Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hearts Will Never be Practical

It’s January 31st.

It’s the last day of Italy. It’s the last day of my journey. It’s the last day of my attempt to build a life on another continent, to learn another language, to make a new world for myself. It’s the last day for me to walk casually past the gigantic monuments, the overwhelming Vatican, the Cloverfield Monster also known as the Pantheon, and the giant symbolic masterpiece of the Colosseum. It’s the last day for me to eat non-processed cheese, indulge into gelato and chocolate, and drink a real cappuccino. It’s the last day for me to LIVE in Italy. Tomorrow I board a flight back to America. Back to American sized coffee, convenience corner CVS, and where people follow traffic signals.

It’s time to pack my bags. It’s time to choose the things I need and the things that can be left in Italy. Hairdryer with European plug? Leave it. Videocamera? Bring it home. Towel? Leave it. Excess shampoo and conditioner? Leave it. New leather boots? Bring them. Heart?


What do I do with my heart?

I need my heart to thrive in order to show all the kindness and caring that I have within me. But I fear that I will truly leave my heart here—in this place where I have found love in the cracks of the cobblestone and in the bubbles of my cappuccino. In this place where I have found love in the train rides to distant cities, the simplicity of walking around each one of those cities, and the nooks and crannies that I have found in each of those cities. In this place where I have found love, have given love, and have received love. In this place that I truly did leave my heart two years ago. In this place that I have fallen in love with all over again.

It would be much easier if your heart was something that you took, rolled in the sleeves of your favorite sweater, and placed perfectly in the center of your luggage so as not to damage it during the turbulence of the ten hour plane ride home. It would be so much easier if your heart were just something you needed to pack and bring with you wherever you went—like your toothbrush, your soap, your shampoo, your underwear. But your heart is much different than all these things. Your heart isn’t practical. It’s both breakable—and—irreplaceable.

Footprints? Leave them. Memories? Take them. Heart.


What do I do with my heart?

I wish I could string half my heart to a necklace and put it around Italy’s neck, while I wear the other half around mine. Then one day I could return, and reconnect the pieces. But the problem with that is, of course, that until I returned I’d be broken hearted—and I am not looking to live that way—nor am I looking to live heartless.

So this time I am not going home empty-hearted. I’m not going home with a longing for a place that I’ve already seen, lived, and breathed. I am not going home with tears in my eyes, and endless wishes.

This time I am going home with an even bigger heart full of love for adventure, for spontaneity, for the chance to return. This time I am going home with a big heart filled with a big sort of love for Italy, one I knew of before, but confused with longing and lust. This time I am going home knowing I went back…knowing I found the other half of my heart beneath the cobble stone, the bubbles of cappuccino, and the ruins of the biggest monuments. This time I am going home knowing I haven’t left a piece of it behind. This time I am going home with Rome in my heart…not leaving my heart with Rome…this time I have my heart in my hands and a lot of love between my fingers. This time I’m taking my heart with me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1,296,000 Seconds to Travel

“You are traveling alone?”

“Excuse me?”

“You are alone?”

Physically…yes…This man, that I have just met, is right. I am traveling alone.

That was DAY 12 of my travels.

Fast forward to now:

Over 1,296,000 seconds later.

Fast forward to now:

Over 1,000 photos later.

Fast forward to now:

Over 30 hours of train riding later.

Fast forward to now:

Over 15 cappuccino later.

Fast forward to now:

9 cities later:

Fast forward to now:

1 trip later.

Physically, I may have been on my own, but 1 trip later, I have found that I had truly the best travel companions at my side: My thoughts.

Like people, they fought with me, proved indecisive, had trouble making decisions, offered me both simple and complex conversation, and most of all, like people, they kept me company.

They gave me questions, they tested my patience, they sat with me, they listened, and they let me talk. When I got lost, they reassured me that I’d find my way back. And when it was between spending money and saving it, they reminded me that I only live once.

They were my best friends for fifteen days.

Sure, for most of the night, I had company in whoever’s house I had couch surfed at, but for the most part, it was just me and my thoughts--my thoughts and me--mano i mano--and it was the least lonely I have been in a while…it was the best company I could have asked for. For that time—it was the only company I needed. It was the best 1,296,000 seconds with my thoughts I could have ever wanted.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Don't Worry: The Pain is Only Temporary"

...but for them, it wasn't.

For them, whether they lived or survived...the pain would be tattooed onto their conscious...for them, the pain was forever.

For them, pain was life.

"You are without rights, dishonorable and defenseless.
You are a pile of shit.
And that is how you are going to be treated."
-Josef Jarolin (Concentration Camp Protective Custody Leader at Dachau 1941/42)

Walking through snow and icy paths with just tennis shoes and a pair of socks, I can feel the cold seeping through my skin. I am taking a day and exploring, breathing, and discovering the Dachau Concentration Camp in Munich, Germany--I am saddened by the Dachau Concentration Camp in Munich, Germany.

'This is what they lived in--these barracks, these boxes, these jails...with nothing to eat--nothing to keep them warm...This is wrong--this is really wrong,' I think.

I am numbed by both the cold and this idea of having to be in these conditions. I am happy to have socks and shoes...even if my feet are still without feeling. I am happy to have my freedom, even if there are times when I don't get my way. But these people didn't have socks or shoes most of the time--and these people definitely didn't have freedom.

'I wouldn't last a day,' I thought out loud--'I wouldn't last a minute.'

Now standing in the gas chamber, I hold my breath and count to myself. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5...16,17,18...22,23,24 EXHALE." For 18 seconds, I can hold it comfortably. For the next few I want air, and in the last two seconds, I struggle and release. 'Holding my breath + being gassed...not the way I would want to go down--not the way I would want to look back on my life in a flash...not the way I would want to die.'

People often debate that one way of death is probably less painful than another. "I wouldn't want to burn to death." "I wouldn't want to freeze to death." "I wouldn't want to be shot to death." "I wouldn't want to suffocate." "I wouldn't want to starve to death."

But it's all painful--all of it--and more so when it's at the hands of someone else--more so when you are powerless and defenseless.

"You are standing where dead man slept.
You are walking where starving men starved.
You are breathing where executing someone was a man's daily chore."
-Libby Segal

I may never be a prisoner, and I may never know the true struggles of the millions of people who were in concentration camps, or the hundreds of thousands who were imprisoned in this one, but I do know ONE thing...I would never survive--I would never be able to go through it. I would never last in the barracks or be able to lay n the cold, unsure of whether my family was okay or no. I would never be able to sleep at night with my hands tucked between my legs and my body touching another person's knowing what I would have to go through when I opened my eyes the next morning, when even if the sun shined, darkness was always relevant. I would be hopeless. And even the thought of hopelessness is painful---imagining a day in the life of these prisoners is painful...

My feet are numb but it is only temporary.

My breath barely runs out after twenty-four seconds, but I can catch up.

But what happened here, to these people, what these people felt--or didn't feel--it wasn't temporary. It was not imagined. It was real. And it will be felt forever.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I don’t know where I am—But I don’t think I care. I don’t know where I am going…but I know I will get there when I get there.

I don’t know where I am going for once—and that feels okay.

It’s January 18th—the 10th day of my adventure—my journey. To my left are snow caps and to my right are endless mountains. I am sitting on a chair lift mapped to be in Italy but that appears to be Austria. I am in a realm where no one knows English, but nothing appears to be in Italian. There are not pizza shops on every corner and gelato isn’t screaming me from every window. I don’t know where I am—and for once—that feels okay…for once that feels more than okay.

The lift could stop in another city—another country—heck, another planet—and I would be delighted. For the first time in a long time I have not a care in the world. For the first time in a long time I don’t feel so lost. I am between a rock and a hard place (Aron Ralston) as the lift climbs, but I don’t have to cut off my arm at the top, I just have to breathe—I just have to take it in.

I will never climb Mount Everest, step on the moon, or slosh my way through Antarctica—none of the are on my bucket list, but I know after this moment, after this simple breath-taking moment—I will have truly graced the top of the world.

I am watching as the snow glows between dusk and night, reflecting a pink cosmic cloudless sky. I am watching as the world changes. I am watching everything move as I stand still. I am SEEING the world.

I don’t know where I am—city—country—state of mind—but for once, I am okay with that. I am more than okay with it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood Got it Right--She just had bad luck

"The traveler sees what he sees -- the tourist sees what he has come to see."--G.K. Chesterton

When I was in middle school, I believed that what defined us was our ability to capture the "American dream," how many kids we would have, how big our house was, and how fat our wallet would become. I used to think that to be happy we had to be the lead dancer on Broadway, the Academy Award winner at the Oscars, the multi-platinum album selling artist, or the Hall of Fame athlete. I was trapped into believing that becoming the first female major league baseball player would fill all my needs and make me happy. I believed that the only thing that was fair in life was what happened between the white lines on a field hockey or softball field.

I had a path, and I believed that if I left that path--I would get eaten by some big bad plump wolf in some cottage hidden in the woods.

I lived in a bubble.

.[Insert photo shopped picture of Libby in a bubble].

Clearly, my mindset has changed quite a bit, as I have learned to put my wallet on a diet, live more simply in another country, and take in extremely gratifying moments of silence and aloneness. In fact, I think my "Libby Time" --time spent with self-- has been at an all time high in the past two weeks--but that all time high is about to be surpassed as I take off today for a tour of the north and a detour into I take off to SEE the I take off to be surprised by the world.

Today, I venture off to meet new people, to see new things, and to indulge in the many pleasant novelties of the cultures that I have not yet thrown myself into. Someone said to me yesterday, "So now you are a tourist," and I said to them, "No...Now I am a traveler."

And here is the difference.

When you travel: there is no plan. You go. You watch. You see. You smile. You laugh. You talk. You watch. You eat. You sleep. You watch. You dream. You imagine. You take a a hint from little red riding hood and you leave the path--and you discover that there's not always a wolf living at the other side of the forest waiting to eat you... Instead, when you travel: You live.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A 20 for your thoughts?

I talk a lot. I am not sure if I always say a lot. But I surely do talk a lot. I talk about the world spinning round. I talk about the leaves falling off the trees. I talk about music to my ears. I talk about how people inspire me—how I inspire them. I talk about calories. I talk about beliefs. I talk about the future—the past—and the present. I talk about sports. I talk about clothes and money…I talk about material things, and I talk about wishes and wants and dreams.

I talk to family. I talk to friends. I talk to my video camera. I talk to myself.

And when a stranger offers me the candy of a conversation about something other than boys and problems in life…I take the candy, and I talk to a stranger—even if my parents once told me never to stop and talk to strangers. Because let’s be honest, if we never stopped and talked to strangers, would we have any friends?

Sitting in front of what I refer to as the Cloverfield Monster of Rome, The Pantheon, which sits tightly as the meat between two apartment buildings, I contemplate which was built first—the apartment buildings or the Pantheon—and how they got the columns there if it was built second. I try and engineer the building of the Pantheon in my head. ‘Well I know how they got the columns…’ My thoughts are interrupted by a middle-aged man dressed down who has just sat next to me. “Is there mass?” He asks me.

Reaching to button my jacket pockets—in case I have placed valuables within, I look at him and say “Non lo so” (I don’t know)

“Oh parli Italiano” (You speak Italian!)

“Un po,” I say. "English is my native language."

He begins speaking to me in English—very good English at that. “What do you do in Rome?”

Now clutching my backpack, half expecting him to have a gypsy attempt to rob me of all my belongings (my trust is still low since having my things stolen just over two months ago), “I teach English…but not for long. I return to the states in a month and go on vacation this coming week.”

“How much do you charge.”

I tell him that I charge 25 Euro for a planned lesson.

“And for conversation?”

“20 Euro.”

“Can I pay you 20 Euro now to talk to me in English for a half hour. It’s not often that I get to speak to a lovely lady in English for a half hour and I need it for my work.”

Still clutching my backpack, and still nervous, I look around to grasp my surroundings.

“What, you don’t want an easy twenty euro?” The man says to me.

‘Hold on,’ I think to myself. ‘Breathe. Take one more look around. Check your pockets one more time. You are in a tourist area. Stay weary.’ I continue my thoughts in my head ‘Stop being so serious. Relax. Breathe. 20 dollars to talk… talk.’

“Okay,” I say. “but one moment.” I quickly call my friend to tell her that I will be a half hour later for our cappuccino date.

And then I say, “But twenty is too much…” “No, twenty is not much, he says.” And then we talk—and talk—and talk—and talk. And we laugh, and we laugh more…and we discuss Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff, and how Johnny Depp is for the young crowd—not his. And how George Clooney is looked down upon in Italy, but for Clint Eastwood—two thumbs up. And we frown upon Berlusconi and we talk about how beautiful Rome is and where else to visit in Italy—and we smile, and we enjoy one another’s company.

Not before long our half hour is up, and he initiates the end of the conversation by thanking me for my time and wishing that we could meet again. Genuinely saddened that I won’t be around Rome any longer, he says that he hopes to meet with me one day again so that he can again pay me to talk.

I feel bad taking his money, but he insists curling it between my fingers. A smile on his face, he says how much our conversation has meant to him, how nice it was to just sit and talk. I’d take that smile for my thoughts over the twenty, and I try to give it back to him—but when an Italian insists, you don’t argue (really—they get mad). And as he trots off with a giant smile on his face. I begin to wonder what his story is—what his family is like—if he still talks to them—if he is hoping to have his own family one day—if he is lonely—and if he was just looking for a friend…if I was a girl who was just a stranger---or if I was that stranger who could become that friend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One Person's Nothing is Another Person's Everything

The music used is "For Blue Skies" by Strays don't Sleep (No Copyright Infringement intended)

The floor boards creak below me. Shattered glass gets caught in the etchings carved out on the bottom of my shoes. Debris turns my black hat white. The window shades knock at the sides of the house. The sun beam reflects off the broken materials that have now become the carpet to the floor. History surrounds me—and could fall down all around me, but it doesn’t matter. This is someone’s home…this is someone’s everything.

Storytelling. Storytelling is my favorite past-time and present-time activity. When I enter on to a train or a bus, or into a coffee shop or a restaurant, I sit and I watch people. I analyze their gestures—from where they place their hands to what certain twitches they have. I give them a name, a family, and some sort of back story as to why they are sitting on that train or on that bus or in that coffee shop or in that restaurant with me. This time the people and the lives that I encountered are much more deserving than those I briefly watch in the public. This time the people and the lives that I encountered, in this town full of beauty, have their own stories—ones of hope, strength, and dignity…Ones of sadness and sorrow…ones of devastation.

These stories that I found were not told to me by those that live in the town of L’Aquila, because those that live in L’Aquila are no longer living in their own homes—they are living in hotels while their homes have either been condemned or gated off for construction. These stories were told by the people’s belongings, their empty streets, and their falling down homes. These stories were told by the remnants of the beautiful village that once stood out as a tourist destination, a hub for visitors, a world of exploration. These stories were told by everything that exists in L’Aquila.

Walking through a condemned home, I ducked beneath ceiling parts that were coming down, and I avoided sharp objects that could seriously wound me. I found a box of photos, and I searched through it. The people who lived here were a family, two kids, I guessed, and a husband who had served in the Italian military. Within the home, every drawer, closet door, and cupboard was open, as if someone had come through trying to rummage what he or she could from this abandoned home. Clothes lined the bed of the bedroom and toys could be found scattered along the apartment. This family was happy here…until April 6, 2009, when an earthquake thieved them of a roof above their head and food on their tables. Now the family’s memories are here—their clothes—their photos—their lives. Everything is here.

I hear a car pull up outside the home, and I walk outside. An older man is closing the gate which had been opened when I had arrived. “Aperto, per favore” (Open, please) I say, almost with a desperate sound in my voice. Shocked at a person down below, the man opens the gate. His wife comes running out of the car. “Attentiva!” (Stay attentive) She tells me, and then goes on in Italian to tell me that it’s dangerous and that the house could go kaboom, that it’s not safe. I apologize a million times over, and she doesn’t get angry. “No, don’t be sorry, just be careful.”

Sadness enters her eyes as if she has just experienced her own kaboom all over again.

I explain to her that people don’t understand the devastation, and that people need to know—that the government is doing nothing and that people can help. She nods, agreeing, still a sadness in her eyes. “Right,” she nods again, before warning me to be careful one more time…before she and her husband drive away from what was once their home and what still is home to all of their things.

A lot of people want to tell you that there is nothing in L’Aquila. Websites will say to be forewarned before heading there that there isn’t much to see…that the earthquake took down everything…that there is nothing. Some people who live in Italy will question why you would bother…and even those who aren’t Italian will question you too. But that’s not true. There is a lot of something in L’Aquila. For some people—there is everything.