Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Short Letter To Rome

Ahhh Roma, what have you done to me?
 I will never be able to exactly put it into words because it is more of a feeling than anything else.  I've spent two weeks now wondering your cobblestone streets, getting lost in your sounds and your smells, letting myself indulge completely in being.  Being alone, being myself, being happy, being content, being everything I've always wanted to be.

You've shown me that I can be alone but that I don't have to be.  You've taught me to let go and experience, to let things just happen the way they will.  You've made me feel small, so small.
Standing next to a monument or church that is thousands of years old, basking in your beauty, I felt so young and so insignificant, yet at the same time you helped me to feel a part of something bigger, something greater- a piece in the puzzle of this earth, a true citizen of the world.

Coming here and experiencing you allowed me to realize what I deserve and more importantly, that if I really truly want something and it is right, it will become, it will manifest itself.

Roma, you have changed me, but more so than anything you have allowed me to continue to become the person that I am meant to be, and I am forever grateful for you.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Thoughts On Becoming"

“Someone give this girl some more lemon for her artichoke” he said pointing to the cutting board in front of me during cooking class.  
“Ah, Alan, have you made carciofi before?” Chef Andrea asked the older man next to me. 
“No, but I’ve eaten enough of it to know that she needs more lemon on her artichoke or it's going to burn.  I’m a bit of a chef myself, you know” he responded with an air of superiority. 

I put down my knife and looked at the short, 60 or so year old, self-proclaimed writer across the kitchen from me wearing dark rimmed glasses, a black mock turtleneck and a black beret, and I knew right then exactly the type of person he was.  Four hours and a lot of hearing his voice later, we had all listened to Alan’s entire life story.  Twice.  
Alan is the tried and true definition of a know-it-all.  From how to cook traditional Italian food to gun control to what cities foreigners should visit in the US (“don’t go to San Diego” he told them, “there’s no culture there”), he had an opinion on everything and made that opinion very well known throughout the entire day.  I sloughed off his comments for the better part of five hours, but as we sat down to eat with the group after our cooking class, I just could not bite my tongue any longer.  

“This would never happen in America” he stated loudly as the nine of us clinked our glasses together in cheers and accomplishment over the meal we had spent the entire day preparing.  “What do you mean?” I asked him, confused and starting to feel a bit defensive.  
“Well, you know Americans” he responded casually, “No time to sit with friends to eat and chat, Americans are always racing for the next best thing, the next promotion, the next money maker, the fastest way to get to the top.  As a culture we have no regard for spending time with each other and slowing down to just be.  That’s why I moved here you know, to get away from it all.  America is just so toxic and that’s what I mean, we would never sit down with friends around a table like this in the US, wouldn’t you agree?” 

All eyes at our table were on me as I swallowed a GIANT sip of red wine and took a deep breath, gearing up for my big moment in the spotlight.  “Well no, Alan, actually I wouldn’t agree with you on that one.”  I replied, challenging him in a way I don’t think he had been challenged in a long time. 

“I know you come from New York where everyone is constantly hustling everywhere, wanting only to go up, to get to the top, to grow as high professionally as the sky scrapers reach.  People want to be known for something there and maybe in that city or in your group of friends, you never found the time to sit down with people that you love to enjoy a meal and a good conversation, but where I come from that just isn’t the case.  Where I come from and where I have been living in Colorado for the past five years, there is so much land and space to grow, there is room to become the person you want to be because there is room to expand not only upwards, but outwards.  And more so than anything else, there is time, there is so much time to do that.  I have had some of the best nights of my life sitting around a table like this with friends or family, laughing and talking about life and love and loss.  So I actually have to disagree with you Alan, because your statement is not only a generalization of an entire country of over 300 million people, but it is incorrect and I feel sorry for you that you did not experience the type of growth and community that I have in our amazing country.”

Everyone sat in silence as I finished my rant.  Taking another sip of my wine and catching my breath, I received a wink of support from my new friend Annmarie, a sweet girl from Glasgow as Alan still sat speechless across from me,  A few minutes later, I knew my point had been made when he finally spoke and surprised me by saying with sincerity, “You’re a smarter girl than I thought Danielle”.  And dinner continued. 

An hour later after the cooking class said our goodbyes, Alan caught my arm and roped me in for a hug as I was on my way out the door.  To say I was surprised is an understatement, but as he hugged me, the man wished me a good rest of my trip and thanked me for a memorable day.  And as I opened the door and turned to leave he said 
“Rome is like an onion you know, every time you come here you peel back a layer and you get closer and closer to understanding the heart of this city.  But never will you actually get there.  That is why time and time again, we all come back to Roma.  I wish for you Danielle, that you continue to come back to Rome and peel back it’s layers and when you do that, I hope you also peel back layers of your own.” 
“Thank you” I said as I walked out the door and stepped in to the sunlight. 

A week later and I am still mulling over Alan’s words and his metaphor for Rome.  Somehow with his simple statement, the writer redeemed himself in my eyes and in doing so, he sparked within me an internal conversation that is still on-going. 

I have been thinking a lot over the past week about the person I am and the person I am becoming.  So much of me is a direct result of my past environments and the people who have been the most important to me in my life (that means you, if you’re reading this email!).  I have been shaped by thousands of conversations, shared experiences and long dinners, and in particular, I feel very thankful to have had the time and the space to grow immensely as I did in Colorado over the past few years.   Another large part of me is the result of every past decision I have made for myself in my life.  Every path I have chosen to follow on my own that has led me to be in this exact moment, sipping red wine and a caffee latte in Rome.  

But more so than that, this week I have been contemplating a great deal about what this next chapter of my life will look like.  I have been thinking about the person I want to become.  Who is she? What is important to her?  What does she want for herself and for her future?  What experiences will she bring with her as she travels down the next path?   
These past two weeks clearly have been for me, an adventure in peeling back my own layers and growing closer to figuring out what makes up the heart of the person that I strive to be.  Dammit Alan, I absolutely hate to admit that you were right on this one.

Much like Rome in Alan’s metaphor, I am not certain that I will ever fully know or understand my own heart, as we are all a constant work in progress.  But being here in Italy has allowed me the time and space to check in with myself and get one step closer to figuring it all out.   The things I have experienced and felt here are priceless and I have a hunch that this two week exercise in self-discovery will stay with me for a very long time.  And if I am lucky, as the writer said, I will make it back to Rome someday to continue to peel back more layers of this city and of course, to continue to discover more about myself.  

Thank you for following me on my journey.  TO THE NEXT ADVENTURE!!!  

All my love,

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Alone But Not Lonely"

When I first decided to take a two week trip to Rome, I didn't think twice about going by myself.  I was able to create time in between leaving one job and starting another even with a move halfway across the country so "What the hell" I thought "Why not".  
I was ecstatic about the idea of spending 14 days in one of my favorite cities in the world and while I had never traveled alone before, I jumped at the idea of experiencing Rome in a way I never had experienced any other city. 

"But don't you think you'll get lonely? or worse- won't you be scared to eat by yourself?" a friend asked over lunch before I left I left the States.  "I don't know" I replied, "I guess I'll just have to see what happens when I get there". 

On my first night in Roma, admittedly I did feel uncomfortable and extremely insecure eating dinner alone and I definitely did not even try to use any of the Italian I learned in college.  "I wonder what they think of me?" I asked myself over a plate of carbonara.  Nine days have passed since I arrived in Italy and as much as easy conversational Italian has become second nature to me here, I now fully enjoy each and every bite of solo dinners, basking in the option to eat as slow or as fast as I please.  I have come a very long way in one week and two days.  

Traveling alone has allowed me to breathe easy and take my time.  I am able to stare at something for as long as I please, to sit in a basilica for hours on end if I want and to plan each and every day according to what interests me.  It has been quite the lesson in learning what I truly enjoy doing and how I prefer to travel.  And while this trip makes more and more sense to me everyday, the Italians still sure do not understand me at all.  

"You studying here?'
"No, i'm here for two weeks by myself exploring Rome"
"Two weeks?
"Yes, two weeks just in Roma"
"......But why?"

It's like clockwork every single time.  There's always an air of sadness when they ask me why I am traveling alone, as if I am harboring some super dark and sad past that prompted me to take a trip across the world by myself to leave it all behind me.  At first these interactions used to irk me a bit, but after having this conversation upwards of 30 times now, I get it.  It's rare for a woman my age to take a trip like this, but if they only knew or could understand the gift I have given myself, they would hardly feel sorry for me. 

To be honest though, it did take me a while to get to this point myself, and over the past 9 days I have really come to realize the gift it truly is.  Full disclosure here, I woke up one day early last week and felt a twinge of sorry for myself.  I knowww I knowww, how right?  It came the morning after a night out where I was determined to make some friends and came up empty handed at midnight.  As I left my apartment the morning after, it seemed as if everyone was so deeply in love or having so much fun with their friends, and I, I had no one and felt more alone than I have pretty much ever have.  

"Snap out of it!" I told myself over a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.  
"Look at where you are, there is no time to wallow"

And after that one come-to-Jesus moment with myself, I did snap out of it for the most part. Sure there have been times where I have wished that someone was standing besides me to witness a street performers brilliant act or the glowing chandeliers of a massive church, and I would be lying if I said I didn't wish for a partner in crime at night to drink wine with. 

But there was a moment yesterday at the top of Monumento Vittorio Emanuele where it all came together for me, full circle.  I had paid 7 euros to ride an elevator to the top of the monument which is one of the highest buildings in Rome. Initially I debated over whether or not to pay because I had already seen some pretty spectacular views, but in the end I went with my instinct and of course, the saying "when in Rome" won me over.

The elevator up was an experience in itself as it was a bit rickety, completely glass and absolutely reeked on account of 3 large smelly frenchmen crammed in right next to me. I was thinking that the world was about to end after 30 seconds of holding my breath in the elevator, but when the doors opened and revealed a grand rooftop with one of the most breathtaking views I had ever seen, it was all worth it.  

I stood on that rooftop for the better part of an hour, breathing in the fresh Italian air and soaking up every building, every basilica dome, stretching my eyes to see for miles and miles.  Somewhere below, an accordion played and I could feel my brain filing that moment away in the depths of my mind.  

You know when you can feel yourself making a memory with someone?  You're at a concert or on a trip or laughing so hard that you just know you'll both remember it forever?  That is how I felt yesterday standing on that monument, overlooking one of my favorite cities.  Except it was different, because no one else in the world will have that moment.  No one will ever feel what I felt right then and only I will be able to conjure those images, those sounds, that feeling.  Which to say, is a pretty powerful thing, to have in your possession something that no one else has.  

And so, I am alone, yes, but I am not lonely.  I am seeing, I am exploring and more so than both, I am making memories, by myself and for myself and absolutely no one should feel sorry for me for that. 

All my love,