home, rested

The Duomo, Florence, May 2015

Was it really three weeks? Some things feel different - the tightness in my chest has eased, I'm a much nicer person at work. Some things haven't - the never-ending parade of deadlines, the adrenaline/panic of delivering a good piece/project, annoying people. Is it worth it, being the girl who's "only good at her job"? No, but what then?

Italy was a balm for the soul. They call Rome the Eternal City but you could say the same of Florence, Venice and Ravenna, where it often felt like time stood still. Not just because the buildings are ancient, but because there's an unhurried elegance about these places, places that wear the patina of time well and have no overwhelming desire to impress - they did that oh, about 673 years ago (usually more). We didn't stay anywhere for long, true, but I never felt rushed. Italy invites you to linger in its golden light. 

Paris, in comparison, felt much much faster. But still incomparably beautiful, even when it's rainy, grey and blustery. Bookstores, galleries, antique stores on the Left Bank. The lushness of the Luxembourg Gardens. Skateboarders, all grace and ferocity on the banks of the Seine. PASTRY. Every crossing of the Seine feels like magic.  

There are cracks. Large, gaping faults actually, all getting bigger. I see the homeless, the beggars, the drabness of the urban outskirts, the mind-numbing sameness of chain stores (Sandro, Maje et al have taken over Paris!). You meet all sorts in big cities, magnets for people fleeing something else. I chatted with a Bangladeshi man working in a famous gelato shop in Rome who has lived there for 11 years and taught himself Italian, who once worked in Singapore and Brunei in oil refineries and taught himself Bahasa Malayu. I never found out exactly how he got there but I wondered. Looking at the dozens of Bangladeshis and Chinese hawking selfie sticks outside tourist attractions everywhere, I found myself thinking: are they the lucky ones? They could be dead, in a mass grave, at the bottom of the ocean. It was impossible to look away after that. I found myself wishing I had stopped to talk to them, taken their pictures, told their stories.

We look back selectively, and view everything in the best possible light. I enjoy this process. What's the harm with imbuing our experiences with a bit of magic? Who wants to dwell at length on the bad pizza, the banal coffee, the missed buses and aching feet? Every tale from road needs unreal "What have I done to deserve this" moments. On this trip, I kept finding money on the street. No, really. I found a 5 euro bill, the first time in front of the ticketing machine in the Ravenna train station. I went after the man who went before me but he said it wasn't his, adding: "But you are very kind." I asked around a little more but everyone shook their heads, smiling, and someone said: "It's yours now."

(Maybe, unknown to me, it fell out of my wallet and I turned it into a fantasy. Who cares. My friend and I decided to keep the bill unspent as a lucky charm.)

The second time, I was stepping into a corner shop to buy some mints, and there it was, a bright, crisp 5 euro bill, lying on the pavement. Not a single person was about me this time. I picked it up, and gave it to the first homeless person I saw.

In the Paris subway, I found a 2 euro coin by a seat in the station. I left it with other loose change in a tip jar.

I still have the first 5 euro bill, which we forgot to give away.

Oh, that ache in your chest when you come back to a home that's suddenly strange to you, knowing that the cities you left behind have already moved on without you.

But your mum calls and your friends text and the emails ping and you dive back in.

You've missed everyone, you realise. Also, so much laundry to do.

But you're leaving the door ajar. 


Shutterbug K said…
You write so beautifully and I'm really enjoying your shots on IG. One day, hopefully I'll get to see all this.
Anonymous said…
Lin, reading your words is like watching a movie. A serene, slow, beautiful movie that keep you thinking of it even after finished watching. I like that 5 euro experience, magical. - I Ying
miss sophie said…
welcome home! it's always bittersweet, isn't it, coming to terms with that feeling each time. there's been so much darkness and suffering in the news cycle last month - it's restorative to read about your travels.
Eileen said…
Welcome back! So beautifully written and I feel your ache. Thank you for sharing your travel adventures.
Anonymous said…
This is an absolutely stunning blog post. Thank you! I've followed your blog intermittently for awhile, beginning when I lived in Germany and I probably stumbled across it through my interest in style. Now that I'm back home in the antipodes I'll occasionally check in. You've captured something about Europe, travelling, foreignness and displacement that makes my heart ache for my old life stepping on cobblestones and for the people who dwell in the cracks everywhere, all around the world. Thanks again. Jasmine x
Beautiful post. Travelling changes so much as I get older. The last time I was in Rome I was so young and so broke, my friend and I actually stayed at a convent one night when money was running low! But I have to say the meals the nuns put forth were amazing. Now when I travel I stay at nicer hotels and I no longer have to stalk an ATM Thursday at midnight when my paycheck gets deposited, lol, but I do miss those crazier times. Even when you love your job it's so important to get away once in a while.
Anonymous said…
I always so much enjoy your travel posts...
petrichore said…
Sounds like a lovely trip! Thanks for sharing it with us.
Alighting said…

Your stories about the 5 pound note gave me a fuzzy warm feeling in the heart. Thank you for looking at the immigrants peddling on the streets and thinking about their stories.

Paris is all pink and gold this time of the year. I'm afraid Venice always felt a little false to me, too much of a floating museum, kept alive for the tourists. No one seems to truly live there anymore.

- A Singaporean girl in London, who lived in Italy for 2 years when she was 17, and has been abroad ever since.
Katarzyna said…
I know that feeling - 'the cities you left behind have already moved on without you'. I always get this feeling, especially when I come back from Italy. You captured it really beautifully. Kasia
Ursa said…
Lin, this is one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. Your writing took my breath away. It's so inspiring. Thank you for it.

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