What am I doing here? What did I come here for? Philosophizing is an age old tradition in Italy, and not without good reason. A sincere, introspective conversation about those thoughts you avoid, yet yearn to talk about, can yield some extraordinary, and perhaps unexpected, results. I sat at a sidewalk cafe with Matteo (my good friend, an Italian native and recurring character in my stories from abroad) during a weekend trip we took to Florence. We spoke openly of our lives; the influential events that transpired and left their mark, our hopes for the future and our feelings of the past.
Maybe it was this place that brought it out, with its nearly indescribable, dominating grandeur. I stared at the Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore, feeling small, almost intimidated by its presence. It took a 140 years to build, beginning in 1296. It is one of the most inspiring things I have seen. Any lens or pen is hardly up to the task of relaying the experience of seeing it in front of your own face. It’s the fourth biggest church in the world, with one of the biggest domes ever constructed. It’s striated facade of white and green marble is sprinkled with delicate accents of pink and gold. I try not to overthink these things sometimes, so I just leaned back in my chair, smiled wide and sipped my espresso. But Matteo was in the over-thinking mood.
My gaze panned across the piazza, and I thought of the history that has played out in this town and in this country. My thoughts also turned to the past few months of my own time here as I neared the end of my stay. I contemplated my inspiration to study abroad in the first place and what I had hoped to take with me at its end. Did I succeed in my personal mission? What have I learned? What have I gained? What, if anything, have I given back? Was it really about me, or something more, something bigger?
These were questions that I’ve put to myself, and I told Matteo that these are things I think about sometimes when the lights go out. He didn’t raise a confused eyebrow, and I didn’t expect him to. He listened to my neurotic, hyperactive ramblings about what I hoped to gain from my travels and countered with a beautifully simple reply that was somewhere between a wise kung-fu master and 007.
Leaning across the wobbly table, Matteo inquisitively squinted his eyes, and asked me, “Do you know what Svolta means?” I had never heard that word beforeand I had no idea what he was talking about, but this was typical for most of our conversations. Svolta in Italian literally means “to turn.” But, it also has a more poignant translation, quite apt for the conversation we were having. “It means turning point, like in the road, or in your path,” Matteo said, and he left it at that. He leaned back in his chair, and I could see him crack a smirk as he sipped his espresso. I knew what he was talking about now, and he knew that I knew.