Italy Roundtable: A Little Stardust Caught

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We chose HARVEST as our October theme. It was obvious that we would write about the fall harvest festivals in Italy or the joy of travelling in Italy during this season of good food. That idea didn’t inspire me. After a few days of experimenting, I came up with an idea that was more than two decades old and had its roots in the English countryside.

I am focusing on what we can harvest from our travels this month.

I went on a weekend trip with The Mystic Society of an English university when I was twenty years old. We also visited Stonehenge’s famous standing circle, where we were allowed to enter after-hours, and where the guard dropped his ropes.

We stood in the center of the circle. We touched the stones. We all smiled as the guard took a photo.

The monoliths at Stonehenge were strong and indestructible despite their thousands of years of existence. I was able to pick a small sprig from one of them. It is still there, stuck between my photo albums.

SS

It is not modern to want to leave a mark and show others where you have been. Lord Byron left his mark on the ancient Greek temple. His graffiti is now part and parcel of the ruin’s attraction. As far back as 2000 BCE graffiti was common and became a kind of guest book. Visitors would also leave comments about what they saw and their names. These practices were not frowned upon . The 20th century saw a change in attitude.

It is not unusual to want to take home a tangible souvenir of your travels. For eons, souvenir shops have been selling trinkets in the busy piazzas of major cities and outside important monuments. Evidence has been found that travelers have collected memorabilia back to the 10th Century BCE. In a perfect storm, which we now call vandalism or souvenir shopping, visitors to Plymouth Rock in early 19th-century were given a hammer to use to cut a piece of rock to keep as a keepsake.

SS

21st-century travelers may have created their own version Tourists Behaving Badly, perhaps because there isn’t much to be learned about common vandalism like graffiti. It seems that tourists have been acting like the country is their only home for the past year in Italy.

In August, two Italians stole the gondola in Venice for a joyride. Six weeks later, two more tourists (a German and a Pole), followed their lead. Venice is also where a tourist leaped into the Grand Canal in August. This was captured (of course!) on many a cell-phone video.

Two tourists tried to take a photo of themselves on an 18th-century sculpture, which has become the symbol for Cremona. In May, a large piece fell off the statue and broke.

A couple of Australians were found to be having sex in Florence on July 31, 2015. They stopped when police arrived but not after a few passers-by pointed and gawked at them.

Two women from California tried to graffiti0_ carve their names in the Colosseum wall. They escaped from their tour group for a while, but it was too late. A woman from Austria was also caught doing the exact same thing in late September.

Six British tourists to Rome were drunk last month after attending an architectural conference. They stripped to the bone and swam in a busy piazza fountain on Sunday morning. Another fountain in Rome was destroyed by rioting Dutch soccer players.

Four tourists from Pompeii were recently caught with ancient wall fragments that they had found on the ground. They were charged with aggravated theft.

This is just a small selection.

Lord Byron didn’t worry that his name scrawled on the temple’s Greek temple might diminish its experience for future visitors. But he lived in a different era – a time when this was just part of the travel experience. However, it has been many decades since this was considered to be normal travel behavior. Today’s travelers know better.

Oder do they?

There is an unquenchable urge to be selfish in our travel experiences. To live only for ourselves and to enjoy the moment, not to think about what our actions might have on other people or places we visit. Many people, regardless of whether they are traveling, are inconsiderate buffoons. These incidents are merely people acting the same way they do at home but being in Italy. Is it possible that being away from one’s country makes us more inclined to get off the track?

Traveling to me is like visiting someone’s home. I believe we should treat it with respect. It’s possible that traveling doesn’t feel as rare or exotic as it used to, and we are more likely to be at-home guests than good guests. Perhaps it’s easier to forget your origins, or to be reminded less often, because cities like Rome are so popular with tourists from all over the world. It is well-known that cultural norms differ between countries, so some travel mishaps can be attributed to this. It is also a good idea to indulge in the intoxicant you choose while on vacation. Then all hell breaks loose.

But still.

It is amazing how many people travel each year to Italy and other parts of the world. I am glad that even a long list like this doesn’t represent all of them. We are all good guests. However, being good guests is not enough to make the news.

SS

When I travel, I tend to be behind the camera and not interested in taking photos of myself in front of attractions. I am there. I can prove that I was there. Yet? I took a little bit of moss out of a monument that was more than 4500 years old. If the rock had not been so hard, I might have taken a pebble with me.

It is a small comfort to know that the moss was not 4,500 years old and that my actions weren’t as harmful as carving my name into an ancient monument. My 43-year old self is still a bit numb when I think back to the 20-year-old me.

My travel souvenirs tend to be more experiential than material. I have a variety of pottery bowls from several countries. I love to bring home table linens. Memories are what I treasure most. While I do still have the Stonehenge moss piece in my photo album but the memories I had with the Mystic society are more real and alive than anything I could have ever collected, they are far more precious to me than anything else.

Those are the stars of stardust.

SS

Before I started writing this article, I reached out to my Facebook and Twitter friends to find out their top travel harvests. These are their amazing answers:

  • Although I may not always be able to understand the world as well, I can fill in the gaps with first-hand experiences. These are far more valuable than generalizations. Sometimes I do get to understand, which is the best thing you can take home. Pam
  • Ability to connect with the world in a different way. Understanding how different perspectives make sense within their context. A multi-layered connection with a place. – Melanie
  • Travelers from far and near – I always enjoy visiting their version of the grocery and pharmacy. Susan
  • Unexpected/un-anticipated benefits that I’ve gained include new friends, increased self-confidence, and a deep and profound love for the desert Southwest. – Stephanie
  • It’s my family memories. My children should have the same warm memories of family vacations as I do. It is now that I realize how stressed my dad and mom were, but the memories are still amazing. Jennifer
  • My trips to Italy have taught me a lot about people, history, and Italian cuisines. I always bring home food souvenirs. Ceramics are my favorite. Meeting new people and learning about their cultures and cuisines is a great way to make new friends and grow personally. Engred
  • Souvenirs are a Christmas ornament made from natural materials (rock, stick, shell), and something that I will use instead of putting on a shelf (jewelry or kitchen gadget). Tracy
  • Escape from my daily life and feel that anticipation, of “anything’s possible,” is what I want. – Victoria
  • Making lasting memories. Casey
  • My perspective and that of others. All sorts of things. – Naomi
  • You can have knowledge, experiences, and sometimes even peace of your mind. Muriel
  • It’s time to get to know yourself and the world better.
  • Food, beauty, photos, sunlight (sunburns), music, art, language, connection, solitude, freedom, happiness. Liz
  • Everywhere I go, it’s different. Sometimes, I feel an overwhelming connection with people when I return home. Sometimes, I am blown away at cultural experiences. Sometimes, I return home with a lot of wonderful visuals in my head. Sometimes, I return home feeling strong for having done something hard. Sometimes, I think Pheonix is a sh*thole. Jillian


It’s now your turn. Now it’s your turn. What have you done with your travel harvest? Are you happier with moments or things?

Italy Roundtable: Other Voices

What has my cohort harvested this month? Follow me to the links below to see each of their posts. Please leave comments and share them with friends. Tune in next month to learn more about Italy Blogging Roundtable topics!

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