We’ve been home almost a week now, and as some memories of our trip to Italy fade and old routines kick in, I feel like I’m waking from a dream. In the early morning darkness that foretells autumn, I spend a few minutes each day recalling specific moments of our journey, gathering them like chestnuts, storing them for winter.
Friends ask, “What was your favorite moment?” They might as well be asking, “Who’s your favorite child?” Still, I try to sort out the moments—the many good and the few bad—in an attempt to put together a narrative that makes sense. I can’t; it just doesn’t work that way. A wide-angle lens doesn’t provide sufficient detail; a telescopic lens leaves out perspective and nuance. I reread notes I made along the way: that helps, but eventually I’ll need to write them more coherently, and, hopefully, that effort will generate both the detail and perspective I’ll need to answer my friends’ questions.
I remember that just before leaving for Italy back in mid-September, I whispered a little prayer: “Please let us have a seamless trip.” Someone must have heard me because we did. There has been a lot of talk these past few months about the craziness and stress of travel in the post-COVID world, much of it true. But I’ll say this: all our flights left on time and arrived on schedule and none of our suitcases ended up in unintended airports. Thank you, Lufthansa. All the Italian trains ran on time, even if did happen to be at the wrong station: Rome to Venice, Venice to Florence, Florence to Naples, Naples back to Rome. Thank you, Mussolini.
The car we rented in Tuscany and Umbria served us well and was returned unscratched, although there was that moment at the toll booth on the Autostrada outside Florence. Mea culpa. All-in-all, the moving parts of our trip ran remarkably smoothly and if that’s a testament to some higher power, I’m eternally grateful.
Once we settled into the hotels along our route—Rome, Venice, Tuscany, Umbria, Florence, and Ravello on the Amalfi coast, we felt safe and comfortable. Even in October, Italy has more than its fair share of tourists, but for the most part, we saw what we wanted to see and if a line was too long, we just sat in the sun and had (another) glass of wine. There is no such thing as a bad meal in Italy—well, maybe one, but there is always a lesson to be learned from a single culinary mistake.
Rome is still eternal and the Sistine Chapel is still crowded. In St. Peter’s Basilica, my wife had a quiet conversation with a pope who presented her grandmother with a commemorative medal many years ago. We peeped through a keyhole on the Aventine Hill, gaped at Michelangelo’s Moses, threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, climbed the Spanish Steps, ate a gelato in Piazza Navona, and wandered through Trastevere.
One evening in Venice, we sat, enthralled, listening to a performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” in an old church. The following day, we mastered the vaporetto system, sat by a quiet canal and had (another) glass of wine, and, at dinner, made more new friends.
In Tuscany and Umbria, we wandered through hilltop towns, did just a little shopping, ate delicious meals, and marveled at the rows of slim, pointed cypress trees, as well as at the subtle pastel hues of light and shadow that painted the countryside.
In Florence, we wandered through a maze of streets, fell in love with the humble Convent of San Marco, got caught in a torrential downpour, and, yes, we bought leather.
And in Ravello, we celebrated our dear friends’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, swam in the Tyrrhenian Sea, sailed past Positano, and, no I didn’t drop my phone overboard. I almost did, but it was saved from drowning by a narrow gunnel. Talk about a higher power!
The trip home was long (20 hours, give or take), but relatively uneventful. I know it will take a few days to decompress and find my footing in this time zone, but in the end, I think maybe Dorothy was on to something: “Home…there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home.”
Last night, my wife and I stood on a bluff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and watched the sun drop below the watery horizon. The silhouette of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the lights of Baltimore shimmered in the chilly distance. An ocean away, Italy was fast asleep. These words came creeping into my mind: “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” (Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann)
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.