Arrival in Greece yesterday! The city of Athens is interesting and nice, hot, sunny, and we’re staying on the port so luckily we have the beaches and waves nearby. The food is incredible and we’ve had so many fantastic experiences already!
I have a lot to talk about since our last week in Rome was quite full and I never blogged about it– of course, I could write about all the sun, voyages, museums, the crowds of the Vatican, the breathlessness of the Sistine Chapel, how Samantha knows everything about ancient Roman and Greek history, or how we sat and watched the trains in the station at Salerno. How the lemons smell on the Amalfi coast. There is so much documented in my mind and this trip has been fantastic for inspiring us. Samantha and I are filled with all this great spirit of being absolutely enlivened by the world around us all the time.
But it’s hardly the places that make our trip so amazing. Clearly, it’s got to be the people. Every interaction feels like a blessing, every person we meet. Here’s just a sampling of stories:
In a hostel in Positano, we met Anthon, a fantastic photojournalist. In August he is traveling to Ethiopia documenting a tribe hidden in the wilderness, a trek on camels included. But for the moment while we were there, he was simply working in the hostel and then moving to see friends in Northern Italy. He was born in India, raised all over the world, including 2 years in Ethiopia, but he says he’s from Utah. He gave me the impression of calm restlessness, like his soul finds home all over the world. So many people you meet on the road are like that. In the same hostel, we met two sisters from Australia who were spending 6 months traveling the world, 3 months in Asia, 3 months in Europe. Footloose. Then there was Ashleigh from the USA who– when all her friends got engaged– took a 6 month leave from work and took off traveling the world. She’s seen so much of life already. Spirited. We sat up until 4 am one night having intense convos about poverty and body image…. then also laughing over stupid youtube videos and cooking pasta at 3am.
People are beautiful, the way they make their lives. On our last day in Italy, we sat at a cafe in the rain where we met a Sicilian artist who lives in Rome. He is the first legitimate modern day artist, a painter, I have ever met and beautiful, kind, fantastic person. He displays his work in galleries in Milan right now. Sitting there talking for 2 hours and drinking coffee, he happened to ask me what I do with my writing. I told him I just write for myself. He says, ‘So freelance? In this world, all young people are freelance.’ The broken English, half-translatable, perfect. We are freelance… our freelance lives.
As we freelance, we met Christos in Greece who asked me about my hobbies and then I asked him about his. I found out he is a diver for the Greek navy who loves the sea. The incredible feeling of diving when you are surrounded by silence and your body is in the movement of the waves. He tells me, ‘you know psychologists say just having an aquarium in your house relaxes your mind, watching the fishes swimming.’ That is what diving is like. Calming, fulfilling. Another of his hobbies, he told me, is traveling. I had never thought of traveling as a hobby before he said that but then it struck me. Yes, my biggest hobby. He described it the way traveling is meant to be done: packing small, a bookbag and hitting the road. That freedom of simplicity. He tells me, ‘I don’t like carrying a lot of stuff. Travelers are for traveling, not for things.’ That ease and weightlessness and being a nomad in the world.
Then, even if I’m not directly interacting with people, the stories these travelers tell about other people are incredible as well. My Italian friend Ale in Rome told me about a guy he once knew who was an American and a soldier in Iraq. After he finished fighting, he changed his life, became vegetarian, stopped smoking and drinking and began couchsurfing around the world.
I love that idea, the dramatic change, seizing your life for yourself and your passion, to fill your spirit up the best way you know how. For example, today, Samantha and I were walking back down from the acropolis along a shady path. We saw a middle-aged man playing a traditional hammer dulcimer and dressed in a traditional Greek outfit. We gave a euro and sat and listened to his music. After a moment, he stopped playing and started a convo. The moment turned into 40 minute conversation where we learned ten years ago, he used to work in a job in the port of Athens that he didn’t like. It was bad money and he was so unhappy; he had no time to do what he loved: playing music. So he quit and began playing fulltime at that exact same spot on the shady path that climbs to the acropolis. Earning maybe 1000euro a week, he says, he sits, plays, and meets people all day. In the evenings, he likes to bike 60-70 km around Athens; he owns 3 bikes and he’s in amazing shape, strong, happy, and taking his life at his own time and pace. Doing what he loves. It’s never too late.
After we met him, Samantha said to me, ‘sometimes meeting people is better than going to the museums.’ I said, museum are the removed beauty of people, interactions are the immediate, intimate beauty of people. That’s how I feel. Both valuable but the intimate beauty sometimes can take your breath away just as much, if not more, than a monument.
After she said that, we happened to meet this incredible South African woman on the metro who is in Greece for her niece’s wedding and after a fifteen minute convo and she has to get off at her station, she tells us, ‘Keep traveling. Don’t do the traditional.’ Keep traveling, don’t do the traditional. She captured my life plan in the simplest sentence.
Ok, more to come from Greece later. Right now, we’re getting dinner and tomorrow we’re taking a boat ride with our Greek friends to the Saronic islands. Sun, water and bikinis, yes please!