This weekend in Rome, Joyce and I spent Saturday at the Vatican, first in the Basilica and then hours in the Musei del Vaticano. Finally, as the sun was setting, we walked back through Saint Peter’s Square, taking photos of the beautiful scene.
Then, out of nowhere, with no sound or apparent gesture to signal it’s coming, the hundreds of people who had been idly walking around like us started sprinting towards the basilica. For an instant, Joyce and I looked at each other’s confused faces and then made the unspoken descision to run with them, thinking that the Pope was coming, the Pope was coming!
Turns out he wasn’t coming outside, but he was holding mass in the church. Thousands of seats had been set up outside and this was where everyone was rushing to. Joyce and I slinked our way up front and watched the huge TV screens waiting to see the Pope, like a star at a rock concert.
After some beautiful singing and several introductions, the Pope spoke. Today, he was speaking to a small group of university students, giving advice for them. Since the whole sermon was in Italian, I was only able to pick up fragments and gists of what he was saying, but ironically enough I did hear one line clear as a bell - understood it without a second’s thought:
"Per favore, non guardare la vita dal balcone!" said Pope Francesco. "Please, do not watch life from a balcony!"
I found it so curious, that through a whole 20-minute long speech, this was the one sentence I understood without hesitation. I leaned over and interpreted this line to Joyce and as the words slipped out of my mouth, I felt their full meaning. This was the essence of why I was there. In Rome, at the Vatican, watching the Pope. It’s not because I’m particularly religious, but because that is where my life took me. When I came abroad, when I moved to Italy for four months, every country or city I’ve traveled to, every soul I’ve met and every memory I’ve created, it’s all been done with the goal of living. Of learning to be fully present in my own life, now at this moment.
It’s too easy to get sucked into deadlines and “I can’t wait ‘til”s and far-off goals. Life flies by when we aren’t watching it. Our anxieties and fears and self-doubts plant us on that balcony, cause us to live in unhappiness and endless want. These past four months have taken me from a balcony and planted me in the heart of my life, discovering new aspirations and dreams I didn’t know existed. I’ve learned so much and grown so much and realized that our potential is endless. Why live life from a balcony when we can run free on the earth? Why spend so much time living in the future when the present is all we’re guaranteed? Life is beautiful and it’s out there now waiting for us to be a part of it. Why not jump down and join it?
So I’ve been giving tours of the Duomo lately and today was my second day. It’s been a really wonderful experience so far, but unfortunately I sometimes run into the kind of tourist that gives travelers a bad name.
Today, a woman comes up to me at the volunteer table in the Duomo, relieved that I speak American English, not English with a funny accent. She uses our common homeland as a starting point to talk about how she can’t wait to go back to the States because she hates Florence. She talked about how the stores aren’t all open on Sunday and the museums close on Monday. “No wonder they make everything so expensive, they work part-time all the time!” I told her that I’ve been living and studying here for two months and I love the city, that there are really some beautiful things to see, but she just looks at me like I’m a victim in a torture chamber. “Oh my God, when do you go home?”
"I shouldn’t have even wasted my time coming, I should’ve gone straight to Milan," she says as she stands with her back to the nave of the Duomo - aka the primary sight of Florence and a general wonder to behold. As I look at her with a backdrop of stained glass windows and marble sculptures behind her I wonder why she came all this way if she wasn’t even going to look around her.
This is my main frustration with “tourists” - they almost refuse to see the wonder of just being in a new place, and try to fill their time with things to do and museums and if those things are closed, well there must not be anything else worth seeing. A “traveler” is different - they take in the sights around them one at a time, soaking in what they can of each experience, knowing that you don’t have to visit every museum to have a good traveling experience.
The truth is, that experiencing a new city for what it is usually starts with sitting down for a moment to soak it all in. It’s too easy to go to a million places and not absorb anything except souvenirs and photographs of ghost-memories. While I’ve been trying to visit the museums, churches and landmarks in Firenze, the most memorable moments I’ve had here are the most laid back, the moments with the least expectations set upon them. Sitting outside for hours with a glass of wine, eating the most mind-blowing pasta of my life, licking a cone of gelato while chatting with friends for hours, going to see bands in small bars,and listening to music by Piazza della Signora. None of these moments were in a book or guided tour, but they are the one’s I will remember for years.
The flavors, the conversations, the views - these are the things worth traveling for. If you plan on going somewhere just to say you’ve been there, forget it. The kind of traveling that enriches the soul is done slowly and thoughtfully. It takes time and consciousness and it’s exhausting. But the reward is memories you don’t need pictures to remember - experiences that change you for life.
To bad we don’t have open studio 24 hours here cause I could totally use a good hefty dose of late-night painting.
Going to be a tour guide of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (aka, the Duomo of Firenze!) Just found out that I’ll be going to training tomorrow and giving tours every Monday. So stoked!