Friday, July 9, 2010

Going to Italy is Like Having a Love Affair – Without the Guilt

By Kim

As some of you know, I returned from a family vacation in Italy less than two days ago. If this post meanders a bit more than usual, it is because my jet-lagged body still insists it’s bedtime though it’s only mid-afternoon.
It will likely take me months to fully absorb all that I’ve seen and done since June 19th. Being in Italy was, for me, like throwing myself into the arms of a new and particularly fervent lover. With the exception of one awful pizza in Siena, when this suitor placed a meal before me, it was meant to feed my soul not just my body. The wine, while never indulged in to the point of drunkenness, left me warm, satiated, and grinning like a Cheshire cat. Even the air was seductive – often infused with the scent of jasmine. Around every bend in the narrow winding roads was something unexpected: a Roman ruin, an Etruscan tomb, an ancient and gnarled olive tree, a castle, a village perched precariously upon a cliff, a Tuscan valley so dramatic and beautiful I could do nothing but stare and weep. I have no doubt that heaven looks like Tuscany.

As a writer of historical fiction, this sensory overload included a whole other dimension lost on the rest of my family. I would look at a medieval street and marvel at how similar it all would have looked a thousand years ago. My daughters laughed at me because I could not stop touching stone walls and dipping my hand into every fountain. I noticed by the end, though, that Sasha began picking up stones from places that obviously moved her. I’m sure her future husband will be as baffled by that habit as mine is.

I brought my laptop with me but never opened it. In fact, I didn’t give my WIP a single passing thought. Despite having a torn ligament in my foot, I climbed the bell tower in Siena, explored the ruins of Hadrian’s villa and the catacombs, ate wild boar, navigated Rome by train, subway, car, streetcar and city bus, indulged in a daily gelato, toured the castle where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married, had an audience with the Pope, swam in the Mediterranean, and watched as my children made friends with a little girl who spoke no English. Watching Sasha and Ashlyn thrive on the freedom of being in a country where children are adored and fretted over was the most rewarding part of the whole adventure. They didn’t particularly want to come home.

Now that I am back in Dallas, refreshed, and will soon have both children in summer activities, I’m ready to dive back into my WIP. I have the feeling that my progress will be greatly enhanced by having left both my comfort zone and my muses behind for a little while. What about you? Have any of you had a big boost of creativity after going on a grand adventure?

All but one photo in this post were taken by Sasha Bullock, my nine-year-old, who was presented with her first digital camera upon arrival in Rome and quickly developed a love of photography.


  1. Sounds absolutely lovely - I know what you mean about the sensory bombardment that is Italy. I can't wait to go back. Hopefully all that history will give you plenty of inspiration - I'm sure it will!

  2. The closest I've been to an adventurous and romantic place is San Antonio, Texas. But it is inspiring to me, because I go to listen to the best accordion players in the world. But Italy! I'd love to go there. I bet they have accordion players, too.

  3. Sasha has a photographer's eye! Good work Sasha!

    Ah, Tuscany . . .that's where I would be heading if I were going to Italy!

    You have turned a hot, sticky holiday into a romantic journey . . . isn't it interesting how the uncomfortable heat we experienced when traveling disappears in our memories and only the romance of the place is recalled?

    I just wrote about a holiday I had in Puerto Rico, and while reading your previous notes to family was struck that I forgot to mention the heat! I, like you, only recalled the romance of the place; the history and the wine!

    Love your hobbie of picking up stones. Swedenborg says 'stone' corresponds to 'Truth' spiritually, and you are certainly a seeker of truth.

    Remember to sit back, close your eyes now and then and travel back to Italy in your spirit and re-live it over and over until it fades . . . I'm glad you wrote about it in your What Women Write . . . it was lovely.


  4. Gentlewoman Thief: I hope you get to go back. I'll remain inspired for some time!

    Jill: I did see one accordion player while there, though I actually saw more bagpipe players! The Scots appeared to have invaded Siena the day I was there.

  5. Paula,

    Interestingly enough I did not start collecting stones and bits of driftwood until coming to Canada to start researching for my book on Carl. I stood by the covered bridge in West Montrose, a sight surely familiar to my great-grandfather, and I wanted something from there to keep. A stone fit the bill. I then collected stones in the Elora gorge and on the Ojibwa reservation, also places familiar to him. Given my love of history and sensitivity to places, the habit makes sense. A t-shirt that says Owen Sound, for example, is likely made in China. I like wearing it to show I've been there, but it does not have any real meaning in connection to the place. A vial of sand from the beach at Leith, however...well, Carl could have once walked over that or made a sand castle with my grandmother. I know that you understand what I mean.

  6. As you know, I just returned from my first trip to Asia. I spent 5 days in Tokyo and a few days in Kyoto. My boyfriend and I ate the local cuisine, had drinks at the Park Hyatt (anyone remember Lost in Translation?), stalked geisha and saw so many temples and shrines that amazed us. We have spent hours organizing and labeling photos, while sipping sake, followed by planning our next excursion to either China, Thailand or back to Japan again. I'm not quite the writer you are, but I hope to paint some Japanese-style paintings based on ones I saw at the Tokyo National Museum. Maybe some of the images of ancient shrines or rice fields will come alive in my work. There's nothing like a trip abroad to stimulate creativity! Happy travels, everyone.

  7. Dan - I highly recommend Thailand, at least when the political unrest calms down again. My parents lived in Bangkok the whole time I was in college and so I went there for breaks. The food was great (and cheap)and people are very friendly. Littering was a huge problem when I was there, but I've heard that it is much cleaner now.

    The Grand Palace is amazing.

  8. Cindy Johnstone09 July, 2010

    Great pictures! It's quite a place isn't it! As a historian I find Italy gives me sensory overload! Welcome home!

  9. Hard to believe you were under the influence of jet-lag when you wrote this. Your beautiful and sensual prose truly captures some of the highlights of your trip. I'm so happy I got to share with all of you some of the places and things I love about this incredible country. Each time I return to Italy it feels like falling in love and an awakening. The creative juices flow like a fine Italian wine. Love Sasha's pictures. She's a natural. Hope she remains interested in photography. I'll do what I can to encourage her.


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