While attempting to apply a book’s life-lessons to one’s own, it just may be helpful to refresh oneself on the book before heading off on the journey. On the verge of some solo travel, I’m reminded of lessons learned the last time I ventured out.
A span of about two years had passed between the time I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel and the time I decided, early last year, to take-off alone to Italy. Some important details of the book I’d spun, overlooked or forgotten would have been helpful if I’d noted them along the way:
Detail #1: The Journey Did Not Begin Alone
As memory served, “Eat, Pray, Love” was about a woman taking off to experience the world on her own. Upon re-reading the book, I found that the author had actually made arrangements to meet others in Italy – then, planted herself further by befriending a language teacher, venturing out with a girlfriend, etc. This I had somehow overlooked and, with options to plan ahead for companionship, I should have made these connections.
My genius self took on Rome alone. And, if there’s any lesson learned here, it’s that a petite, blond, American female should not be wandering the streets of Rome on her own.
After spending the entire first day entirely lost in Rome’s odd angled streets, (a predicament I blame both on the lack of signs and on my doofus-level ability to read a map), I decided the evening just couldn’t be lost. Though I’d resigned to not go out after dark, as men were “Ciao, bella!”-ing (or more rudely gesturing) at me all day, the Fontana di Trevi wasn’t far from my hotel and was said to be best seen at night. And so off I went.
The experience at the fountain was everything I hoped it would be. Unique and remarkable, I spent my time there stunned that anything so large and intricately beautiful could ever be accomplished. I met and chatted with fellow tourists. Then an older gentleman from Milan spent the evening talking me through the meaning of the different aspects of the piece: from the raging horse at its base to four figures or “seasons” guarding the top. He held my things as I tossed my coins over my left shoulder, ensuring that I would both “return to Rome that year” and would have ample good luck. The evening was perfect.
As I started to leave, a fellow from India approached me, asking if I would like to purchase a small tripod for my camera. Doing quite a business all evening, he and his friends had found their niche at the fountain, banking on novice photographers struggling to get a crisp picture in the dark. And at a price of 8 Euro (about $12), this came along at the perfect time.
As I fumbled for my cash, a look of fear came over his face and, fast as lightening, he’d flung the tripod into my arms and run off. Baffled, I called after him, and it wasn’t until I turned around that I understood what had happened. A police officer was standing right behind me, quite stern. She pointed to the tripod and was clearly asking about it in Italian. It didn’t take much to deduce that the guy was selling these illegally in the Piazza, and I was petrified that I was about to be arrested for buying – I had no idea what the law was or what to do. With our language barrier rendering us unable to figure out the situation, she let me go. A bit shaken by the run-in, I eagerly headed back.
Following familiar landmarks, I began to retrace my path to the hotel. The once-crowded streets were now amply quiet and, though I saw no evidence of it, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being followed. Walking with a briskness, I felt genuinely scared, the trip back feeling eons longer than the approach.
As I rounded a corner, a man I’d never seen was suddenly in front of me, yelling at me and blocking my way. Holding a camera tripod, he repeated “You buy! You buy!”, and seemed to be trying to sell me another. I gave him a firm “no” and attempted to keep on, but he got right in my face. Then, with both hands, he grabbed my handbag, which I’d strewn across my torso and, therefore, I was going with it. Either sent by the earlier gentleman to collect for the confiscated tripod, or a mugger, himself, this guy clearly had his own agenda. And I guess I wasn’t having it…
Not knowing I had it in me, I was suddenly screaming like a wild animal, right up in the dude’s face, telling him exactly how it was. I kicked and dodged away from him, screamed for him to let go of me and started calling for help at a volume I didn’t know I could achieve. Another man rounded the corner and quickly started our way. The aggressor bolted. The second criminal run off that evening, he was down the street before I could straighten myself up.
I ran the rest of the way back to the hotel and spent the evening crying and completely shaken. I wouldn’t be going out at night, again, in an unfamiliar city and was going to make darn sure I was more careful the next day.
After all, I was headed to The Vatican. What could possibly happen, there?…