Thirty-three thousand feet above the North Atlantic, thirty minutes west of Dingle, Ireland. Heading home.
I hear an opera carrying along the canal. The sleek prow of a gondola glides into view, carrying a singing soprano and her accordionist. A middle-aged couple holds hands in the plush seat in the back, enjoying their own private Venetian concert. Except it’s not private. The gondolier eases his boat along, under the bridge at my feet. The soprano is a pro; she times her finish for the bridge, using the echo to amplify her last note. It hangs in the air for a second, then applause fills the void, from the gondola and all around me on the bridge. The narrow bridge. That I stopped in the middle of, blocking traffic. Whoops. I look around, ready to excuse myself to everyone…but they’re too busy clapping to notice my apology. I wasn’t the only one enchanted by the melody.
I’m not ready to go home – there’s so much more to do, so much more to see, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Venice, let alone Italy. But my time is up. The soprano was last night; now it is morning, and I’m walking along the canal to the bus station. University students stream by in the other direction. A few balance painting canvases against their shoulders, a couple carry black instrument cases. I’m the only one going against this tide, towards the buses. Everyone seems to be late for their first class of the day, a reminder that life goes on in Venice, even if I’m leaving.
I want to linger, stretch things out, but road fever has me in its grip. The vacation is over and I can’t relax until I’m at the airport. (Grandma Leiden – Mim – gave me a lecture years ago. Always be at the airport two hours ahead of time, she said. At LEAST two hours. Three would be better. I was seven, I think; that message stuck with me, unlike so many others. I break out in a sweat when *other* people saunter onto a plane thirty minutes before departure.)
The airport security dance goes smoothly. Passport and ticket. Yes, I packed my own bags. No, I didn’t take any packages from strangers. Everything out of my pockets, take off the belt, and make sure the laptop is in a separate bin. Have nice trip.
I drink one last Italian espresso at the airport cafe, trying to prolong the experience. (They give it to me in a paper cup. So much for prolonging the experience.) I wait for my group to board, find my seat, secure my electronic devices, and fasten the seatbelt. Next stop Newark, and then home.
I love travel, seeing new places, and eating new things. (Especially the eating part. Good food? I’m there.)
At the same time, travel makes me anxious. I’m a foreigner in a foreign land. Will anyone understand me? What if I get cheated? Or robbed? Will I get lost? Miss a connection? What if I miss the one local specialty you have to eat?
That anxiety is a good thing, as long as I don’t let it overrun everything else. It adds spice to the experience, makes it exciting. (A little case of nerves to heighten the senses. Kind of like an aperitif.) Also, travel has shown me that people are people. Sure, there are some bad apples, but most people are good people. They like their neighbors, love their dogs, smile at cute babies, and try to help when someone is lost. Especially someone from out of town.
Finally, Home. I wish I could stay longer, and at the same time, I‘m looking forward to home. I miss Diane and the kids. I want my own bed, my own routine. Sure, I would love another week in Italy…especially if someone else would pay the credit card bill? (Anybody? Anyone? No?)
Travel teaches me about the world and about myself. But it wouldn’t be travel without someplace to return to. Someplace to call home.
What do you think?
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