Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back to the Start

I can't even begin to name all the ways that my first trip overseas made me who I am, but nevertheless, studying abroad, even for only the month it was, had a huge impact on young, (relatively) innocent me.  Today I've come full circle, made it back to the beginning, and so I thought I'd write about it.  Venice was my first, unless you count Canada, which none of us do (sorry, Engrish), and even if we did, I didn't choose it.  In the fall of my fourth year of college I took printmaking and my professor, Subler, talked about a program that the University of Iowa did in the years of the Venetian Biennale (those would be odd-numbered ones), and I knew I had to do it.  I hadn't been obsessed with Venice the way I once was with Paris, but the thought wouldn't leave my head.  I HAD to do this.  That's how my dad ended up driving me to the Kansas City airport early in July 2001, slipping me a $100 bill when I was ready to go through security, "For emergencies" (he does that), and turning me loose on an unsuspecting world.

Well.  Not quite yet.  It takes a little more than an hour to fly from KC to Chicago, where I spent the night before my first trans-Atlantic flight, and maybe that long to get from Midway to O'Hare, which a number of people were very helpful in helping me to manage.  It's hard for me to believe this now, fourteen years later, but when I tried to figure out how to take the L between the two airports that day, I was made nervous by a single, simple transfer.  I've come a long way, baby.

Back in the day you could get some kickass deals on hotels with the right site - although I can't remember which one off the top of my head - and I stayed in the O'Hare Hilton for $35 bucks that night.  I got checked in and got my luggage to my room, sat on my bed, and basically burst into tears.  I should tell you (if you don't already know) that I cry at the drop of a hat, but even so travel's a big old ball of emotions, and fear and sadness factor into it at points.  You put yourself in a giant tin can and hurtle across distances that were imposing, less than a hundred years ago, and in the (relative) blink of an eye, you're a third of the way around the planet.  You've taken a machete to the jungle and cut it back.  "The world is not just books and maps, it's out there," at once much bigger than you could have imagined and much smaller than it used to be, because now you're in it.  That's cause to mourn, as well as to be a little bit afraid, because you don't know what's going to happen out there, and how it will change you, and when you get back, you won't be the same person you were before.  You can't say if you'll be changed for the better, but you will be changed for good.  Or at least you will if you do it right.

So I cried in the room and went to sleep early and managed to pull myself together for my first international flight from Terminal 5, where I met up with the crew from KC as well as the students from the U of I and wherever else we came from.  We had a layover, in Belgium, I think, and although I remember feeling like it took forever (7 hours was a lot of time for me then - now I think it's a short flight!) we eventually made it to Marco Polo airport, where we collected our luggage and were herded outside to get a water taxi to Campo San Maurizio.  I leaned over to look at the water, and promptly had my sunglasses fall in the drink, but hell, sunglasses are overrated.

We were whisked off to Campo San Maurizio, where the 20 students participating in the program were staying in two apartments.  It may have been crowded, but honestly I don't remember thinking so at the time.  During the days we were in the studio or scattered, doing stuff, and in the evenings the veterans of the group taught us newbies the game that would make a card shark out of me...Canasta!  Some of my flatmates cooked, but most of the time I was out eating pizza and gelato, and believe it or not, I lost 5 pounds that month.  Lots of bridges, 'nuff said.

The month was daily routines punctuated by activities.  The routines were my morning walk through campos still waking up, stopping to buy a croissant - some days crema, others cioccolata - at the bakery up the calle from the studio and a bottle of aranciata, before starting my artistic endeavors for the day (which did not amount to much - fiddling around in my sketchbook for the most part).  The activities ranged from the Biennale to a puppetmaker's workshop, a maskmaker's workshop to trips up the Brenta canal and to Padua.  There were the strains of the Brandenburg concerto (charming the first day or so, but they got annoying pretty quickly) from the guitarist who busked next to the well in our campo, afternoons on the beach at Lido, the night Piazza San Marco flooded and a couple of my classmates and I went to splash in water sparkling from the Plessi installation set up in the windows of the Museo Correr.  There was taking the vaporetto out to Murano and Burano and the Cimitiere, and the bus up to Mestre where I went to church a couple of Sundays.  And in the end there was my first art show, staged for one night only in the entry to our flat, just off the campo, for which one of the KC crew made tzatziki, which I'd never had but fell in love with that night.

It was over too fast, and while at the end of the month I was ready to go home, the magic of that month lingered.  Walking along the same routes each day convinced me that slow travel was the only way to go.  The lady I bought my croissants from knew me, knew I would be there every morning and what I would get.  I had a place I fit, and that set the tone for my future expat life.  As a high schooler, I was really disappointed that I didn't get to do the "grand tour" thing with a band group like my friend did, but who knows?  If I had, I might not have ended up coming at the world the way I have.  

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