Soooo….. Italy was interesting. Of course it was amazing, full of fantastic food & warm people but it was also extremely emotional. I think I went through every emotion possible in Italy wasn’t expecting it. I’ve alluded to this in a couple of my past posts but I haven’t really elaborated. I didn’t even know if I could bare this much of my soul on here and this post took a long time to write but here it is.
As a note -the photos in this essay look split up but they are all from this one ride. The beautiful yellow fields, the bright blue skies of Italy are from the beginning of the ride, right as we crossed into Italy. It was gorgeous, really it was. The second half comes from the more emotional state of the ride. All the photos were taken out of a train window and one window was very foggy with a bluish tint to it – very much like a memory. I didn’t even realize how I started shooting differently until after when I looked at the photos on the computer. Then it became pretty obvious to me all the emotions I was going through on the train and how they were reflected in the photos even though at the time I didn’t realize it.
Just as a fair warning, this post is pretty long but it really goes with the photos.
Going to Italy was important to me because of my family roots. I needed to see where my paternal grandparents were from and for me it was simply a trip that had to be taken. I needed to see & feel Italy for myself and for a lot of my family members, including my father who never made it there with his parents when he was younger.
Raphael. My father’s father – I never met him, he died before I was born. But the more I’ve learned about him over the years the more intrigued I’ve become with him. He was born in Italy in 1896 and moved to America when he was a young boy. From what I understand he went back and forth between Lacedonia, Italy and Massachusetts a few times in this youth. Then he wanted to fight in WWI for Italy but the Italian Army wouldn’t accept him because he had a problem with his feet. So he went back to the U.S. and America let him fight in the war and they sent him to France to be of all things – a foot soldier.
Fighting in the war granted him U.S. citizenship and when the war was over he went back to Lacedonia to find a good Italian wife. It was there he married Antonietta, my Nonna. Four months after the wedding they were on a ship to the U.S. to begin a new life. My Nonna was already pregnant with her first of 9 children and she was 17 years old. I think my grandfather was about 20. From what I have been told he always had a bit of wanderlust in him – maybe that’s where I get some of it from. I know he went back to Italy several times in his life and he liked to travel. He was also a bit of an entrepreneur continually coming up with new businesses – all of which were squashed by my Nonna - he had a lot of mouths to feed and couldn’t take those types of risks.
Growing up I was always very close with my Nonna. I never really got over her passing and still to this day the thought of her makes me very emotional. Yet I think of her all the time, probably every day. I often think about how crazy it must have been to be so young and move so far away to a new country with a new husband and no real family. I mean I travel now in my mid 30′s and it still causes anxiety and I have all the technological advances – email, phone, Skype. Sometimes I talk to my family so often when I am on the road it is like I hardly left. I just can’t imagine what it must’ve been like in the early 1900′s and what they must have both experienced when they came to America. I wonder a lot about the great adventure it must have been, especially for my Nonnie since it was her first time out of Italy and she had no immediate plans to return. It seems very brave to me. I know the times are different but I couldn’t have made a decision like that at 17.
I knew Italy would be emotional for me but I figured it would be Lacedonia where the flood gates would open. I didn’t think it would coming pouring out on the train ride in. We took the train from Paris to Venice and to be honest I was really excited to see Venice and it’s magical canals. If anything I was only a little bit nervous that I had talked Italy up so much in my head that it wouldn’t meet my expectations. Don’t worry – it definitely did!
My sister Bridgette had taken the same train several several years before and told me “Just so you know, don’t expect Italy to look amazing when you cross the border on the train – when you first enter Italy it isn’t that pretty. There are some broken down homes, tin roofs, graffiti. It looks like you’re entering Mexico.”
This wasn’t a real problem for me because I love Mexico and have long considered it my second home. So I guess it was more with curiosity than anything else that I boarded the train. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t upset I was just excited and curious about what I would see.
When we crossed from France to Italy I could tell almost immediately. The landscape changed and it was beautiful. It instantaneously reminded me of Mexico. I felt completely at home and at ease. I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. Maybe this is where the trouble began for me.
Because as I looked out the train windows taking it all in, thinking to myself “Wow, I can’t believe I’m in Italy!” I was also feeling a deep sense of ease like “Yup, Italy – just like I remembered it.” Like I had been there all along. It didn’t seem foreign to me. It felt comfortable, relaxed, normal.
Perhaps this would’ve been different if I hadn’t spent so much time in Mexico but I started to wonder about things:
Did I always feel so at home in Mexico because of my Italian roots?
Was I carrying around a bit of my Nonna’s spirit with me? Was that made Mexico and thus Italy feel so normal to me? Had I gravitated and moved to San Diego because it’s shared border with Mexico, which I now know looks just like Italy?
At times when I thought of moving away from San Diego and back to the east coast it always came down to one thing: I wouldn’t be 20 mins from Mexico if I moved. Being close to the Mexican landscape was a large part of what kept me in southern California and now I suddenly realized maybe it wasn’t Mexico after all – maybe it was just the closest thing I had to Italy – even though I didn’t know it at the time.
Now that I had seen Italy I was starting to realize that maybe the reason I always felt so at home in Mexico was my Italian heritage. Maybe it was innate and through all these years I never knew. Until now.
It made a lot of sense but it also confused me on many levels. You know the kind of levels where you start wondering things like “What is my journey? What am I supposed to do in life? How have all of these things in my life led to this point right now?”
As the train rode on I started thinking more and more about these things and started missing my family. Not just my immediately family but everyone – all of my aunts & uncles, my hundreds of cousins, my nonna & even the grandfather I never met.
I hope you don’t think I’m crazy for admitting this but on the train it felt like it wasn’t my journey – I was just the conduit. I imagined how my grandparents would’ve felt when they returned on visits to Italy. I felt like I was seeing things through my Nonna’s eyes and that was why everything looked so comforting, exciting and at the same time so familiar. With the train wheels turning and the landscape passing – I distinctly felt like I was reliving memories that I never had.
Things started to go awry when we mistakenly thought the train was pulling into the Venice station because it was slowing down. We weren’t the only ones that thought this as a lot of people got up to start gathering their things. We got up as well and as we were walking into the aisle a lady behind me started talking to me in Italian. Of course I didn’t understand any of it except ‘Scusi” but it didn’t matter. She repeated her question as I looked at her with the most stunned expression on my face.
The one thing I hadn’t taken into consideration in any of my Italy planning was hearing the accent. I hadn’t even thought about this detail but sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the most impact. And as she spoke, there it came like a ton of bricks full speed ahead right into my heart.
Immediately I started crying. She sounded exactly like my Nonna and I had’t heard that accent since I was 12 years old. Given the surroundings, the half bottle of wine I drank on the train and all of the thoughts that were previously floating in my head it was too much. The accent was beautiful and perfect but I just hadn’t expected it – especially as it came directly at me from the lips of another Italian grandmother. I was totally unprepared for that. It brought me to a point of ruin in about 1 second flat.
I tried to choke back the tears but it was useless. I even forced myself to look directly at her and mentally note all the reasons why she didn’t look a thing like my nonna, for instance she had a cellphone. My grandmother wasn’t even alive when cell phones were invented so of course this woman was nothing like Nonna. I really tried to focus on things like that but it didn’t help. I buried my face in a small pillow I had and tried to evade the eyes of everyone in the aisle.
Then things got worse.
Everyone was standing up because the train had stopped. The only issue was that the train had just randomly stopped. We weren’t at a station, no one was getting on or off, we were just stopped on the tracks. At this point everyone had shuffled into the luggage area and that’s where we were as well, thinking we were about to disembark. The train sat there for about a LONG time, everyone standing around waiting to get off, no one moving, no doors opening. Then there was me bawling. I mean seriously bawling. Like the kind of crying that only happens maybe once a year. The kind you can’t control – that was me. Standing in the middle of a crowded Italian train carriage shoving my face into a pillow, blowing my nose, crying uncontrollably.
I tried so hard to contain myself and a couple times I was able to for a minute or 2 and then it was right back to crying again. I had a complete emotional breakdown in front of everyone and there was nothing I could do about it. Everyone was looking at me and then trying not to look at me but no one could move – we were all stuck. I was a serious buzz kill for everyone else in the carriage. More strangely was that as odd and horrible as I felt at one point I just gave up. There was nothing I could do to stop, it became useless to try, so I just sat down on the floor and cried. I know people were surprised I was crying but from growing up in an Italian family I also knew that Italians are no strangers to showing emotions. I tried not to beat myself up too much but I could only imagine what the other people on the train thought. I’m sure they thought someone I loved had died because it was really that bad. Either that or they thought Randy was abusing me.
I felt bad, poor Randy. He was just standing there looking at all the Italian people crowded around us while I was an emotional mess. He was shocked trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I tried to tell him about the lady with the accent but it was useless he was just as dumbfounded as everyone else – only unfortunately he had to stand next to me and look at all the other riders who were eying him suspiciously. No one spoke, not a soul. Which probably for me was a good thing since a wee bit of language had already obviously had a profound affect. We slowly rode in this position for the last 30 minutes into Venice. Just me crying my heart out on a crowded & silent Italian train with no way of collecting myself.
Just for the record, I don’t make a habit of traveling and crying. I guess I was just emotionally overwhelmed even though I didn’t realize it beforehand. Hearing this woman’s voice made me miss my Nonna on a very personal, deeply hidden inner level. I was useless in helping myself out of this mess – it was like all the emotions of missing her & my departed uncles for so many years just came crashing down around me during this ride. Believe me, it was a long 30 minutes into Venice.
When we arrived, I shuffled off the train- emotionally spent. We were the last people to leave the train. We walked out of the station and into the buzzing streets of Venice. We were tired and the sun was bright. We sat down on the steps of the station, watching the water taxis shuttle passengers to their next destination and witnessing the sunlight as it glistened on the rippling water. I felt exhausted yet renewed and at peace.
Italy had begun.
And with that kind of introduction I had no idea what else would be in store.
*Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of BeersandBeans.com, NarikosNest.com & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you want to use one of them please contact me first because I do love to share and I would be flattered. Thanks!
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