Have you noticed times in your life where “If this hadn’t happened, that wouldn’t have happened?” or “If I had never met that person, I would have never experienced this” or “If that misfortune never occurred, I would have never had the opportunity for this…?”
If you take a close look, a streaming line of events are always happening. Something is always connecting to another thing and on and on and on.
On could even say that “everything happens for a reason” or “life is a continuous cycle of connecting events.”
I have had a glorious relationship with Italy for the past 20 years and recently, I was recounting to a friend the very beginning of that journey.
Challenging and tumultuous at first, it reminded me of how all the events were necessary and I never would be where I am today had each one not occurred.
How focus and determination kept me on track.
How my adventurous spirit kept my heart and mind open.
But most of all, how TRUST must take a front seat when entering unknowns, when trying something for the first time and most of all, TRUST when following your heart even as your mind and logic tells you otherwise.
It all started with Gino Casagrande from Perugia. He was my Italian professor with his short stature, silk ties and goofy little laugh who always said, “What you can’t get done today, do tomorrow.” To this day, I’m not sure why he targeted me because I was not a super student of Italian (only satisfying necessary credits at the time). However, he highly encouraged me to take a year and study at the University in Bologna, Italy.
My first challenge was getting accepted to the highly competitive program. Second was paying for it. Third was convincing my parents that it was a great idea.
I DIDN’T get accepted at first and had to wait a full year to apply again. So I did, got accepted and by this time, I was ready to go!
It was the end of May and school in Italy was to start in September, when professor Casagrande handed me a pamphlet for a month long cultural and extended language class in Florence…starting in a mere two weeks.
I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I finished final exams, I packed up, moved everything back into my folks home, bought a plane ticket and registered for the program. In return, they sent me a list of names, addresses and phone numbers for possible housing options…. via fax. You could hardly make out the print! With this sheet of paper, I literally closed my eyes, pointed my finger to a number and called.
If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you know that speaking on the phones is super difficult. You can’t really use your hands or point to anything and no one is going to wait on the phone while you look up words in a dictionary.
When I got off the phone, I was about 50% sure that I had a place to stay for a month and that the guy who answered was named Toto and he knew the day I was arriving. He told me to just call from the train station when I arrived. Ok! Cool!
So..the morning came when I arrived by train to Florence from Rome. One hand pulling my suitcase, a big backpack on my back and a little one in front; with my belongings for year, I made my way to the payphone.
Life before cell phones in Italy:
- You had to buy a phone card, usually found at the tobacco stores. 2. You had to find a pay phone that accepted the phone card. 3. You had to find a phone that accepted the phone card that was in service. (Most of them read, FUORI SERVIZIO- Out of service). 4. You had to properly rip one of the corners off the card and insert it into the phone. 5. When all above requirements were met, you made your call and once it started to ring, you watched your prepaid phone card rapidly decrease in available funds, even if it was a local call and even if no one answered.
I pulled out that barely legible fax of phone numbers and called that number I had reached just a week ago.
I called again.
Ok… well, I’m in Florence, Italy for the first time in my life. I haven’t a minute more to waste figuring out my accommodations, I’ll call later. So, I left my big bags at the luggage deposit, took some little blue raffle like looking ticket after I paid and set off to explore Florence!
I must have touched all corners of the city that day, because years later, (after moving there post Bologna) I would come across places that I had seen before. What a day!
As evening approached, I headed back to the train station, got my luggage (by sheer luck because I had lost the little tickets they gave me…though recognized the old man from earlier that day) and called that number again and again and again…. still, no answer.
Hmmm…ok. Time to find a hostel. Well, it was a Saturday night in early June and there wasn’t a bed in a hostel to be found nor any cheap hotel near the train station. I soon found out that there wasn’t a cheap hotel anywhere that night in Florence.
I succumbed to the fact that 1. While incredibly excited to be in Italy, I was exhausted from all the travel and the full day of exploration with a heavy backpack. 2. I may not have a place to live for the month in Florence. 3. I need a hotel for sleeping tonight and re-evaluating my plan. 4. It was going to cost me much more than had budgeted and I didn’t care.
To this day, I will never forget that hotel with one single room left, the taxi ride to it, the woman who greeted me at the front desk, the waffle towels in the bathroom, and the squishy single bed that then, felt like heaven.
Minutes before drifting off to sleep, I decided to try that phone number just one more time. Someone answered. Someone answered!! Not the same person that did a week earlier, but someone answered! In my exhausted and broken Italian, I tried explaining who I was and what I had arranged with a fellow named Toto a week ago.
The voice on the line had no idea what I was talking about and in the midst of my explaining he interrupted with “Just speak English, your Italian sucks and I can’t understand a thing you are saying.”
Uh, ok…with my pride set aside, I went on to explain. Again he interrupted me and still said, “I haven’t a clue what you are talking about, but go ahead and come over in the morning, though you’d better get here before 8:30 because it’s my day off tomorrow and I’m going to the beach.” Click.
Hallelujah!!! I was thrilled, excited and relieved!
I was up early the next morning. I wanted to take advantage of the sweet breakfast on the patio included and I especially wanted to get to what would be my new home for the month before 8:30 AM and so I ordered a taxi through the front desk (ditching the bus idea) and it picked me up minutes before 8:00 AM.
As the taxi drove away, leaving me at “my new home,” Via Toselli, 45, I approached the front door with about 10 different names and doorbells. I chose the name that matched the phone number on my now scrunched up AND barely legible fax copy, rang it and looked up, smiling and wondering which one of those balconies will be my new home.
There was no answer. I rang again. No answer.
I sat there and sighed for a moment. I double checked the address, the name, the time. Everything was correct though now it was getting close to 8:30 and I was concerned I had missed my chance at getting in.
I rang again. I waited another 5 minutes and rang again. Then a head popped out from one of the balconies clearly awakened from his sleep and asked….”Che cazzo vuoi?” Translated: “What the F*%# do you want?”
I looked up and said, “I’m Jill. I’m your new roommate. We spoke last night. Um..you said to get here before 8:30…?”
The door clicked open, I climbed the 4 stories of stairs with my luggage, and two backpacks thrilled to be inside. I arrived at my new home for the month, entered as the sexiest and grumpiest Italian man I had ever seen came and said: “I don’t know who you are. You must have spoken to my roommate. He has an extra bed in his room. There it is. We keep this place extra clean so keep it that way.” He turned around and went back into his bedroom slamming the door.
Ahhh…finally. I went into “my” room, set my bags in the corner, took off my shoes, lied on the extra bed and drifted off into a deep Sunday in Italy sleep. I had arrived.
Little did I know that this would roll into 20 years of love, career, friendships, hardships, and life events ingrained in my heart forever.
Most of all… have TRUST and FOLLOW YOUR HEART.