I have reached the nadir (I hope) of my quarantine depression today. Because today, after thirty long years of trying, my plane should have been touching down at the Venice Marco Polo Airport. We had made the airline reservations. We had booked all our hotels and Airbnb’s and train tickets for a two week, Italian extravaganza.
We had planned to spend three glorious days in Venice, then cross the top of the country by train to visit the Cinque Terra, then go on down to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis. From there, we’d have settled in to Sorrento, to use it as a hub to visit Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast, and then spend a few days in Rome before returning home.
And then, COVID-19. So close. So freakin’ close.
It’s not the first time that my Italy plans have been scuttled. Economic downturns, relationship breakups, and a relocation to the west coast that took all the Italy savings I had been putting away faithfully every month, for 10 ½ years, are some of the many disappointments I’ve experienced. But this time I had actually held the freakin’ tickets in my hands. I had written out the itinerary. I had read the guidebooks and watched everything Rick Steves had to say on the subject. We had even paid for a consultation with one of his staff. What could possibly go wrong?
Now I’m wondering if international travel of any kind will actually be viable ever again. I suspect this isn’t going to be the last pandemic. It certainly wasn’t the first.
I realize that I look like a privileged, bourgeois brat to be whining about this when people are dying and losing their jobs. I know that I have it so much better than so many people. I’m extremely lucky.
But it’s really hard not to be sad when I was supposed to be in Italy today. It feels like I’m in a state of mourning that no one will understand. It feels like I really have no legitimate right to be upset, and that makes it so much worse.
This trip would have generated a lot of blog posts, too. Maybe I’ll make some spaghetti for dinner and try not to cry into it. I suppose I could blog about that. Or maybe not.
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I just read a bitterly ironic news article entitled “Italian council is flooded immediately after rejecting measures on climate change”.
It seems that the far right members of the council decided that there was no need to fund renewable resources, green busses, and plans to reduce plastics. And then, as if the universe was weighing in on their arrogance, the water came pouring into the council building for the first time in history.
Venice, the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life, got hit with more than 6 feet of water. It’s the worst flood there in 60 years, and a lot of its damage will be permanent. My heart breaks for the city, and I wonder what I’ll see when I visit next spring.
So many disasters keep occurring due to our hubris. Mega-storms. Fires. Floods. Droughts. Saltwater intrusion. Sea level rise.
None of this is normal. The alarms keep ringing. But no one seems to want to listen.
It will be horrible karma if we kill off this planet and our last thoughts are that we should have done something, but couldn’t be bothered.
It makes me want to slap a whole lot of people upside the head.
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As an avid traveler, I’m not unaware of the inherent dangers of going to countries that aren’t your own. Getting caught up in political tensions. Breaking laws or making a cultural faux pas due to your own ignorance. Getting lost. The inability to communicate. Losing one’s passport. Misunderstandings. Being considered vulnerable and therefore getting targeted by criminals. I even knew someone once who got into a car accident in a third world country and wound up getting hepatitis from an unclean blood transfusion. Years later, she died as a result.
Travel is not for sissies. Do your homework. Take precautions.
But until today I didn’t realize that there were also mental health risks. The fear of losing one’s luggage is scary. But actually becoming psychotic? Yikes.
I heard someone mention Paris Syndrome this morning. It intrigued me, so I looked it up in the Font of All Human Knowledge, also known as Wikipedia. Now, be advised that none of the syndromes I mention in this post can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But it fascinates me that they crop up enough to have actual names.
It seems that Paris Syndrome can occur when one visits that fair city and experiences extreme shock when it does not live up to expectations. I do remember that on my first visit, I was disappointed that all the food was not phenomenal, and surprised that most people on the streets were not wearing haute couture. But I got over it.
Not everyone does. Some people experience delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, tachycardia, and perspiration, among other things. It’s like culture shock, writ large. For some reason, it seems to happen to Japanese tourists more than any other group. I have no idea why.
From there, as often happens when surfing Wikipedia, I was led to an article about Jerusalem Syndrome. This one occurs when someone visits Jerusalem and experiences religious delusions. It used to be called “Jerusalem squabble poison”, and it has been occurring since the Middle Ages. Tour guides are trained to look out for it, in the hopes that they can nip it in the bud before the sufferer steals the hotel bed sheets, wraps himself up in them, and then delivers a nonsensical sermon at one of the holy places in the city. Good grief.
And then there’s Stendhal Syndrome. This one happens in Florence, Italy. It’s named after the first known victim, a writer from the early 1800’s. With this syndrome, one is apparently so overcome by the art of Florence, and the presence of the graves of notables such as Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, that one experiences ecstasy, dizziness, and disorientation.
For the most part, these syndromes seem to resolve themselves when the tourist leaves the cities in question, but area hospitals are used to admitting patients with these symptoms. It’s enough to make you want to stay home.
Well, no it isn’t. But it certainly makes you think.
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Once upon a time, I’d visit a different foreign country every two years. Those were the days. Now, 60 percent of my income goes toward mortgage and utilities, and I don’t see myself ever being able to leave the country again. That breaks my heart, because travel is my reason for being.
Because of this, I’ve become really adept at doing mental walkabouts. If I close my eyes, I can remember exactly what it was like to walk amongst the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I can also explore the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of all the amazing places I’ve been. I can transport myself back to the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and sample, once again, the Hungarian Goulash in Budapest.
The one percent may make it financially impossible for me to explore the world anymore, but they can’t take away my memories. Only dementia or death can do that. I’m terrified of dementia. Death, from my perspective, is simply another way to travel. (Not that I’m in any hurry to hop on that plane.)
Until then, I’ll travel in my mind. I’ll ride bicycles along the canals in Utrecht, Holland, and swim in the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. I’ll snack on fresh bread and local cheese in the Swiss Alps. No matter how dire my financial straits become, as the saying goes, I’ll always have Paris.
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The most profound silence I have ever experienced was in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Miles from civilization, the quiet takes on a character one does not usually experience, to the point where the flapping of a raven’s wings startles you.
The best thing I have ever eaten was a seafood pasta dish called “frutas del mar”, while sitting on the banks of the grand canal in Venice.
My biggest regret was transferring from Warren Wilson College instead of graduating there, just so I could be closer to a boyfriend whom I broke up with a month later. Warren Wilson is the most amazing place on earth in which to get an education. I’ve left my soul there, on Dogwood Ridge, and have been trying to relocate to the area ever since.
The loudest noise I ever heard was 1200 of my fellow middle-schoolers screaming at the top of their lungs at a pep rally, just before both of my eardrums burst.
The most beautiful thing I have ever seen was the view of the mountain range from Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway. That’s where I want my ashes scattered.
The coldest I’ve ever been was the time that I had to walk to my car in the pouring rain and 40 mile per hour winds because my employer refused to shut down the drawbridge during a hurricane, and I needed the money too much to get fired by taking a stand. When I got home, after driving past fallen trees and downed power lines, my lips were blue.
The ugliest thing I’ve ever seen was the look on a coworker’s face when he was delighting in another coworker’s loss of his livelihood.
The drunkest I’ve ever been was the time I woke up in the trunk of my car and couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. Which is why I haven’t had a drink in 28 years.
The happiest I have ever been is any time I’ve traveled and arrived at my destination safely, with all my luggage, and am about to concentrate on simply experiencing my new location. That “brink of adventure” feeling simply cannot be beaten.
The strongest I’ve ever been was the summer I was in the Youth Conservation Corps and had spent those months doing construction work. That experience also went a long way toward teaching me that I’m capable of anything. One of the stupidest things the government has ever done was to stop funding that program.
The proudest I’ve ever felt was when I went days without sleep to help a friend raise money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
The most darkness I’ve ever experienced was deep in the catacombs under the city of Paris, surrounded by miles of skulls, when the lights suddenly went out.
The brightest light I’ve ever seen was when I defied all advice and looked directly at a solar eclipse. That split second was also the most profound pain I’ve ever felt, and I was certain, as I fell to my knees, that my skull had been pierced clean through. They aren’t kidding. Don’t look directly at a solar eclipse.
The most awe I’ve ever felt was when I looked, for the first time, at the Grand Canyon.
The hottest I’ve ever been was in Nevada, but I didn’t know it. As a Florida girl, I’m used to gauging heat by how much I sweat, but this was a dry heat, so I didn’t realize it was 120 degrees out until I passed out.
The worst taste I’ve ever had in my mouth was the time I chugged some liquid Maalox which turned out to be several years old, and the ingredients had separated, leaving the medicine unmasked by flavoring. I think I vomited for about an hour.
The best smell I’ve ever experienced was smoked ham in a Virginia barn when I was already ravenously hungry.
The worst smell, by far, was Jacksonville, Florida before they closed the paper mills. I honestly don’t know how anyone could live here before that. It was sickening. Now it smells wonderful, thanks to the Maxwell House Coffee plant.
A coworker of mine was describing a situation in which he and his brother were watching TV and they got into an argument which then escalated into a fist fight, and the police had to be called. Just a regular Tuesday night at Chez Coworker, apparently. I remember thinking, “Huh. My whole life, the police have never been called to my house. Am I normal, or is he?”
Someone else I know regularly shouts and makes intimidating gestures, causing tension, fear and anxiety in his household. He says that he’s of Mediterranean descent, so he can’t help it. That made me wonder about all the Italians and Greeks and Turks that I’ve passed on the street who have managed to behave themselves and act with courtesy and respect. Who’s the stereotype?
And then there’s the girl whose husband tried to choke her. But she’s still with him, because she loves him. I tried to imagine sleeping under the same roof with someone, even for one night, who had tried to kill me. I’m not getting any pictures.
Another story: this guy left his car keys on the counter and went to sleep. One of his relatives took the car without permission and got into an accident. The guy wakes up, sees the damage to the car, asks who was responsible, and no one admits to it. And they all (every one of them is an adult) still live with him. Oh no. Not me. Not even for a second. I’d have gathered them all in one room and said, “Either someone confesses and makes arrangements to pay for damages, or every single one of you is out on the street.”
Another woman racked up thousands of dollars in phone bills by calling her boyfriend who was in the military overseas. She was the only one in the house who even knew someone overseas, so there was no doubt who was responsible. Not only did she not pay the bills, but since the phone was in her parent’s name, their service got cut off, and they haven’t been able to have a house phone for years because of it. Not to mention the fact that their credit is ruined. It’s the great unspoken thing in the family, but apparently she has no remorse whatsoever. That same girl’s sister stole her own 10 year old child’s birthday money.
All of these things have me wondering, who is living a life outside the norm? Me, for being shocked by all of the above, or them? Are most of the people on the planet just animals with no moral compass whatsoever? Should the Jerry Springer Show be considered a documentary? And to think there are people out there who still refuse to believe we’re related to primates. Sheesh.
I’m having a really, really bad few days. They come, they go. The older you get, the more you realize it’s not the end of the world. The pendulum always swings back the other direction eventually.
So, on days like this, when my boss shows his true a**hole colors, the man in my life has no concept of the term emotional support, the dogs are misbehaving, I’m sliding closer and closer to the abyss of homelessness and my landlord doesn’t seem to want me to live where I live anymore, I think of my highest point, and hold on to it as tightly as I can. That’s what I recommend for everyone.
I’m particularly lucky in that I happen to have one of my highest points on film.
That’s me, in San Marco Square in Venice, Italy, 2006. It took me years of sacrifice and determination to get there, and yet there I stand, about to be pooped on by pigeons, despite all financial odds. I made that happen. No one helped. And no one can take that from me.
When you are standing in a dark valley of despair, it’s nice to be able to look up at a high pinnacle, illuminated by sunlight, and see yourself standing there as well.
For many years now I have been setting aside 45 dollars a month to give myself a gift when I turn 50. Just a sort of thank you for having been on the planet for that long, for having survived with at least a modicum of sanity and good health, for having taken care of myself. By then I think I will have earned it.
When the time comes, I plan to take all that money and spend three weeks in Italy. First I’d like to rent a villa on the Amalfi Coast, and explore Pompeii and Naples. I plan to sit in the sun and do nothing at all. Just watch people, become a regular at a cafe, if only for a few days, eat good food, and bask like a lizard on a hot rock. I want Italy to soak into my skin.
Next, I will go to Rome, and not do as the Romans do, because I’m sure they don’t spend their time seeing all the sights and focusing on the history that surrounds them every day. I will be the typical tourist in Rome, and make no apologies for it. I want to see the coliseum, sit on the Spanish steps, eat entirely too much gelato, and tour the Vatican City.
After that, it will be on to Florence. Ah, Firenze! There, I will focus on the architecture. I want to take photographs, and maybe even draw what I see. I have no drawing experience. I’m sure these drawings will be horrible. But I will take them home and frame them because there could be no better souvenir than a horrible drawing that takes you right back to the very moment it was drawn every time you look at it.
But the bulk of my money will be spent, I’m sure, in Venice. I want to live there like a woman of the upper classes. I want a room with a view of the Grand Canal. I want to wear beautiful flowing clothing that I buy in the city. I want to eat at the finest restaurants. My focus there will be art. I will walk slowly through the galleries and savor the creativity. I want to slowly luxuriate in all the best and most beautiful things in life.
One cannot plan these things, of course, but if I’m not in a relationship at that time, I’d like to fall in love–just for a day or two, and preferably with someone who would be facing the same language barrier that I am. Communication has a nasty habit of ruining the fantasy. I simply want to be enveloped in an Italian aura, and then go home and have people remark that occasionally I get a smile on my face that no one but me will understand.
I’m looking forward to turning 50.