It is truly an experience, a bacchanalia for the senses, the old walled city of Florence, in my sandals and my peeling arms (la Rouge Canadienne they called me as my pale, pale skin and freckles were no match for the hot European sun), hair cascading over my shoulders, curly and sweaty with the heat, rubbing the bright copper of the boar's nose in the marketplace, pausing with my cousin in the shade of the looming frescoed buildings for a cool iced coffee (yes a thing way back then). My heart feels like it might explode thinking, remembering, feeling as if it were yesterday seeing Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, da Vinci's Annunciation... walking through the cobbled narrow streets to suddenly stumble onto a piazza, over which like a kaleidoscope of colour and simple beauty, the Duomo cathedral presides, a medieval masterpiece of terracotta.
That my girl is walking those streets and seeing those selfsame wonders astounds and humbles me and makes my chest hurt and my heart constrict, somewhere between joy that she is doing this to sorrow that once I was that young, carefree woman with my life stretching ahead of me, with horizons to conquer, mountains to climb, experiences to embrace. Would we see the future when we are young and green and bursting with optimism and hope and belief in self!
D. and I were not together at that point, having had the very worst of breakups (my doing)- as I finished up my BA and struggled through those last few months full of angst and sorrow and an overweening rage that fueled me through bitter nights of alcohol and forgetfulness and to this day, I don't know how I finished up those final papers, passed those last exams....yet each street I walked, each corner I turned, he was there with me and like a ghost, haunted my nights.
Then the penultimate backpacking trip - beloved of the 60s and 70s crowd, a coming of age, a bucket list must, those European quests. Something planned for, saved for, since my cousin and I decided at 12 we would do it. Italy was at that juncture, the fourth country on our journey and one of the most beloved. Pensionnes, hostels (giant circus tents in Munich), sandy, grassy hillsides in Greece with the hot sea pounding surf below and sand so hot that it couldn't be walked during the dog days of that long ago summer.
There was an innocence and a naivety our children do not have the luxury of owning in today's world with its terrible wars and frightened, desperate refugees, a world where terrorists lurk and a happy summer street with strolling people can turn into a blood-soaked reality of small men's hostility.
But life is a circle and goes forward despite everything and I say to my children, go forth and adventure for we have but one life and god knows, we don't want the future holds. In that sense, grasp the present, live the moment, embrace the unknown and take that step into the abyss....
And walk the Bridge of Sighs in Venice with your sweetheart's hand in yours and be in love in the most romantic of cities my beautiful girl.