Well, too many fires burst into flame in the days leading up to our departure and my toes remain unpainted, my usual travel ritual woefully incomplete, my toes bare, but we did get on the plane and arrived in Florence last night.
I am doing my best to get in this time zone right away. For me, that meant taking half a sleeping pill when I boarded our red eye flight at 8 pm in San Francisco, sleeping for six hours or so (which is pretty much what I sleep at home—unfortunately) and then staying awake the rest of the night, which was helped by the fact that there was a sick baby crying all night, another baby throwing up and something was broken on the plane which meant they couldn’t turn off the lights.
On the last few hours of that flight, I finished up the last bit of work I still wanted to get done—laying the groundwork for a 2024 Write, Travel, Transform trip returning to Bali or the first time in a number of years—this time focusing the trip on visiting Balinese healers and learning about Balinese spirituality—I sent that material off and then was free.
I stayed awake for the rest of that flight, transferred to a flight from Paris to Florence and stayed awake for that flight, too, all two hours or it. Karyn fell asleep on one side of me and the young man seated on the other side made it easy to stay awake. He was 26 years old, and very polite—the first thing he asked was if I wanted him to wear a mask, too—Karyn and I were two of the only mask wearers on the plane. I told him it was okay; I’d keep mine on.
Before long, I learned that he was a born-again Christian from North Carolina who works at a therapeutic horse camp that helps abused and neglected kids through their relationships with the horses. We had an engaging conversation. I think I might have been the first real lesbian he’d ever met and certainly the first he’d been free to ask anything of, and although I’m sure he hoped to convert me, I got to learn a lot about what makes someone born again and how it felt for him the moment at 15 when he knew Jesus had been born to save him.
Just like I try to get my writing students to get beneath their habitual storylines, I did the same with him. I kept asking him how it felt in his body whenever he’d say, “And I knew he’d died for my sins.” We genuinely enjoyed each other—well, I did till he asked if we could pray together—but that didn’t come till the end.
At one point, he asked me how he could better “love” “someone like me.” I told him, “Treat me like any other person—with respect—and don’t vote for anyone who would take away my rights.” I explained what that meant, what book banning meant to me, how hard it was to get our kids health insurance until California passed second-hand adoption for gay couples, and I emphasized how well adjusted our three lesbian-raised children are. It was actually kind of fun to let go into our conversation—despite the fact that we both had some ulterior motives, I was mostly just curious.
That’s one of the things I love about travel. I talked to Nate for two hours—and it kept me awake and engaged (yeah!).
By the time we got our bags and took a taxi to our guest house and got settled it was 10:30 all night and I slept all night on Florence time, woke up at 10 AM and forced myself up. Karyn had gotten up super early and gone out to explore, so I went to the little kitchen area to make myself a cup of tea, and there was a woman there, another American tourist, waiting for her 20-something daughter to wake up, and we started talking and talked for an hour about aging parents, getting over trauma, what they’d seen in Florence, and how to deal with favoritism with in-laws, all kinds of subjects, just one after another.
The thing is I’m not the kind of person who just starts conversations with people. I generally am staring at a screen or have my face in a novel or are otherwise not putting out signals that I want to engage. But when I travel, this other kind of magic starts to happen.
We seem to have brought the good weather with us. The day was hot and sunny and it’s been rainy and cold for weeks.
We met Graseilah, my Tuscany retreat partner, for lunch and we spent the next couple of hours day staggering around the streets of Florence—already full of tourists in mid-May, not the peak season—but I guess it’s always peak season here. Karyn went back to sleep, but I was determined to stay awake for as much of the day as I could. Graseilah and I spent a couple of hours doing some planning for the retreat and then I took one-hour long nap.
Much of today was spent feeling glazed and dazed and after my short nap, motivated by extreme thirst, I went on an outing looking for big containers of bottled water. I was hot and sweaty by the time I undertook this mission.
We are right in central Florence at a very nice guest house and there was everything else in the world for sale as you can see by the pictures. But water….very hard to find.
Finally, I stumbled onto a Carrefour express—a grocery chain like 7-11 and voila! Water. By time I carried four liters of water back to our guest house, I was REALLY hot and sweaty and cranky. But after drinking a pint of water and taking a shower…I’m ready for dinner and a night out in Florence. I feel good!
Now Karyn and I are waiting to meet Graseilah and her sister Gigi (whose family owns the Villa where we will be staying) for dinner so I am sticking with my plan of staying on Florence time as much as possible.
We still have one more free day tomorrow before we meet up with our retreat participants on Tuesday.