I used to walk every morning before work in Atlanta. I took the same route and walked the same pace. On the weekends, Steve and I would walk Millie together. Sometimes we would go on parts of my morning walk, but in the opposite direction. It was always amazing to me how completely different everything looked when I came at it from the other side. I saw things I didn’t notice in the mornings, the light was different, and it was like walking a completely different path.
Travel does for your soul what walking the opposite direction does for your senses. It makes you stop and think about things that you usually take for granted. It points out that even the simple things in life have options and alternatives and can be celebrations. It reminds us that at our core, people are very similar, but they have different customs and practices that guide them. Not right, not wrong, just different. Fear is one of the most destructive emotions we possess and travel helps to assuage some of our fears. It gives us hope that with a little understanding almost anything is possible.
I love the view from the other side. I love seeing how people here live and cope with hardship. I love being part of a community that calls me a stranger but opens its arms to me regardless. I love hearing different languages being spoken while strolling the alleys of hilltowns. Most of all I love the perspective that it gives me to witness things that are foreign to me. With each thing I learn about this culture, I feel a little freer from the bonds that tether me to what I’m used to. I’ve only scratched the surface and I know I’ll always be the outsider. But I don’t care. In fact, I kind of like being on the outside and looking into this different perspective on life. For all the things that frustrate me about Italy, there are dozens of beautiful gifts that it gives to me every day.
We live in very uncertain times. No one really knows what will happen with COVID and what that will mean to our lives. I can tell you that here the continuing threat of COVID is very real and is taken very seriously. There are outliers, just as there are in every country, but for the most part, Italians are trying to do what they can to contain this disease. But just as with everything else, they don’t let fear rule their lives. This is a culture with ancient roots, roots that have endured wars, famine, dictatorship, and political upheaval, to name a few. This is a culture that puts a premium on what we have in common and what gives us pleasure – art, music, food, wine, nature.
I’ve lived here for almost nine weeks and I still call Atlanta home. Even though I have no home in Atlanta anymore, it’s still what I think of as home. I’ll say things like, “At home it’s so much more humid”, or “At home the restaurants are outrageously expensive for mediocre food”, or “We can’t get this wonderful Sagrantino wine at home”. I think of my home here as home, of course, but I can’t shed myself of the connection to the US and to Atlanta. I guess 62 years of living in a place will do that. I’ll always be American, always be a Southern girl. But I thank God that I have the opportunity to experience life from this different perspective and view it from another side. I may not emerge from this a smarter or better person, but I’ll sure be happier and maybe a little less fearful.