I can’t remember the exact moment Italy entered my thoughts. But, whenever it did sneak in it was with picture-painted clarity; orange-hued sunshine, a mountainous backdrop, tree dotted hillsides, sky-touching church spires, vineyards and hay colored patches of farmland interspersed with rectangular valley villages. There was a villa with a balcony and a town within walking distance that sold fresh fruit and vegetables at a daily market.
In the dream, in my wishful thinking, I was going to live there in that place, in that villa and write book after book. I was going to be eccentric. Mysterious. Productive.
But Italy was a world away. Too many dreams distant.
In the real world I had things that tied me down. Job. Bills. House. Worry. Future security. Common sense.
The years passed. The Italian dream hung like a wall painting in my mind. Occasionally I’d walk in that imaginary room, straighten the painting, dust off the frame, sigh at the beauty of it and walk out again.
When I was particularly dissatisfied with life matters, I’d explore the Italian countryside via the internet, look through the coffee table book of Tuscany my grandmother bought me, and practice Italian.
Buongiorno. Grazie! Prego.
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned over into months. Dissatisfaction rumbled, growled, roared. Finally I really listened. I had to. I had to do something. I had to go somewhere. I needed change. The way I was living wasn’t the way I believed I should live.
Imagine my surprise when I didn’t end up in Italy but in Peru.
I think about all this as I take a spot next to the window on the bus that’s about to transport me from Rijeka, Croatia to Trieste, Italy. Even more surprising than my year in South America is this current life. My life. Reality has exceeded imagination. I don’t exactly know how this happened. Sheer (good) will? Magic? Forward momentum? Recklessness? Luck? I’ve crossed an ocean by ship, visited countries I never thought I’d see—Belgium, Germany, Denmark, for instance—spent time with friends I’d met online and encountered a slew of new friends along the way. I shove my bag underneath the seat, leaving space for my hostel roommate Nile (Nial?) to sit next to me. He’s flying from Trieste back to Scotland later this afternoon after having attended an electro music festival the week before with a friend. He and I have been sharing the six-person dorm room at the Carnevale Hostel for the past three nights. We’d chitchatted about travels, music, life, and moved around each other as if we were siblings.
“I’m not as well travelled as you,” he says in the middle of some greater context, and his words stop me cold. I want to pinch myself except that I’m afraid I might wake up from this spectacular dream. I never in my life thought I’d hear that, especially not from a European. I mean, they’re born as world travelers, right? But there’s no one else in the room. I’m the one he’s talking to. The world has become my oyster. I hadn’t known, when I first dreamed of Italy, that I was dreaming small.
I hadn’t had any idea of all that there is to see.
The bus starts up and we move out from the stop onto the street.
“Do you mind if I plug in?” Nile asks me politely, holding up his iphone and earbuds when we’re half an hour into our trip.
Who knows what the future will hold?
Today’s future holds a short excursion through Slovenia. Slovenia! I didn’t even know it existed until Josko had seen my hand drawn map of Europe in my notebook and said, “This is wrong. Slovenia isn’t even on here.” (My most recently hand drawn map includes Slovenia.) Slovenia--where the mountains are turned rusty gold with the changing leaves of fall, where the towns stay tucked like secrets around corners, where the rain fresh grass promises something, everything. I want to stop and stay. But we only get off the bus long enough for a custom’s official to stamp our passports and wave us through. Only long enough for one old man to be denied entry and get taken back to the Croatian border by our bus driver. Only long enough for me to know I want to stay longer.
But just up the road is a dream.
Just up the road is a dream come true.
I’ve got my nose pressed against the window glass. I’m looking ahead trying to catch my first glimpse of Italy.
I’m almost there.