A couple Mondays ago I got on the Blue Line to O’Hare and took a night flight to Florence. My parents have found a place in the hills above that city which they’ve returned to enough times that my father has taken to calling it their dacha.It’s a house down a dirt path, in the middle of an olive grove, and the view of the valley out the second-floor bathroom’s window will remind one of countless backgrounds from Italian Old Masters.
My first trip to this house was on the occasion of my father’s 65th birthday six years ago. I went with Shay and we did a bunch of tourist/cultural things like climbing the endless circular staircase to the top of Brunelleschi’s Duomo. She’d made a list of sites she wanted to see and dragged me along, kicking and screaming. On my next visit, a couple years back, both my brothers came as well. There was a day trip to Venice and I remember doing a lot of driving. This time no one else was coming. It would just be them and me.
I think I have a pretty good relationship with my parents. They’re very supportive and we rarely fight. So when they invited me to come, I hemmed and hawed for a bit but then accepted. My hesitation had nothing to do with them or with Italy but with travel in general. I hate it and have to trick myself into doing it, even when it’s to places I like with people I love. Because travel, to me, equals banishment. I can’t help feeling I’m being forced to leave, rather than being excited to visit some place that isn’t home. My parents, on the other hand, live to leave town. Trips have been the highlight of their lives as long as I can remember. And as the years pass I wonder how many more trips they have left. So when they asked I knew I had to go.
Upon arrival my father asked what I wanted to do during my five days there and I honestly hadn’t given it any thought. Had they been in Boston these five days, my thought process would be exactly the same—I was coming to spend time with them, the venue didn’t much matter. Because this was my third time at this house in Fiesole, there were the beginnings of routine that I require to get anything done. But though I had hopes of making some headway on a new book, I got no writing done at all. The only art I accomplished was five sumi ink postcards done on watercolor paper which fought my every brushstroke. If the Italian postal system is merciful, a few of them will be arriving in the States sometime soon.
I did a lot of the driving again and plugging my iPod into the car stereo had a grounding effect. My folks liked the Dos Santos record I’ve been wearing out ever since I got it a month ago. I rewatched Repentence on my laptop. It’s one of my favorite movies and an appropriate one to watch in another age of totalitarian dictators. I finished reading Molly Antopol’s The UnAmericans and passed it on to my mother. I went back to Gerald Murnane’s epic story collection, Stream System. I have to take breaks from that book to digest some of the stuff that goes on in it. In the last story I read, he goes on at length about his idea that there’s no such thing as time, but only place. Or rather an everchanging array of places. That all we can truly experience is the scenery we see before us. I can’t wrap my head around it entirely but something about it rings true.
I know in my everyday life that I need to keep seeing the same people and places to begin finding the minute changes and differences which make up the subject-matter of my art and writing. When I say I hate travel it’s not entirely the truth. I can’t imagine life without the CTA, for instance. Getting on buses and trains is as meaningful to me as reading a book, hearing a band, or talking to a friend.
I’m glad I went to Italy because my parents were there and seemed happy to have me, but left to my own devices I may never go back. There’d have to be some compelling, concrete reason. Otherwise I’ll be perfectly satisfied riding the CTA to scratch any stray travel itch.