Don't hate me because I'm lucky.
But maybe a little because of this picture...
This is the view out of my window as I finish up this month's blog post. I am in an airy, cool apartment in full view of Vesuvius and the Naples harbor. After colazione this morning, I am hopping on a high-speed train to Rome and checking into a hotel on the Via del Corso ,where at least part of my itinerary includes several hours of writing. Where? Oh, I don't know...a charming cafe, a rooftop terrazza. I''ll find somewhere.
Now you're starting to hate me a little, aren't you?
I am lucky because my husband is from Italy and over the last five years he has made it his business to come back here to reconnect with his roots. He pretty much has to bring me with him. What I love about coming here is that we tend to spend a lot of time in piazzas and cafes and I get to absorb the elegant and very different experience that is a typical day in Italy. Children seem to run a little wilder, shout a little louder over here as their parents chat quickly over each other's sentences and are seemingly disinterested in what their offspring are doing. Women wearing impossibly high heels, look irritated as they speak sharply into their cell phones and walk past old men who sit on benches and smile, seemingly enjoying whatever happens to be going on around them at the moment. There are displays of red, orange, and yellow fruits piled high onto wooden crates outside of markets and restaurants, and I don't even want to tell you about the gelaterias and their mounds of frozen, creamy goodness; you'd hate me for sure.
My in-laws think I am at a disadvantage because I don't understand the language, but I think it puts me at a distinct advantage. I don't have to help pick restaurants or decide on the day trip locales. I can simply do what I do best: observe others in their natural habitat. Everywhere. I've noticed that doing so gives me an opportunity to suspend judgement.
But I don't have to travel outside my own country to find these experiences. I remember one night in particular when I was driving to teach my class in another town. I passed through one neighborhood on my route in which on each of three separate corners were three different combinations of people going about their business. First, a gathering of about half a dozen or more young men and women, smoking cigarettes outside a three-story, white-framed house, all dressed up, and probably making the first of the night's many bad decisions. (Okay, that might have been a little judgmental.) On the next corner, two men in their twenties in white T-shirts, one standing underneath a tree smiling as the other took his picture. I imagined a so-called blind date in the offing. Finally, at the third, a young woman hoisted a stroller up the stairs of another three-story house, probably home to at least three families, her arms full of grocery bags as she tried to wrangle a toddler running ahead of her into the house.
If I get caught up in judging the people I run across in my life, I am preventing myself from seeing people for who they are. I am not saying I have to like everyone--I'm not Mother Theresa, after all--but it is incumbent upon me to stay open to the realities other than my own. Delving into the lives of others is part of what feeds a writer and brings richness and, most importantly, truth to her work. (I suppose it feeds male writers, too, but as I'm writing for She Writes, they can get their own blog.) Whether fiction or non, intentional or not, a writer's pen can be the voice of those who are not speaking or cannot speak for themselves.
Mark Twain once said that travel "is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." And so, I think, is writing.