Of all the lodging I explored in my youth, a single room stands out, and comes to me now, thirty springs later, as I place a glass and a bottle of water beside a bed in a stranger’s home where I’ve come to spend the week, alone.
The place then was Italy–Firenze–in a small pensione, presided over by an elderly woman who spoke as much English as I spoke Italian. (None.)
I was 20 at the time, off on a whirlwind tour of Europe, in this the first long break from a semester abroad at the University of London.
I hadn’t meant to be on a whirlwind tour. I’m much more of a solo steeper; preferring say, a seat at a café on the Seine sipping a glass of chardonnay to zooming through the nearby Musée du Louvre with a throng of friends.
But my intended traveling companion for traipsing around the continent on the cheap abandoned me at the last-minute for a free trip with his family to Sicily to explore his ancestral roots.
Thus, I haphazardly joined a trip planned by the maniacal Abigail (and friends) who scheduled a dozen stops in several countries in the span of 14 days.
Firenze (aka. Florence) was our only pause; and here’s why: a room with a view (and a shower.) Abigail had distant relatives who owned an exquisite villa in the hills outside the city; and her well to do father paid for her (and her minions) to spend a long weekend there, complete with meals.
I too was invited to a meal on Saturday night, but I had to find accommodations (and other meals) elsewhere , as her father rightly refused to add yet another person to what was no doubt a hefty bill.
In some ways, these girls and I were well suited to one another; in that we all gulped after life indulgently, no doubt escaping from some form of pain–of a lover left behind, of families torn apart, of innocence stolen by tragedy–and those were just mine.
Such was the case Saturday night when we continued our party into the lounge following a decadent meal. When the small bar finally closed on us, the girls headed up to their cozy beds while I stumbled off my stool to catch the bus back to the city.
I felt sorry for myself at the pensione, particularly as it punctuated that I had been an after thought to Abigail’s trip, and so I said yes when the bartender offered me another drink and a ride home. I failed to absorb his intentions (with twenty year age span) until he took me to the top of the city “to look at the view” and leaned in for a kiss, and I weaved with dizziness. Only then did I realize how I had compromised my safety.
It was well past curfew when the frustrated bartender dropped me at the pensione, but the elderly woman opened the door and led me to my room once again.
Never before had I been so thankful to see a single cot in a narrow space beside a spartan table upon which sat a carafe of clear water. I drank as much as I could and slept through the remainder of the night, satisfied.
There were other such excesses on this trip–in Vienna, and Munich, and Brussels–to name a few, but the simple room in the pensione lingers on in my mind, mirroring the truth of who I was and what I wanted my life to become.
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”