Buon Viaggio: The Journey Home

Part 3 of 3

Part 1: Florence | Part 2: Rome

By this last leg of the trip, we all felt like veteran travelers. None of us had ever taken this much time in the past to just travel and explore.

It was a luxury to be with my thoughts, to do something solely dedicated to exploration, not related to creating or producing anything. It was thrilling to just…post pictures, of course, but also a little terrifying, if I’m honest. Because so much of my identity is attached to my work and my opinions about myself are very much attached to productivity and being busy.

I recognize this as a symptom of something others grapple with, too, and I’m working on it, but if I’m not busy, I feel worthless and invisible. I feel like I’m wasting time that would be better spent creating something of value. Traveling and vacation turn out to be a great way of learning how unlearn the destructive elements of overwork.

Naples/Napoli

When I posted our photos from Florence on social media, I heard from one of my favorite friends from seventh grade who, it turned out, is also living in Naples. (It was a good reminder, after a brutal press cycle for Facebook in particular, of the lasting value of social media for bringing people together in ways now that otherwise would be impossible.)

Even though our last high speed train ride was slightly punctuated, for me at least, by an Italian woman who spent the bulk of our hour-plus trip speaking very loudly into her cell phone, I did get a chance to take some photos and make more progress on The Belles. (But there are a number of women in Italy with really strong pipes, I have to say — including a woman my friends encountered a couple of times who sang on the waterfront without a microphone and her voice seemed to carry for miles — and this one used her outside voice to such effect that I found myself unable to hear myself think or read without my trusty earplugs.)

We stayed on the waterfront across from Castell Dell’Ovo (or “Egg Castle,” named after a legend that suggests the poet Virgil placed an egg in the castle’s foundations and predicted that if it cracked, there would be doom forevermore in Naples for years to come) in Naples, which until this trip, I mainly knew as the birthplace of pizza.

I mainly wandered in Naples, spent time with my family and friends, wrote a little bit, and ate. We didn’t do any tours, so this was our first bit of unstructured time in more than a week. It’s actually a great model for a girl’s trip vacation, in case you’re wondering.

Knowing at least three people I consider family were living in the area made me think that Naples would end up being my favorite city, but it ended up being less appealing to me than Rome because of how rude people were to us.

As is often the case for Black women, one can never determine with real certainty when someone is being rude, dismissive, condescending or even hostile what the origins of the behavior are. Talking to other Black Americans and the now dual citizens in my family, I believe that the rude servers we encountered at restaurants in both cities — but especially in Naples — were perhaps reading us as African immigrants — a population, I was told, that’s been under added scrutiny in recent years.

When I got to visit with my sister and brother, outside of Naples proper, as in Capri, I was completely stunned by the natural beauty. I love mountains and volcanoes, even though I’m also a little terrified of heights, frankly.

It wasn’t quite enough to make up for being stung by European racism that mirrored what we experience now so often in the states, but for me, that might also have been because the end of the trip was upon us and I was all too aware that we would soon be returning to an America as impacted by the far right ugliness that has swept through Europe.

And of course, there was the disappointment that there can be no escaping the ugly realities of bigotry even on vacation. This is what leads to the accumulative load of stress that impacts black women the world over, regardless of their financial status. It’s why someone like Serena Williams, the greatest tennis player in the world, in history, still had maternal health complications; why there is no cure for the mysterious, invisible toxic stress that we inhale and never exhale, that lives in us wherever we go.

Even if racists never have the courage to direct their poisonous hatred directly at you, you always know when you’ve been exposed to them, as my Black sister friend did when, at dinner with a white friend, a server told his boss in emotional Italian that he would not serve her or as a group of us discovered when we found ourselves trying to explore new eating establishments near the castle and empty restaurants shook their heads at us for no good reason, turning us away.

But, as has always been the case, getting to hug my beautiful big sister helped me forget the ugliness in the world, and put it aside. To remember that small people are not worthy of time or energy. To give myself permission to replace poison with love.

The other thing is that other people’s projections, weirdness, bias and general trash humanity don’t cancel out what a profound gift travel as an experience is. It is both a luxury and an opportunity to make time and spend money to venture outside of your comfort zone. I will always cherish my friends and family for encouraging me to take a trip that I was pretty stubborn about avoiding because I’m bad at relaxing and adventure. People who love you are patient enough to help you practice and that, too, is a gift.

This is what I wrote to myself at the beginning of the trip.

I came to Italy to be reborn again, a tired Renaissance woman confined by America’s lack of imagination for us. I was lured by the invitation of my heart, my blood, in Naples. I learned that in Florence, Michaelangelo’s David was much more than just a naked dude with cool hair — he represented a new beginning in art for the city, for the West. He symbolizes the fearlessness rebirth requires. God always knows how to get my attention.

Wherever your travels take you, I hope that you have as many unexpected discoveries about yourself as I did. That if you lose your way somehow, that you remember the most exciting thing about getting lost is that you sometimes stumble upon things you weren’t looking for that were, instead, seeking you out.

And if these essays have taught you nothing else about me, aside from the fact that I love words, you should know that I love a good cliché, because all good clichés contain truths. And all journeys, whether we want to know them or not, offer us truths that otherwise we would never know. May you find the truths that are only yours to discover, when it’s time for you to know them.

Writer, Journalist & Educator. Author of I Can Write The World & a few other books. joshundasanders.com

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