On the train to Florence

22 September 2015

It is five o’clock in Rome and we are boarded on a train – our suitcases and backpacks scattered about our second-class train carriage in the hopes of warding off potential cabin mates. It didn’t work. So now we are three in a cabin: Laura, me and a dapper Italian woman who, I must assume, chose our cabin because we were so spread out. Better sit with two haggard-looking American girls than five unknowns, I suppose.

It is five-oh-five in Rome and I am thinking about the time I have spent in this magical city. No, magical is not quite the correct word for such a place – majestic, perhaps, or grand or extravagant – but not magical. Magic implies simplicity, a slight of hand, a kind of hidden wonder and Rome is none of these things. It is big, it is towering, it is a peacock strutting itself proudly in front of any visitor who happens to find themselves on her marbled streets. Our party of three has now blossomed to a crowded six, the woman seems to have been joined by her posse, who seem to not particularly enjoy the fact that two haggard-looking American girls are crashing their commute home.

It is five twelve in Rome and the train is now pulling away from the station. The streets ripple by, walls covered in graffiti and people walking in that slow Italian way that had me letting out a steady flow of curses behind such amblers on the narrow pathways I often found myself on. Rome was, again, a strange mix of wonders for me: it was grand and loud and majestic but it was also confusing and overwhelming and in-my-face.

I am finding that this is how I have been experiencing the places that I’ve been so far on my grand tour:

I love them, I hate them, I am indifferent to them, I come to peace with their reality, I love them again.

A cycle, I think, that seems to be true for most things that I encounter in my life. Whether it be a class, a person, a book, a film, a song, my way of navigating what I like and dislike in this world are rooted in initial extremes and an eventual middling out as I find the compromises and justifications, the excuses and rationalisations that are so necessary to make as one navigates their way through the diverse situations that life often throws their way.

It is strange that I say that I settle on love in my cycle. I read it back to myself and wonder if I should change it – I certainly do not love every place that I’ve been, book that I’ve read, film that I’ve watched, person that I’ve met. But something keeps me from hitting


and erasing the statement from the white blinking page and, soon, from my own memory. I suppose that it can only be that even when the things that I strongly dislike or am indifferent to or truly hate (I’m looking at you, Ryanair carryon allowances) are cemented as such, they have also been accepted by me, they’ve been through the cycle, they’ve been reasoned out, they’ve been approached by me from every angle that I can think to approach them from – in short, they’ve been understood. As fully as I can manage, they’ve been understood.

I think there is something beautiful about examining a thing, understanding it, accepting it and still disliking it. I feel that it brings more meaning to the things that are fully examined, understood, accepted and then are loved. The balance brings beauty – the fact that opposites exist at all is beautiful and the knowledge that they also happen to be perceived slightly differently by every human is even more amazing – and I mean that in the full sense of the word. I find myself in amazement daily when my attention is drawn toward one thing and Laura’s to another, our ideas of what is noteworthy slightly differing but equally valid.

If opposites did not exist, if there were not things to be loved and disliked in equal measure, how boring life would be – how meaningless sentiments would become! When we tell somebody that we love them, it only bears meaning in the mutual knowledge that we also harbour hatred and dissention and conflict and that amid all of that, we feel love and passion and zeal and choose to spend our time and effort tending to those things.

If I loved everything and everyone and then told somebody that I loved them, they would not feel special because, to me, they would supposedly be akin to a hairy spider or the DMV or Ryanair carryon allowances.

So when I notice that I go to these far-off places and feel everything that I’ve felt – mixes of love and hate and indifference and confusion and passion and beauty and pain and struggle and accomplishment and contentment – I no longer feel worried that I am not experiencing my travels as I should be. I know that without the uncomfortable feelings, the ones that wrap me up in a warm embrace would not feel quite so comforting.

It is five fifty six in Rome and I am

Happy and sad and tired and lethargic and energetic and wilful and in pain and strong and beautiful and worn out and passionate and sleepy and bumbling and in love and in love and in love

the jumble is what makes me human – what makes the happiness so wide, the sadness so deep and the love so lovely.


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