Due anni fa, non ho potuto dire questa frase.
Two years ago, I stepped through the most intimidating doors I’d ever faced. They were the doors to the place that was supposed to be my home for the next four months, in the acclaimed city of Florence, Italy. I knew this place was famous, and that it had to be as grand, glorious — exalted — as it’s so widely-recognized to be. But what I could not expect was just how influential this city would be…at least for me.
Two years ago, I left my country for the first time, walked through these doors, cried non-stop for a solid day, and almost booked an immediate flight back home. I could not speak Italian, I could not stop crying, and I could not imagine how I’d possibly adjust.
But then I walked out the door.
I plunged into an undiscovered world, and with my eyes, mind and heart wide open, I unlocked its magnificence.
I can still feel the excitement surrounding the Duomo — the center always bustling with children chasing pigeons, tour groups scurrying through the crowd, artists selling their works, students rushing to class, bikers whizzing by…
Yet a spell of tranquility would silence the energy with every frozen body staring up in awe.
I can still smell the fresh water of the Arno River — its calming body channeling the vivacity of the entire city and returning it through each renewing breeze.
I can still hear Paolo singing With or Without You from behind the bar — his voice percolating through the soundtrack of my friends and me zealously attempting to exchange Italienglish with the locals, who helped us develop both a new language and new friendships.
I can still taste the unbelievably fresh tomatoes and divine olive oil I’d buy from the market, where I’d spend time after an early class meandering through rustic aisles and exploring every little nook.
I can still envision the Santa Maria Novella — its historic facade shepherding the piazza, where hundreds of smiling faces shaped stories of their own each day.
I can still see myself — not quite the person I am now, and definitely not the person I was exactly two years ago from this day — but certainly the best version of myself there has ever been…the most happy, the most spirited, the most alive.
When I look through photos of my time in Italy, my heart actually bends — like the way it feels to look at a photo of a loved one who is no longer with you. A journey that started in tears ended in tears as well — at both points yearning to go back home, but neither referring to the same home.
Italy somehow made me a more complete person. Do not ever let “I can not” stop you from stepping through the door. You just might discover a better version of yourself and a better view of the world once you reach the other side.