Macbook storing well over one thousand pictures from nearly seven months of traveling; check. Five bottles of piedmont region wines including two Barberas, a Nebbiolo, a Barolo, and an Asti Spumanti; check. A jar of pesto, a gourmet Italian Olive oil, and a Bialetti espresso maker with a can of Moka espresso coffee grounds; check. A small shoebox filled with over fifteen maps, tokens of places we’ve been; check. All of the above packed comfortably into two bags with the rest of the things I brought out here in September; hmmm... So I'm not quite ready yet, but I'm getting there.
It’s funny the way time works. How one day can feel like a lifetime, and how, months later, that same day can feel like it passed by in only a second. Time collectively feels shorter once it’s gone. I look back on nearly 75 single-spaced typed pages of this blog, for instance, and I’m astonished at how much has happened in what now feels like the blink of an eye. How distinctive moments meld together into collective memories. And those memories, though lacking in the detail of the original experience, are still accompanied by the same feelings.
Surprisingly, considering the amount we’ve traveled and the amount of Italian wine and food we’ve consumed in the past five months, I’m happy to report as self-designated family accountant, that we came up only a little short to our savings goal. We decided early on in our stay that we didn’t want to miss out on opportunities to travel because of rigid expense-guidelines. We didn’t want to look back on this experience and have regrets about things we didn’t do because we were watching our money. At the same time, we acknowledged that at some point we will probably want to achieve the American Dream of home ownership. With this in mind, we designed a loose spending plan. We didn’t budget, necessarily, but we did monitor that our spending was in check. Depending on what we valued, we moved ourselves along the spending spectrum as necessary between the extremes of Frugal and Frivolous. We moved closer to the former in apparel purchases and hotel selection, but closer to the latter in travel expenses that would inevitably provide us with new experiences.
Now, looking back on the season, I believe this approach to finances paid off. (No pun intended.) We saw more than I could have hoped to see in what now feels like such a short time. Every trip, big and small, was worth it. But the interesting part of my retrospection is realizing that the biggest part of the year wasn’t the traveling.
Thinking about the year, I remember that the majority of my time was spent, not in Verona, Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris, the Italian Riviera, Valle de’Aosta, Milan, Sestriere or Como, and not in the company of visiting family. Instead, the majority of my time was spent in the little towns of Luserna San Giovanni and Torre Pellice. And, except for a few new friends, American, Canadian, and Italian alike, it was just me and Kevin. And I realize that those days, no matter how homesick or jobsick I was, were just as memorable as the rest. I think that’s because the whole time I was here, it felt like I was in a new place. And I don’t know what it is about new places, but it seems that you take more in when you are in them. It is as if the power of observation is increased by the build-up of expectation about a new destination.
And this was something I experienced on a daily basis here. Every day for almost seven months, I heard a voice in my head telling me enjoy this while it lasts. It’s the voice I heard on my wedding day, family vacations, and all the happiest days of my life. Days where I paused to appreciate the fact that I was living in a moment I’d remember forever. I always knew I had such a wonderful collection of these memories, but I never really appreciated that every day was a candidate for such happy recollections in the future.
And I think that’s what is the most wonderful part of this year. The every-day reminder I was given as a result of the novelty of my situation to take everything in. All the time. Because now I’ve grown accustomed to this mentality. And I’d like to think that when I wake up in the familiar setting of my childhood home or my family cottage where I will be spending the off-season, I’ll do so with same mindset as I had here. And that, work-days, vacation days, rainy days, and sunny ones alike, I will have the urgency to make that day a fulfilling one. Sure, it felt glamorous to add “… in Italy” to such mundane activities as going for a walk (in Italy), reading a book in coffee shop (in Italy), and so on. But, it wasn’t Italy that made me enjoy those activities. It was the simplicity of the activities themselves. And, like my memories, I can take simplicity with me everywhere.