Trapped in an Italian villa
I just spent a week in Italy with my family. We stayed in a villa. It was a dream. There’s just nothing like time abroad to shift one’s perspective, to clear the mind, to open the heart in unforeseen ways. And there’s also nothing like getting stuck in your walled-in property when you’re trying to leave for the 90-minute drive to Siena (that you’ll do twice that day) because your gate won’t open. You know?
(Don’t worry, we eventually got out.)
Long story short, the clicker to our gate was mysteriously inoperative, and it took a half an hour or so of creative family problem-solving, and eventually we and our Alfa Romeo were free. What an adventure.
While not every day was quite so eventful, each was a perfect delight. We took day trips to surrounding cities and towns, ate big meals and drank wine, watched sunsets and stargazed, swam in our pool, read, walked. We lived simply. Time stood still. And while I certainly loved our regular car rides to new destinations, it was an especial treat having a home to call our own while we were there. It was in those lazy hours of sleeping in, sharing meals around the table, reading multiple books, and soaking in the surrounding splendor that I gained some invaluable insights.
Take off your watch
I don’t know if anyone else even wears a watch these days, but I do. I put it on each morning out of habit, and there’s a comfort to it. It certainly comes in handy at times, but for the most part, it’s an accessory that I like the look of, rather than a necessity. And in Italy? I didn’t wear it once. My left wrist grew fond of its newfound freedom, and my mind was freed from keeping track, calculating, wondering how much time until the next meal. It was a simple way to foster living in the eternal now, hardly noticing time passing because I was immersed in the present.
Now, there are certainly times when it comes in handy. It’s one thing to abandon my timepiece while on vacation, and another when I have responsibilities to attend to. But still, I’m finding ways to detach now that I’m back. I’m certainly not foregoing my commitment to timeliness, but can I cut down on my glances to the clock when I’m in the car? My obsessive checks of my watch when I’m walking a familiar route with plenty of time to arrive at my destination? My calculation of how many minutes until that blessed end of the workday? Yes, yes, and yes. Of course time matters, but I’m finding myself increasingly desirous of slipping into that experience of timelessness, of more fully entering the present, of receiving each moment as a gift, rather than a burden to rush through.
I had forgotten what it was like to read ravenously, to escape into other worlds for hours, to feel that suspension of time as I take on the creative mind of another. Finishing three books in a week reminded me. I read fiction and a rich spiritual book, becoming accustomed to lives before unknown to me, entering conversations and patterns of thought and private matters of the heart. And I lived more fully.
It’s one thing to read poolside on a warm, sunny day at a villa overlooking a stunning lake, and it’s another to read nestled between fellow passengers on a jostling subway, or in the few precious moments at the end of a tiring day, or during a much-needed lunch break. But still, it’s a life-giving diversion. Still, I can find a reprieve from the navel-gazing to which I am so prone, and connect with the lives of a disparate array, both imagined and real. I can read just about anywhere, at any time, and escape in the most delightful way.
I went the whole week without social media. I didn’t check it one time, and I didn’t miss it one time. In fact, I left my phone on airplane mode for the duration, occasionally checking (non-work!) email, snapping a photo, bringing up Google Maps to fulfill my navigating duties. I spent time in conversation and in silence with my family, I was grounded in the present, I let my imagination stir, I embraced my surroundings. Divine.
I can’t say I’ve continued the trend, I’m afraid. Scrolling through Facebook is an easy escape, a welcome time-waster when I’m bored or looking for mindless distraction. But it doesn’t require a week away to renew that detachment I experienced. At any time, I can commit to stepping back, even for a day, from that imbalanced attachment of mine. I remember the freedom I felt, the peace and ease, the quick disappearance of that reflexive urge to type that familiar ‘f’ into my search bar and press enter. It’s a freedom I can reclaim anytime. (And, mark my words, I’m starting now.)
Italy is beautiful. Rolling hills, magnificent churches, sun-kissed vineyards, our own charming villa…we were truly spoiled. I’m not sure how it took the whole week, but we finally had dinner by sunset, a sunset which lasted longer than any other I’ve seen. We could see for miles and miles, watching pinks and oranges mix with blues, a new masterpiece before our eyes every moment or two. And later that night, when the dishes were washed and dried, we found our way to the chaise longues by the pool to gaze at the brilliant night sky. We breathlessly watched shooting stars, searched for the Big Dipper, marveled at the grandeur of it all.
It’s easy to think that those days are over. Now, I’m back to traffic and skyscrapers and trash-ridden sidewalks. But still, there’s a sky. I can’t see nearly as many stars, and the sunsets are largely obscured by tall buildings around me, but still I can stick my head out my bedroom window and notice the beauty. Still I can escape to parks, savor the scent of planted lavender, gaze up at the glorious ceiling of the cathedral I attend each Sunday. Beauty is all around, and even when I’m not being struck in the face by it, it’s never too hard to find. And it always does my soul good.
I hope to keep these simple gems close as that heavenly week drifts further away. I give thanks to God for such a marvelous gift, for bringing to mind these lessons I can live out wherever I am. And I’ll always remember the freedom of being trapped in an Italian villa.