I ran away from home. In a fit of restlessness, I signed up for a tour of Italy. And yesterday I travelled like I never have travelled before. Let me clarify… that’s not a positive statement. In spite of having visited 50 countries, yesterday I travelled like I’d never been on a trip before. I was headed for Pisa. The moon followed me to Italy and posed at dawn in a Rothko painting.
And then it prepared to set over the Alps.
After 14 hours, I arrived in Rome. I passed through security… crawled through the passport control line. Approaching the desk, I suddenly wondered if my bag had been checked through. I pulled out my claim ticket and saw with a sinking heart that it was checked only to Rome. When I asked what to do, the agent explained I would have to go all the way back and start over, except this time start at baggage claim. And to my “Really?!”, he laughed and replied, “well, if you want your bag it is”. And back I went. But this time when I got to passport control, it took over an hour to get the second stamp for my single entry. There are countries where having no exit stamp to match your entry stamp can cause you endless hassle. Fortunately not here, for today I entered Italy twice without ever leaving. [I wonder if that’s what happened to Sartre.]
I rushed to my gate, arriving in such a sweat that I was sure someone would turn me in as a potential threat. Only a person contemplating a misdeed would be so flushed and sweaty. I arrived at my gate and sat. And sat. And sat. The flight, of course, was an hour late in boarding. I was tired and increasingly irritable. And as I sat I fell out of love with travel and with Italian, a language which is like music to the ear. I asked myself, “Why do I do this? Why do I travel?” The question just became more intense as the next leg of the journey unfolded, as I arrived in Pisa and the inevitable herding that accompanies tours began. Why I chose a tour in a country I am completely comfortable wandering on my own, I don’t know.
As we left Pisa by bus, we saw the top of the tower in the distance. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. I saw it first when I was three years old. We were on our way to the United States by ocean liner. It may be the earliest memory I have. Someone had given me a small statue of the tower and I tried to eat it. I can still remember the feel of the marble in my mouth. I visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa again seven years ago and bought a small replica then in remembrance of that moment so long ago. It sits on my desk, and though somewhat dilapidated from the move from my office to home, it reminds me of my journey to the U.S., from the third world to the first and from a future that would have been completely defined to one filled with unthought of opportunity. I wonder which way does the tower lean? Does it lean symbolically as though pushing me toward my future?
We pass the mountains of Carrera. It was here that Michelangelo chose the marble for his David. The mountains appear snow capped, but they are not. It is exposed marble that blanches their sides. And in the foreground are blocks of marble quarried from the mountains, standing in the stone-cutters’ yards. The earth here bleeds white.
And so, as we drove toward our hotel, thoughts started to percolate. Like an artesian well that had finally been tapped, ideas spilled out, memories linked to current moments, images tumbled over each other trying to get noticed.
And I remembered, this is why I travel. It feeds this beast. Feeds the writer. It feeds Dragon and makes his breath just a little hotter. And I like it that way.