By Linda Wilkins
It wasn’t quite a Cinderella story. Sure, I was running around at midnight. It’s true, I’d just seen fireworks at a party. But instead of dropping a glass slipper, I’d left something a little more valuable behind.
The trip up to this point had been like a fairy tale. This past summer, I spent a month in Italy studying writing and photography through Baylor’s study abroad program. We’d been in Italy for a few weeks, had already seen Rome and were now starting classes in Florence.
Anyway, mid-way through the trip, I, along with a few of my classmates and our professors, decided to watch the fireworks over the Arno River in Florence, Italy one night. Being a photography student, I had my camera ready.
I didn’t have a tripod, but we were on a bridge, so I used the ledge as a makeshift tripod. I didn’t like the angle of my pictures, so I used my iPhone to prop the camera up a little higher.
Imagine standing on a bridge designed by Michelangelo in Italy, listening to a few very talented violin players and watching fireworks explode over a centuries old bridge in the distance. It’s a breathtaking view, so needless to say, I was distracted. After a few moments, it started to rain. We grabbed our cameras and decided to head back to our apartments. It was only a few moments later that I realized my poor iPhone was abandoned on that bridge.
The rest of that night wasn’t one I’d like to remember. Hoping for a miracle, I ran back to the bridge in my pajamas, lime green rain jacket and Keds. It’d started raining harder and passing cars splashed waves of water over me along the way. Needless to say, my phone was gone. From the lack of activity on my phone since then, we’ve decided it’s swimming with the fishes in the river.
It was a small price to pay for the rewards I reaped during my stay in Italy.
Much like Cinderella had a fairy godmother, there were people I met who left an impression on me. It’s like they each played a part into giving me a glimpse of another culture, which is something I strongly believe more people need.
On one of my first walks through Florence, I met a woman who was selling scarves. She was very sweet, didn’t speak much English and wasn’t forceful trying to sell me a scarf like the other vendors. It’s easy to become a mega-tourist and turn into a shopaholic while in a foreign city. Determined to avoid becoming like that at all costs, I didn’t buy a scarf that day but I knew of one scarf that was meant to be mine.
It was about two weeks later that I happened to be walking in a different part of Florence and saw the same woman. We immediately recognized each other. After purchasing the scarf, I talked to her about her work as a vendor and life in Italy. She proceeded to teach me how pickpockets work and how to avoid being a victim. It was a lesson every tourist needs, considering the number of pickpockets that frequent tourist locations.
In each city I traveled, I came to understand this idea: from sidewalk-chalk artists to silversmiths, there were people on every corner who had a story to tell, a life to live. The more time I spent with each person, the more I came to realize a very obvious and well-worn lesson. They aren’t so different from us.
Americans may come to a foreign country and wonder how people live like this or deal with not having this. While some people may believe Italians, or any foreigner for that matter, are deprived, they often have a better outlook on life than we do. They tend to be content. Italians tend to be more relaxed than we are. They tend to be willing to sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk to you. It seems that in our daily lives we as Americans stress about the small stuff, complain about the tinier stuff and forget about the quality time spent with friends, family or even someone we don’t know.
It may seem like a cliche that I come back from Italy and decide most Americans take life too quickly. But in my mind, instead of having a fairy godmother come down, dress me up in an itchy gown and turns all my pets into people, I had mutliple fairy godmothers to come and teach me how to see the beauty in the ugliest of places.
Even though I had an ugly experience in Italy with the loss of my material iPhone, Italy gave me back so much more – so much that I feel like I’ve taken more than I gave to go on the trip.
Some people say you leave a piece of yourself behind when you depart from Italy. While I certainly did that with a material object, I know Italy will always have a place in my heart.