Fleeting Memories of the Italian Lifestyle

December 30, 2013


foreign-correspondent badge finalWhile returning home to Milan from a whirlwind visit to Bologna, I had quite an epiphany on the train. It might have been the appalling lack of coffee pulsing through my veins that morning, or it might have been that I was still immersed in my ‘Bologna state of mind’ (cue Jay-Z in the background), a new take on the Italian lifestyle. Whatever it was led me to put down my book and wonder at the sudden bout of fog that had unexpectedly sprung up outside my window somewhere between Bologna and Parma.

Italian Lifestyle
Italian Lifestyle

After spending three days winding my way through the medieval streets of Bologna, breathing in the sweet, tantalizing perfume of brioche and cappuccinos, I was infatuated with Bologna. I had the good fortune of being able to join a World War II History tour that went around the city and then up into the famous hills of Emilia-Romagna. I must say that no matter how much I love The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews and her Alps have got nothing on the hills of Emilia-Romagna. So in the end, when it came time to head back to the hustle and bustle of Milan, I was only too content to make the trip last a little longer and relive Bologna right then and there in my memories.

It was there on the train that I stopped reading, put down my book and pondered it all: traveling, life, living abroad, the places you go, the people you meet. No matter what you do, things always change. In a sense, this is the essence of life itself but I feel that it’s more heightened when you live abroad. What I mean by this is that, while abroad, everything is new, the people, the places, the food,  and it is constantly changing because you yourself are never staying in one place for too long. It is both a thrill and a liability that comes with traveling and living a life abroad. You meet the most interesting people in your travels, the 29-year-old Iowan who came back to Italy nine years ago because she fell in love with an Italian at the age of 19, and the Oklahoman who is just hanging out in Italy before she becomes a U.S. Ambassador in two months–you meet them all.

I realized though, as I studied the fog, and tree after tree came into view, looming out of the denseness for one brilliant moment and then being pulled back into the thick,that this fog, this eerie, nebulous shape shifter that seemed to creep into the fields as the train rushed past, symbolized perfectly the very essence of my ‘lightbulb’ moment.

As I said before, things change. Life itself is a voyage of sorts, but this sense of inconstancy goes into hyperdrive when you experience it abroad. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to remember everything you did or everyone you met. In my opinion, this is the whole romanticism of traveling. They say that we are never here for long and it is certainly true for travelers because you literally are not going to remain in said location for a vast expanse of time. It’s thrilling to think of what the people you meet during your travels might become. I fully expect to turn on the news one day and say, ‘Hey! I partied with her in Rome! How the heck did she manage to get a job?’

My point is this my fellow travelers: trips, journeys, voyages–call them whatever you like–but their very core is to be nothing but momentary in the grand scheme of things. Like the trees in the fog that would escape for a moment and then fade back into obscurity, so do the memories and the connections forged during our travels. I certainly do not think you should forgo the photos, and for the love of all the delicious prosciutto, do not skip the gastronomia.

But I think this is an issue that all travelers face: we experience these amazing places and then are left with a few souvenirs and memories to take back home with us in the end. Even today, I still remember my trip, I know I was there, I have the photos to prove it, and yet it almost feels as if it never even happened. As though I maybe looked at someone else’s travel photos while drinking too much wine one night and thus internalized them as my own.

Be that as it may, the memories will remain long after the souvenirs have been lost or broken. It is simply their nature to sporadically appear when highlighted by something in life, be it the same scent of a morning brioche or a well-made cappuccino. They are still there, waiting, lingering in the fog.  They simply choose to reappear at differing points throughout our lifelong journey.

About L. Gabrielle Castagno

Gabrielle Castagno began traveling at the age of 16, and has been hooked ever since. Gabrielle has ventured to over 9 different countries, most recently residing in Milan, Italy where she was an ESL teacher. She now works with a refugee resettlement agency in Dallas, Texas and is involved with numerous human rights initiatives throughout the US. A dual Italian-American citizen, Gabrielle hopes to return to Italy soon, to work with refugees there.

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