I’d only been in Rome a few days before taking off for a very swift tour of a few other cities, but when I walked out of the train station having arrived back again in Rome, my heart leapt at the familiar sight. “We’re home!” It cried. A familiar feeling washed over me and I felt my body relax as I easily navigated the way out to the cobbled streets that were completely unfamiliar a week before.
How strange travel is, to change a person so quickly.
I’m known for writing postcards from this place or that, it really doesn’t matter where, with large scrawling text, “Let’s Move Here!” It can be a minor annoyance or a massive disappointment how easily I’d jump to a new town because “I love it here.” I tend to love most places I’ve visited, with the one exception of Kansas, so it’s a little exhausting to be peppered with “Oh! They have a Yoga Studio! I could live here!” Or “I think I’m a city person, I love walking everywhere, I could so live here!” And “This town is quiet and wonderful, I could live here!”
See what I mean? You’re exhausted after one paragraph. Try traveling with me. Oi.
With that said, I realize what I’m saying is absurd and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but Internet, I could so totally fucking live here.
I recently started a new job at a company that I respect with a team that I equally respect and feel valued and honored to be part of. That environment is shaping how I am with my children, with every day life, even with my own soul, having the space I need to solve interesting problems and tackle tough coding challenges in a place where questions are welcome and answers don’t come with sarcastic undertones. In short, the environment I spend my days in, happily working with great people, bleeds in to my personal life in a positive and unique way.
What if a city that can do the same thing?
From what I can tell, the women of Rome are badasses. Old ladies walk in to busy streets on crosswalks without so much a glance left or right. I followed three old women, walking directly in to a six lane road, feeling a new type of bravery, one which relies on Italian Grannies getting hit by the car first, while briefly enjoying this sort of freedom and power. I couldn’t help but glance up nervously and wave shyly at the cars slamming on their brakes just before the stocking-footed grandmothers cleared the walkway before me. I marveled at these women who turned to smoke on the corner, speaking staccato Italian, and waving their hands excitedly with more enthusiasm than I can muster most days of the week.
I walked past the two tiny old nuns, whom I’d passed twice just half an hour earlier, as they marched up to the iron gates of the church and spoke rapidly to one another. I joked about their forgetting the keys and having to scale the church wall… again … and chuckled a little out loud as another old lady shoved a helmet on her gray hair and saddled up to her motor bike. She lunged forward, kicked the stand out of the way, revved the engine, and politely, but without excuses, pulled out into the six lane road and drove off.
Dayam, y’all. I want to be an Old Roman Woman.
I know this is a bit of a stretch but go with me on this: Somewhere in my history I accepted that I was going to be quiet. I grew up in the Catholic church’s pews listening to the sermons and drinking in the holy juice of “You Are A Sinner.” I bought this, along with the pairing of “Unworthiness” and “Submissiveness" with as much innocents and tenacity as a girl can and believed it to be true until a “mid-life crisis” made me question everything.
Was I inherently bad? Did I truly not belong? Was I supposed to be quiet and let others speak before me and believe they are more worthy to be Here than I?
I can tell you what these six old women did for me in the span of an hour in Rome that a few years of wrestling with these ideas, several dozen books about Mindfulness and Compassion, and hundreds of podcasts and articles couldn’t do: I saw women living their truths without asking permission or apologizing for being there.
I now notice these old women everywhere, as if I just bought a red car and suddenly everyone has a red car and never noticed it before. Have these Roman Women always had such hutzpah? Only recently the traditionally sexist culture began to stand up against sexism and declare equality and fight against sexual abuse (1). The Italian culture is still blatant about their objectification of women and even in the small pizza shop on the side streets of Rome, I witnessed first hand a young pretty lady walk in to order a pizza and get it completely free because she was “beautiful” as the owners waved her off and told her it was on the house. She’s probably never paid for a meal since puberty.
Perhaps the old women have this brazen ability to care for themselves because they spent their time caring for their families, another long-held Italian cultural trait, and having raised their children to adults are able to stand proud and smoke on the streets simply because they’ve earned it.
I’m neither old enough to have earned smoking on the side of the street nor young enough to have my meals paid for because I’m “beautiful.” I’m a middle-aged mother questioning the culture she was raised in and looking around at other other cultures and wondering exactly where and how her own daughter and son will fit in to each belief system.
Then again, I could just follow the women across the road and not be so analytic about it all.
But of course, this is why we travel, isn’t it? Travel opens my eyes to the questions I’ve been asking and allows me to see the them from a new vantage point. I still have the same questions, but I can see how they might look if I changed direction, was raised in another location, spent more time learning from Old Italian Grandmothers and less time from Southern Priests. Travel by its very nature exposes us to new truths and knocks down the walls around our own so we can rebuild a new truth, a more universal truth, which is that we can only strive to be our best self and take responsibility for our lives and be kind and generous to those other humans trying to take responsibility for theirs.
I don’t know each of those old women’s histories. Perhaps they’re one of the 90 percent of abused women who never reported the domestic violence (2). Maybe they’re complete bad asses because it was necessary for their survival. I couldn’t tell you any of this having only just witnessed their actions.
What I can tell you is this: their actions speak loudly to me and in turn makes me wonder what actions I’m speaking loudly to my daughter. It’s the perfect time to struggle with what it means to be a woman and how to live, as Glennon Doyle says, “Your most true and beautiful story without apologizing or asking permission.”
It’s time to walk in to the cross walk and know the world can wait thirty seconds for you to cross the street because you deserve to be here as much as everyone else. And the next time I’m in a car and a group of people walk in to the cross walk in front of me, I’ll be sure to slow down and take a breath and remember they have every right to their life as I have to mine, and I can wait thirty seconds for them to cross the street because where are we going in such a hurry anyway?
When in Rome, but also at home.
As a complete aside, I found this fun “10 things you should know about Italian Women” and I think I’m Italian in my blood somewhere. Or maybe I just really really really want to be. https://claudiagiulia.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-italian-women/