Adulthood: The Sweetest Taboo
“Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift.” —Frances McDormand
A New Yorker by choice and by nature, I credit NYC with my ability to handle most unexpected travel situations with cleareyed focus, albeit sometimes it does include a few tears. After a restless night, I disembarked from my foul train and into Rome’s bustling Termini bristling with irritation and no small amount of leeriness. I had been to Venice in the 1990s and experienced the rougher side of the sun-dappled, water-bound city and Rome’s reputation preceded it. A seasoned, big city girl, I held tight to my bags as I tried to figure out how and where to get a taxi. Inundated with offers of assistance, my Italian not good enough to sort things out, and my spidey sense of no help, I hopped into the first available cab. Overwhelmed by the shift in language, the sights, and sounds, it took me a moment to notice my driver’s sideways look after I gave him my destination. In broken English, he began cautioning me about the diceyness of my hotel’s location.
Senses heightened due to menstruation and a lack of sleep my heart began to sink. Halfway through my big trip, disoriented, a little weary, and fearful of more trouble, I was in no mood to combat beggars, tramps, and thieves. Concentrating on whether I should try and find another hotel, I was once again brought up short when less than 6 minutes later we pulled up to my hotel. While warning me of the dangers of his fellow Romans, my cabbie had pulled one of the oldest tricks in the book. My hotel was so close, even with my bulging, chubby-tween-shaped bags I could have walked! I reluctantly paid and hustled out of the cab (And yes, I tipped). I checked in without incident, freshened up, and headed back out to explore.
As I retraced my steps or rather my cab’s brief tire tracks, I kept a watchful eye out for unsavory types. I didn’t happen upon any that afternoon or any other. To this day, I don’t know if it’s my inherent and unusually high tolerance for unsavory types or the 18 years I spent in Brooklyn up to that point but for my entire stay in Rome I never experienced one moment of fear or trepidation.
What I did experience was a shocking sense of pleasure and wonder as with every corner I rounded, I came upon yet another excavation site, nuggets of history being uncovered right before my eyes. My history-loving heart soared in Rome. NYC had made me very judge-y about other big cities (among other things) and although I have enjoyed other cities—with Paris at the top of the heap—I usually still find they come up short. But not Rome. I still marvel at how much I responded to Roma on a visceral level. I loved the chaos of crossing the street, the architecture, eating most of an entire pizza by myself my first day because I mistakenly thought I was ordering the world’s most expensive slice and didn’t want to waste it. The city was alive and thrilling.
I made it to all the hits, from the Colosseum to the Spanish Steps, but I must say my favorites were the quieter, off the beaten path moments like buying fine stationery in Piazza Navona near the La Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain Of The Four Rivers), standing to drink expresso with the old men in the cafés, and attending an opera at the stunning Rome Opera House. It was my first opera, and it remains one of my seminal travel memories and not just because it was 4 hours long (It was smartly divided up into 4 45-minute segments), or that it was Manon sung in Italian with French subtitles (Oh, how my inner 12-year-old swooned at the sophistication of it all!).
The memory of attending the opera in Rome stays with me 11 years later because of the sense of tranquility it engendered, which enveloped me like the sense memory of a good hug or a favorite scent. Attending an opera in Rome made me feel like an adult, but not just a bill paying, job holding adult, not just the responsible parts of adulthood. First, sitting alone beneath the muted lights, surrounded by lush velvet, enthralled by the power of the performance and then later sipping white wine at an outdoor café as late-night Rome rushed by, I felt the awesome gift of adulthood which allows you to make cool choices for yourself.
I was 40 years old and, at that moment, I was reminded in a profound way that it was my life and I had the ability to shape it any way I wanted. I could stay home and watch TV, or I could hit the road. I could drink tea in my kitchen, or I could enjoy high tea in the British Museum. No scenario was better than the other, but they were all my choice. And at that moment, I was deeply grateful that I could find pleasure in hearth and home and on the road.
The quote goes, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I agree with this pithy saying but I would turn it on its head or perhaps coin my own: Adulthood is the gift that keeps on giving, just take your vitamins!”
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in August as I continue to explore the pleasures of Italy. In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!