Friday, August 31, 2012

#8 -- Relying on the Kindness of Others

Below is a picture of my meal at a fine dining restaurant in Florence, Buca Mario:

As usual -- my meal is pictured with the restaurant menu. That's a Florentine, T-Bone steak with my mixed salad. A good meal. But I told myself these top ten moments of Italy would not be about the food per-se.

So why this picture?

It wasn't taken with my camera.

I had left my memory card at home. I had no means of taking my customary picture. No way to document, in photo, this experience of eating an authentic Florentine steak. I needed help. I asked for a fellow patron to do it, and she kindly complied! I gave her my email, and she said she would send it to me. I could only have faith she would. I bought a round of drinks for her and her husband (I offered to her son as well -- soda for the young lad -- but he did not take me up on that). They saluted me, and that was that.

She sent it to my email before I was back in the states.

Traveling is about many things. One of them is meeting people, and doing service. But I have been blessed. I have relied on the kindness of strangers, as was said in the Tennesse Williams play, strangers who have taken pictures, or jump-started my car, or done all sorts of kind things. I thank my friend who who took the picture for me when I did not have a camera to do so, and for sending it to me -- my faith in this woman was validated! :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#9 -- The Pisa Miracle -- The Hooker with a Heart of Gold

A friend of mine had told me that there were a lot of prostitutes in Pisa on the road to the leaning tower. I had also been warned about being robbed in Italy.

I have never been what you would call a "ladies man." So with the above information in mind, I knew that when I was approached by three women a short distance from the leaning tower of Pisa, who put their hands all over me, it wasn't because of my looks. I was afraid of being robbed.

I shouted for them to leave, and eventually they started moving away from me. I checked my pockets -- my wallet was missing! I started yelling at them, and running after them. And one of them handed my wallet back to me!

I checked -- I didn't know exactly how much money had been in my wallet, but there was enough left that a quick review of what I had spent was at least close to that -- I later made it add up. No credit cards were missing. Everything of value was still there.

I wanted to go up to the woman who handed me the wallet back and tell her she obviously was new at this pickpocketing thing!

In all seriousness, though, it's one of those moments that I'll remember forever. Like #10, I could feel embarrassed and stupid, but I don't. I look back on that moment with humor, and love for the moment. I even have some love for the fellow human being that was the woman who handed my wallet back to me. She obviously was no theif. Was she a prostitute? If so, she was the classic "hooker with a heart of gold." She had my financial life in her hands, and could have gotten away with it. Instead, she gave it back to me intact.

Maybe this is romanticizing the moment. If so, that, too, is a miracle for someone like myself, who, a few short years ago -- or is it months -- was so filled with resentment that a moment like this would be eating away at me. Instead, I laugh and smile warmly -- again, I experienced something new, lived to tell about it, and can even see the humor in it. Very miraculous indeed! I wish nothing but the best for the young woman!

The Better Half Goes International -- Top 10 -- #10 Well-intentioned service

On July 19, 2012, I boarded a plane for Rome, Italy, my first adult, intercontinental trip (I had gone to Europe with my parents and sister in 1985, when I was 14, but this promised to be much, much different). Having been to all 50 of the United States, I thought I was ready for this new adventure. I was wrong. There was so much I hadn't dealt with before. The combination of jet-lag, fatigue, a new country, new customs, a different language, plus all the normal challenges of traveling were overwhelming. Part of me wanted to run home and never travel again. But I remembered something my mother had once said to me...and to paraphrase, I had to start somewhere.

I lasted the whole trip. And, as someone once said to me, I didn't survive, I thrived, at times. By the time the trip was over, I had traveled to Rome, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Venice, Murano, and Burano. Once I learned how to order, and learned enough of the language to get the best suggestions, my diet was in order. But it wasn't just the food that was a success. Indeed, I didn't have any of the stereotypical, traditional Italian foods we hear so much of in the United States -- no pizza, no pasta, and no gelato for me. Meat or fish, plus a mixed salad at every meal. I focused on seeing the sights, and meeting the people -- locals and fellow travelers. My top 10 moments may have involved meal times, but no actual foods. And the number 10 moment involved something that might have been an embarassment to me, but of which I feel quite proud.

When I arrived in Florence, there was a woman curled up on the ground, with her hand out. I thought she was a beggar of sorts -- and although I didn't get a clear answer on this, this intuition was supported when I saw the same woman at different spots, all over Florence, and in Venice as well! :) But on the surface, I saw someone possibly in pain, and when I approached her, and she recoiled, I didn't know if she needed help or not. I asked someone, who told me she was fine, and I figured she was the beggar I had assumed she was.

Again, no one has told me for sure that this is the game of a beggar, so I won't accuse this woman. Whatever she was, I did my piece of service -- I tried to find help. I've learned that helping people and doing service is more important than anything I might see or eat. And if it cost me a little embarassment and a few mintues of time on my vacation, then I say it was a cost I'm willing to pay for the knowledge that I tried to do something helpful, as well as the the learning experience of another culture.