“Cities of Splendor: A Journey Through Renaissance Italy.” Promising. “Explore the art of the Italian Renaissance — without a passport.” Not the same as seeing Italian Renaissance art in its natural habitat, but still promising. The Denver Art Museum snagged me. I haven’t had the chance to see Florence, Siena, Venice, Mantua, or Milan. A little time with 15th and 16th century art could be nice, even if it was in Colorado.
You see, I haven’t been to Italy. Lots of people haven’t been either so this fact might seem like a big fat “so what?”
As a journalism major at Purdue University, I had to take a minimum of three semesters of a foreign language. The choices were French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, and … Italian. Mama Mia! That sounded like a far better option, with promises of being able to order intelligently at any Italian restaurant and obtaining a certain chicness (which eluded me, unfortunately). Unlike the hordes that were processed through French and Spanish language labs, the cozier Italian classes were molto bene.
From the very first practice dialogue (Ciao, Franco! … Ciao, Isabella!), it was amore. A poster of Ponte Vecchio in Florence took up a good portion of bedroom wall real estate, perpetually calling out to me with its siren song. Obsession is not a strong enough word for my desire for everything italiani. I took nearly every course available, including Italian conversation (we played Monopoly in italiano) and Italian cinema. Such immersion led to the inevitable; I set my mind on a trip to Italy.
In 1988 I had my chance. Rome! The first passport obtained. The first international air ticket booked. The suitcase packed. It was to be a three-week trip that was part volunteering in a Southern Baptist-run orphanage with some sightseeing. Two days before leaving I learned that the orphanage had changed its long-standing practice. No more volunteers.
What would I do for three weeks by myself? At the time I wasn’t able to walk much as the result of a serious auto accident, so I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of sightseeing. I chatted with a friend for advice since she was a flight attendant for TWA and had been to most places around the world. On the day I was to leave for Italy, I arrived in Hawaii.
Another opportunity emerged to spend Christmas of 2007 in Florence. Tickets were purchased well in advance, hotel booked, even made reservations for Uffizi. But, circumstances changed when I started a new job in early December. It didn’t seem wise to go and I didn’t have any useable vacation time. I spent that Christmas at home in Virginia, reusing the ticket for a couple of trips to California in 2008.
In reflecting on the trips taken, and the One Not Taken, I became aware of inordinate expectations, personal myths, and unrealistic beliefs that I feared confronting by actually traveling to Italy. Until recently I didn’t want to risk that the imagined Italy of my youth might be something less than my romantic visions. And because Italy has been such a part of my future, what would happen once I went? Ennui? Is there truth to the Italian proverb: vedi napoli e muore (“see Naples and die”)? Most importantly, should a trip have all this baggage?
Viewing the exhibit at the museum the other day, and pondering this matter of traveling to Italy, made me grateful to have changed in the past couple of years. When the opportunity comes along, I’m ready to let Italy be Italy.
I’ll get there yet and see all the Italian renaissance art I can cram into a visit.