nuts, and orange marmalade with delicious bits of bitter peel, to be consumed under a pergola, with the accompaniment of birdsong and distant bells.
We'd already packed—the four of us—and had just time for a dip in the pool up the hill, then on to the next adventure. Moving quickly, we changed into swimsuits and climbed stone steps to the pool. A family—tall, blond father, beautiful and elegant mother, and toddler daughter stepped behind us as we showered quickly and entered the patio. Four chaise longues beside the pool, and we quickly dropped our towels and sandals on each one.
"Do you need all four?" the gentle mother said, her English touched with a light, possibly German accent. "Or is one free?"
Embarrassed and chagrined, we removed our gear. "I don't need any at all," I said quietly. Fifteen minutes to swim; a few more to quickly dress and check out. I'd brought my relentless American schedule, my single-minded pursuit with me after all.
It's incongruous: when you travel, you believe you are opening up to experience. But really you are thinking so much about the experience you are having, the experience you want to have. It's easy to overlook the needs and situations—even simply the basic experience of others we share our spaces with: a breakfast room, a dusty trail, a few cubic feet in a sea. A courtyard, a room in someone's home. A poolside. Two Americans cut in front of me ... A larger world.
My extended family have gathered at a village called Torre Pellice, home of the Valdesi. On the edge of the Cottian Alps, the natural border between France and Italy, Torre Pellice marks the world headquarters of the Valdesi church. My people were adherents for centuries, before they succumbed to the persuasions of Latter-day Saint missionaries. They left the area in 1856 and emigrated through New York's Ellis Island, to settle in Utah.
The Valdesi have a troubled yet heroic history. Their beginnings are obscure, but related to the vita apostolica movement of the 12th century, during which Christian believers—some led by Peter Waldo—felt called to renounce high ritual and ostentation to live in poverty. This branded them as heretics and brought persecution from the Roman church, over centuries. They were driven and hunted, persecuted and maligned in cycles that culminated in the Edict of 1655 (Turin), little more than an expulsion order.
When the Valdesi refused, as they had long refused, to "turn Catholic," the brutal Piedmontese Easter massacres of 1655 ensued. Four to six thousand Valdesi civilians were slaughtered and many more raped and tortured by the troops of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy.
I hiked to stone cottages where Valdesi pastors—itinerant, vanishing barbi—hunkered through winters to avoid detection; entered dusty, remnant scuolas carved out of mountainsides where children were educated on the sly; drove narrow roads and hiked footpaths to remote villages where Valdesi took cover, hiding from assailants, for centuries.
Tensions eased for good after the French Revolution, when King Charles Albert of Sardinia granted the worshippers civil rights. Today, Valdese chiesi and temples are freshly painted. Geranium and white yarrow spill from village baskets. Strife like the Piedmontese Easter seems far away.
I'm preparing a presentation on Valdesi history, to be given at the Foresteria holiday home in Torre Pellice. I practice the Power Point with my sisters and niece as we travel by car, north of Cinque Terre and Portofino, through Genova, past the hillsides where Cristoforo Columbo—by the accounts of my childhood—looked out at ships whose sails rose slowly from a curved horizon. In grade school, we were taught to imagine him thinking: "You know, if I keep sailing thataway, it isn't true that I'll fall off the earth... instead, I may find a quicker path to the riches of the East." Some folk writers of Columbus's time promoted the idea that Earth was circular like a table; but educated folk—including Columbus—surely knew it was a sphere.
His sea glittered on our left as we wove through Genova's tunnels. I swiped to a slide picturing Arnaud Amalric, papal legate of the Albigensian Crusade. Amalric was charged with stamping out early reformers and their congregants in the Toulouse region of France in the 13th century. Most of the attention of the Medieval Inquisition centered on Cathari, Albigenses, and Valdesi adherents. At the massacre at Beziers in 1209, 7000 were killed, in divine vengeance.
When his soldiers discovered Catholics mingled amongst village reformers, they asked the abbot what they should do "to distinguish between the faithful and the heretics."
The reply: Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. "Kill them all. God will sort them out."
The Genovese highway wound beneath a mountain and our windows darkened.
The faith of my family owes its existence to an expulsion order—a 19th-century American one, from Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs. God, Boggs, and vigilante Missouri and Illinois "mobbers" sorted us to a remote Rocky Mountain desert valley, in the largest religion-based forced migration in American history. Exclusionary, cult-like, autocratic, antagonistic, other: these were—are—common perceptions of those society knows as "Mormon." "[N]egative [popular] images of Mormons far outlasted my expectations," wrote Harvard scholar Cristine Hutchison-Jones in 2012.
Surely these perceptions—partly accurate, partly undeserved—can explain and be explained by those years of persecution and separation. It is the faith bequeathed to me, and I am bound to it, for its reliance on belief and hope, its vision of the grace and potential in everyone, its promise of personal progression of the penitent and eventual salvation of the devoted Christian. Even while I try to be clear-eyed about shortfalls—not a few—in the church.
It's complicated. Today, Latter-day Saints continue to carve and refine an uneasy place in larger society, as leadership struggles to codify the church's relationship with, its treatment of members who identify as female and as LGBTQIA+. As it struggles to outrun a history that, as much as we'd like to ignore and expunge, includes racism, supremacy, and violence. As its people try to fit more seamlessly into a culture that has been, will long be wary.
Those are other postcards. It's enough here to say that we—Latter-day Saints, and my family—are like so many others, in the terrible weight of our past, from the hunted valleys of Piemonte to the expulsion to valleys of Great Salt Lake, from the brutal authority of a papal bull to the fluid cultural landscape of today. All of it swirled through the car as we traveled north of Cinque Terre toward Piemonte. We emerged from the tunnel into light so bright it startled our eyes.
My sister spoke up. "What if we all felt this: 'Love them all. God will sort them out.'"
The students! Kimly provided tips on adjusting camera light. Eileen sat with me on the train, to chat about Boston, a city we both love. Madison took my photo in Amalfi and posed with me. Beth organized a progressive dinner evening—five of us taking time over a three-course meal, stopping off at each apartment.
But one of those five told how she'd been targeted as Jewish at a private Viterbo dinner party, though her last name was, as far as she knew, unknown to the host. She was nicknamed with a racial slur, insulted when she decided to leave. She mentioned seeing a few swastikas around town.
In the shop where I bought frozen desserts for our traveling feast, it was such a pleasure to explain—in terrible Italian—my purpose. To find the words vorrei and andiamo and pagare... to see these delightful women behind the counter were excited, too, about my dinner plans.
Train stations equaled opportunists: men dressed in the colors of ticket agents, wearing lanyards and neat ponytails. They were aggressive in offering help, would have me believe I'd miss my connection without it. In Bologna, one such man would not leave my side; he walked beside me, constantly talking, deep into the underbelly of the station to my platform, where I paid ten euros for ten unrequested minutes of his time and turned away. He followed me onto the train, slapping his palm with his fingers, wanting more.
In contrast, during my parents visit: Again and again, in museums and duomos, accommodations for my elderly mother were made. She could take the lift, I'd catch up in a quicker line, a physical barrier was removed for her, then for me. This was always cheerful and well-practiced.
The frutta e verdura vendors in Viterbo found me—without my asking—a better quality peach. A cheese that would stay fresh a few more days. One of them, from Bangladesh, had several friendly conversations with me. One day, he chose two perfect apricots from his display. "For you. A gift."
Shopping with Beth, I tried a bit of Italian. In the candy shop, the proprietor helped me learn a new word. Quindici, he said. Fifteen. I remembered! We laughed. I bought several sacks of expensive chocolate. In Idaho, days later, I gave them to friends. I gushed about the fresh food, the delicious farm-to-table Italian cuisine. Then, the irony... the chocolate had worms.
Still. The gelato vendor always greeted me with a smile and said she was happy to see me again. Same with the waitress at Cantina dei Papi. Come te la passi? I'd say, though I couldn't understand any detailed answer. I felt gladdened, as though we could be dear friends.
It's in the transitions that emotions run high, but also then when we are especially open to discovery. My several weeks were spent. My flight from Rome's Fiumicino airport was early in the morning, too early to ride on the student-chartered bus. So I took the train from Viterbo the afternoon before. My plan was a quick, overnight stay in Fiumicino.
Andres, my AirBnB host, coached me by text on finding bus service from the Fiumicino train station to his nearby condo; but after 90 minutes and a wasted ticket, it was clear I would not be successful. So I approached a taxi stand. Turned out a quick run into Fiumicino was not a good use of their time. We couldn't even begin to agree on a price; no driver wanted the fare.
Soon a man approached and offered a ride for 40 euros. Andres had insisted I should not pay more than fifteen. I tried to bargain, but the man prevailed and led me to a black van. He was polite, loading my bags and helping me settle in.
Then came my panic. No taxi meter, no marking on the van, no other passenger. As we sped along, I texted a message through AirBnB to Andres. "I'm afraid. Please help me."
"Why are you afraid?"
"Expensive driver. No meter. I don't know." My fingers shook. "Doesn't feel right."
"Where are you?"
We pulled up to a cottage in a crowded area. Andres was waiting at the curb. I fumbled with my wallet and paid the driver in cash. When he drove off, my tears let loose.
Andres was a young student, and he had a friend with him. They were kind and calm. "Are you okay? What do you need?"
I'd just handed the driver my last euro. It was dusk, and next morning my flight left at 7:15 AM.
"An ATM machine, please. A place to walk," I said. "And to schedule a taxi in the morning."
"If you agree," Andres said, "I will drive you to the ATM, near a boardwalk by the marina. An easy walk to return here. And I will take you to the airport in the morning. Ten euros."
The trust we place or will not place in strangers. I did a gut-check—or was it simply that I was out of options? Somehow, I believed I could trust Andres. He took my bags upstairs. He drove, his friend sitting in the back. The ATM was five minutes away. And then I enjoyed—shaky, but becalmed—a long, solitary walk around the Fiumicino marina. The moon full and close, an Italo Calvino moon. I bought a final Italian gelato and watched that moon's liquid light pouring on yachts and dinghies. Andres checked on me by text. I found my way back to his condo. Upstairs, my room was dark, and I slept.
On the drive to the airport, Andres said the condo belonged to his father, now living in Spain. His mother was Venezuelan, and there Andres had grown up. Now he made the commute from Fiumicino to Rome several times a week for classes. "My mother cannot leave Venezuela," he said. "She wants to, but she has a small business. It is very bad there. No one will buy her business. She has to stay."
Outside the terminal, I thanked him. Polite and welcoming, a friend when I was foolishly ignorant, out of cash, crumpling from fear, Andres had his own difficult story and challenging situation. He is kind. He showed me the care I needed. He was goodness and human connection.
My son and his wife, residents of Juneau, Alaska, mention how startling it was to see—pre-pandemic—cruise ships reaching the city several times a day, each disgorging up to 5,000 tourists. Juneau is a city of 32 thousand. It needs the tourists. It relies on their dollars and their attention. But tourists can be disruptive, and, don't I know it, needy. Tourists are on vacation. But residents are trying to get on with life. Tourists are temporary; living, for the moment, inauthentically; residents are by their very nature authentic.
I was a 40-day resident, yet also a tourist, in a country that belongs to people who are not me. This was their country. I was partly visiting, partly studying, partly awestruck, wondering and wandering, partly spending money and also trying not to spend too much; truly, partly trespassing. Where is all this in the pretty thrift-shop book? Its pages are beautiful. Its pages fall far short.
I must rely on virtual postcards, and marvel for now at their memories: of centuries-old gardens, spilling-over flower boxes, hummocked stone roads, walled cities, spigot fountains, arches and angels and artifacts, which citizens may or may not regard with nonchalance. Of stopping in the street to capture images of "ordinary" doors, windows, laundry, flowers, food, and—without meaning to—people. I relied time and again on acceptance, kindness, compassion, and humanity, trusting that these would be provided. We in Italy were connected by my presence. But also, I interrupted the fluid, actual lives Italians were living. It was prickly, tangled—and at the same time, joyous endeavor. One fine day we will be able to travel again, to move outside ourselves, to navigate, to excavate, to participate in a wider world of love, safety, community. Connection.