First Reflections

I’ve been back for two day now and I think I’ve been adjusting well, time-wise and otherwise. This morning I was pleasantly surprised to remember that there are dishwashers in the dorms. Yesterday after bagel sandwiches at our favorite cafe, Mr. B and I walked around Boston for a while, up Newbury street and because it was raining a little, through Copley and back down Huntington. It felt odd, like I was holding my breath, with the foreignness and familiarity hitting me at once. I kept looking for people I knew everywhere I went but I didn’t recognize anyone…

Part of the purpose for this journal was to write about my growth- the way study abroad was changing me and what I learned. I don’t mean to sound stuck-up when I say it, but I knew that I wasn’t going to undergo any drastic changes when I studied abroad. I already know who I am because it is who I have decided to be and it would take a pretty big shift in my beliefs to cause me to make any major changes in personality or lifestyle. Not that I claim to know everything, but I have traveled abroad before and even though I craved the knowledge and newness it would bring, I also had expectations of the kinds of things I would see and I knew that I wouldn’t need to change much when I saw them.

Anyways, since this is all sort of a big excuse to those grading this journal about why I maybe didn’t write as much about my impressions as I could have, I’m going to include my final piece for my creative writing class- the one I read out loud for my peers during my last week in Perugia. I think it sort of embodies what I wanted from study abroad and summarizes what I got. And maybe later, I’ll include some more of my pieces because those have some subtle reflections of how it all effected me hidden in their words.

The Unturned Stones 

People asked me, when this whole thing was starting, why I came to Perugia, why I came to Italy, why I studied abroad. “I want to do everything,” I answered simply. And it was true.

I started out actively, giving my whole self to my roommates eagerly, lowering my guard, tasting and touching and talking through everything in Perugia, and it was just what I wanted it to be. We wandered the stone streets until we were lost and until we found our way home again. We ate at the local restaurants until we were stuffed and then ate some more. We laughed long into the night in our little green and white kitchen over homemade bruschetta and Umbrian wine, but slowly I started to itch for more. “I have to get out of Perugia.” I told myself. “Perugia is not everything.”

I set my sights on Tuscany and Tuscany, I conquered. I posed for pictures in Pisa and got stuck in Cortona overnight after consuming one of the best meals of my life thus far; platters of cheese and salami and pasta, all dripping with the best Italian customer service. I climbed the Duomo in Firenze then stumbled home that neon night, drunker than I’ve been since high school with the aid of a mischievous waitress and too many free liters of white wine. I wandered blindly through Assisi with near strangers disguised as new friends, seeing nothing more ancient than the sunset and I strolled along the wide green ramparts of Lucca, gelato in hand, basking in the first sunny days of the spring. This was exciting and delicious and gorgeous as I could imagine, but I began to feel that irritating prickle again because “Tuscany is not everything.”

I went to Venice for Carnivale and did the Macarena through the streets. I wandered along the tiny island of Murano and sat on the dock, feet dangling over the rippling water with some of my new favorite girls. I watched as ragged-edged glass and flame turned into beautiful colored light.

In Cinque Terre I hiked to tiny seaside towns over streams and stone stairs. In Rome I saw the crumbling remains of the empire and trudged through the thick air, perfumed with diesel, to the holiest city, the most beautiful chapel, but still I began to chafe within the beached borders of this peninsula. “I have to get out of Italy. Italy is not everything.”

I went on a pub-crawl in Dublin, and drank dark dark Guinness before noon. I sat front row in a musical in a London theater and gaped at palaces and guards in oversized hats. I walked through the leaning streets of Holland for hours and hours, marveling at Van Goghs and The Night Watch and portable urinals. And I went to a coffee shop to not partake. I snowboarded next to the Matterhorn in its fierce snow-white glory in my own personal snow globe and a tiny Swiss chalet. In France I climbed the Eiffel Tower, then ate a French crepe and delicate Ladureè macarons in every flavor and color. I did as much as I could, in the time that I had, but time slipped ribbon-like through my fingers and still I had not done everything…

I did not leave a mark on Dublin in the 24 hours that I wandered its streets or on Paris or on Rome in all the days I passed through with other destinations in mind. And I hardly left a shadow in Perugia in all the months I called it home. My interactions were brief and delicate, a feather falling through the air. Those isolated moments pass and all the cities, much older than I, will outlast me without another look my way.

I am not so different either, in the aftermath, even with the fingerprints of two dozen new cities on my skin, the maps of their tangled streets etched in my shadowed memories. They hardly left a mark as I reached out to them, struggling, trying to hold them in my hand and take them into myself like they were a taste, a smell, an image, and not a whole other place, too wide to grasp. I am as I was when I came here, singular, whole, and still reaching blindly for everything. Only not so blind now, as ribbons unwind from my eyes. Not so blind as the details flicker again in my senses. I know a little of here and there, I taste a little of this and that and I can see a little tiny piece of what I want. I move closer everyday to my impossible vision of turning each stone and underneath, finding everything.

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