When a city defines itself as “eternal”…where does one begin?
I have been living in Rome for nearly two months, and I have fallen victim to what many call a writer’s block. I have had plenty of time to write, but when I actually sit down in front of my computer, my mind goes blank and nothing flows. Surely Rome is not lacking in inspiration. So what gives?
I initially thought my paralysis was due to the distraction of “setting up shop.” I arrived in mid-August and had countless items to attend to: networking, setting up my room, finding work, determining my “budget,” scouting out the best gelateria, etc. But true to Katie Wax form, I had all the aforementioned items completed by the first week of September.
So nearly a month has passed since I “settled” into Rome, and I still can’t write. At least this week I think I finally figured out why: I am simply too overwhelmed by the immensity of this city, I don’t know where to begin. Rome is unlike any other – layers upon layers of history, art, architecture, religion, and culture – it is baffling.
Ancient Rome alone covers nearly 1,000 years of history – this is the age of Caesar & the Senate, business in the Forum, and triumphal arches. This is the age of unfathomable perfection in architecture and the incredible power of aqueducts to alleviate the city’s thirsty people. This is the age of gladiators and the Colosseum. This is the age of temples to the Pagan gods and the persecution (and later acceptance) of Christianity.
Fast forward to Renaissance & Baroque Rome in the 15th-17thcenturies and you find an age where humans are beautiful, intelligent, sensual beings. This is the Rome of Michelangelo, Bernini, da Vinci, and Caravaggio. This is the Rome of curiosity, of dreams, of exploration and of the discovery of human potential. This is the Rome of the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Dome, the Sistine Chapel and Villa Borghese. This is the Rome that inspired me to appreciate art and whose treasures continue to take my breath away.
And all that is just the city’s history. I haven’t even touched upon the smell of pizza in a wood-burning oven, the feeling of cobblestones under your feet, or the sound of Stadio Olimpico after A.S. Roma has scored a goal. I haven’t introduced the concept of “Monument Drinking,” a favorite past time which was created while studying here 5 years ago. I haven’t attempted to describe my own day-to-day experiences, like the old woman next door who scolds us regularly, or the incredible warmth of the man who works at the bar at the bottom of our building.
This is Rome – all these pieces existing simultaneously – I could write for years and not do this city justice. I simply have no idea where to begin.
After a surprise send-off party, a boat trip to the island of Elba, and one final aperitivo in Lucca, it is time to hit the road. Time to say goodbye to Castelvecchio di Compito and to a beautiful family and life in Tuscany. But this is not goodbye, it is “ciao for now,” for I am not going far.
Vorrei un biglietto per Roma per favore. Solo andata. – I would like a ticket to Rome please. One Way.
Next up is Roma: La Citta Eterna – the Eternal City. Hoping to find work teaching English and continue my Italian love affair…stay tuned.
I’m currently sitting at a cafe in the International Terminal of Ataturk airport, staring across the way at a green circular sign with a white mermaid in the middle. I don’t need to read the words “Starbucks Coffee” to know that I’ve already re-entered the Western world. The constant recorded announcements over a sound system, the arrival/departure schedules, the forced smile of the Turkish Airlines woman checking my passport, the existence of a moving walkway to get where you’re going faster…these all reinforce the fact that I’ve been living a world away for the past 2 months.
This is a big culture shock, the transition back to the West. Thanks to the wise words of a dear friend, I started to prepare for this shock over a week ago. In Olympos, I discovered a different approach to life and I embraced it whole-heartedly. After connecting with nature, appreciating today, and centering myself, I am now faced with the challenge of keeping that peace.
My natural tendency is to plan, organize, and manage – all great qualities for navigating the workings of the West – but that tendency became an obsession, one that led me down a path which was not my own. I will need to be very deliberate in my effort to maintain the balance I’ve achieved in Turkey. I’m not sure yet how to accomplish this, but I imagine it will start by taking a deep breath. Maybe two or three.
I used to pride myself on being a low-maintenance kind of girl. I love “roughing it” in the great outdoors, I don’t mind sweat & dirt, and I’ve never been one of those girls who can’t leave the house without make-up.
However, after having spent nearly 4 years as a Consultant in San Francisco, I had developed a morning routine. It involved a hot shower with a loofah, some styling of my hair, and make-up; it wasn’t anything too heavy, but mascara, eyeliner, foundation, and blush were part of my every day. My clothes were always clean and pressed (if necessary), and I usually wore perfume. While I’ve never been one to get manicures, I also made sure my nails were clean and presentable.
Seven weeks ago, just after our arrival at the Treehouse Hostel, Tyler turned to me and asked, “How long do you think it’ll take until you become a hippie?”
This morning, I woke up and quickly realized there was no electricity, and therefore no hot water. I took a cold shower in the dark, put my hair up in a bun using a dab of lotion to tame my frizz, and left the bathroom without once looking in the mirror.
My dirty laundry pile and my pack are currently synonymous as it’s been far too long since I’ve devoted an afternoon to laundry. So I chose my shirt based on the tried & true “Backpacker Smell Test.” And although I’ve worn them every day for the past week, I threw on my linen pants; my alternative is a pair of jeans which are sweltering in this Turkish heat.
Out the door I went, feeling ready for the day. Dirty, messy hair, wearing wrinkled clothes, no makeup, and a beaming smile. Yes, I have my answer. It was a gradual process, but I believe it took 7 weeks for me to become a hippie.
Meet Tyler Batson!
Tyler and I studied together in Rome in 2006 and we’ve reconnected in Istanbul for another foreign adventure! Tyler left California 8 months ago and unexpectedly found himself on an indefinite world journey. He spent 4 months in Thailand, then 4 months in India, and now he’s in Turkey – working his way home.
He’s got an incredible story, and an inspiring blog to share it with you. http://lessonsfromavagabond.tumblr.com/ (yes, I’m taking notes). He’s also much better about updating photos and videos more regularly – subscribe to his blog and follow his journey. You’ll see me making a few guest appearances!
I believe in free will – the ability to choose my own path and the power to create my own future. However, I am not free-spirited. I only take very carefully calculated risks. I am a planner. I am a control freak. I thrive in a predictable routine. In exercising my right to free will, I have thus far made choices that lead toward stability and comfort.
While backpacking through Sicily in the fall of 2003, I met a fellow traveller who had been on the road for years. He worked at hostels in exchange for a free place to stay and found some oddball jobs to earn a modest amount of money. He stayed in one city or country until he had the desire and the means to get to his next destination. And he had been everywhere. I was inspired.
However, the downside of booking a roundtrip flight is that your traveling adventures come to an end. At 20, I didn’t yet have the strength or confidence to roam the world without a “plan.” I returned to the States to go back to school. While my 90-day backpacking adventure opened my eyes to the world, it was a superficial “taste” of 8 different countries. I desperately craved an experience that would connect me with a culture and a people. I chose Italy and prepared to spend a semester in Rome.
In the fall of 2006, I learned the beauty of Dolce Far Niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. This Type-A, oldest child, To-Do List queen found that life is more about living in the moment, sipping a cappuccino on a piazza, than it is about working hard to be able to afford the bigger house, the faster car, or the designer clothes. This incredible discovery did have a downside – in an effort to cherish the moment, I found myself eating gelato three times a day and consequently gained 20 lbs.
On December 16, 2006, after a semester of bliss (and a love affair with Pasta), I reluctantly boarded a plane to return home and finish my degree. Curse the roundtrip flight. At 23, I was starting to feel the pressure to grow up (whatever that means). I was now 2 years behind my peers, and it was time to get serious about getting a degree and a job. But deep down I was paralyzed by a fear that I would lose myself in the transition back to American life. I nearly did.
In the past four years, I have grown up. I have worked hard, lived fully, and loved deeply. I used the majority of my PTO to get back abroad, even if only for one week at a time. I attempted to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in Rome, I spent 10 days tromping through the rain forests of Costa Rica, and I was in Madrid the night Spain won the World Cup. I thought I could be happy traveling the way most people travel, with travel being a short detour in my “big picture.” But I was left wanting more.
On December 11, 2010, I made a decision that enabled me to finally do what I’ve been longing to do since 2003: wander. My journey would pick up where I left off four years ago – in Rome – but this time I would book a one-way flight. No plan, no itinerary, no return date. The decision was not an easy one; it meant that I had to sacrifice the home and the life that I had started to build. Luckily, those who know me best and love me most have fully supported this decision, and for that I am forever in your debt. Thank you for letting me go.